Opportunity and Challenges for Third-Party SDL Tridion Tools

As a functional lead on the PowerTools reboot, I've seen a small glimpse of Tridion-related software development challenges and opportunities. Though the volunteer group doesn't charge for the PowerTools, it also doesn't support the "product" in the typical sense.
Its GNU GPLv2 ("do-what-you-want-but-keep-it-open") license even lets third parties charge for transfers and support. This creates an untapped opportunity to provide expert services or a warranty for otherwise "free" software, but with some interesting gotchas.
The challenge with any Tridion-related tool is deciphering who buyers and stakeholders are, managing intellectual property, and determining a viable business model.

Real Buyers and Interested Stakeholders

Understand your price point determines your real buyer. Your real buyer might not be is definitely not the user and it might not even be IT.
Organizations typically have a limit on the amount of software a user can purchase. Over say, $300 (US), and a manager needs to approve. Over $1k, then a senior manager or director needs to approve. So if you're selling budget software, you need to reach the individuals that might use your software. Read more on pricing from Joel Spolsky if you're not familiar with the trade-offs of selling to companies.
I imagine neither devs nor content authors are the right audience for open source or commerical Tridion-related software. Developers are busy programming. Authors are focused on their own tasks.

If selling to an organization directly, your buyer is the VP or Chief-level Officer who would sign for the purchase. If she doesn't hear about the software from developers or authors, it means any third-party tool needs to convince either SDL WCMS or external implementors (partners or independents). Your software has to be understandable, trusted by Tridion consultants, and better than what the open, sharing Tridion geeks are already doing.
I believe the best way to impress Tridion consultants is to be authentic, genuine, and open. Sharing goes a long way in earning Tridion credibility.
The "interested stakeholders" problem is confounded by this simple fact: even if Tridion professionals are sold on something, they're not necessarily free to endorse or even inclined to mention it especially if related to, or competes with, their day job. This brings us to the topic of intellectual property.

Intellectual Property (IP) and Ownership

Be careful with software developed for specific organizations. Any knowledge worker (especially an independent contractor or software vendor), needs to protect and clarify who owns what up front (read my comparison between professional dancers and consultants). Additionally, hardware and software (licenses) aren't cheap. Even if both are readily available, be careful if Tridion work is or isn't your day job.

For example, I listed my websites and just in case, my Twitter feed in my latest employment contract. I doubt anyone would ask me to remove helpful, positive content, but I understand the sensitive nature of work-related content. If asked, I'll gladly remove or update my posts.

HR policies have a decades-long head start ahead of social media. It's not surprising that employee manuals, Marketing, and management have different understandings of sharing, community, and open source projects.
A huge challenge for independent Tridion development is obtaining appropriate software licenses (read Chris Summer's ponderings on the Fifth SDL Tridion Environment) and opportunity to work with the software. Any software developer understands the development stack isn't trivial either (though opportunities like BizSpark help).
When in doubt, double check your employee manual and seek legal counsel. Nothing I'm saying here is official, specifically relevant to your particular situation, nor should be construed as legal-medical-nor-exactly-sound advice.

Viable Business Model

SDL Tridion's APIs allow access to develop workflow code, dynamically display content using content delivery libraries, create front-end GUI extensions, and contribute to a growing library of community-created extensions. There's even an integration with Documentum. These touch points could support an ecosystem of third-party free and possibly commercial tools. However, the typical software license might be a tough sell considering the above challenges with intellectual property and convincing the right people, who unfortunately aren't typically free to endorse independent Tridion-related software.

Wired Magazine suggests the future of business might be $0.00, with free possible in the following scenarios:
  • Freemium (use basic version for free, but the premium version will cost more) 
  • Advertising (this blog, currently at $8.61 USD; that's eight dollars and sixty-one cents to be clear)
  • Cross-subsidies (e.g. maybe software is free, but services, installation, and support are offered at appropriate costs)
  • Zero marginal costs (free for all for things with very cheap distribution costs like music)
  • Labor Exchange (service might be free, but platform owners gain--like the StackOverflow model) 
  • Gift Economy
I think the PowerTools, like other open source projects, fall under the Gift Economy as it creates a unique opportunity to develop intellectual capital in a non-zero sum knowledge-based world. There's a win for everyone involved in developing technical communities, especially with Tridion.
The paradox of sharing is the more you do it because you love the software, people, or challenge (or challenging people!), the more you get out of it.

Third-party Tridion-related software does not have to be free, but be careful navigating the waters of intellectual property, finding the right stakeholders, and competing with free alternatives and commercial products. I know of at least three commercial third-party solutions; feel free to look them up or if the tool creators are so inclined, feel free to comment on the (fun), pros, cons, and challenges of developing in this space. I could use a tip or two on bringing open source projects to "market."

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