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|Tuesday, February 06, 2007|
I've blamed Google for not allowing users access to more than one edition of some books online, effectively erasing access to those old versions in a 1984 style that would make Orwell proud. Well, now Softonic, apparently one of Europe's analogs for download.com or versiontracker.com, has pulled a fast one in the opposite direction.
Softonic places themselves between users' access to the files they'd like to donate, and end users to download. It's skillfully arranged. Let's say I release version 1.0 of my software for free, and choose to make it available on Softonic. Now let's say that I release version 2.0 and want to charge, I don't know, $4.99. I pull down all my copies of 1.0 and update my listings online.
Versiontracker.com, as an example, links directly to your site. They serve as a clearinghouse of links. Users search, hopefully (if you're versiontracker) click a few ads, and download directly from the site without ever going there. This seems like a pleasant enough tradeoff. Versiontracker allows you to find my software, and for that they get first crack at showing ads. I can easily halt access to the file since Versiontracker is not mirroring it; it's only on my server.
Softonic never takes down version 1.0. The links to your "mirrors" of the software are gone, but they still have an accessible copy. If 1.0 does a decent job, will people shell out $5 to get the update from you, or will they download from Softonic?
Now, a la used books, you're competing in large part with yourself. Bad? Not necessarily, but it is a pretty clear paradigmatic disconnect. I've often wondered about the potential harm of releasing a to-be-shareware app as a free demo first. You'd likely pick up a few users, and certainly later versions would be sharper, less buggy, and contain more features, but you'd always have to worry about competing with your historical selves. With a digital release, you've essentially created the possibility of there being limitless, all but free, copies of your "old edition."
Taking down your copies solved the Versiontracker issue. But there will always be a few people hosting your file on some wacky ftp site, somewhere. You can't eliminate the production of the old edition; you can only seek to make it more difficult to find -- and therefore, a la the iTunes Music Store where it's often worth $0.99 a track not to have search for a song or worry about viruses, scarity means you'll have more people willing to pay.
Okay, so here's the deal with Softonic. Softonic continues to mirror your file even after you've taken it down. Great. They charge a dollar for a user to download from their mirror. Less great. If you've taken down your old file from your site and done a good job getting it removed from other hosts, you're now in competition directly with Softonic-as-host. They are selling your software for a dollar when you're charging five. Is your upgrade worth the extra dough? If not, and especially in a case like this where the application doesn't offer a demo, Softonic's easily found mirror is awfully tempting.
I'm not sure how I ultimately feel about hosting what were released as freely distributable files. Perhaps in this case it's the PodTube designer's fault for letting out a free 1.0. Though I can't say s/he should've known better, s/he could've, and that's the way the system runs, better or worse. I know I have zero sympathy for those who try to limit the sale of used books, and am against Google's remediation of books into a closely monitored, digital rare book room style end run around copyright. Softonic is doing precisely what I hope Google doesn't, but fear they will.
Softonic is able to [and Google is increasingly putting itself in a position where it could]...
1.) limit access to files in ways we can assume the original author did not intend.
2.) directly profit from this ability to control access
3.) leverage its position from [ad supported] information clearinghouse to information broker.
Perhaps this simply means I'm not for having a new medium influence the distribution of a legacy medium when such a change would benefit predominantly the proverbial fat cats. Regardless, it's an important distunction to make.
posted by ruffin at 2/06/2007 02:35:00 PM
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