Another Business Model That Doesn’t Seem to Work

I used to have as my search provider. That means that when you typed a search request in that little search box in the margin, it actually sent the request to They were responsible for indexing my site once a week and displaying the results. is “free”, with a catch: as soon as you have more than 500 pages on your site, they send you a nice little email:

I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind you that your website has exceeded the 500 page document limit for the free account that you currently have. Did you realize that 100% of your site is not currently being indexed? Only the FIRST 500 PAGES are being indexed. Is this an important concern to you and the services that you provide to others? If yes, upgrading to an prime service will solve these issues.

Nowhere in the email does it tell you how much it’s going to cost for the upgrade. A bit of searching on their web site gave me the answer: $100 per quarter. Wow. That’s expensive.

Search on my site is not super popular; I get about 60 searches a week (out of about 35,000 page views). But I think it’s an important function. And I hate being tricked into upgrading from a ‘free’ service to a ‘premium’ service. is hoping to achieve what I call ‘stealth lock-in‘. They don’t even want to you realize that you’re becoming dependent on a service. In the future, when you’re hooked, they can start charging you a bundle, and you’ll pay them just to avoid the cost of switching. There are a lot of Internet companies that are trying this approach. Juno constantly bombards its unpaying members to upgrade to the services that cost money. All the various xdrive/idrive/freedrive/mydrive clones have this business model. My buddy Elan’s company earthnoise, which gives you 50M of online video storage free, tries to upgrade you to the premium service at $4.99 a month when you realize that 50M is not that much online video.

The question here is: how much lock-in do these companies really have? That’s what is going to determine whether their plans work or fail. Juno has a lot, because it’s an email service, and if you switch your email provider, you have to tell all your friends about the new email address. If you printed a Juno email address on your business card and handed it out to prospective clients, you’re going to be scared to switch away. And indeed, Juno has been reasonably successful at getting people to upgrade.

All the free-hard-drive-on-the-net companies have zero lock in. They are going to have a problem. Besides the fact that there is almost no barrier to entry, incredible competition, and the service is stupid to begin with, these companies are simply not going to succeed, period.

Now, back to, my old search service. Lock-in? Well, I’m afraid not. It took me 20 minutes to switch over to Google. Kiss them goodbye.

About the author.

In 2000 I co-founded Fog Creek Software, where we created lots of cool things like the FogBugz bug tracker, Trello, and Glitch. I also worked with Jeff Atwood to create Stack Overflow and served as CEO of Stack Overflow from 2010-2019. Today I serve as the chairman of the board for Stack Overflow, Glitch, and HASH.