5 Ways Free Apps Make Money Off You

A suitable monetization strategy is paramount to the long term success of an app.  A really creative way to source income can be what guides an app to green fields of fruitfulness, and an irritating one can completely devastate it.

I’m sure there are hundreds, nay thousands of revenue models. I’m going to scratch at the few that are most commonly seen pertaining to mobile apps and such.

I touched on some of these in my recent post about SnapChat and there seems to be some interest in it, so I will delve a bit deeper.

Freemium Model
Example: Casino slots app (such as DoubleDown Casino) and other games (such as Candy Crush) that are free to play but require purchases for extras, like additional coins or moves on a certain level.  They start out free with the option to be a premium level baller.

This model is surprisingly successful. I for one refuse to pay for this kind of thing, but someone is! It’s a known fact in the industry that less that 1% of a freemium app’s users will pump money into it for virtual tokens or whatnot, yet the two apps I mentioned are some of the highest revenue producing gaming apps out there.

According to ThinkGaming, Candy Crush Saga brings in about $780,000 a DAY just on the iOS platform, and it isn’t even the top grossing game anymore (although, hats off to how long it held the position… years.)

Ad Supported Model
Example: EvilApples, Where’s My Head? – games that are free to play but often victimize users with a barrage of unwanted spam-like advertisements that interrupt game play and sometimes crash the app completely. I call this ad abuse.

This is the lease creative and the most annoying revenue model. When overdone, which is almost always, it renders the app basically unusable.

I chose the two games listed in the example because they are each apps that I have recently downloaded and played with great disappointment. Both have the potential to be very entertainment, but they get in their own ways in terms of usability.

A few years ago, I recall my first days playing Candy Crush. One night I stayed up so late cracking out with the old mantra “one more level… okay, one more… seriously, last one…” that I could barely keep my eyes open the next day. This started to happen last night with My Head, which is a version of Cut the Rope that features a cute little skeleton trying to catch his skull, but the cycle of addiction was interrupted by one of many obtrusive ads that provided me with the perfect opportunity to close it and drift off to sleep.

Evil Apples has no excuse. They have every opportunity to move to the next type of model I will cover by letting corporations advertise through the cards in the game.

Virtual Product Placement Model
Example: Sims FreePlay – This game has a mixed model, as many do, but it has the best product placement I’ve yet seen in a mobile game. One example that comes to mind is an item available available to users who wish to decorate their Sims’ homes on a virtual budget: a cute poster about an auto insurance agency, which I believe was Esurance. They have a lot of product placement, and although it’s clearly not the main cash source, I think it’s pretty slick.

Personally, I’m a big fan of product placement in TV and film. My favorite would be a plug for Netflix that appeared on The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt – an original Netflix series. Clever! It’s especially amusing to me when the product placement is humorous, such as what Arby’s did with Reno 911.

Generally I find product placement a lot less distracting than seeing a Smickers bar in the background of a shot, but even an app like Sims Freeplay, which draws over a million users into game play each day, would not survive based solely on this model.  It would make a lot more sense for a game like Evil Apples which has significantly lower operating costs.

Subscription Based Model
Example: YouTube Red

Often offered as an alternative to an ad-supported model, this is a good option for people with a little extra cheese who don’t appreciate ad abuse. Pandora adopted this model in the long, long ago and YouTube has recently followed suit.

This has generated some backlash, with users claiming conspiracy, that YouTube has been increasing video advertisements to annoy them into paying for a subscription. Well guess what users, YouTube doesn’t choose which videos play ads – the people who upload the videos do.  YouTube is simply offering you another option to its advertisements. Try not to hate it for being more popular than you.

What I don’t understand is how platforms like Hulu get away with charging customers for subscriptions while still running advertisements during the programs. But it seems many products have undergone that transition. I’m sure at one point people couldn’t understand why someone would pay for cable to sit through commercials.

Data Mining Model
Example: Brightest Flashlight

I’m not going to say much about this one. I think we’re all pretty familiar with it.  Basically you download a free app and it accesses all the data on your phone it possibly can (like email addresses of all your friends on Facebook) and then sells that information to a third party.

You can read more about how the app in the example was used as a “stalking device disguised as a flashlight” on this post from Gigaom Research.

Those are the mainstays of revenue models, although as I said, there are many, many more. I am eager to see what other methods of monetization within apps and technology emerge in the coming days.

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0 to Written in 11 Steps – Process for Free Flowing Words

This is my personal process for free-flowing writing. I like to set myself up for success, and I have found ways to make it easier for my brain to perform. Now I share that process and hopefully it helps others, although you’ll need to adjust this to your own preferences as well as the type of writing.

This has evolved quite a bit for me over the years. Back in my college days, my step two would have been “Read a bunch of Shakespeare.” It seemed to help at the time, and although it’s no longer part of my writing routine, I would definitely recommend reading something that inspires you before getting started.

Step 1: Set Music

I find that my subconscious mind appreciates a little background music, although it can be tricky to find something that will keep that part of your mind quiet without drawing your mental focus into the lyrics and away from your work. I like the album “Since I Left You” by the Avalanches, and a Pandora station created from Moby.

Step 2: Gather Necessities

For me, that includes a healthy, free-flowing pen, paper both lined and unlined, and if I’m not at work, a robust glass of shamefully cheap red wine.  Usually I’ll set my computer up as well. Since it’s a dinosaur, I get started on the next step while it fires up.

Step 3: Clean

Sounds odd, I’m sure, but I swear it works for me. I have noticed that I think more clearly in a neat space, and so when I’ve got my music set up, I tidy up my work area while I think about the topic of my writing. For me, it feels like I’m cleaning up my brain, and while that might not be the case for everyone, I’d definitely encourage every writer to take a moment to really consider the subject before setting pen to paper or fingertips to keys.

Since my writing station was set up in the last step, I’m free to jot down ideas and phrases as I think of them while cleaning.

Step 4: Brainstorming / Free Writing

I often make word webs, but I find free writing a lot more helpful to my personal process. It’s all a matter of preference. After awhile of writing whatever the devil comes to mind in reference to my topic, I will have an outline buried in nonsense, and the next step is to uncover it.

Step 5: Outline

When I’ve got my main ideas on paper, often paired with lots of whimsical doodles, I dig them out and make a list of them in an order that flows well and makes sense story-wise, generally in a bulleted list.  Boom: outline.  Not necessary for every writing project but very handy for many.

Step 6: Start Writing

Generally since I’ve already been writing by hand for awhile, I’ll usually start that way. I have always preferred writing by hand and probably will until it rots off from the gangrene I plan on getting later in life.  I keep writing until I hit a wall or my hand starts hurting.

Step 7: Start Typing

If I’ve hit a wall, I gather up my leaves of chicken scratch and transcribe them into a Word doc. (I’m so unhip, I know.) Every time I do this, by the time I have gotten to the end of my written words, I’ve got more ideas for where I want to go next or what I want to go back and add more to.  So the ideas keep flowing.

If they were already flowing and my hand was just cramping up, then I skip going back and typing up what I’ve already written and just jump right to the screen on the same current of thought the ink ended on.  I can always go back and type it up later.

Step 8A: Back to Handwriting

If I have more to say on the subject, but can’t think of the words, I’ll switch back to free writing and keep writing by hand once the ideas start coming again, repeating steps 5 and 6.

Step 8B: Move Down Outline

If I am out of stuff to say, I’ll start bridging over to the next line item on the outline and repeat steps as necessary until I’ve hit all of them.

Step 9: Read It and Season It

After that I’ll read everything I’ve written and 9/10 times I will find places where I want to add more substance or prettify the language.

Step 10: Write a Conclusion

I think it helps to read the whole paper once over before you wrap it up. For me at least, it helps me to reference the entire paper in the conclusion rather than just the last few concepts of the paper while completely forgetting all the stuff I wrote in the beginning.

Step 11: Proofread and Further Revise

Proof it one more time.  I’ve heard it’s a good idea to proof your work ­backwards paragraph by paragraph. The idea is that you’ll catch more grammar mistakes if you aren’t caught up in the flow of your own paper. Seems legit.  Anyway I always end up revising in this step anyway, so keep going until you aren’t changing anything but grammatical errors, fix that stuff, and it’s ready J

Optional: Step 12: Reread Obsessively

After the work has been submitted, turned in, published, printed, whatever, and it’s too late to make edits, continue to reread it obsessively anyway, and beat yourself up over how you should have said something a different way (but now it’s too late). 

Hope that works for someone out there! I’d love to hear about things others have in their writing procedures as well. Like I said, this is a constantly evolving process and I would love some new ideas!

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The Death of Open Diary: Mourning an Old Friend

I have been blogging since before it was called blogging. I’ve been blogging before blogs.

For me it started on OpenDiary.com.  I have read that it was the first web log, but I’m sure many sites claim that title. I know Blogger wasn’t around yet and Geocities (another tragic love story) was in its prime.  Which means I’ve been building websites as long as I’ve been blogging.

So much has changed.

We had followers on Open Diary. Usually people you knew well, whether it was “IRL” (in real life) or a friend known only through the interwebs. Sometimes those were the people who knew you best, because you could bare your soul to a person without making eye contact.  So, yes, we all had small followings. But no pictures, at first.

I remember when OD started allowing its users to do things – crazy things, unimaginable things at the time. Italicize the font. That’s where it started. Bold it too. Underlines? No problem. Just throw a “u” in some carroty brackets and a “/u” behind it and you are on your way to pro-style formatting.

Later, we started realizing we could change text colors, background colors, add scrolling marquee text… and that’s where it happened. That’s where I saw my first blogging super star. She was famous, to us, that nameless (other than HTML_Helper) woman (I think) who told us how to make a PICTURE the BACKGROUND of a POST. WHAT??? I worshiped her. I appreciated her. I read every letter she wrote.

She was training us. We knew how to write, and we were all developing that skill. She taught us to design our words, our sites, our messages. I wonder what happened to you, HTML_Helper – are you still ahead of the game?  Are you still blogging about blogging, like I’m doing now?

Eventually I lost interest in Open Diary as other platforms emerged. It remained close to my heart and not forgotten, a memoir of young teenage angst and the meaningless garbage that I thought the world centered around at the time. Others left, too and the site became a ghost town. It tried desperately to create revenue, and it failed every attempt. I’d go back and laugh at my younger self from time to time, amused at how dramatic I could be at the most trivial happenings, comparing the heartache of a 13 girl in a deteriorating internet “relationship” to the strife felt by Edgar Allen Poe when his wife died. My pen name was Annabel Lee.

I checked back in a couple weeks ago and was astonished to find it completely gone. Years. Years of writing, of pouring my soul into the virtual pages of my open diary. Gone. Erased forever. Open Diary has become an open grave, for which I mourn.  Yet it gave me something valuable that I will never forget – the ability to do this – to sit down and type, without knowing who will stumble across it later, without caring, really. Just to write. And while most of my posts are aimed to be useful to the users of today’s technology, this one is but a tribute, a lament to my lost love, my first love, my dear Open Diary. Thank you for everything.

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The Succulent Marketing Techniques of Arby’s

Coming up with the number of ads the average person sees in a day would be like trying to count the stars in the sky from a desolate mountain top on a clear night. Impossible. CBS says about 5,000. Even that seems low. And most of those ads lack inventiveness and creativity, and so they often fall completely short of their goals.

Amidst this marketing wasteland, one company sticks out to me like a bright shining plate of delicious roast beef, slathered with melted cheese and decadent sauce… excuse me; I’m thinking Arby’s.

Their tasty meats have delighted my belly for years, and their marketing techniques are almost as delicious. The first that came into my world was this clip on Reno 911 a couple years ago, featuring the most hilarious and shamelessly obvious bit of product placement I have yet seen.

piping hot arbys


In this scene, Trudy and Lt. Dangle attempt to unravel a crime scene which centers around a bag of Arby’s sandwiches, and (secondarily) a homicidal shooting. They drop the word “delicious” four times, the phrase “piping hot Arby’s” three times, and twice directly refer to specific items on the menu. Insanely effective.

More recently, I was forced against my will to watch Joe Dirt 2 on the streaming tv app, Crackle. Every few minutes the movie would fade out and in would fade the same advertisement for Arby’s new sandwiches. Over and over they flashed on the screen, and since that time, months ago, all I can think about is Arby’s. (More than one friend has mentioned the obsession with concern.)

Part of the reason that was so effective is because their food is scrumptious and the advertising shows it. Another huge factor was that it was broadcast about a million times during the movie, but because Crackle is still such a new player in the app-o-sphere, it probably barely made a scrape in Arby’s advertising budget. There are thousands of apps on streaming devices such as a Roku or a Chrome stick or a Samsung Smart TV or what have you, and each of those has some viewers or they wouldn’t be adding fresh content. So much opportunity.

Additionally, the company has really found its voice in terms of branding, which is evident in this YouTube commercial (not sure if it aired on television).  Again, shameless.

There’s another Arby’s video on YouTube that is 13 hours long – the time it takes to properly smoke a brisket.

I have great respect for the clever side outlets Arby’s has found for arbies snapchatits marketing techniques, and I have two suggestions for further opportunities.  The first is a branded Lens from Snapchat that could show the person with a little Arby’s hat on, and of course a delicious, piping hot Arby’s sandwich somewhere in the frame.   The second would be to pay the developers of the game Evil Apples (the mobile version of Cards Against Humanity) to include cards relative to the insanely tasty items available at your local Arby’s. That monetization strategy would actually be a lot less disruptive than that app’s current model, so it would work for everyone.

So…. what’s for lunch?

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Why Snapchat is Alive and Well

I recall the first time I saw the little dancing ghost encouraging me to send quick pictures to the 2-3 people I knew who also had the app. It was a lot different then, and that is a big part of its success.  I thought it was cute but honestly did not expect such longevity from the Snapchat, which is something that a lot of popular apps struggle with.  For example, when Draw Something was big, I went hard in the paint and played it obsessively with everyone I could convince to download it.  But the program went stagnant and got boring. I’ve tried logging into it a few times since and there’s just nothing going on. It’s a ghost town… which is a little ironic since that bouncy little ghost of Snapchat has sustained the attention span of its users. How Snapchat Stays Relevant

Before I get into the things that have kept Snapchat relevant, let me first explain its goal,which is the same for any app: users.  Working for a tech company, I am often asked to research DAU and MAU data (daily and monthly active users, respectively).  Users are an app company’s bread and butter, which makes perfect sense if you think of them as customers.

“But, but, but – I don’t pay jack squat for Snapchat! How am I customer?” you may be screaming at your computer.  Allow me to explain.  Think of apps like magazines or newspapers.  You see a lot of them for free or next to nothing.  That’s because they make relatively little from subscription fees and the real bank comes from the advertisers who are buying access to the readers.  If you just started a cute little zine in your basement (good for you!) and no one’s reading it yet, you are going to have a tough go at convincing advertisers to give you money.

Similarly, you don’t pay for your Facebook subscription, but Facebook makes lots of cash off of you being there.

So it is the main goal of all the apps to build up their user bases (and more specifically, users who log in regularly and frequently), which ultimately builds value on the potential of selling access to those people.  Some do it in more obvious ways than others and we will get into that.

There are a few key factors at work here.

  1. Snapchat is constantly evolving.  
    The minds behind it must have seen a boom in usage when they quietly added the option to change the color modes of pictures by using the text bar and a code like #b&w for black and white.

    Since then, so many features have come spilling forth frHow Snapchat Stays Relevantom the SC development team.  They’ve added more color filters, geo-location filters, chat features, and live video chat which is a really strong feature a lot of people don’t seem to even know about.  This little naked picture swap machine just flexed up to the Skype/Facetime level, increasing usability.  They also realized that people go bananas for fun filters, and have been adding new “Lenses” daily so that each day when you log in, it’s different.  I’m sure you woke up today wondering what kind of silly effects had been added whilst you slumbered. I know I did.

    One other game-changer for the software was the ability to save your snaps before you send them, which allows people to share their clever pictures of tacos on other media… free advertising for Snapchat!If nothing had changed since day one, we would have lost interest and forgotten our little ghost friend ages ago.

  2. Snapchat promotes mystery.

    Some people think of Snapchat as a communication device, and others as a game.  I’d say it’s both. There is a score tied to your account, which was probably an early way the developers toyed with user retention.  In any case, the company definitely understands the game of competing in the virtual space.

    More often than not, Snapchat adds features under the radar and it’s word of mouth or sheer curiosity that turns people onto it.  When I saw my teenage cousin puking rainbows for the first time I was baffled. They didn’t announce the feature for a long time after, and it wasn’t abundantly obvious how to use them.

    Another example: There’s a little yellow star next to some of my contacts.  I have no freaking clue what this means. I’ve Googled it about 10 times over the last month.  Everyone has a different answer, and I’ve tested them. Still haven’t been able to figure out wtf that represents. How does this help Snapchat? Well, I just told you I have searched it several times and used the app a bunch trying to figure it out.  Smart little ghost.

  3. Snapchat is free… for you

If Snapchat came with a price tag, no one would have ever downloaded it.  Not only because they wouldn’t want to pay for it, but none of their friends would be on it to send messages to anyway. But the company has to make money somehow, right?  Most free apps monetize in one of two ways:

  • Ad networks
  • “Freemium” models

I haven’t played Candy Crush in awhile, but if I recall correctly, King does both.  Ad networks are easy to spot – they’re the in-app ads you tend to ignore until you accidentally touch one and open your app store or browser for 3.2 seconds.  A freemium model would be like paying 50 cents for 3 more moves so you can finally move past the level that has been vexing you for a month – basically paying nothing for the app but ponying up for its extra features.

Snapchat has been toying with the freemium stuff, which has angered some users. “Pay $.99 for 3 replays? THAT’S RIDICULOUS!”  Yeah… I’m not paying either. I doubt many are.  Yet, you don’t see them sticking a bunch of ads all over the app either.  It might resort to that someday but for now I do enjoy the clean look without them.

How Snapchat Stays RelevantSo how are they monetizing? Advertisers are given the option to host their stories through the “Discover” section of Snapchat.  It works for them because most of Snapchat’s users aren’t the same demographic they hit on other channels.  It works for us because it adds usability to the app we already have open.

Another ad option is to add a branded story to the list of options a user can send his or her snaps to. I noticed while EDC was going on that something like “Add to My EDC Story” became an option above my friends list.  They didn’t do that out of the kindness of their hearts.

Additionally, it looks like they’re also starting to add branded filters, which will probably become pretty popular as well. People like them, so advertisers like them, and Snapchat just loves everyone involved.

So there you have it.  Snapchat keeps it interesting, keeps you guessing, and doesn’t charge you a penny for it.

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7 Common Website Mistakes

This is gonna be a fairly succinct post.  (See #5)

1. Search bar is hard to find.internet

Don’t make me look for it.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  What’s worse is when you can’t find the search bar and instead there’s an email sign up bar where it should be.  Don’t confuse the elderly.  I mean… at least try not to.

2. Disruptive advertising

Make sure the ads you’re running on your site aren’t hovering over the whole page or the pertinent information I’m there for.  So annoying. Even worse is when an ad has audio and starts blaring while I’m trying to rock out to Spice Girls.

And make sure these problems aren’t occuring on the mobile version which brings me to the next point…

3. Not optimized for mobile

Seriously desktops computers are for dinosaurs and the chronically cubicle bound like myself.  Most people check stuff from their phones.  Your site should be optimized for all browsers, including mobile browsers, with bonus points for the option of being able to switch to a desktop view on mobile since there are so often issues.

4. Poor grammars

It’s simple. If you don’t have a command of the English language, I don’t trust you on many other topics.

5. Woooooordiness

OMG stop it. We have LOL cats to photograph and YouTubes to mindlessly stare at; please don’t waste our precious time.

6. Out of Date Content

Calendars with nothing current annoy me the most, but blog posts can be just as bad (guilty!) and old contact information is the worst.

7. Automatic Spam Sign up

WHYYYYY? No one wants to read your newsletters! I barely keep up on the goings-on with my family, why do I need to know what’s new with the place I bought tires 3 years ago? Yet many websites insist on getting your email, promise not to flood your inbox if you opt out, and then do it anyway. This is the absolute worst. ABSOLUTE WORST I TELL YOU!

Good day!

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WTF is Ello?

It’s being called the “Anti-Facebook.”  

You’re familiar with Facebook, the obese, greedy social networking cowboy that pretty much does what it wants.  It owns your pictures and reserves the right to use them for its own evil purposes.  It runs smear campaigns against Google and just kind of shrugs its shoulders when caught. And lately, it shuts down the pages of people who are obvious about not using their real names on it.  Uh oh, you just pissed off the LBGT community, and that’s worse than stepping on Google’s shoes.

(Google, I love you, but you’ve broken my hopeful heart that you could ever overtake this monster [which I still actively use, admittedly] and then fallen completely flat on your beautiful face with Google Plus.  Which I really don’t understand, because Google is the top hit site for almost every country with internet access and is worth close to $4 Billion.)

I have to wonder if Facebook’s latest zuck-up has anything to do with the timing of the announced Google+ breakdown.  Perhaps they got nice and cozy in the fact that people seemed to have no viable alternative for connection.  As Zuckerberg put it, “Look, we’re a business. We’re going to make money. If you don’t like it, you can find other websites.” Perhaps that time has come.

Enter Ello

It’s strange to me that this is where people are jumping ship to.  It’s still very basic (there isn’t even an app for it – oh my!) in its beta mode, though I’m sure its developers have been working like crazy to get it up to snuff for the massive surge in sign ups (I’ve been seeing reports of 20,000-30,000 per hour, with the userbase doubling every few days.)

Ello doesn’t care if you use your real name.  Really it doesn’t even care if you post porn, as long as you use the NSFW feature to warn others when that feature is ready.  It avoids the drama of friend requests, yet cuts back on the noise found on Twitter.  This is done by the “follow” feature (Twitter-y) being broken down into two categories, “friends” and “noise.” That means you can switch back and forth between the people you know and the people you find interesting.  Nice touch, Ello.


Of course it has some Facebookish components, like a cover photo and some semblance of a wall, but there’s no “like” button for posts and its not clear if there will be.  Another thing that’s missing from Ello: game invitations. Hallelujah! Let’s hope that stays consistent.

Which brings me to the chief concern of Ello’s critics: How will it monetize?  Running this kind of site is neither free nor moderately cheap, and the bit of seed money they’ve gotten isn’t going to last forever.  Their solution is a “freemium” model, in which users who want certain features (like white text on a black background, or two profiles with a single login) can shell out for it.  Honestly I don’t think that’s going to be enough to sustain this network if it hopes of becoming as big as Facebook.  Generally only 1% of freemium mobile game users ever put real money into the game, regardless of how tempting an offer the game makes.  So companies like Electronic Arts (makers of Sims Freeplay) and Ivanovich (creators of Letris) have gotten creative at working advertisements into the games.  BUT since Ello has sworn itself to be anti-advertising, this isn’t going to be a possibility for them, and I for one am not paying extra for a black background.

What I would love to see happen would be for that billionaire Google I mentioned before to take little Ello under its wing, with more seed money or even an acquisition with a hands-off approach, if nothing else but to shut Facebook up.

If that doesn’t happen, I would bet that this Ello business is short-lived, unfortunately, like all the others.  I don’t think it was designed to be gigantic, as ello.com was already taken and there are several businesses and a couple apps with the same name.  I’m happy to see where it goes, but personally I’m not getting my hopes up again like I did for Google+.

So far it seems most people are signing up and checking it out, but not really sharing content, which does not bode well for this little bird.

One last note – I find it pretty entertaining that the wild-fire like trend of signing up for a new social network is being largely shared via Facebook.  If you want to track how many people actually deactivate their accounts, search “Who Unfriended Me” in the Facebook bar – that app will show you which of your friends deactivate their accounts… and of course those who just don’t like you anymore.

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