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UberTwitter BlackBerry Twitter app fiasco

UberTwitter BlackBerry Twitter app fiasco

Popular free BlackBerry Twitter application UberTwitter got an update to beta v4 yesterday. But along with a handful of new features and software enhancements, users also saw a crop of advertisements strewn throughout their Twitter streams for the first time. UberTwitter has since removed the ads, which angered many users. It serves as a cautionary tale for developers who hope to monetize their apps.

It's worth noting that neither SocialScope nor TweetGenius are free; both apps are currently in private beta. They'll both presumably be listed for sale in the future. (TweetGenius was publicly available for $4.99 until its developers decided to pull it back into beta status.) Neither application has ever embedded advertising.

So were UberTwitter users justified in calling out the company for including ads in the new version? It is free, after all, and UberTwitter needs to run a business if it wants to sustain its app over the longhaul. What right do they have to complain, correct?

Not so much. I think they're well within their rights to be angry. In fact, if I were an UberTwitter user, I'd have been equally pissed off. (I call TweetGenius my BlackBerry Twitter app.) It's true the application is free, giving users less say in the matter. But UberTwitter set certain expectations by releasing a number of ad-free beta versions before beta 4. Its users' commitment/loyalty to the app was based on those expectations.

The problem here is NOT UberTwitter's advertisements. The problem is with HOW UberTwitter decided to implement the ads. Had UberTwitter warned its existing beta users that a new version with ads was in the pipeline, it would have been a different story. It should have kept users updated, and gave them the option to stick with a previous, ad-free version.

So, three quick takeaways for software developers and application makers:

1) Users are your most important resource. But just because you have them using your product doesn't mean they'll stay that way. You've got to earn their support--and money. The best way to do that is to constantly keep them updated. Tell them the truth about product decisions, before making significant changes, whenever possible.

2) Solicit feedback from users on potentially-controversial changes to core product functionality. Don't just spring it on them, and then ask for their opinions and/or help reactively.

3) Remember: Free is a magic word for consumers. With a free price tag, your product looks sexier. As soon as you charge for it, all the folks simply looking for a free ride will hit the road. At that point, merit alone will ensure your application's success. So before you go charging for your applications or services--and you probably should, you worked hard on them--make sure you're offering something the competition can't or won't make free. Oh yeah, and when you name a price, pick one people will be willing to pay.

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