I have been asked numerous times on what I thought about i.PH and have actually blogged about it on several ocassions before.
One thing that was a little confusing to some people was the fact that you can’t really distinguish if i.PH is a service for personal domains (with the likes of the .PH or .COM.PH ccTLDs) or a blogging service. True, Calliope is the platform running all the blogs but it’s all tied up with the second level domain. There’s no way to be able to use Calliope on your own site (unlike MT or WP) and you can’t use i.PH for any other sites outside Calliope either.
The i.PH business model is almost similar to that of SixApart where they offer monthly subscription plans to people and host them on TypePad.com. In a sense, i.PH is a direct competitor of SixApart, the only differnce there is that i.PH is only targetting Filipino bloggers.
Then, the service came out with a free starting package to entice more users and hopefully convert them to paying customers when they outgrow the free subscription. It was once mentioned to be by someone from the inside what their total userbase was but I never got the numbers on the paying ones.
The upcoming version 2 of i.PH promises more web services integration with such sites as MySpace, Friendster, Multiply, Flickr, Photobucket. I was given a trial account to look around at the user interface and provide some feedback. (See sample screenshot here.) Still, you can really see a lot of improvements.
So let me share some of my thoughts on this as a whole:
- The next version still fails to address some of the very basic needs of bloggers — complete control of their blog’s design and layout. Sure the drag-and-drop thing looks cool but users are still limited to what’s available in the theme gallery and the integrated services. This is the same reason why WordPress.com isn’t kicking in huge volume of users. Blogger (BlogSpot) is still king in this area.
- A free starting plan to bait paid users later on might have worked with TypePad but will it work for Filipinos? We all know we favor free ones over paid services. And the cost to upgrade your free i.PH (100MB/2GB) account is pretty expensive — $90/year & $150/year for 2 higher plans. You won’t see these numbers in the public pages but inside your Control Panel; and the price comparison chart doesn’t even say how much space and bandwidth that covers. If anyone wants to pay for their blog, they could get a proper domain and hosting for a third of that price.
- Monetization. In this day and age when almost everyone can potentially earn from their blog thru AdSense, TLA and Amazon Associates, you have to able to let your users run these on their blog. If you have a blogger who can generate some decent revenue from their own blog, they may be able to justify paying for that blog upgrade as well. This is one big reason why Blogger beats WordPress.com in attracting more users though I hope there would be more WordPress Widgets to follow.
Here are some fo the recommendations I actually told them before and I’m adding some more ideas:
1) Release i.PH as a stand-alone domain service like .COM.PH and give it a radically cheap price to compensate for the expensive .PH domain. Since the target users are students and individuals, why not give them the ability to have a cool & short domain for a fraction of the price? Regular .COM domains can be had for Php500 a year; why not offer the same for i.PH and make it Php500 for 5 years? I’m sure them CS and multimedia students would grab them for their semestral web projects.
2) Allow users to be able to completely skin their themes. I’m sure the opensource community will contribute to the existing theme collection. And allow them to be able to plaster their own Adsense accounts on their blogs. Nothing beats a blogger’s enthusiams when he gets even a dollar a day from their personal blog thru Adsense.
3) Open Calliope for developers to add extensions and plugins. You don’t have to do all the development in-house. MovableType has hundreds of plugins contributed by its users.
4) Usability. People are familiar with how Blogger and LiveJournal works and to see the same look-and-feel in a potentially better platform is a major plus. I usually say if it works like MS Word that everyone knows, it should be easy to use.
On a side note, since .PH domains are still excruciatingly expensive, why not offer people free Calliope blog hosting for every domain they buy? At least you give some added value for the ones who want their own .COM.PH.