Creating Software To Advertise And Build Value: What You Need To Know

As we all get more Internet and mobile phone-centric, you see more and more software built to either promote or add value to a service or product.

For example:

  • Nationwide Insurance created an iPhone app for their customers to help them make the task of filing a claim easier.
  • There is Revver who created an official plugin WordPress to make it easier for their users to display videos and earn money.
  • Pizza Hut has an iPhone app that includes a game, ability to order food and receive coupons.
  • And there are countless Facebook apps created by big name companies.

I love it. On every project I have, I try to figure ways to build in an app or plugin to make people utilize the product more or spread the word about my web site but there are some issues which I’d like to highlight if you have been considering the same thing yourself.

To date, my biggest problem is licensing and distribution. Sometimes the issues occur together, sometimes they don’t. I don’t (or haven’t) yet built software for the iPhone, because I believe that if I were to build a mobile app, I wouldn’t want to piss off the rest of my customers or fans by offering the app *just* for iPhone but that’s a whole other blog post and we won’t go there today.

Building for iPhone or iTouch

Back to iPhone, if you are planning to build for the iPhone platform, you should know that:

All applications must be distributed via Apple iTunes. Your app has to be digitally signed using a system that Apple approves off which is tied to the distribution available only via iTunes. If you try to install an unsigned app, then technically you’ve broken the law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

You are free to give away your software once on iTunes. You just can’t distribute it in any way other than the manner Apple set out.

And if they reject you?

Well… I suppose you can appeal, but good luck! Keep in mind, Apple can do this anytime because they control what Apps are allowed to be sold/given away on iTunes and since you can’t distribute it anyway other than iTunes… you get the picture.

Building for WordPress

This is another hotbed issue and interestingly enough is the opposite side of the pendulum. First of all, no matter what it says on the box, no software is free. It costs thousands and probably millions of man-hours. Similarly, let’s say you want to build a plugin that would make your services more valuable for your existing customers only. I won’t be far from the truth to say you would probably hire a developer to do it correct? So would I but you or your company pays the developer to develop this. So the cost is on you.

Because WordPress uses GPL licensing, plugins also have to be licensed as GPL as well. Which means, if you are going to distribute the plugin, even under limited circumstances say, to your own customers, you must also give them access to the source code. It doesn’t matter whether you sell or give away the plugin but whoever receives or buys the plugin must be able to access the source.

Which means, users of your software can take the plugin, build upon or even not do anything and simply re-distribute it openly. They can even re-brand it as their own and distribute it via channels you may not want.

There are plugin authors who go against this by hiding the code and issuing different licenses. I haven’t heard of any big crackdown but the bottom line is still a violation of WordPress license. Which means if they want to pursue it, they could.

By the way, if you develop it for your own use – no distribution to other parties, you are not required to give away your source code.

Not Scare Tactic

While all this sounds super scary and downright draconian, that is not my intention. I am merely sharing what I’ve encountered while pursuing Technology-Based-Marketing strategies. It has not scared me off from developing these apps. I did spend some of my own money to develop a plugin that is released as GPL on It is a risk and eventually it will be outdated or eclipsed by someone else. Right now, I am enjoying a some traffic as a direct result of releasing it.

Photo courtesy of Jason Rogers

Lynette Chandler
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  1. Wish I could come up with something so kids could place their christmas wishlists at my site 🙂
    Reminds me of the approach followed by Chris Rempel – building apps for getting very targeted traffic.

  2. Hi Santa, that is a great idea and I think something like that you’ll run into few licensing/distribution issues since I imagine you’d have this 100% hosted on your site. The only thing may have to watch our for is probably COPPA ( since you’re dealing with/collecting information from children.

  3. Jimmy Strony says

    I think that all software should be free. I know, that is an utopia but if we could think about it just a while we would see the benefits. More sites, more traffic, more income. Companies that produce payed software could earn money from donation, advertising and also traffic. I think that it may be not possible right now, but in near future quite available. If the connection speed will get faster and faster, hardware cheaper and more powerful even more people will use the web. Only in China we have about billion of potential internauts, and that is enormous number. Only with their clicks, developer work and active use of some tools we would have bigger worldwide traffic in one year than in entire history.

  4. yeah, thats what is holding me back – don’t want to get into legal trouble.
    But your post made me develop a few ideas for one of my other sites and I remember that I stored a link to an application developer somewhere (just have to ig around). He sold small and simple apps for around 17 bucks

  5. As far wordpress is concerned, when I released my first wp theme, there were some people that simply just used my theme to make their own. I guess that kind of thing is going to happen when you have open source software system.

    Till then,