This is one in a series of columns on the open source commerce (OSC) industry.
Last week CRE Loaded e-commerce founder Salvatore Iozzia was reinstated as Chief Visionary Officer, CEO Michael Valverde left the company, and former CFO Greg McGraw was appointed Interim CEO.
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After winning $5 million in venture capital only a few months ago, the company had removed its founder and president Sal Iozzia. Almost immediately the company began to act like a dictatorship, nearly destroying itself along with its community and goodwill. Without warning, the company began charging a recurring annual fee for even its most basic entry-level software program, CRE Loaded Standard Edition. When community members complained on its forum, the complaint was removed or the complainer banned.
The newly-capitalized company also dropped the community beta testers who are the opinion leaders of the community. Affiliates and resellers were likewise ousted. A no-refunds policy was instituted. And those customers who had paid hundreds of dollars for the last few copies of the old 6.2 version were told tough luck, pay twice, you get no discount to upgrade to the new version.
Failed Attempt to Charge for All Open Source Products
The company returns to a policy of free standard edition after a short-lived attempt at charging users failed. One of the implicit tenets of the open source community is that a basic version will be offered free of charge. This is not explicitly part of any open source license, and indeed, the only free thing guaranteed by open source licensing is the freedom to look at and modify the code.
However, CRE Loaded became one of the first to attempt to charge for all open source products, and community judgment was swift and brutal. As Iozzia said in a message he sent this week to the community, "You spoke out with your words and with your wallets."
Brief Flirtation with Censorship on the CRE Forums
For over five years, the CRE Forums had enjoyed a large, active, energetic community and had become a popular alternative to other open source commerce forums, because the forum's policies allowed members to speak openly and honestly about all open source e-commerce programs.
In contrast, the forum policy of the other of the Big Three programs osCommerce and Zen Cart has been to promptly censor or delete postings that mentioned another program, person or subject with which the moderators disagreed. Banning forum members from posting was also common.
Since Iozzia's brief departure, the CRE Forums had become just another place of heavy-handed censorship and banning of members who expressed discontent with the group's sudden changes. Resignation and despair colored many of the posts, and eventually there became too many negative posts to remove. Long-time community members disappeared. Moderator Gerald Scott says he was operating under the directives of the short-lived management team, and his advocacy for the members fell on deaf ears. Something had to be done to turn things around.
Colorful Founder Iozzia Returns with Fanfare
Almost as suddenly as the company changed in the wrong direction, the company changed back. Late Thursday evening in a message sent to all members registered on the site, Iozzia announced his return to the helm. In a stunning and well-crafted mea culpa, saying, "I need you to forgive us. I need you to give us a chance to regain your trust. We will put our money where our mouth is. Given a chance we will earn your trust back." The same message was also posted on the CRE Forum.
Deafening Roar from the Community
In the days since Iozzia's announcement, reaction from the community has been mixed and boisterous. Many former members trickled back to the forum to see who was there and what others were saying. Comments ranged from, "Greed has NOT prevailed. What a change of course! I have renewed faith in CRE," to "CRE has wounded me and I am still trying to heal."
Iozzia encouraged community members to come and yell, and to tell him how they feel. And tell him they did. Whether happy or disgruntled, all members of the community are passionate. Time will tell if the suggestions by the disgruntled members will have an effect.
The Product Changes
CRE Standard Edition is free once again. Serial numbers will still be required, but if a serial number expires, the user will not be locked out of their own store. Customers who purchased CRE Loaded 6.2 recently will receive a free copy of 6.3. Users of CRE Loaded 6.2 will receive "decent discounts" to encourage them upgrade to 6.3. And the company is now giving a thirty-day satisfaction guarantee instead of its short-lived "no refunds" policy. This is all in addition to recent announcements that the company will extend the free product support from thirty days to a full year. The company is also instituting new aggressive Reseller programs which give financial discounts to developers who resell and Affiliate programs which give commissions to developers who refer purchasers.
The Community and Other Changes
As difficult as it may be for a while, Iozzia promises that forum members will no longer be censored. Forum members who had been banned, will be "unbanned." These members have already begun to re-appear. Volunteer product testers known as "community beta testers" will once again be a high priority.
Usability changes to the Web site were almost immediately apparent, with the axing of the forum's heavy Flash header navigation. The result? The forum is loading faster. The non-intuitive domain name getcre.com is being "dumped" and the familiar domain name creloaded.com has returned.
The Web site is being improved as well, according to Iozzia.
Former CEO Michael Valverde states, "Having accomplished the necessary preparations and subsequent funding of the company, I am moving on to pursue my next venture. I leave CRE in capable hands knowing they will continue on the course to success."
Things are Looking Up
Within five days of the announcement, Iozzia says that the number of downloads of the CRE 6.3 Standard product had increased ten-fold. The long-awaited release of CRE 6.3 B2B will happen this week, Iozzia promises, after a number of delays. Bearing the official moniker Founder, President, and Chief Visionary, Iozzia has long been known affectionately. Other competitors do not have a charismatic leader like Iozzia, and his ability to impassion his community members may be what saves the company.
Kerry Watson is a consultant and author of 12 books in the OSC industry, including the latest "ShowMe Guides' CRE Loaded Users Manual for All Versions." Her Web site is osCommerceManuals.com.
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