Pocket Money, Part Two

The Thinker by Rodin

This is a follow up to my entry Pocket Money published on April 28th. In that entry I said I was thinking of selling my web services for money, since I was getting regular interest.

Over the last month, I have earned $119 from customers on the Internet. In my real job, it would not even pay for three hours of my time. Nevertheless, this is real money. It is not funny money that some alleged “barrister” in Sierra Leone wants to send me (if I can just let them use one of my accounts). As we speak, it is sitting in my checking account. It is urging me to spend it on something frivolous. I have already succumbed. I spent part of that money buying Seasons 2 and 3 of The West Wing. The rest will be blown on other frivolities, perhaps when we visit Paris next month. Yes, there is money to be made online. It can be done from the comfort of your home computer. You can do it in your boxer shorts while eating Cheetos if you want. It may not be a boatload of money, but it is money nonetheless.

Since you rarely meet your customer face to face over the Internet, you generally want a financial broker to transfer money. My broker is the only one I know about: PayPal. They charge a small percent of any money that I receive.

For that money, I have installed the phpBB Digest modification that I wrote two years ago on three different web sites. The Digest modification sends an email digest to phpBB forum users on either a daily or a weekly basis. In addition to my Digest modification, I have installed the phpBB Attachment modification twice. This modification is popular because it allows users to upload photos, documents and the like to the forum to share with others. Like my Digest modification, it is a pain to install, but a truly neat feature once it is installed.

It is a good thing that I learned early in my career (when I sold lawn and garden equipment for Montgomery Ward) that the customer is always right. Okay, they are not always right. Sometimes they are dead wrong. Still, if you want repeat customers and something like a positive reputation, it helps to go that extra mile. It also helps not to be squeamish. One of my customers runs a gay oriented site. Apparently, there are some gay men that are into dirt, urine and body odor and he is one of them. He asked somewhat tentatively whether I would do the work because of the mature theme of his site. Of course, I told him. How he and his friends get their jollies may not my cup of tea, but it puts money into my bank account. If it is not blatantly illegal, why allow my squeamishness over a particular sexual fetish get in the way of my financial enrichment? Business is business after all, and these sorts of moral dilemmas never kept a Republican from getting rich. Ask Pat Robertson about his Nigerian investments.

My first customer is already a repeat customer. After installing the Digest modification, he saw my phpBB site and liked the way I added a column to the right hand side on the main index. It shows post per day, recent posts, recent visitors and integrated RSS news feeds. Could I do the same thing for his site? Not a problem: $65 please and I included 30 days of support in case something needed tweaking.

One thing I am learning from this kind of Internet commerce is that no software is truly free. The “free” open source software model (which is how phpBB is licensed) provides the illusion of free software. Yet money there is still money to be made from free software. MySQL, the open source database vendor, figured it out: give out the database for free (at least for non-commercial use), but offer paid support regardless. Only if you do not value your time does open source software really become free. MySQL is quite profitable, and it is making bigger and proprietary vendors like Oracle sweat bullets. Some, like Computer Associates, have followed the MySQL model. The Ingres database, owned by CA, is now also open source, and has been renamed OpenIngres.

Another thing I am learning is that this kind of work on the Internet requires risk. The risk is not on my end, since I require cash up front. Once the money is in my PayPal account, it might as well be in the bank. However, it is risky to my customer. Can they trust me? For to do the work I need administrator access to their web servers. Will they give me, a total stranger, sensitive information like this? Apparently, yes. Fortunately, I have no malicious intent. However, if I wanted to I could install viruses, or even erase their whole site. By building up a referenced clientele, I hope to assuage such concerns.

I am still not sure how long that I will stay in this business. It may be that I will lose interest, or customers will dry up. If so, I do not need the income. Perhaps that is the best part of this work: I can take it or leave it. However, at least in my case, it amounts to more than pocket money.