Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
How does the community continue to thrive in a mainstream world?
Published on February 11, 2008 By Draginol In OS Customization

Skinning first started getting popular around 1999. Back then, it was mostly about skinning Winamp and WindowBlinds.  Today, people expect to be able to customize virtually every aspect of their PC experience. From the moment someone boots to the time they shut down, everything a user sees they now anticipate the ability to personalize somehow if they choose to.

In the beginning, the content came from the community. The software itself was developed within the community as well. A given program would go through many beta iterations and technically savvy users would report problems they had, post their system info, and work with the developers to fix the problems. 

Because the community was essentially a partner in the production of the software, the software was relatively cheap. $10 to $20 was the typical price for any customization program. After all, if the user base was actively part of the development process and they were the ones providing the bulk of the content, how could anyone justify charging more than that?  And, as a practical matter, community participation drastically lowered the cost to develop skinning software which in turn opened the door to lots of freeware and shareware developers, working out of their houses, to create cool stuff.

When Windows XP came along in 2001, things began to change. Skinning became much more mainstream. The ratio between consumers of software/content to producers of software/content changed dramatically.  Once skinning went mainstream, users expectations began to change.  The number of people willing to create content dramatically decreased as a % of the user base.

In addition, the community that once would provide in-depth reports on bugs evolved into a community that increasingly would provide reports like "This is broke, it don't work on my computer. How could you release this buggy mess????" The same community that produced incredibly talented skinners increasingly became a community of consumers waiting for someone else to make things for them.

As the skinning community became more consumer-centric, the costs of providing software and content for that community increased. In many respects, the "community" of year year is long. Now it's a "market". Increasingly, unconsciously, even internally the word "market" has begun replacing the term "community".  The "skinning market" differs from the "skinning community" in that the former expects the software developers to do it all while the latter sees themselves as part of a team with the developers.

The net result is that most users simply want to buy a product and get really high quality content and not mess around with "community" content. Which, naturally, means that fewer people, as a % are willing to use the various editors and tools to create community content.

Similarly, today's users often become irate at the notion of running into bugs in software marked as betas. Very few users are willing to even try out betas and give feedback. Moreover, some people who do try out betas and do post expect that every issue they consider important will be quickly addressed and will stop contributing feedback if their particular issues aren't responded to in a timely way.

So what does this mean?

I predict we'll see the following trends:

  1. Content will begin to be provided as an additional optional service. For example, a user might buy WindowBlinds for $20 OR have the option to buy WindowBlinds Plus for $40 which includes a 1-year subscription to
  2. subscriptions will continue to evolve to where content becomes increasingly the value-add users get.  Discounts on "Master Skins" and free content from Stardock Design will become the norm.
  3. Users who contribute help in testing betas, giving feedback, generating content, helping in the community will get free subscriptions.

That's the 3 thigns I think will happen in the future as the skinning world adapts to becoming mainstream. In my mind, that's the best way for skinning to grow while saving its own soul.

Hopefully, people aren't taking what I'm writing as "complaining".  What I am doing is making observations about how the skinning world is evolving over time. The mainstreaming of it is altering the perceived relationship between the people who make stuff and the people who use stuff. The unspoken social contract between the two was traditionally that we developers make our stuff cheap and in return the users make the content and help us track down problems in an open and symbiotic way.  But that relationship has changed to being more akin to a traditional producer/consumer relationship. Which is fine if that's what has chosen.

Comments (Page 6)
on Feb 20, 2008

Actually, everyone's input is valued and particularly that of the 'newbie' in a subject/thread such as this one....

I'm a tad unsure as to what this thread has become about. I note the OP has been edited quite a long way into this discussion, removing key phrases and adding others.

The use of the term 'skinning community' appears to get switched towards the end from something that is deteriorating as it's absorbed into the market and failing to provide, into something that remains separate from the market,and may be protected from some changes as part of the nature of the relationship. Those definitions are quite important to following any arguments.

Stardock is accepted here, as an innovative and directing force. It's predictions of trends aren't some abstract notion of soothsaying, so I'd have thought there be more direct response to some of the possible outcomes.

Personally, while I don't focus on price, that's Stardock's prerogative - as a supporter of Stardock & Wincustomize, I am interested in how the relationship between the two develops, it's certainly not static.

Looking at the OP, particularly since the predictions were introduced I'd have expected more focussed replies.

Are you happy with the predictions? Not happy, don't give a toss? Do they fit in with what you expected to happen? - That sort of thing.

on Feb 21, 2008


well I'm not
on Feb 21, 2008
well I'm not

Just a comment or a slam?