I Am Joe’s Blog:

February 28, 2007 • 12:37 PM

Bandwagon Undo and Redo

So you know that whole Bandwagon launch thing that was supposed to happen last week? Well, funny story. The newly launched service lasted all of a couple of days before it was taken offline; it’s now being completely retooled for yet another grand opening in April.

As near as I can determine, what happened was approximately this: A surprisingly large number of people signed up right away for the all-the-iTunes-you-can-back-up-online service at $69 per year. But most of those people had far greater iTunes storage needs than even the company’s most generous estimates. The Bandwagon folks did the math and discovered that they couldn’t possibly afford all the necessary storage space, CPU power, and bandwidth—they’d actually be losing money on the service. So they stopped accepting new subscribers, told the existing subscribers that they’d be getting their money refunded, and announced that a very different version of Bandwagon will go online in a couple of months. The early adopters, having already received a refund, will also get a free year’s worth of service on the new system for their troubles.

So what is this new and improved Bandwagon? You’ll still be backing up your iTunes stuff online. But now, instead of storing it on Bandwagon’s servers, you’ll be storing it on Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service), which is some of the cheapest online storage you can get. You’ll pay Amazon.com directly for the storage space, and you’ll pay Bandwagon either $24 or $36 per year for, apparently, the use of their application. (At the higher price you also get syncing between two Macs, though I’m unsure of the details at this point.) Once again, Bandwagon is offering a discount (half off) for people who sign up before the official launch; you can read about that on the Bandwagon site. And once again, they’re offering an incentive to bloggers, but this time they’re looking for help with beta testing more than publicity, and those who provide helpful bug reports will get a six-month subscription free.

Now, I’ve been hoping for some time that some Mac backup app would directly support S3, so that’s cool. But the fact that it’s limited to iTunes content is a big minus. Also, and I’ve told the Bandwagon folks this more than once, their new pricing structure is a bad idea. They’re effectively asking you to rent their software. Since you’re no longer backing up to their servers, you’re not paying them for a service as such. I can’t comprehend why they don’t do what every other software company does and simply sell licenses to their software. They could charge much more than $36, and even come out with paid upgrades every year or two, so they’d be making more money. But their customers wouldn’t have to feel like they’re renting software by the month, and they wouldn’t have to make recurring payments to both Bandwagon and S3.

There’s another issue, too: S3 in its current form is still pretty much for geeks. Signing up for, and configuring, and account is somewhat complex. And it’s an extra step (or several) that each Bandwagon user must now go through. Bandwagon says they’ll also support other varieties of online storage in the future, but details are sketchy at the moment.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less competent product launch, and I’ve seen some doozies. When you’re launching a backup service, you want to instill confidence in your customers, including confidence that you’ve done your homework and have a solid business plan. Launching, unlaunching, retooling, and relaunching doesn’t give me warm fuzzies. The pricing is weird and unfortunate. And the service is unnecessarily limited. But perhaps that’ll all change—maybe several times—before the next launch.