Coincidentally, the political nightmare I created in the IBuySpy Workshop Forum with my subscription announcement resulted in some direct attention from the Microsoft ASP.NET product team (the maintainers of the www.asp.net site). Still trying to recover from the damage I incurred, I received an e-mail from none other than Scott Guthrie (co-founder of the Microsoft ASP.NET Team), asking me to reexamine my decision on the subscription model and making suggestions on how the project could continue as a free, open source venture. It seemed that Microsoft was protective of its evolving community and did not want to see the progress in this area splinter and dissolve just as it seemed to be gaining momentum. Scott Guthrie made no promises at this point but he did open a direct dialogue that ultimately led to some fundamental discussions on sponsorship and collaboration. In fact, this initial e-mail led to a number of telephone conversations and ultimately an invitation to Redmond to discuss the future of the IBuySpy Workshop.
I still remember the combination of nerves and excitement as I drove from my home in Abbotsford, British Columbia to Microsoft's head office in Redmond, Washington (about a three-hour trek). I really did not know what to expect, and I tried to strategize all possible angles. Essentially all of my planning turned out to be moot, because my meeting with Scott Guthrie turned out to be far more laid back and transparent than I could have ever imagined. Scott took me to his unassuming office and we spent the next three hours brainstorming ideas about how the IBuySpy Workshop fit into the current ASP.NET landscape. Much of this centered on the evolving vision of ASP.NET 2.0 — an area where I had little or no knowledge prior to the meeting (the Whidbey Alpha had not even been released at this point).
At the beginning of the meeting, Scott had me demonstrate the current version of the IBuySpy Workshop, explaining its key features and benefits. We also discussed the long-term goals of the project as well as my proposed roadmap for future enhancements. Scott's knowledge of both the technical and community aspects of the ASP.NET platform really amazed me — I guess that's why he is the undisputed "Father of ASP.NET." In hindsight, I can hardly believe my good fortune to have received three dedicated hours of his time to discuss the project — it really changed my "ivory tower" perception of Microsoft and forged a strong relationship for future collaboration.
Upon leaving Redmond, I had to stifle my excitement as I realized that, regardless of the direct interaction with Microsoft, I personally was still in the same situation as before the subscription model announcement. Because the subscription model failed to generate the much-needed revenue that would have allowed me to devote 100% of my time to the project, I was forced to examine other possible alternatives. There were a number of suggestions from the community and the concept that seemed to have the most potential was related to web hosting.
In these early stages, there were few economical Microsoft Windows hosting options available that offered a SQL Server database — a fundamental requirement for running the IBuySpy Workshop application. Coincidentally, I had recently struck up a relationship with an individual from New Jersey who was active in the IBuySpy Workshop forums on www.asp.net. This individual had a solid background in web hosting and proposed a partnership whereby he would manage the web hosting infrastructure and I would continue to enhance the application and drive traffic to the business. Initially there were a lot of community members who signed up for this service — some because of the low-cost hosting option, others because they were looking for a way to support the open source project. It soon became obvious that the costs to build and support the infrastructure were consuming the majority of the revenue generated. And over time the amount of effort to support the growing client base became more intense. Eventually it came to a point where it was intimated that my contributions to the web hosting business were not substantial enough to justify the current partnership structure. I was informed that the partnership should be dissolved. This is where things got complicated because there was never any formal agreement signed by either party to initiate the partnership. Without documentation, it made the negotiation for a fair settlement difficult and resulted in some bad feelings on both sides. This was unfortunate because I think the relationship was formed with the best intentions but the demands of the business resulted in a poor outcome. Regardless, this ordeal was an important lesson I needed to learn: regardless of the open-source nature of the project, it was imperative to have all contractually binding items properly documented.