Acorn

Acorn is a website content management system and hosted platform that incorporates everything I've learned as a freelance web developer, designer, business consultant, and human factors practitioner. It's the primary digital product of Thinkerbit, LLC, and currently powers this site along with the next iteration of TinkerTry.com in the near future.

Acorn's intent is to make it easy and affordable to grow a sustainable online blog, shop, community, magazine, or personal site. It is not intended to "scale" beyond the scope of a small independent business and has no "exit strategy" for its customers to dread. I'm designing it from the ground up to be a long-term personal venture that I'll continue to work on for decades.

"Pay as you grow" pricing

In order to ensure that Acorn itself will be a long-term, self-sustaining platform, it will never be free. Plenty of other well-funded alternatives exist that offer free plans, and their tradeoffs would be antithetical to Acorn's sustainability mindset.

Instead, Acorn will use a "pay as you grow" pricing model that only charges more than it base cost after the site begins to pay for itself. Revenue sharing seems to be the only pricing scheme that properly aligns the incentives of both site owners and myself, making it the most likely to foster mutual respect and success.

Similar to WordPress, Acorn will also be open source and self-hostable with a commercial offering via Acorn.blog, ensuring that users will always "own" their site and its content.

Fast, stable, and capable

Acorn's unique pricing allows every feature to be unlocked from the get-go, allowing people to utilize whichever capabilities they need to succeed. Because every feature will be developed in-house, Acorn will offer the stability and simplicity of something like Squarespace without the need to install additional plugins or pay extra for extensions.

Of course, trying to compete with the vast plugin ecosystems of other platforms is a losing battle in the short-term. In the long-term, however, I anticipate the speed, stability, and tight integration of Acorn's features will be more desirable to its users than a hodgepodge of half-working plugins.

Direct editing

Unlike WordPress and many other CMSes, Acorn will not offer a "back end" administrative interface to edit content or tweak pages. Every page of Acorn will be editable within the page itself on both desktop and mobile devices, removing that extra layer of abstraction in favor of direct manipulation of content.

This approach has tradeoffs of course. Themes and layout options have to be carefully vetted and updated in tandem with Acorn's feature releases, potentially reducing the commercial viability of traditional externally-developed themes. Instead, Acorn's design system and component library will enable users to create or select their own site design that won't break as Acorn continues to develop.

Timeline and expectations

Acorns don't grow overnight, and I don't expect Acorn to either. I've created an internal roadmap with thousands of links and notes on how to prioritize and build Acorn's features and I plan to roll out an early version of the platform to some of my clients in 2018.

No matter how long the development of Acorn takes or how slowly it grows after launch, there are a few core tenets that I plan to steadfastly uphold on philosophical grounds:

  • No VC money, investors, angels, or grants.
  • No "free" plan, injected ads, or tracking scripts.
  • No up-selling, loud marketing, dark patterns, or lock-in.
  • An emphasis on speed, stability, and ease of use.