Chipping away at the free accounts...

First off, I'd like to say that I've been really impressed with PAW. It's a really cool service, and you guys do a great job running it!

That said, I'm a bit concerned over what's going on with the free accounts -- it's starting to feel a bit like bait & switch. When I first signed up, we were allowed 5 consoles and we had the ability to access random sites. The current "Free" pricing states that only 2 consoles are allowed (though it appears that I can still open more than 2, for now), and much of the internet has been turned off.

I understand that PAW has technical issues that they need to work around. I think providing extra benefits to those who pay for additional services is a great model. But I don't think existing accounts should have their abilities chipped away. What will be the next feature to go? If I sign up for a free account for a particular feature, there's now no guarantee that that feature will remain in place. That's fine, it's a free account -- but now that you're removing features (rather than just adding premium features), how do I know that any particular feature will remain in any given pricing level? Why should I upgrade to a $5 account, when I don't know that two months from now the feature I require will only be available to $9 accounts?

You've got a great thing going on here. I hope it continues to be great in the future.

Hi tjwarren,

That's a great point and I'm glad you asked it here, so that we can explain the situation publicly rather than it being hidden away in an email exchange.

The first thing I should say is that the way we manage what features are available to which users is on a per-user basis rather than a per-account-type. This means that in general the features you get with your account will be the same or better as when you signed up, even if we decide later that it's not practical to offer the same to future customers as the same price point. For example, when you signed up for your free account, we advertised that free accounts got up to 5 consoles, so a 'max_consoles=5' feature was saved with your free account -- so that's why you can still open that many and will continue to be able to do so.

Doing it the way was a deliberate decision we made because we didn't want to be doing a bait-and-switch, for both legal and moral reasons; in general, when we change what features are available to a given account type, we keep existing users as they are if we're reducing what's available to new users, and we increase what's available to existing users if new users are getting more. Obviously we can't promise to offer something forever if it turns out it would lead to us going bust, but rest assured that our intention is to make sure that in all but the most exceptional circumstances, whether your account is free or paid for, what you sign up for is what you keep.

Which leads me neatly on to the external site thing, which was the first -- and I sincerely hope the last -- instance of those exceptional circumstances. Basically, what happened was that we found that a small number of free users were using PythonAnywhere as a staging post for various forms of network abuse. The specific cases weren't so bad -- things we could sort out with a Sunday afternoon (why do script kiddies always choose Sundays?) of forensics, apologies to the owners of the affected servers, etc., but no criminal implications -- but it became clear that allowing people we couldn't identify (to the legal authorities if necessary) unlimited Internet access was not something we could continue to do, even if we wanted to. So that's why that changed. It wasn't a decision we took lightly, and as I said above, I hope we won't have to do it again.

I hope that clarifies things, and if you do have any further questions then please do let us know.