Phasing out Help Scout’s Free Plan Pushes the Development of a Free Self-Hosted Alternative
When Help Scout started in April 2011 it was a completely free online help desk. Providing this free service over the years allowed the company to polish the product, gain popularity and attract thousands of clients. After several years, a few paid plans were added to the platform but Help Scout was still offering a Free plan with limited functionality, which was enough for small companies to organize their email-based customer support for free. In March 2017 Help Scout stopped making the Free plan available to new Help Scout customers. Finally in May 2018, owners of the free Help Scout accounts received a “Phasing out the Help Scout Free plan” message from Help Scout, in which Nick Francis, Help Scout co-founder and CEO, explained:
For a lot of reasons, we haven’t been successful in maintaining a “freemium” version of the product that makes sense for our business, and have decided to phase out all Free plans over the next six months.
All the free accounts are now upgraded to the Standard plan, which costs $20 per user/month. Free accounts which don’t provide credit card details before November 29th 2018 will be cancelled.
As a result, the GitHub community started development of the free open source version of Help Scout (https://github.com/freescout-helpdesk/freescout). The project is called FreeScout, it is written in PHP7 and uses Laravel 5.5 framework. Developers promise that FreeScout will provide the same set of features as Help Scout (including shared mailbox, help desk tools, email management and analytics) along with some extra features such as starred conversations, long awaited ‘pasting screenshots from the clipboard into the reply area’ and sending messages to multiple recipients at once. Some interface and usability improvements have also been announced. The application is licensed under the free AGPL-3.0 license, which requires that the full source code be made available to any of it’s network users. Companies that have concerns about sharing their internal communications with customers with third parties may indeed benefit from using this open source self-hosted Help Scout clone.
FreeScout’s design looks very much like Help Scout (a few screenshots of the help desk are already available on the project’s GitHub page). The project team says that has purposefully done this to allow a smooth transition from Help Scout without the need to retrain support agents for companies which are currently using Help Scout as their support system.
In the past, a Github community created a clone of Trello but they used Trello CSS files in their work, and, as a result, Trello submitted a DMCA (The Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Takedown Notice and developers had to remove the CSS files from their repository and redesign the application. Development of the free Trello is now however successfully continuing with more than 1800 forks and 90 contributors. The authors of FreeScout are claiming that the application is being developed from scratch and is not using any copyrighted Help Scout materials in order to comply with GitHub’s DMCA Policy. According to them, trademark, logos, icons, CSS, JS and HTML files are copyrighted, while idea, look and feel cannot be copyrighted.
Currently the FreeScout team are inviting developers to join efforts in the development of a free open source Help Scout alternative. So it will be interesting to see how Help Scout reacts to the development of a free analog of their service.