If you free it, they will come. Hasn’t that been proven many times over in the software world? Not always the most viable business model, but sure to gain traction and then we can figure out the revenue streams, or the revenue streams will figure themselves out as we get volume. If the majority of what you do on the web is surfing and e-mailing, the software you use is free. If you are composing spreadsheets and documents using google docs and/or Open Office it is free. It’s really the value you imbue these documents with that have value and people are starting pay for. Your the NYTimes and your content is important to people, you sell ads. Your facebook, well it will be ads again, or maybe facebook gets a cut from all the digital nothingness people buy in the form of cyber poker chips and farm tools from Zynga but I’m getting off point.
Think of the building, or the digital manifestation of the building as the operating system, the OS. Now I want to run an energy analysis on the building, heating and cooling loads, solar analysis, or I want to do a cost analysis on sustainable retrofits, or even new construction. It can all start with generic structure or masses, that is I have generic mass of blocks and objects, it’s when it has to be put into context that it needs to be defined. From this is a wall, and this is a window, to this is a steel stud wall with 3/8″ gyp on each side, and this is a window with triple pane low-e glass, etc. It depends on what you need it for that it needs to be defined, energy analysis you want the R values, cost analysis for construction, types, and even then you may not want to populate that whole model with those defined types because it gets huge and you might not need it.
For all the different people who interface with the building the idea of a centralized model is an awesome thing, and it has been the idea of BIM that has brought this forward. However, think of having the BIM in the cloud, and now it becomes the OS and I want to build applications for it. Energy Analysis, Cost Analysis, Maintenance Contracts, Build Outs, etc. etc. it opens the building to the market. And if it can start as generic components and then people pick and choose what type of data and services they want to use to add value well it starts to sound like the iphone and the app store, or android and the app store, or facebook with Zynga, etc. that is free at first but customers willing to pay for the things that give them value. We can all argue the benefits of why having a BIM of your building allows you to manage what may be your biggest asset more efficiently and save money, energy, etc. however, combine those things with free, well that’s where SketchUp is bringing us, the free building OS, and we’re all going to be playing in the app store.