Short answer - Not long. There is no such thing as a free push notification service. It doesn’t exist. Over the years a lot of service providers have rolled out free push notification plans which started by allowing marketers - unlimited subscribers and the ability to send unlimited notifications. You might think, why is OneSignal free? OneSignal started with a plan like this and in early 2019, they killed this plan and limited their free plan to just 10K Subscribers. Truepush also rolled out a similar plan in Jan 2019. Their offering was 100% free.
Both the plans were based on the premise that - the service providers would collect data about users and monetize the data. 3rd party data monetization is a well-established but super difficult business. The email industry is a good example to look at. Email marketing tools have existed for over 2 decades now. And they don’t offer unlimited emails to unlimited subscribers plans. For a reason - you can’t sell something for a cost.
Wait, but why offer push notifications for free?
Tl;Dr Because sending and delivering emails, texts, or notifications - costs money. As Morgan Housel said - no one is crazy. If a piece of software is being sold for a very small price - be suspicious about it. Highly likely that they are monetizing elsewhere. For eg - in the push notification industry, monetizing push notification audiences is a standard way of making money while extending the platform. This is the most frequently adopted model. Propeller Ads ( Notix ), PushNami, AimTell and a dozen other players operate like this and allow publishers to just earn money by monetizing their audience. Most of these providers limit access to their main audience engagement product. Again -nothing is free anymore.
What does it take to put together a push notification product?
Keeping aside all bells and whistles, a push notification software is hired for essentially 2 jobs
- Converting anonymous visitors into push notification subscribers i.e building an audience
- Delivering notifications to engage this audience i.e Driving back visitors
While both of these jobs might sound simple, and if you have a couple of websites, building a tool yourself and using that might be okay. The real challenge, just like with everything else, is when you start scaling. The problem statement is - Can the product you have built or the free notification platform that you have selected deliver over 1M notifications in less than a minute?
How Difficult is Notification Delivery After All?
For a betting website, updating the readers with the score of a live match is mission-critical. The same is the case for a financial news website wanting to update its readers about the movements of tech stocks. The timing of your notifications decides the revenue these websites stand to make or lose. And delivering notifications to millions of users is where the trick lies. This gets more complicated when 100s of publishers like you, in your timezone are trying to push through their content to their audience. For context - we deliver over 3.5M notifications every single minute, about 150B a month. This is what we refer to as the tragedy of the commons in the Push Notification Industry. Building and maintaining an infrastructure that supports this costs $s.
How expensive is Cloud infrastructure? What about the free credits offered by AWS, GCP, Azure?
Cloud platform partners definitely offer free credits but then these credits only last so long. And a business model that’s based on a vendor’s price plan is not a sustainable one.
No Free Lunches
Just like the old saying - if anyone is offering push notifications for free, start by being skeptical. Look under the hood to understand “what’s free” and what’s not, and what limitations apply. Also, take a pause and ask - What’s the underlying business model here? Rest assured - they are not doing it for charity.