Google Reader will be cancelled in July. This is a service that I use daily and there isn’t a good replacement (yet). This got me thinking about the whole free-software as a service model we seem to have swallowed as a culture. Web based emails is email is email, an online drive is meh, web-based calendars are just annoying (because you have multiple-on your phone, on your wall, on your computer, on your cloud based service) and maps? Well that’s pretty essential– but they don’t really need to show me where I am at– I KNOW that so it’s not something worth individualizing. Sharing? Please– who gives a shit? Given that all these web-based tools are free because they monetize their userbase it’s quite nice for us users who would normally have to pay for such services— however the free model means that the owning company can simply shut down any service it doesn’t like without any contractual issues with it’s clients. So giving free means taking away whenever and however.
That said, do we really want to use free software ever? Is the concept of free software (where WE as users are the actual product for the people that really pay Google and the like for our information) something that we should all examine a lot more closely?
Frankly I would rather have paid or have a monthly payment for my feed reader and will do so in the future, ideally for an application where I can choose to update or not– but we were all cajoled into thinking free is a good idea back in 2006 or so– that cajoling that free is good is, in fact, Google’s business model. We give you, our product (which is the users,) something for free and we monetize your use and interest in that product. Now instead of paying for a hard drive, you can get one for free online where you can store your stuff. Your mail communications are all online as well. What will happen when Google decided to get rid of Drive and Google Plus–or even MAIL? More likely these will eventually change to such a degree to make them unusable for the original adopters Just like Reader and Google Wave, they have zero obligation to you as a user to keep that service running since it’s free and also not a free application (it’s a software as a service). So if said piece of software isn’t a service that generates revenue for their actual customers, it will eventually be cut away to cut costs for services that do.
The main issue is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. have actual products that they sell to clients, but it’s not something ANY of us would want to buy for the most part; yet we are the ones that actually generate this revenue for these service providing companies, whether it’s by our searching or using free services or allowing a company to monetize our personal connections. We are their product. The bottom line is, if you use a free service, assume that it will either be changed or go away at the whim of the provider, i.e.: it CANNOT BE RELIED UPON.