‘Free’ is here to stay.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Conferences, Free, Google, Higher Education, Recruitment, Social Media, Speaking, Technology, Twitter, Web | Posted on 03-25-2008


There is one question I typically get when I present a viable option/solution that happens to utilize a 3rd party website/web2.0 tool.
“What do they [the company who's providing the service for free] get out of it?”

It’s a great question, and should definitely be considered. What are we, the University, giving them, the person behind the curtain, in return for their services? What personal information will they collect? What advertisements come along with the product/solution? What if the product later goes to a paid service and all of our data/information that we have built up over the months and years now costs to use?

There is a whole new wave of these sites that are all funded by venture capitalists, and truly are just free. Chris Anderson is coming out with a book in 2009 called ‘Free’, that coins a term ‘freeconomics’. He talks about it in this article. The article extremely long, but really good. He is the author of ‘The Long Tail’, and if this book is half as amazing or revolutionary as that one, then we should be in for something special.

There are several routes all of these startups can take. For example, they could eventually be purchased by a Microsoft or Google or Yahoo and still be free to use, but the original creators will make their money at that point (the acquisition will yield some figure with lots of zeros behind it). Sometimes sites will also say that it’s free for non-commercial or non-profits, but then charge a fee to businesses who want to use the site, like Google occasionally does with its products.  Other sites will eventually wither away or be forgotten about some day.

A good example of ‘free’ is something I implemented on our site about 2 weeks ago, Google Talk Chatback. I was wrapping this blog post up, and noticed some discussion on Twitter between Matt, Jeremy, and Patrick about what types of chat solutions there are out there. (If you’re not on Twitter, you’re missing out on a ton of great resources.) All of the sites they were mentioning cost $$, and we all know budgets are slim at Universities. I was in a similar spot for awhile, looking at some products, but eventually settled with Google Talk because:

  1. It’s free.
  2. There is no download.
  3. There is no client to install.
  4. Gmail archives all chat logs.
  5. It’s small and unobtrusive.

I set up butleradmission(at)gmail(dot)com and workers can log in to that to be available. Here are are a few screenshots, but you can go to http://go.butler.edu/cs to check it out. It’s been pretty good so far. Obviously there are some limitations since it’s a free solution, but who’s going to argue with that? (Don’t answer. :) )

Now wouldn’t it be nice if we got to split the money up whenever we found a solution that kept $ in the budget?  Or better yet, some of that went to your budget?   I think if that were the case, employees would be much more cognizant of their spending, and would seek out other resources and attempt to save some cash.  Again, that’s a whole other blog post for another day.

And what’s the best part of all of this?  NO calls from companies, NO attempts to sell you more products, NO billing or contracts to worry about, NO strings attached.  Don’t like the product?  Delete a few lines of code from your site and it’s gone forever.

I’ll be talking about this and 7-8 other Google solutions that you can start implementing on you campus for free at the Innovative Educators conference in Cincinnati this June.   Get more information here; there is a great lineup of speakers and I’m honored to be among them.

Now get out there and enjoy FREE!

Comments posted (3)

I actually tried using Google Talk and that will work for one-on-one (which we might implement) anytime conversation, but we are looking for more of a group feature and I don’t think Google Talk can do that. I have found quite a few open source solutions that I can customize and design however I want them to be, but it will take time. That was what was nice about GT is that it took about 5 minutes. Very good insight though, and I get asked that same question all the time.

Brad – thanks for getting it.

Other dynamics at play:

If it’s simple, it’s more likely to be adopted – it’s easier to try and easier to get.

If you aren’t charging, you have to make it pretty simple (unless you are google already) or else you will kill yourself in upfront costs.

Being simple means you have to clearly do something of value. This forces focus.

Companies that charge lead other companies that charge to compete (chum in the water) and they often compete over who has more features which makes them all more complicated and -less likely to be used –

So free is less likely to be a waste of your money : )

It is extremely important to understand your free vendors motivations. There’s a big difference between SPAM factories, maybe google will buy, altruism, cross selling, and adoption requirements.

Great post!

There is a lot of great “free” Web technology out there. IM, social networks, etc.

Interesting blog post about free offering an alternative viewpoint, specifically referencing Chris Anderson:


Write a comment