The Value of Free Information?

Filed as Features on November 20, 2007 11:12 am

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More and more I am coming to the realization that while people expect things to be free, they don’t necessarily respect, or place value on something that is free.

I recently set up a free online video chat where people could ask me blogging related questions. A few people I talked to thought it would be a great idea, and that people would love to participate in such an open discussion, as well as hopefully learning from my over two years experience as a full time blogger, but other than a few people, most of which I already know and stopped by to show their support, the video channel was empty. It really didn’t work out as well as I had hoped.

Sure, it could have been a number of other factors, but it really showed me that the community doesn’t really respect free things. I then added the video option to one of my paid consulting pages, and have had more requests for it since then, than I ever had when it was a free thing I was trying. As soon as I put a monetary value on my time and effort, people started to respect the offering much more.

A friend of mine, Mark, has decided that because of the community response, he is reconsidering giving away free PHP scripts for people to use. It seems that if the community doesn’t respect people willing to freely give out their knowledge, then they become disenchanted, and no longer take the time to create free things for people to use. And this is really understandable to me.

Flipping this around, there are so many online e-books that will set you back hundreds of dollars to teach you how to make money from your blog, rank well in search engines, or get super amounts of traffic, and people buy them in droves. Does that mean that the paid e-book would have more value than a free one? Or do people just assume that the higher the price, the higher the quality and value?

It is an interesting problem, and something I only see getting worse as the web continues to increase as a popular choice for business opportunities.

If you place a high value on free information, free blogs, free scripts, and free services, then make sure you let the creators know. A thank you from their user base might go a long way to continue to give them the drive they need to produce, support and otherwise create the things we take advantage of every day.

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  1. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on November 20, 2007 at 12:59 pm
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    David, you are just scraping the top off the iceberg on this issue. I’ve been “blogging” for over 14 years and yet others who have been doing it for less get paid more than I do. There is no glass ceiling online. And you are only as good as your last post. :D

    There are two issues I see. The chase and competition for money, and the “giving without expectation of return”.

    Yes, people expect everything online to be free. Supporters of Open Source expect the world to pay them for providing free effort, too. And sometimes it pays off.

    There is also the economics of the thing. I’m paid the same or less as a professional writer as I was paid in 1985. When I challenge this, they tell me that they can pick up a writer from anywhere and pay them $10 so why should they pay me more? Hmm, let’s see, decades of experience, education, expertise, specialization, popularity…but hey, what do you want for $10?

    People forget that you get what you pay for.

    We live in a society that continues to value the brilliant but wants to keep them starving artists – true to their art through their hunger. Money corrupts. Hey, folks, money pays the bills.

    There are gimmicks everywhere, and a sucker born every second, so those who price their products and services outrageously often make money because, as you say, there is a perception that the more you pay the greater the value. And then there are free products and services which are of great value, but serve only as hooks to lure them in so they spend more.

    What I’ve found is that those who stay consistent and keep their moral values and ethics in pace, through the trends and fads, avoiding the grasping gimmicks, will win in the long run. Those who don’t are rewarded for the short run only.

    I look forward to a day when the tried and true get rewarded more than the scam artists. Think that will happen soon?

    On the second issue, I think that giving back to society, which is what your attempt to offer free chat advice was about, is a good thing, but we judge them too soon. Did it get a lot of publicity. Was it set up to be incredibly easy to access without signing in or registering?

    I’ve seen many such projects start out with the greatest hopes, only to die off in the first few months due to lack of participation. The ones that hung on, started seeing interest a year or two down the road, as word and interest spread, not months. You’ve got lots of competition.

    When you do a good will gesture like this, you have to give without expectation of return.

    Reply

  2. By David Peralty posted on November 20, 2007 at 1:10 pm
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    Wow… Maybe you should have written a post around this whole thing, it seems like you have given it a huge amount of intense thought. I will have to go over your comment a few times, but I definitely think you have some very post worthy material here. Don’t let it all just hide in a comment on my post. :)

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  3. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on November 20, 2007 at 1:51 pm
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    @David Peralty:

    Nah, it’s your stuff. I just live it. :D

    Reply

  4. By Anne Helmond posted on November 20, 2007 at 5:52 pm
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    I recently noticed that ever since I got PayPal my attitude towards “free” things is changing. Because of the ridiculously high fees of dollar-to-euro and PayPay-to-bank conversion the small amount in my account is just not worth transferring it.

    I bought a few CDs from obscure labels that accept PayPal and I’ve started acting on the “Donate by Paypal” buttons and banners. I recently begun donating somewhere between 1 and 5 dollars for plugins, fonts and other webgoodies I love. It feels good to leave a comment or donate a few bucks to say thank you.

    Reply

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  7. By Myla posted on November 20, 2007 at 10:23 pm
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    Don’t give up on your free chat advice yet. I think you just have to promote it more to get more participants.

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  8. By Chris Garrett posted on November 21, 2007 at 7:41 am
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    There seems to be times when people undervalue what you give freely and other times when people get annoyed that you have the cheek to charge. In the end you have to go with what you believe is right and fair. To your own self be true :)

    Reply

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