What is the value of FREE and the cost of FREE

So information utopia abounds here, today and now, on the internet, at the tap of a keyboard and the click of a mouse we can find, research and inform ourselves about any subject be it medical, historical, political, personal or professional. There’s no limit to the material we can find.

Combine this with making that information available in an efficient and simple way with search engines, social networks, RSS, email subscription, VOIP and streaming video it can mean the creation of something very beautiful…but there’s a catch.

Free information does not create the skills, the expertise or the ability, it educates about them.

I read a lot, as most of us do, but reading can only take me so far.  When it comes to taking that knowledge and putting it into practice only ability and experience allow us to follow through and achieve or complete a goal.

Let me give you some examples of when free information can only take you so far.

The pipes are burst in the kitchen, so you take a wrench and patch it up with some tape to prevent further damage and control the situation. Disaster averted.

Now, being the pro active individual you are, you let onto the internet and watch some videos about pipe repairs, read a few articles about the means and methods of plumbing, and purchase a list of tools and materials described as essential to do the job.  Then sit back and await the arrival of those orders so you can save some money and not have to employ a plumber.

You can guess where I´m going with this I am sure.

Save you money?  Are you insane?  Lets ask ourselves honestly here, will it actually save you money or is it the perception that you are saving money, because inevitably, the tools and materials will arrive and you hunker down and start rattling under the sink.

One massive and decidedly wet explosion later and you wake up in hospital after a near death drowning experience to be told by a smiling nurse that the neighbours are currently using your back yard as a swimming pool…and you need a new kitchen.


OK I exaggerate (a bit) but you get my drift. Lets say it wasn’t the plumbing, say it was Gas or electricity, a much riskier prospect…would you be so confident to put life and limb at risk to save a few bucks, or would you prefer to pay and get the job done right, by someone with experience and the skills and qualifications.. yes, I thought so.

Would you do the same when your sick then?  Sure, the free information for checking out the symptoms and helping you see just how sick you are or may not be is all there but are you sure you want to diagnose yourself? No way! Your going to see a doctor who gets paid, by taxes, or privately.

Ok, lets step away from the life threatening stuff for a sec (Boooo!)

Lets look at investment.

Your a little cash rich (yeah right, not likely today, but anyway) you begin looking for some investment opportunities so you begin doing some research. Perfect, lets hit the internet.  You’ll have a good idea what you want to invest in, and where you want to aim your money and see your returns.

Now, do you really want to take the chance, in such a volatile market, with so many variables, to manage your own money or would you realistically go and speak to a financial advisor, who´s finger is on the pulse, who is dedicated to the sector and who has the experience (and the recommendations of course) to make a qualified decision.

They wont be free, that’s a fact, but the thing is, no matter what you read or how much free information you consume, you cannot gain the insight and experience that these experts have.

This is where it gets funny, and complicated.

The internet offers a vast amount of services and tools for free.  Just like any other industry or service though, as described above, many of us can jump in, read up and use these tools and services. But just because we read about it (and there’s LOTS to read) it won’t always mean you SHOULD do it.

Over the last ten years having worked closely with clients at all levels and putting their business on line the prevailing factor was always going to come down to cost and return on that outlay.  Some have strict budgets, some had money to burn but the question was always the same.

No one can answer it either, which is a major issue and because so many variations exist on how much these cost many are left bewildered and afraid of being ripped off or ending up paying out for nothing.  It is accepted though that any business will need a website to co-exist with it, its basically a requirement now to the extent that the site is included in the business plan (and creating a website should be based upon a business plan).

The end result though is, no matter if you do it yourself or pay for professionals the cost is time or money and neither is free.

When FREE creates dependence

When something is free we tend to use it and throw it away.  It has ZERO value. But that’s in the most part. If something is free and popular (think twitter) it has value but it also adds something else and that is dependence because we integrate its use into our lives.  This has worked very well for Google as well, who give away the vast majority of their products for free, things like Gmail, google docs and a multitude of other services.  All this creates dependence by us as we begin to use and rely on these products.

The problem and issue this raises has been noticed on a few occasions this year when both services mentioned crashed, went down for maintenance or where hacked.  Because they where free, no one really had the right to complain, but they did, because they where free no one had the right to support and because they where free no one was ultimately responsible, except for themselves.

But if we paid for these services then that would be a different story (and opens a whole other can of worms).

Again though, when you make the decision too utilise the FREE part of the internet, keep this in mind because ultimately, you are responsible (even when its not your fault) and you are the only person who cares.

The Free culture on line

Have a read at these posts.  They offer some insight into how free can work, but also how adding a cost against a product or service gives it friction and creates value and how we, the consumer, are willing to pay for products, in the most part, that bring something positive to the table.

2 interesting articles appeared this week regarding paying for twitter as a service the first from Twittercism and the second from Rishi Lakhani on Blog Storm.

The interesting point is that twitter is free, but people are willing to pay because when we pay for a service it also has benefits.  Remember also that twitter has no established business model at the moment for generating revenue and this sounds better than jumping on the old advertising bandwagon.

Finally,both Chris Brogan (yep, him again!) and Seth Godin made some interesting reflections and points about the Audacity of FREE and If Craigslist cost 1 dollar respectively.

The cost of FREE

So dont lets kid ourselves.  Free is a misnomer. NOTHING is FREE. and that’s a fact.  The decision about value is really at the heart of this piece, and how much you value your time to do what you need to do, against the value of paying for a service or product that will help you reach your goals.

Decisions, decisions (and yes they are not free either).