I like free stuff as much as the next person. Although I know very well that nothing is free, it’s still nice to be able to browse my favorite newspaper and read the latest news on the internet. For free!
In the classical sense i.e. pay directly with money or credit card for something, and get something in return, the above mentioned reading of news is actually completely free of charge to me.
There are quite a few other services offered on the internet today that is equally “free”. I’m sticking with reading the news here to prove a point, but other things like chatting over Skype, listening to streaming music etc., is equally valid.
So what’s the problem?
More and more, I find myself disappointed over the fact that “free” means that the product I’m consuming becomes less than what it could be; less than I expect it to be.
While I’m expecting to be able to read the news like I once did, by looking at the headlines and deciding what is worthwhile reading, this is now a thing of the past.
Headlines of today’s newspapers are along the lines of
- “He saw it happen, right before his eyes…”
- “The reason the house prices in Europe stays high”
- “He’s got 340 million reasons to smile”
You may think I just made these up but these three headlines all come from today’s online issue of one of the largest business newspapers in Scandinavia. Yes, business.
As you can see, none of the headlines of today says anything factual. They’re teasers. In fact, you may have even noticed the same style of teasers showing up in your Twitter or Facebook flow, as the two internet giants need to get creative with the ad-deliveries to their “free” services.
The best brains of our generation are no longer employed by NASA, Harvard, or MIT. Many of them spend their day trying to figure out how to get you and me to click one more time, generate one extra pageview, because pageviews equals revenue. If you generate another page, you can show an extra page of commercials and thereby bring in extra revenue.
It’s clear to me that user experience has already taken a hit from all of this. It’s of course not irreparable, and maybe it’s not even that upsetting, but so far it’s been quite difficult for those who have tried to set up pay-for-service applications where there’s already a plethora of “free” applications available.
The question is whether or not we’re drawing closer to the tipping point where a more traditional “pay and thou shalt receive”-paradigm starts to gain traction once again.
I, for one, just can’t help thinking about what the user experience could be like if the service providers didn’t have to build their products based around the idea of a click generating architecture.