FREE Always Seems To Suck The Oxygen Out Of The Room
01 May 2017
I closely watch the value the digital bits being exchanged via the Interwebz--it is what I do. @audreywatters always says that APIs are "reducing everything to a transaction", and I am interested understanding the value of these bits, what people are buying and selling them for, and how it keeps the Internet machine chugging along--for better or worse. As I watch Audrey battle with folks about the availability of content with her domain and experience my own shift in what should be made freely available by API providers, I'm left thinking about the damaging effects free has had on our world.
I feel like the seeds of this were set into motion by John Perry Barlow followers imparting their ideology on the web, but was something that was capitalized on during the Web 2.0 movement by tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook when it came to leveling the playing field, giving them the competitive advantage they needed. It is very difficult to compete with FREE. Only certain companies can operate in this environment. It's a brilliant and cutthroat way of doing business, setting a tone for how business should be done in a way that keeps competitors out of the game. When the free and open Internet armies become wielded by this type of passive aggressive capitalism, the resulting zombie army becomes a pretty effect force for attacking any providers who are left operating in this oxygen-deprived environment.
These free zombie armies think the web should be free and openly accessible for them to do what they want, most notably build a startup, getting funding, and sell that startup to another company. Your detailed website of business listings, research into an industry, and other valuable exhaust that MUST remain free is ripe for picking, and inclusion into their businesses. The zombies rarely go picketing after tech giants, telling them that everything must remain free and available, they go after the small service provider who is trying to make a living and build an actual small business. If the tech giants sucking the oxygen out of space with FREE don't get you, the free and open zombies will pick you clean through a sustained, and systematic assault from Reddit and Hacker News.
I'm always amazed at the bipolar conversations I have with folks about how I manage to make a living doing my API research, how rich and detailed my work is, while also being asked to jump on a phone call to talk through my research, so it can be used in their startup, marketing, or infographic. Never being asked if they could pay me, and when I mention getting paid-- they often just scatter. This continuous assault on the web has pushed me to shift my views on what should be FREE, and what we publish and openly license on the web, as well as make available at the lowest tiers of our APIs. These are my valuable bits. I've managed to stay alive and make a living in a field where most analysts either burn out or are acquired and coopted. My bits are how I make a living, please stop demanding that they always be free. Not everyone can operate like Google, Facebook, or Twitter--sometimes things cost money to do well, and might not need to be done at scale.