Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch...Unless It's Online?

So, the world turned upside-down for a bazillion hipsters with Instagram's announcement that it is changing its terms of service and that it can sell your pictures without compensating you.

First: 99.9% of you? Relax. Nobody wants to buy a blurry picture of your homemade pork sandwich.

Second: Instagram is not the only photo-sharing game in town. Feel free to seek out others.

Third: Um, you know that you're not required to document your life online, right? So, if you find that all of the free photo-sharing services have unpalatable service agreements, you could -- this might sound crazy -- just not post your photos on the Interwebs. Or (and this one's even more shocking) you could pay for your photo-hosting, and not worry about service agreements that leverage your content.

Here's the thing: Facebook, Google, Pandora, Instagram do not do what they do out of the goodness of their hearts. The are in it to MAKE MONEY. They can do that by either charging for their services OR by giving the service away, but selling advertising space to third-party advertisers who want to get their products in front of a billion Internet eyes.

Most Internet companies go the free route. Some of them offer a subscription version so that you can trim the advertising noise out of the product, but not many do that.  I get that what Instagram's doing is different -- they are selling user content -- but YOU are getting something from THEM.  This is a mutually beneficial arrangement. You don't have to buy servers, develop the application, and pay techies to keep everything humming. 

The arm-waving that goes on with this stuff is fascinating to me. Most of us seem to think that 'online' should be synonymous with 'free.' It's not just about service providers, either. Content providers feel it too. There's a blog that I read that killed its RSS feed, and Holy Moses, the drama among some of the readers when the feed died.

But, killing it made perfect sense to me: readers could get the content from the feed, and never visit the blog. If readers don't visit the blog, the blog owner doesn't get the clicks. If the blog owner doesn't get the clicks, then they earn less revenue.

So, the point is: if you are using a service online, you either have to pay for it outright, or give the service provider permission to make money off of your usage in some way.  If you don't like the way they are making their money, DON'T USE IT.  If Blogger sent me a notice that they were going to take what I've written here in the past seven years and re-sell it without giving me credit, I'd probably shutter the blog. But I wouldn't think that it was some kind of Dark Overlord situation either.  Sheesh.

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