For most of what I do I rely on a bunch of free online applications — I’ve written about it before, so there’s no real need to rehash the story. But today as I was scanning feeds I came across a post at Read Write Web, Google Giveth, and Taketh Away that has me thinking about it all a little bit. The post tells of Google either closing or stopping work on several free web-based services … clearly they aren’t their most popular ones, but with Google Video, Notebook, Jaiku, Catalog Search, and Dodgeball all going away it makes you pause and think about how much a bunch of us are relying on open and free services to do all sorts of things.

I wonder what would happen, if economic times continue to worsen, to other services that more people use? I know I would have a really hard time going back to paying for simple things like word processing and note taking applications — especially ones without the advanced syncing I’ve come to expect. I would also hate to see the innovation going on in the web-based application universe start to die. I am guessing YouTube killed Google Video, but Notebook was loved by many and existed as a powerful add on for FireFox — in other words, it was an app without real competition. My current favorites include Evernote, Google Docs, and LaLa … all free, but with some sort of revenue model sitting there for advanced features. I just wonder how much energy to dedicate to them given they could go poof in the middle of a massive economic downturn. What happens if Yahoo jumps out of the delicious or Flickr business? I (and a boat load of others) would be SOL.

I know it isn’t restricted to free online apps … many of us used HyperCard for years and Apple killed it. Remember Claris Works? Gone as well. I shouldn’t worry too much, but watching the mighty Google just decide to stop offering tools gave me a little pause. What should we be doing?

9 thoughts on “Freebies

  1. I have been dealing with the same issues and thoughts.

    I traditionally would start using a tool with an exit strategy in mind. What happens if I don’t like, it closes, or something better comes along? How do I get my “stuff” out? At some point along the way I lost this step, or just started overlooking it.

    It is primarily because the tools tend to have a specific purpose and it would be difficult to just export them. I found out yesterday that a nice little Flash builder site Sprout is moving to a fee based structure with zero free options.

    We may need to start expecting this same type of scenarios with other perpetual beta Web 2.0 sites.

  2. “What should we be doing?”

    Backing stuff up. A lot 🙂 Something I do not do nearly enough but should.

    I also find it interesting (and comical) in a lot of ways that nearly EVERYTHING Google releases is Beta and seems to stay Beta for a long, long time. Gmail being the prime example. If Google decided to just shut down Gmail one day…wow, talk about being SOL…

  3. Backing stuff up and making sure there is a way out is important … I’m even sure I can get out of Evernote. We use BaseCamp as our project management tool and while they support an export, they don’t give us a way to import. This means if we try to combine several separate licenses of it, we can’t. I worry that if fear takes over, we’ll stop trying new things …

  4. It all comes back to the idea that free is a utopia. Nothing is free, there needs to be a financial incentive somewhere to keep something free to common users. I think that Wayne’s idea of always thinking of an exit strategy is going to be more and more important in the future.

    I’ll be looking to use more services like Diigo in the future. Diigo is mostly a social bookmarking site, but it plays nice with Delicious, allowing users to post their bookmarks to Diigo AND Delicious, giving users some duplication, and therefore less chance of losing their stuff.

  5. We just paid for an annual license for SPSS. What happens to those files if the vendors goes under and the app becomes permanently disabled? At least with older permanent software, you might be able to maintain an old OS that runs the software.

    I agree that looking for your export options to a standard file type is VERY important.

  6. I to find this prospect unnerving. Personally because I rely so much on cloud computing apps. and pedagogically because these apps. allow us to be nimble and adaptive to a changing learning environment. An exit strategy as well as a Plan B are needed.

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