The "Free Beer" Hangover

A couple of days ago, I talked about Yahoo's warning messages saying my system (Linux) had not been tested with their mail program and that resulted in a very impassioned plea to help a group of Yahoo Groups users to protest the changes that Yahoo has apparently made to the way Yahoo Groups work.

Changes to the way mailing lists work are nothing new. I am a member of several Yahoo Groups. But I am also a member of a number of Google Groups and a mess of mailing lists running on Mailman. While reading the complaint, I had two thoughts.

First, I was reminded of comments made by Stormy Peters at LinuxCon this year. She was talking about Facebook and Google and by implication Yahoo, when asking us if we were aware of all the things that these services provide and the licenses, for lack of a better word, that they provide them under. She pointed out that they are essentially offering free beer and we, as users are drinking it up without any thought of the costs afterwards. And as the folks decrying the changes in Yahoo's Groups are discovering, some of those costs are pretty high.

But the other thing that came to mind is so what? While trying not to sound callous about this issue, really, who cares? If you do not like what Yahoo is doing, go somewhere else. There are literally dozens of hosted applications that will allow you to grow the community you want. And if you are willing to put down a few bucks, you can actually gain control of all those things that you feel are important to you. Moving mailing lists is not a trivial issue. Nor is moving the associated collection of data that these communities create. I know. I have moved my share of mailing lists and it is a task I dread.

Yet I have to wonder if the users of these sites really understand the key issue. And that issue is eyeballs. Nothing more. Every company that offers these services is only out to drive people to their site so that they can tout their numbers to their advertisers. More eyeballs, the higher they can charge people who want to advertise on their site. Stir up a little controversy and it is like having an Emmy winning show running during sweeps week. And they know that the controversy will eventually go away and they might lose a few people, but those people will be replaced by others. Facebook is a perfect example of this. They changed their privacy settings, a furore erupted and they actually gained members, despite having to make some minor concessions for their Canadian users under the rule of the Canadian Privacy Commissioner.

It is a case of caveat emptor.

Photo under Creative Commons from cphbrains photostream


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


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I guess no one cares about

RMS's picture

I guess no one cares about freedom.

As I always tell people when

Pham Newen's picture

As I always tell people when they tell me, how Linux, or any other FOSS is great/crap because it's free, "It's only free if you don't value your(my) time".

I make this argument, not because I'm anti-Linux or FOSS, the opposite in fact, Linux and FOSS is how I earn my living. I do it so that they start to think and see the real costs of Technology, and then I prove to them that if they use Linux, and FOSS wisely (and actually invest money into it) they'll get better results AND still be cheaper than most proprietary solutions.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch (or for that matter beer)

As I always tell people when (2)

Realist's picture

As I always tell people when they tell me, a pirated Windows is only free if you don't value your time.

migrating should be a last resort

Anonymous's picture

So what indeed? There is always a cost to migration, and if we don't try to get vendors to give us customers what we want, then they won't ever try. And yes we are customers even of free services, because they profit from us. Not directly, but they still make money off of us. Migration is a last resort; at the very least we should tell them why we are happy or unhappy with the service.That's how free enterprise works, which is something that people are forgetting in this fun era of suck-it-up-buttercup vendor-controlled markets, and apathetic customers.

Who cares

Douche_Bag's picture

Really a free service changes something and all they can do is complain. Suck it up whiners...!

It's not completely free. In

Chris W's picture

It's not completely free. In exchange for the services we get from Web2.0 services, we agree to be subject to masses of their advertising. Be receipt to advertising is a legit form of currency on the net and it's unfair to say that because it is not cash, doesn't refute people's right to complain or have an opinion.

worst post ever

Anonymous's picture

Moving a yahoo group to a different place, after it has grown a bunch of members is to kill the group.
A tough sell to convince 1000 people to register somewhere else.

Vendor lock-in, anyone?

goblin's picture

So the open source community fights vendor lock-in on software, but should accept it (according to you) for mailing list services, because breaking away is "a tough sell"?

On the contrary

Bucky's picture

Did you read the same article I did?

If you're using a free service which is NOT open, it's completely disingenuous to whine later if that service changes.

That's what I read. I have to say I agree completely with the anti-whiner sentiment.

Same old, same old

shawnhcorey's picture

As the old politician once said, "There's only one thing worst than bad publicity. You ain't nobody unless somebody is talking about you."