The "Free Beer" Hangover

by David Lane

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

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