Anil Dash has a wonderful piece of contrarian thinking up on his blog — it’s actually a week old, but it’s really timeless.
Now, this new services seems like a good product, and I know I’m supposed to say “Wow, cool! Nice work, Google!” But… my initial response wasn’t positive. My gut feeling was “Why the hell aren’t they charging for this? That sucks!”
Now, I hate websites which make you pay money. And a constant problem for bloggers is wanting but not being able to point to articles which are hidden behind subscriber firewalls. But Anil’s point is a bit more subtle than that:
Having paying customers would help focus the product team… If your product “may not be available at all times and may not work for all users” (as it says on the product’s homepage), then either fix it or get yelled at by angry users. Either one is a good option. Don’t hide behind a “well, shucks, we said it was beta, and it’s free…” excuse. Being accountable to your users makes your product better…
Connecting people via VOIP or sending them an SMS, two of the key features of the new service, cost money. At Google volumes, they cost a lot of money. I want to have a service I can rely on — which again means I need to invest in it…
Anil also has bad memories of great web products such as MSN Sidewalk which disappeared because they didn’t make money. Me, I have bad memories of iname.com, which promised me free mail forwarding for life and then broke its promise.
As a rule, companies which give things away for free care much less about their free products and about their users than do companies who charge. This tax season, if you were given a choice between a free tax-preparation tool and one which cost say $20, which would you choose? Many people, quite sensibly, would choose the latter, just because it cost money.
Nothing makes me happier than services which are cheaper and better than the alternative; free-and-better, is, in theory, the best combination of all. But it still makes sense sometimes for people like Anil to want to pay a bit of money.