QuirksBlog - Monetisation
When I was going through Stephanie Rieger’s presentation about regulation for the web, I had an idea: what if we forced people to pay for social media use?
Today I’d like to discuss not that idea but a counterargument leveled against it: What about people who cannot afford to pay for social media? Wouldn’t they be left behind? This observation turns up sooner or later in any monetisation discussion.
I have a problem with this argument.
Yesterday or so a new initiative I Love MDN was unveiled. People can show their appreciation for the MDN staff and volunteers by leaving a comment.
I have a difficult message about this initiative. For almost a day I’ve been trying to find a way to bring that message across in an understanding, uplifting sort of way, but I failed.
For a terrible half an hour last night I thought Firefox was on the brink of disappearing as an independent browser and rendering engine. I was frightened silly by the rumour that Mozilla laid off significant portions of its browser team. The official press release being full of useless corporate open web blah didn’t help — the vaguer the press release, the worse the situation, in my experience.
Fortunately, the news is not quite that bad. Still, it set me thinking.
To my mind, Mozilla’s core problem is the cult of the free. To my mind, we should eradicate the cult of the free from web development, and Mozilla should take a small step in that direction by requesting donations from inside Firefox — on an entirely voluntary basis.
For years, whenever I thought about the gig economy, I noted to myself that gigs are great for students, who like to be flexible with their time and don't need a lot of money, but not so great for others.
This is not a particularly original thought, so I didn’t pursue it any futher. That’s why it took me until last Sunday to realise that gig jobs being the same as student jobs is not at all a coincidence.
One more thing about everyone expecting everything on the web to be free: what if that makes web development appear cheap in the eyes of others?
There are very few web tools out there that are for-pay, and everybody expects the latest tool to be free. Also, good advice, browser research, technical tips and tricks, and introductory articles are all for free. It’s possible to become a web developer nearly for free, with your own workstation as the only real cost.
What if that makes people outside the web (say, enterprise Java) believe that web development is not worth much in a technical sense? Something like “if you don’t pay exciting sums of money for this software, how can it be good?”
I’m not saying this is a brilliant argument, but it could be that people actually think like this.
I’m also not saying that this would be a good reason to start paying for web development resources, but it could be one more unintended consequence of the web being free of charge.
Free has a huge upside: it’s free. It also has its drawbacks, and it strikes me we hardly ever think about them.
What do a recent A List Apart article, the ad blocker discussion of a few months back, and my browser testing plans have in common?
Free content entitlement, that’s what.
I’m seriously questioning the idea that all content on the web ought to be free. I think it’s an essentially accidental initial state of the web that quietly became the default. By now, consumers (also of web development blogs) feel they have a right to to free content, and producers (including me) do nothing to disabuse them of that notion.
As a result, free content and services have become an entitlement — an unearned privilege. There’s nothing inevitable about content and services being free, although we collectively chose to make free content a cornerstone of the web. That choice, I now think, is the web’s original sin.
I’m wondering if it’s time to significantly revise our thinking on free content and services. In order to explore this problem I wrote this rather long and rambling, but totally FREE, essay. I hope there’s a point hidden somwhere, but you get what you pay for.