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Shut Up and Take My Money!

Don’t Be A Free User

Someone builds a cool, free product, it gets popular, and that popularity attracts a buyer. The new owner shuts the product down and the founders issue a glowing press release about how excited they are about synergies going forward. They are never heard from again.

I’m getting more and more tired of running into companies offering services that don’t directly make money off of me as a user. I want to be a customer, not a user. It’s difficult for me to point out where these feelings are coming from but D.H.H.’s talk from Startup School 2008 about Zappos and how they “…are selling fucking shoes!” was the one of the first thing I saw that made me realize the absurdity of how many free services existed that were designed around offering a service for free for the purpose of getting a huge audience.

My frustration comes in with what all those models require: advertising, complicated business models, hype, and serving users as being something other than the number one priority.

If a service is any good, they don’t have to be sexy, and they don’t need to be free to be successful.

It feels good to to give someone money, receive a good or service, and know that I’m supporting them. I like being able to take part in a simple exchange like that, and it’s a simple pleasure that people should rediscover.

A hot service right now is Pinterest. Pinterest is a very large, very popular, and rapidly rising social bookmarking site. I don’t use it though, I prefer to use Gimmebar for one reason because amazingly it seems to have flown under the radar of the social media blogs.

Every time a free service like Pinterest comes out and starts getting popular, the only time you see social media bloggers recommend people pay for a service is along with the term “freemium,” which is fine, but it still requires a business model that supports free users. More often than not they’ll write about how platform should grow and capitalize on brands wanting to engage their audiences using the service. To them, the ultimate value a platform can provide is to give brands the attention of users.

Many examples exist but one that’s pretty appropriate to mention is Tumblr. I wish I could give Tumblr money not only to host my blog, but to ensure that their ability to host blogs is their primary and sole measure of success.

Every time Tumblr or some other service raises a bunch of money there’s speculation about what they will, or what they should do with it. I hate seeing that capital used to grow a non-revenue generating user base. The only way a company can sustain more free users is when it’s part of a strategy of monetizating those users some other way.

As a user, I like knowing that a company’s ultimate goal and measure of success is to provide me with a service, and not that their users are tools to accomplish some other objectives.

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