When it comes to 21st century culture, media and technology the concept of “free” can sometimes be difficult to pin down. So for my fellow citizens of the Internet I’ve drafted a pragmatic guide to free, in what I see as its three basic forms…
1. Free ride (Hint: There is no free ride).
This is the one to be most wary of. It includes but is not limited to the following:
- Many of the free games and apps on Facebook (and until recently Facebook itself);
- At least some of the free mobile apps available for your iOS or Android device;
- Trojans and the like attached to some pirated software and media.
If something falls into one of these categories and sounds like it’s good to be true, it probably is. That’s because the people who make it are monetizing their users through data mining or some other scheme.
Put a much better way: “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”
2. Data portability.
Thanks to recent changes this would include Facebook in its current form, along with some other social networks mentioned in a previous post. It would also include any desktop software that allows the user to save their data in standard formats — like your typical office suite, for example. Microsoft Office certainly isn’t free to use, but Google Docs and OpenOffice are.
For free software and/or services to get my recommendation its users must at the very least be able to get their data out of it. What’s yours is yours.
3. Free as in freedom.
As you might have guessed I’ve saved the best for last.
I’m talking about GPL-licensed software, Creative Commons media… Stuff you can not only download and use but build on and share. Such things should scare the shit out of intellectual property barons and patent lawyers and rightly so, because they have the potential to make those particular career choices obsolete.
For the rest of us the distinction between producer and consumer effectively vanishes; we’re all free to create and contribute. We can even make some money along the way, though money is most often not the primary motivating factor.
I think this type of free is the future. How about you?