First One’s Free.

In this rapidly changing technologically driven world many new up and comers find it hard to differentiate themselves from amongst the hundreds of similar projects. In an effort to drive people to use their services we’re seeing more and more companies going the route of providing some or all of their products completely free to the end user. Whilst I believe this is a great idea there is, of course, always some catches when it comes to accepting free gifts from corporate overlords.

A great example I can think of is the good old de facto corporate communication device, the Crack(Black)Berry. Recently at my current gig for the Australian government my department decided to do a trial of these in order to see if there was any value in implementing it. Of course Telstra comes to the table offering a free 3 month trial with pretty much everything included. The handsets were sent out to the executives and we went through about 2 days of configuration work to get it all done for them. It didn’t matter that we’d already installed Exchange Activesync, which would allow them to use any Windows Mobile device and wouldn’t cost them a cent since we’d bought the license in a bundle. So since the Blackberrys had been in the Qantas lounge magazines we were basically stuck with trialling this technology for them, and we all knew where it was going.

Fast forward to the end of the trial and we have half the execs praising the new system, a few dissenters and the rest on the fence. It was pretty obvious from the onset that once this was in place they would not give it up, even though the corporate directive is to investigate all possible solutions and judge them on their merits.

The same situation has been used in many different situations with online services. LinkedIn used to be a completely free service for professional social networking, and it did a great job at that. It was basically a no frills Facebook, something which is handy when you’d be browsing it at work. Of course the creators saw that they could then add in extra features and offer them as premium accounts, something which is akin to buying an expensive car in real life. Sure, it will probably improve people’s impression of you (if they’ve never met you before) but past that it’s value is rather small. Since many people use LinkedIn in order to build a professional network and hopefully generate business from that the paid services might hold some value there. There’s still no substitute for good old fashioned real life networking though, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to charge for that, either.

However, there are those that still buck the trend when it comes to providing services for free and staying away from the premium service charge. Google has released service after service that, whilst most of them still carry the beta tag on them, remain free after many years in service. This can all be put down to their ruthless precision in refining down an advertising model that appeals to every business, which is built upon their solid leadership as a search engine.

In reality most new up and coming technologies these days are being offered as a free baseline with the additional features costing you a couple pennies more. It’s all done to drive up market adoption and it is a great thing for the consumers, who get a lot more for their dollars since they can try before they buy. Just don’t be too shocked when your favourite free service starts asking for your credit card ;)

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