The Different Meanings of Free

A couple of weeks ago, after watching Scott Allen’s presentation about Modern Javascript at SPSE2012, I decided to learn Javascript. I quickly realized that knowing Javascript was not enough, I had to learn jQuery as well, so I started googling and found a great reference card at DZone. The card’s website had a button “download free pdf”, so I pressed it and instead of a download dialog I got this form:

It seems that the definition of free has changed, because I would have had to give almost every possible piece of information about myself if I had wanted to download that card, and this information is** nowhere near free at all**.

Let’s see how much this information costs. Facebook is an excellent starting point for the estimation. The site is valued between 75 and 100 billon US dollars according to the Wall Street Journal, and let’s face it, the website and infrastructure doesn’t cost that much, but the information it holds does. According to Facebook it has 845 million monthly active users, so a quick calculation shows that this information costs about 88-118 US dollars per user. Even if I divide this value by two, because the connections cost almost as much as personal details, we are talking about 50 US dollars per person. I might be unrealistic here, but following this logic, after downloading that card I’m giving 50 US dollars worth of information to DZone. So it is not free. I would rather pay some money instead of providing that much information. Louis CK was selling a video about one of his performances for 5 US dollars, and in 12 days he made 1 million US dollars. This may be an apples and oranges situation, but my point is that if something is really good and it is also cheap, people will buy it without hesitation.

On the same day, I wanted to read a Harvard Business Review article. I had to fill out a form there as well, where I had to provide my name, title, industry and company size. For this I could get 3 free articles a month, and I had to pay if I wanted more. Still not free, but it seemed like a more reasonable deal. So I took it.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use DZone - they put a lot of effort into their cards and they are excellent -, but stop for a moment when you fill out any kind of form which asks for your personal information. Think it through and consider whether it’s worth it or not. In my case, I wasn’t worth it.

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