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The great closing? The end of free?

I pay for apps on my mobile that I would not pay for in my browser. I’m not sure why. Convenience? Habit? The ease of purchasing an app on iTunes vs. entering credit card information for content in a browser? This past week, I encountered two articles that forecast the end of free content online and the closing of the digital frontier. Both articles start with the same (mis)quote of “information wants to be free”. The closing of the digital frontier then moves on to exploring the roots of the philosophy of free and openness, arguing that it is “an idea that we have largely taken for granted [that] is in fact the product of a very specific ideology.” Both articles explore the growth of paid-apps on mobiles. The CS Monitor article focuses more on content – TV programs, Youtube rentals, pay walls. Both, however, suggest that we are in the twilight of the free and open content movements. The open and free ideology is essentially labelled as one that has failed…a cover for a land grab – a Manifest Destiny of sorts. The “colonization and exploitation of the web was a foregone conclusion”.


  1. Jared Stein wrote:

    It could be, as I think Apple and their vendors would like you to believe, that you’re paying for a higher quality experience. I don’t know that this is true, but I also noticed this possibility when, soon after the release iPad Apple announced new restrictions on app development, and I heard about the Wired app, etc etc.

    Monday, July 12, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  2. Ivan Travkin wrote:

    Thanx for links! :)
    There are very similar ideas in the blog of a russian guy (i can’t find the link D:). He is writing about Apple and even Android trends, that are leading us to the closing.

    Monday, July 12, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  3. I think Apple and the old media companies would love this to be the case so that they can go back to charging for content.

    Being optimitic (at the moment) I suspect that we are not seeing the ‘end of free’. There are a large number of people providing content free of charge to the web; some of it advertising supported and some of it not. I think people genuinely like doing that and like being part of the conversation around that content.

    It may take a long time but I hope to see the open availability of content as being key drivers of social and professional reputation in the knowledge professions.

    I think we’ll also see demands for much content that is generated from public funding being made available for ‘free’

    On the application front, free and open source applications continue to grow in usage. I think they will continue to sit alongside paid for applications and we’ll have a growth in the freemium model, particularly for web apps.

    Just one or two thoughts.

    Monday, July 12, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Permalink
  4. I may well be wrong but in health and midwifery I am seeing people just starting to think about open sharing and OER. OER is being discussed in a way that it wouldn’t even have been considered a couple of years ago, or even a year ago. There are still barriers, not least the attitudes of academic institutions, but I have been most heartened over the last 6 months that at long last my midwifery/nursing/medical colleagues are starting to talk and ‘open’ and ‘free’.

    Monday, July 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  5. Will there be an end to free content online. May I share my belief? It is impossible to end the free content online. Why? We had once licenced TV,then free, then paid, then… now internet, and Youtube, and even if someone is to turn them into paid service, like Ning, what will happen, some others would provide free service, like free open education, free “learning”. I have once been a volunteer, and everything that I do was free, and now many of us as educators are giving free and sharing these “education”. Why? For some an spirit of altruism, or others some may say that it is purely out of the desire to “change” the world by modelling it themselves. So, this push for free, like democracy, would just continue IMHO, unless there are some unforeseen events which would turn such economy backwards (e.g. wars? or the shut down of internet?) We have seen those wars based on price & competition for customers etc. (on news media, on music etc.) and everytime it comes to some “equilibrium trough”. So, let’s wait and see how someone could control the black hole – internet.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 4:57 am | Permalink
  6. The Atlantic piece was very odd. It far overstates the ideology it purports to describe. For instance, that horrible Time piece wasn’t scotched by frantic digerati, but had a huge influence on policy, leading to the first CDA.

    One thought to your question, George: in the Great Recession, paying for stuff has a different meaning than before Lehman Bros bought it. There’s less joyous bling, and more, well, civic duty. Purchasing stuff is more fraught, less fun.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 7:03 am | Permalink
  7. gsiemens wrote:

    @Jared – thanks for the reminder of your post – great comments/discussion on the topic of open web vs. app approach.

    @Mark – like you, I don’t think this is the end of free…but it is a resurgence in paid content. Well, that’s not quite true. The medium has always been the point of monetization: we pay for the physical newspaper, not for news…we pay for an internet connection, not the content…we pay for satellite/cable TV, not the programs. In the same sense, we are now paying for the medium of the ipad/phone/pod in the form of apps.

    @Sarah – I view OERs as very different from what’s happening in content in news/books, etc. If the public funds research and thereby content (in the form of articles, learning materials, etc), then it belongs to the public. As such, I see OERs as a moral/ethical concern.

    @John – you’re right about the difficulty of controlling the internet. However, as mentioned in my comment to Mark – the medium is the point of monetization.

    @Bryan – interesting take on the different meaning of “payment” post-Lehman. Do you see that as a catalyst for the move to closed/paid models now being explored by newspapers and other content providers?

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  8. George I agree with you when you say what will be paid is the medium and not the content. There is an increasing demand for open content also due to the global crisis.
    But knowledge can not remain closed, just see your example …
    What I think is happening is a trend of lobbyists to promote this kind of discussion and convey the message that paid content of better quality (which is not always true).
    Here in Portugal, online newspapers have tried to do this kind of experience (and I think they are now preparing for second round) where it had a paid subscription could view the entire contents of a news story – the result, other newspapers have gained prominence.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  9. Diego Ibarra wrote:

    I do not believe there will be an end to free web content. People have always/and will always find ways to get things for free through the web. There are also many people who take great pride in sharing products/knowledge with everyone free of charge. while there might be many providers that will charge for their content, their will also always be those who simply like to make people happy; and what better way to make some one happy then by providing them with something for FREE!

    Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink