BLTNo such thing as a free lunch

How much did you pay last year for Facebook? For Gmail? For Foursquare? For Twitter?

Right.

Nothing.

How much value did you derive from these services?

If you don’t know or can’t tell, the easiest way is to ask yourself how much you would have to spend out of pocket to recreate them. Take something like Gmail, as an example. You’d need a computer with an Internet connection, the Linux operating system, the Postfix mail server, the Apache web server, knowledge of how to securely configure all these pieces, and the web interface.

You’d need to administer this server, applying software updates and security patches on a frequent basis. It’s not an impossible task – I did it for years as an IT administrator – but it is not a simple thing to do, and it is not an inexpensive thing to do.

How much would it cost you to develop your own Facebook, where you could set your own privacy terms, run the service exactly the way you wanted it to, be everything that you wanted it to be?

Services like Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail are not free. They have never been free. Up until now, the costs to you have merely been deferred. They have real costs that are traded in exchange for something of value from you. In this day and age, that’s personal and behavioral data. Your goodwill? Your word of mouth? Both combined with $5 will get you a cup of coffee from the local commercial coffee chain. What’s for sale is you, the consumer, to advertisers and partners.

If you don’t like how these businesses – and they are businesses, seeking to make profits – treat you, don’t use them. Don’t sign up for them. Don’t give them your time, data, or mindshare. Build your own or use businesses that are more aligned with your values – and be prepared to pay cash out of pocket for them.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.


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