Let’s start this post off with a simple question. You do know what a spudger is don’t you? What you don’t and more importantly you don’t know how you could use one to take apart an iPad. Well you’ve come to the wrong place to find out what and how. You can find the right place to do that at iFixit who are the self named ‘free repair manual that you can edit’ but actually are like a parts catalogue that shows you what you can do with technology and then gives you a link to buy the widgets that you need to do said task from their online shop. In this particular case, pun intended, they showed how to take apart an iPad using the implement in question, exhibit A one spudger.
This is a classic case of cross-subsidy of one product with another, the giving of a free guide encourages you to buy a new (you don’t already have one do you?) tool in order to perform the task. It’s one of many ways that companies are able to provide free software that for many users have absolutely no cost. Slightly different from completely free where there is no commercial gain by the supplier at all, these economic models have been growing on the web more and more since it started but was not begun there. The 2008 Wired article “Free! Why $0.00 is the future of business” gives an excellent overview about where free comes from and why it’s becoming increasingly important. In an almost prophetic manner, that article and the accompanying book “Free: The Future at a Radical Price”, expound on the nature of how you can seemingly get something for nothing, how people now expect it especially with software and services on the web and how as commercial companies you have to develop business models to embrace and/or compete with it. In the post bank bust world, with central and local government agencies, especially in the UK, having limited capital resource on which to blow on massive IT projects, free might not become part of the solution, it might become the only solution.
The book is itself free online and can be obtained here. It’s interesting to see how that the unabridged audio book is actually free also, but the abridged version costs money. Obviously anyone can read the book verbatim onto tape (old school) but the work it takes to create a meaningful abridged version contains value and is therefore costs money. Value that is in terms of the time is has taken to edit the book down and also the value it has to the attention challenged time poor iPod carrying commuter who can’t concentrate for six hours on anything. This is the same for the dead tree version also; the payback for being able to fall asleep with your new paper book in the bath is the cost of the pulping, printing and possibly delivery.
Free OS Data, finding a freemercial model.
In the GIS Industry in the UK, whilst there is a plethora of good software that is available for nothing (see here) it has always been the cost of data that has been one of the main talking points around the industry. The recent freeing of some of the data from the Ordnance survey, I know this makes it sound like some sort of mystical quest that is because in some ways it has been, has now provided a good deal of authoritative spatial data for base maps, base geographies as well as gazetteers. Now that this data is ‘free’ it’s going to be interesting to see how people will try and add value to the datasets to realise value in the market place.
One of the main reasons behind freeing the data up was to encourage the use of geographic information within the general commercial landscape outside the Universities, Utilities and Governmental organisations that have been it’s natural home. How people will get access to this information is the next challenge, many of the business models outlined in Chris Anderson’s book will be applied to the delivery and usage of this data. Some will succeed and some will fail, but it will be interesting to see how many people outside the traditional geo-markets will be able to get access to this data and how they will interact with it for nothing using widely available tools, which themselves are free.
Also it will be interesting to see how businesses can afford to cross subsidise this access, how they will be able to create money out of such offerings. in the past just the value add of supplying the data used to be enough to justify a fee, in today’s market, that might no longer be enough for many people, or at least some access should be available for nothing. One thing is for certain, in the current cash strapped world, there might not be many alternatives many people will want, or can afford, to start with.