Saturday, February 4, 2017

Free as in "free speech"

This post is a new weekly issue for the #edublogsclub challenge 2017. The challenge is to write a post about a weekly prompt published by Ronnie Burt. The topic for this fifth issue is “Free web tools”. If you would like to read past issues of this challenge, please click on the “Tags” menu (right column) and click on the #Edublogsclub label. You may also access the past issues list here.

This week's invitation is to write about “Free web tools”. I mean, free as in “free beer”, in the sense of costing no money. A quite different point of view is that which refers to as “free speech”, in the sense of having the liberty to express yourself. I took some time during the last four days to ask a number of my fellow colleagues the fooling question, “What do you interpret the following sentence? “Access a comprehensive list of free web tools for teachers”. All of them intuitively answered with some variation of “free beer” version. Only one computer technician mentioned the “free speech” flavor. Following their answers I asked a second and third questions: Who do you think is absorbing the costs of having that app online 24/7? Do you think there could be another reason other than altruism, to absorb those costs?

One of the fellow colleagues I invited to answer the questions above is currently teaching economics. She mentioned this quote:

An interesting quote to denote that those offering free web tools might have other means of profit from it. I am open to the idea that profit might not always be money as a direct result, but I think most of the times it boils down to it. The user access the web app being offered, the provider places some ads, and the advertiser pays for every click the user did on the ad. Another approach free web tools providers might use is called Freemium, free basic access and features and paid advanced or enhanced features.

If not based on pure altruism, the use of “free” web tools implicates a form of exchange. Probably you are not paying with money, you might use a large collection of web tools without paying a single dollar. You pay by allowing a provider to use a portion of your screen (your work area, your field of view, your parted attention) to place an ad. It is not the purpose to remind the reader of this post, that whatever comes to your screen takes a little of your attention in a conscious or unconscious way. Jet another more sophisticated currency is your personal information, as it is voluntarily provided by you to get access to those “free” tools, like email address, zip code, name, etc.


  1. Interesting take on the Week 5 prompt. I agree that "free beer" isn't always what it seems. The internet has changed so much in the last 20 years. Back in the day, before ecommerce and web apps and wide spread monetization, if someone posted a bunch of free animated gifs, they did it to show off their skills and to contribute to the community. I think some people still offer something free out of a genuine desire to be helpful or to make a gesture of friendship to other like-minded individuals. But mostly I think people now see the internet as a money making opportunity and free has lost its original meaning. -Kai

    1. Kai, thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my post.
      I agree with you, Internet has very much changed and turned into a more commercial heading. Not mentioning what is upcoming about network neutrality... at grave risk considering FCC recent news.