Understanding Free

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Will Lion


I’ve been listening to Chris Anderson‘s book "The Radical Price of Free" for free. It’s a long listen, over 6 hours and I’ve still got 2 more hours to go but it’s certainly helped clarify not only how free works, but how much money is to be made by free. Sound weird? Read/listen to the book.

My financial or economic knowledge is limited at best but as a consumer and producer I recognize a few things. While I make no money from this blog directly, I’ve been fortunate to indirectly gain financially and I owe much to the work and ideas that I share here and other places. Given that was never the intent of this blog, it’s simply a nice bonus. I recognize others try and utilize their blogs for financial gain either by ads or direct pay from outside interests. But for the most part this type of free seeks no compensation, it’s just free.

As any user of the web knows, there are oodles and oodles of sites and applications that appear free. Everything from google to yahoo, we roam around these internets and create, download, consume and communicate willy nilly with nary a penny exchanged. But it’s obvious there has to be a price. The book outlines the various ways this can work and some of those ways, such as ad driven sites, seem fairly obvious. Premium services is another common strategy. Some work well, others fail miserably. I’m glad I dont’ have to make those decisions.

Every term as part of my undergrad course, I ask my students to create a blog. I’ve used blogger, wordpress.com and edublogs. Each have their own benefits and downfalls. In general, here are my assessments:


Pros: easy to setup, integration with google, customizeable, widget ready, easy to use, embedding capabilities
Cons: difficult to make pages, association with random blogs(although this can be removed), blocked in some schools


Pros: Simple to use, easy to setup, some customization, open in most schools, great for page making, better for portfolios
Cons: embedding is limited,plugins limited

Edublogs.org (wordpress platform hosted and managed)

Pros: Associated with educators, some customization, open in most schools, great for page making, better for portfolios,embedding capabilities
Cons: lack of plugins, nagging ads to support

I’m sure I have missed some things but these are my observations. Feel free to correct me in the comment section.

My experiences is that most of them use this as a disposable learning experience. As much as I would love them to continue blogging, the vast majority do not. Some, pick up after a few years but by then they’ve moved to a new platform. For a new blogger, they have no idea of all the advantages or disadvantages of a particular platform, they just dive in because of an assignment or recommendation.

There have been many discussions about the value of institutions providing their own spaces for students.  Sometimes this isn’t an option and so part of my thinking is to provide pre-service teachers with the chance to discover alternatives.

This term I decided to have my students use edublogs. I know many teachers in my district who used edublogs a few years ago but have left because of performance issues. I was informed the performance issue had been resolved and was tipped off to the changes in the business model. It wasn’t until I began to have my students use it did it really hit me. The embedded ads make you feel as if someone else controlling your space and lack of plugins take away from the customizabilty.  I understand they need to make money. We can’t expect folks to continue to support these projects for Starbucks cards (although I don’t know how David Warlick does it) My issue is, and again, I’m not business person, just a consumer in this case, I personally will choose another option for my students to begin their blogging journey.  This is only my opinion and as much as I admire the work of James Farmer and Sue Waters, I’m not a fan of the free offering in this case. I’m not able to suggest a better, more viable model but given there are alternatives, I wonder if they might have to. Just one person’s humble opinion.

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  • Maureen Tumenas

    Although I agree re past performance issues with edublogs and hated the ads- it is still a wonderful place for class/school blogs. I honestly think that the supporter option, which gets rid of the annoying ads- is the best way for most to go and begins to make the point that it takes support- read $ – for these “free” sites to operate. Nothing is free- you either pay with money and/or your personal data, or if you are lucky pay both ways.

    This year our school decided to go with edublogs campus. This has been a great way to get some of our more reluctant teachers to test the waters. I have tried out a few different platforms and although I have not used classblogmeister, of the ones you mentioned above- edublogs has been the best for me.

    Don’t you think that it is time for students to begin to realize that the internet and the services on it are not free?

  • Maureen,
    I agree and as you state, it’s a great option for your situation. The difference for me is that I would have to pay out of my pocket which I wouldn’t mind doing but since these are often disposable, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

    The wordpress platform is a great one and one I use on my personal blog. Again, I’m not arguing their model is bad, it just doesn’t work in my context. Perhaps my context is unique and if so, my criticism shouldn’t matter. I just wonder if others have similar situations.

    Regarding your last question, that’s just it, nothing is free, but conversely there are many ways to get paid and not every model works. Maybe this one does, just not for me.

  • Hi Dean,
    You bring up a good point. Generally speaking, I think educators expect everything to be free (for them, that is). When something is not, they get indignant. I’ve seen it many times where companies actually bend over backwards to provide their services free to teachers and no matter what they do, it’s never enough. Sometimes the trade-off is letting someone else foot the bill; advertising. In the best cases, companies will vet their ads to keep them “educator-friendly.”

    I’m with you about the ads taking up valuable real estate though. On the other hand, if your students are just starting out, what are the chances that they will be installing plug-ins and widgets and will be looking to modify their pages as much as you and I? If they stick with it, they’ll be in a better position to make an informed decision and move to another platform at that time if they choose.

    For my new class blog, I’m using WordPress. WP is new for me. I think it looks nice and slick but doesn’t have the bells and whistles of Blogger.

    For my personal blog, I use Blogger and I’ve been using it since 2005. It can get buggy and sometimes does funky things but seems to do the trick. I few people read my blog and seem to like it. I think it’s ok for now.

    I really don’t want to start paying for hosting (perhaps I’ll make the move when I start receiving my own supply of Starbucks cards).
    .-= Lee Kolbert´s last blog ..Hurricanes at PalmBreezeCAFE TV =-.

  • Ann Leaness

    I had a similar experience recently while researching blog platforms for my grad students. I decided to use blogger because of the easy set up and compatibility with google. Due to the time constraints, I needed a blog platform where teachers new to or at the beginning stages of experimenting with blogging could jump right in and feel successful. I also sent out a question on twitter about this same topic and had several people respond saying that blogger was their platform of choice when introducing teachers to blogging. I was not disappointed. My grad students, all of whom had no blogging experience were able to set up working blogs for their classrooms. Just yesterday, I had a message on my facebook page from one of my grad students stating,”My students used my blog, now that’s excitement!”

  • Lee: Generally speaking, I think educators expect everything to be free (for them, that is). When something is not, they get indignant.

    Harmless anecdote supporting Lee’s point:

    Recently I bumped into Lee LeFever who makes the CommonCraft videos. He talked about NECC 2008 where he debuted his premium content, which schools can purchase and embed. A woman raised a hand, he told me, and asked him “about his obligation to educators.”

    .-= Dan Meyer´s last blog ..Excellent Math Blogging =-.

  • @Dan and Lee

    I’m not expecting it to be free. Anderson’s book simply offers a ton of ways in which free works, which twigged my thinking.

    My context, purpose doesn’t necessitate a need to pay because there are so many other options. As Maureen states, her situation is one where it make sense to pay.

    Edublogs is open to do whatever they wish and I’m not telling them what to do. They have no obligation to me or any other educators. But for me, and I suspect others, it simply isn’t the best option.

  • As my dad used to say, “There is nothing in this world that is free. Somewhere, someone is paying…”

    As for teachers? I think there is a general inferiority complex among teachers that comes with being underpaid and undervalued in society. We see friends and neighbours, relatives and strangers travelling and eating on “The Company” expense account and working in offices, new laptops, and secretaries that have time to photocopy, take messages, and make sure everybody gets to their meetings on time. Teachers, on the other hand, feel the need to buy many of their own classroom supplies, and feel lucky when they get a shipment of “surplus” computers donated from “The Company” that just bought new ones for their employees. Most teachers haven’t been wined and dined even once. (Dean you are the exception…your IT + Quizno’s sessions last year in our school ROCKED!) So when the “free to you” blogging site becomes “not so much for free anymore” the backlash may be greater than one might expect.
    And that is my humble opinion. (And I’m ditching edublogs…soon)
    .-= Angus´s last blog ..Something to think about… =-.

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  • Hello everyone

    Also some good tips about online money making @ http://eguidemoney.blogspot.com/

    Thank you!
    .-= Andrey´s last blog ..Drive Traffic To Your Site And Make Money Online =-.

  • Lately I have been mulling the shift toward free and open source software from Google to Moodle to Linux. The open source market fosters much greater collaboration and innovation, and it’s all free, which is good for us educaotrs. The question I have been pondering is how are individuals going to make money if everything turns free/open source? I will be listening to Anderson’s book to see if he can shed some light on the issue. People need to earn money. If they have a good idea that helps me, I have no problem giving them some of my hard-earned money.

    Great post!
    .-= John Sowash´s last blog ..School YouTube Pages =-.

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