September 16, 2009

Understanding Free

This post was last updated on September 5th, 2011 at 11:03 am


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:

Blogger

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

WordPress.com

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.