The Cult of the Free

Speaking of free, here’s Peter-Paul Koch writing about the knock-on effect of layoffs at Mozilla:

This brings us to the core point I’d like to make: the culture of volunteering in web development, and especially within the Mozilla segments of our community. To my mind it’s not only outdated and should be replaced, it should never have been allowed to take root in the first place.

I see the cult of the free as the web’s original sin. To my mind it’s an essentially random historical development that could have gone quite differently, but, once the idea of everything on the web being free took root, became a cultural touch point that is almost impossible to dislodge.

Granted, the cult of the free also has its positive points. But today I’m focusing on the negative ones that, to my mind, outweigh the positivity by a rather large margin. If we continue to give everything away for free, the big companies will win.

Koch argues that Mozilla ought to add the option to donate from within Firefox — he argues the same for those who provide their writing for free on the web — but that seems like a mediocre solution for ongoing support. From Armin Vit’s post introducing the paywall at Brand New:

We considered this and there is the potential of that we would be amazed by your generosity but, at best, donations solve our problem this year and we are left wondering what happens the year after that and the year after that. At worst, we do not get enough donations and we need to keep asking you all to donate while adding hours of effort into doing those asks on a consistent basis. At this point, our goal is to build a consistent, long-term solution that not only keeps Brand New going but gives us the foundation to keep building on it.

I know there are some people who make a decent living from pledged supporters on Patreon, and organizations like PBS and CKUA are able to keep the lights on through donor support, but it does not seem like a scalable model to turn the web into interactive cable TV channels, either.