I find a lot of writing around the concept of "free" on the web. Currently I'm struck by the many people who now are arguing vividly that everything can't be free. Duh. This was never ever going to happen, but the tendency in business to over-simplify every darn thing has created som misleading thinking. Here's how I've always seen it:
- some things will be free sometimes – as acts of pure generosity, with no expectation of return
- some things will be free as compensation for bad value delivery – like your rental car company screwed up and they give you the next rental free
- some things will be free in monetary terms, but there will be a more or less clear contract of an expected exchange – this could be the pure barter or the take three and pay for two offer, or even the Linux philosophy of using a product free but returning improvements to the community
- some things are never free
I can't see that any of these models have emerged as a result of the internet. They all existed before as parts of social and business interactions. However the internet has shifted the balance between these different models – and also opened up for a large non-monetary (or semi-monetary) exchange between networked individuals.
I'd also like to add a comment that evolves around the alternate meaning of free, as in liberated. For the record I hold the saying "information wants to be free" to be very true. The amount of energy we need to put in to keep information locked in is counter-balanced and more by information's natural propensity to spread. It is like enthropy. More on that in another post.