Sometimes, paid technology may be better than free

By Mark Barnes
November 12th, 2013

Sometimes, paying for technology might be better than using a free product

technology-paid-freeI am fortunate to speak to educators across the U.S. about student-centered learning and technology integration. It’s thrilling to see a teacher’s eyes light up when I share a powerful, free web tool. After all, what could be better than amazing technology that students love and that costs nothing to use?

The answer to this question, sometimes, is a web tool that comes with a fee. This may seem like a contradiction, but as much as I love free technology, what I hate is using an amazing free website or application, only to see it completely change later and move to an expensive fee-based model.

Educators can connect and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #eSNBestPractices.

(Next page: Why it might be better to choose a fee-based technology)

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7 Responses to “Sometimes, paid technology may be better than free”

November 14, 2013

So, please provide a few examples where free went paid without warning, knowledge or after vetting the tool. I’m curious. It’s the same people have made against Google Apps in the past.

November 14, 2013

I’d have to disagree. Could you provide some examples? More to the point, there is nothing presented that suggests that a fee based service will or has never increased its fees. As always, careful consideration of contract terms should be engaged in prior to acceptance.

    December 14, 2013

    See my reply to Jimohagan above. There are many more platforms that started free and then went paid. Ning is another that comes to mind. Glogster, Voki and VoiceThread are all freemium products. Some sites simply go out of business, so you are right, careful consideration is important. Contract terms are not relevant, because web hosts won’t provide a contract that states that they will never add a fee.

November 22, 2013

I can provide an example for you guys: Museumbox.

This is a “virtual museum” activity (hosted in the UK) that has been around for many years. I had used it in the past and was planning to use it again; I got everything all set up at the beginning of the school year, only to return after winter break and see “This resource will be chargeable on a per-school basis from 14th January 2013.” The cost isn’t even reasonable, especially considering the very basic and limited site functionality which you can obtain in other ways.

Oh well, there goes that idea. But it also wasted a lot of our time and energy in the process.

Around the same time, I was also planning to use a free online cloud-based media production tool (audio and video); I forget the name, but it was brand new and looked very promising. I returned back to the site to create some tutorials for how to use it… and it no longer existed. It said “The online service is no longer available. You can still access our tools, by buying the app from iTunes.” I don’t use iPads, and the main incentive for using the tool was because it was free. Well, another one bites the dust…

Going cloud-based and going free can, in fact, cause MAJOR headaches.

    December 14, 2013

    You make excellent points. It’s especially frustrating to plan on using something, only to see it shut down. If you want media production, I’d recommend iMovie, which is not cloud-based, but is a solid, free product. For really simple movie production, try Animoto, which has a low-end free version and a very reasonable pay platform.

November 27, 2013

I get the concern with a “bait and switch” approach to software. I am a managing partner of an online resource that has been seven years in development….I won’t mention the name as your readers will consider this post as an advertisement….As a provider, I believe we all share a naive approach that what we develop will ultimately be forward thinking, practical, and eventually, yes, profitable. “Free” is unsustainable. Plain and simple. As a developer you learn very quickly the true costs of software are NOT the actual developmental costs…rather, it is the support costs that literally eat you alive. What you originally thought was going to occur after introduction, simply does not. Software, to be effective, organically grows into something else. It morphs into something else and is extremely expensive to change and support. So…the “bait and switch” becomes a natural evolution of a products life cycle and, therefore, costs a great deal more than originally thought possible….in all fairness….what would YOU do, faced with this simple fact? Either price the product at its true cost that allows for support and growth, or close up shop? Yes I want you to use my software, and yes I expect users to share in my costs. Fortunately, we are good listeners and tester and the product we are creating IS that good…we simply cannot give it away for “Free” any more than educators are willing to work for “Free”. Gouging is another story. There are those companies that gouge their users and, hopefully, they won’t be around for very long.

    December 15, 2013

    Scott, you make a logical argument for the development side of things. As I suggest in my article, I’m fine with paid platforms. I do expect anything that is designed for education to be reasonable in price. Plus, when something has been free for a long time, I want some warning when the paid version, or upgrade, is coming. Having it appear in my dashboard one day is unacceptable. Thanks for offering this perspective.