There are some pretty amazing tools available on the Internet. One of the great things about them are many come completely free. This includes services like Google Docs, instant messenger, WordPress hosted blogs, and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Of course, one of the biggest problems with these services is they are free…which means you have no control.
I was recently reminded of this when Facebook quietly removed a very simple feature they were beta testing. The feature was the ‘unsubscribe’ button that allowed a user to choose a point in a conversation on Facebook to stop receiving notifications when there was further action. Nothing super life changing and the change won’t make me stop using Facebook. It did remind me, though, that in the end I have no real power to fight back against the decision. If I was a paying customer, I could always file a complaint or request a refund. Since Facebook is free, technically they can change anything they want, whenever they want, without notifying you or even asking your permission. They technically could get bored with the idea and just stop Facebook.
Now I’m not suggesting that one day Facebook will close and shut off their service, but they could. Imagine if Google decided they wanted to charge $2 per year for people to use their service? With other search engines lacking in results performance and the cost only being $2, they would make a fortune. Or what if they decided that it wasn’t in the company’s interest to host documents for free via Google Docs anymore? How many documents do you or your business have on there? How much do you rely on Google Docs for your business to function?
I have people ask me every now and then why I don’t use Google Calendar. It’s not because I think Google is going to steal all of my appointment information (though I suppose they could), it’s because I don’t want to come to rely on a service that might go away, be changed into something I don’t want, or a charged service without my permission, input, or a refund. My calendar is stored on my personal computer and I sync it across all of my devices using software that I paid for. My blog is hosted on my own web server that I pay for (granted it is on The WordPress CMS – technically open source, so that is my justification). My email comes from my own domain.
Does this mean I’ll make my own Facebook or Twitter program? No. I love using them to connect with interesting people. I’ll probably use the next really cool free Internet tool that comes out as well. For things like file and photo storage, Internet VoIP service, website hosting, email, and backup, I feel much safer knowing that when it comes to changing the features, privacy policies, or access to the service, it happens when and how I want.
Don’t take free services for granted, because one day, they very well could be gone.