Web 2.0

Free stuff and pitfalls

The fairly recent announcement of Salesforce’s acquisition of DimDim – the formerly open source web conferencing product – has shaken some folks up. It’s a lesson, though, in the fragility of using free services on the web. While I’m not going to say don’t use them (and I’m certainly not going to stop using them myself), you do have to consider that free services (Ning, DimDim, possibly Delicious and more) have a strong possibility of going away altogether or just becoming a service that requires payment (as both Ning and DimDim have done). Either way, for libraries or other folks with very small budgets, the result is the same. The service is no longer available for them.

DimDim - no longer a free webconference option

This applies to every free service – from powerhouses like Facebook to more niche products like the free budgeting and personal finance tool I use, Mint. Anything that you use that you are not specifically paying for (and things that you are paying for, even) can be pulled at any time. Really, paying for a product or service doesn’t mean it won’t go away – it just means that it may be less likely and will (hopefully) offer better support in transitioning you to a new service.
One thing I keep in mind with any service I use is that if I’m not paying for it, I’m not a customer – I’m the product. If the service can’t stay in business selling me and my data/habits/eyeball attention, they won’t be around for long. For services that have no paid option, this can be scary! The best thing to do is to make regular backups of all of your data (that you can!) on these free services and be prepared for service interruptions or unexpected loss of service at any time. Have contingency plans in place and know what options you have if that service becomes immediately unavailable to you.
Not the easiest thing to do, I will grant you, but a bit of preparation in advance can save hours of panicked “crisis-mode” activity in the future!

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