In asking whether the kerfuffle over the Skype outage means many people have become too dependent on it, Aiden Henry ends his post with a provocative question: “Are we too dependent on free services like Skype?”.
It’s a particularly poignant question given one of the pillars of the Web 2.0 economy is “free”. In return for attracting thousands of users to a free service, companies can then lean on advertisers who want to go after large audience focused on a particular area/sector. It is a business model that has thrived in recent years based on the idea that a rising online advertising market will raise all start-ups.
This assumption raises two questions:
1. Is the “free business model sustainable in the long-run for other than a handful of dominant players (e.g. Google, Facebook, MySpace, etc.)? If the answer is “no”, then will businesses have no choice but to embrace “freemium” whereby you offer basic service for free and then charge for more features?
One of the major problems right now with attempting to get anyone to pay for anything is there’s too much competitive. The moment you implement a subscription fee – even for a really good service – there’s someone else just a click away wiling to offer it at no cost. And as far as I can tell, the freemium model has yet to gain much momentum although it appears that some players such as Freshbooks are doing well with it.
The second question is: what are the expectations of people using a free service?
If, for example, you’ve never paid a penny to use Skype can you really complain too much when it goes down for awhile? Sure you’ve become dependent on it as an everyday communications tool but what do you expect for nothing? The same goes for any other free service online. Of course, most online users believe they have an inherent right not to pay for anything but still get top-notch service, which means they complain vociferously when things go awry.
Don’t get me wrong, having your service go down is a bad thing because if enough users get frustrated and decide to leave for a rival, it means advertisers could go away too. But the reality is this sense of entitlement among online users is unrealistic because expecting to get everything for nothing is just wrong.
More: Skype has come out with an explanation about why its service crapped out.