The Internet Isn’t Free (of Charge)

Credit Card

Credit Card (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

We take it for granted today, we sit down, fire up a browser on our computer, tablet or phone, load up our favourite news site, tech blog, webcomic or whatever and for most of these we don’t have to have ever entered any credit card details – unlike buying a magazine or newspaper.

And then many people complain about adverts and install ad blockers without considering one important thing; without the ads the website wouldn’t be there, or you’d have to pay for it yourself.  The other problem with this expectation of no-cost browsing is that sites like Wikipedia which don’t have ads still have to pay for servers, offices and the staff who look after the site despite having an army of volunteers but don’t receive enough donations to keep going.

This blog is provided ostensibly free of charge via WordPress but has adverts (visible to non WordPress.com users) which I have never seen myself but have been reliably informed are there, I couldn’t justify paying for the ad-free version at the moment.  I personally only block adverts on other sites I visit that cause problems with my browser as I appreciate that ads are a necessary part of our free and open internet, just as regular users of donation-based sites aught to donate.

Someone once said there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and for the moment this one’s no exception.

[How Much Would You Pay For a Wikipedia Subscription]

Worldwide Collaboration & Amazing Discoveries

English: The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) begi...

English: The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) begins its separation from Space Shuttle Discovery following its release on mission STS-82. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As more of the world’s population is permanently connected via broadband to the internet the potential for distributed computing and collaboration on projects increases.

Already projects such as Seti@Home have used computers belonging to members of the public who’d signed up to the programme to background process signals received from space and other similar projects are in operation; Wikipedia is edited by an army of volunteers the world over as well as individuals who may only use their own specialised knowledge to create or edit a particular page; and researchers have been digging information from the vast resources of Google Earth.

Now ESA have opened up the archives of Hubble space telescope imagery to the public so that previously unprocessed data could be unveiled in all it’s glory.  The volunteers were unpaid but prizes were given for the best images to emerge from the process, those involved were simply doing it for the challenge and the chance to make a new discovery.  One such volunteer, Judy Schmidt, did discover an object that would have otherwise remained unseen in the immense vault of data.

A sample of the images can be seen over at Gizmodo UK and ESA’s site.

Brittanica – Going Digital Gracefully

English: Title page of the Americanized Encycl...

English: Title page of the Americanized Encyclopedia Britannica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Techdirt recently reported on how a British institution adapted to the new century’s technology rather than trying to sue its competitors into oblivion or whining “that’s not fair”.

The first decade of this century has seen a massive shift to digital distribution and consumption both legally and illegally.  Some traditional media creators have reacted to this with great anger and lawsuits that would keep Ally McBeal busy for a few series (ok, showing my age there, but it was the last legal series I watched).  Instead of adapting business models to cater for these new outlets, providing exclusive tasty content or extra value with digital downloads to tempt people away from pirate sites for example, they have tried to simply legislate the problem away – hence SOPA et al.

They criticise artists who give away content for free, ignoring the facts that this can generate sales as people will often pay for foll0w up material, as also often happens after someone downloads pirated material and then buys the album after they find they like it.  As a content producer I don’t condone piracy, but I don’t feel that tighter copyright laws will help either.

Which brings me on to the venerable, weighty and very British Encyclopedia Britannica.  In the nineties a CD based publication was launched and then as that market faded they launched their own online encyclopedia in the face of the onslaught of Wikipedia and the like.  In both cases they saw what was coming early on and adapted and restructured in order to embrace and make the most of the emerging technology rather than hold on to the past.  Britannica.com is still here alongside Wikipedia because it has evolved, moved with the times and because of its history and reputation it is still a trusted source of information.  They have a premium paid-for service that provides extras for members such as videos, research tools and more.

From door-to-door to digital with no fuss, taking it all in its stride.

[Techdirt]