Oh Ning It! The Cost of Free

April 27th, 2010 |


V. Matthew King-Yarde is a freelance graphic/web designer & new media consultant. He’s also a songwriter, recording artist and studies how to use social media to promote musicians as well as himself. He blogs about his love for music, social media, and provides commentary when the two collides on his blog “Thought Remixer“ and contributes to Black Web 2.0 He's @nukirk on Twitter.

Ning, a community builder, is now phasing out their free version, leaving all the non-premium networks without a home. While relocating to another place may not be an issue for most people (small, non-serious niche sites), the ones who planned on making a business out of their site are pretty much left with two choices; build elsewhere or upgrade.

If you find yourself leaning towards the “build elsewhere” option, you might want to take this lesson into consideration: Even free has a price. While it’s a common sense lesson, I constantly run into people who forgo my advice to pay for something they can actually call their own, instead choosing to go the DIY route in search of free.

Free doesn't always equal freedom

I remember a client who wanted to purchase my domain name and services… only to reverse their decision and use a Ning site instead. After trying for a year, their attempt at branding the site not only failed (the brand name competed against my former brand), but they underestimated the complexity of the net in general. They thought upgrading to premium features would help. They did not understand what they were getting into, causing confusion to both the owners and the members. Oh, and they lost a lot of money in the process.

Are free web apps and sites are the devil? This isn’t always the case. I, myself, use free apps on a daily basis because I understand “the cost of free.” The cost I’m referring to can be expressed in a simple equation:

(Ease of use + Ability to grow) – Frustration with limits = The Cost of Free

For example, I use Evernote daily to keep track of ideas I create on the spot, pictures for inspiration, and audio notes. For a free service, there’s a lot of potential to use it without going over the limit (hence the ease of use and the ability to grow part). Then one day, I started to become a bit complex with my note taking, which hit one of the free limits – the monthly bandwidth limit. I mostly use Evernote for text notes, which makes it ideal for writing. But when I finally got my HTC Hero and started to really use it (to store images and audio notes), I noticed I almost hit the limit a few times (cue the frustration with the limits’ factor).  Upgrading is going to be inevitable. However, at an affordable rate, I’d be a fool not to do so.

While some people may love the sound of free when building their own slice of Netopia, let’s not forget that there is a cost because it’s not totally free. While it may not be a problem in the short run, if you plan on making any real money, it’s best to cough it up now and own it all now rather than later.

On a bright note regarding the demise of Ning… now there’s one less social network for wack, cheap rappers and promoters.

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