Thoughts On Free Web Software / Services
As I work marketing one of the web’s most popular applications by day, I’ve come to see many recurring things that everyone should understand about free software (but frequently do not). So today I’m jotting down thoughts to keep in mind about free web services that should help in your use of them.
Free services likely can’t scale support (especially via social) but that doesn’t mean support is non-existent.
First rule: don’t get frustrated, you’re using a free service (how often this is forgotten is incredible). But most popular free services have taken the time to create plenty of help pages (in addition to having user forums). Your issue has likely already been solved and has a dedicated page outlining the solution. Search for it. Additionally, if the service is large enough or is technical there are almost always consultants / agencies you can hire to help. In fact many free services won’t help you because there’s an ecosystem behind them that is serving clients. Look to those who are qualified and endorsed by the service itself. And realize that just because a product is free doesn’t mean everything that comes with it is free.
Don’t be afraid to try things – it’s doubtful you’ll break anything.
This is how I’ve learned to do basically everything I know how to with technology. As a digital native, this was the only way to operate. The earlier generations of web services were messy and that was something I always liked. Unfortunately, I’m a bit saddened how in the past few years we’ve moved from a culture of “try things and fail” back to a place where many are afraid to do this. This is either due to a new generation coming of age or people getting used to a “cleaner” online experience. Either way, test and tinker – that’s the best way to learn.
Provide (constructive) feedback: we’re listening.
If you do have feedback certainly provide it to those responsible for the software. We are definitely listening and will see it if you offer it through the right channels. A blog post or letter on the open web is always the best way but email will work too (don’t assume your platform pings will be seen, they’re probably the worst way to get anyone’s attention).
Don’t be a jerk.
There is really nothing to gain here. Remember you are using a free service that many have put a lot of time behind and is frequently a labor of love. You’re always free to change and use a new piece of software (potentially a paid version of that product or other free product). But openly being a jerk doesn’t do anything but hurts your digital reputation: remember, not only do the providers see this but your industry will see it too (everyone monitors competitor key phrases).
Do share what you like.
If you love free software / services that you use, no matter what it is, share your love for it or how you’ve used it creatively. This is easily the most motivating thing you can do for the creators and also will likely get your ideas shared with the whole community. Plus, it is an easy way to get exposure for your skills in using a platform (for example, the girl who turned her resume into a Pinterest board). If you’re skilled at something, show it.
Understand why it’s free.
Think critically why a brand is offering the free service in the first place (in many cases it is part of a strategy, in others it is a labor of love) and keep that in mind. Understanding this will greatly benefit you and how you go about using the service. I think it’s good for everyone as it won’t cause any surprises about things later on. Besides, understanding of digital ecosystems is a requisite for anyone in media, marketing and technology.
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