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The free lunch online

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Monday October 30, 2006 )

It was often said there was no such thing as a free lunch. It’s just something that we understood. I believe the web has changed that somewhat; particularly given the wide range of free lunches now available and so many companies wanting us to sit at their table. You can have a free bite here, a free bite there…

But when things go wrong, who should pay for the antacid?..

Take for instance the recent headaches at Blogger; Google’s free blogging service – the news of their woes spread far and wide across the web last week as glitches raised the ire of many Blogger users.

I do feel for the Blogger engineers, I certainly know what it’s like to have “Murphy” strike rapidly in succession and the only logical explanation to be found is that wonderous phenomenon called “karma”, likely left over from a previous life :).

I remember a time a while back when our System Administrator and I pulled a 40 hour shift without sleep when we experienced some major tech glitches. It wasn’t fun, but with paying customers, it was necessary.

Blogger on the other hand is a free service; yet people were calling for their blood over the recent tech issues. Is this unfair to Blogger? Or is Blogger being unfair to their users?

Who’s to blame? Both parties really. When you offer a service for free and really push it as being an ideal solution, then you’re setting up expectations that need to be fulfilled. As for the users of the service, I repeat:

.. there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I really, really mean it :).

I figure that if a blog is that important, it should be hosted appropriately. That’s not meant to be a slur whatsoever on Google’s great service; it’s just when you host with many premium companies, they’ll provide an uptime guarantee. If it’s a true guarantee, they also know that any outage is going to cost them big in terms of bucks. Even without an uptime guarantee, hosts know that downtime = lost clients = lost profits.

Do you think the overworked team at Blogger truly and sincerely cares about someone’s blog about their cat? I think they are likely more concerned about the stress on their relationships from working long hours in crisis mode or the consequences to their career if they don’t rectify the issue rapidly.

There needs to be just a bit more realism both sides of the fence.

Don’t get me wrong, offering free services is a great promotional tool and a fantastic way to draw people to your business; but if you do offer something for free, be very clear on what users should expect – and remind them about it from time to time.

Having said that, I guarantee that even if you do so, you’ll still be called all the names under the sun if some of your freebie users feel they’ve been treated any less than as royalty. It’s just the way some people are these days.

.. and if you utilize free services for mission critical operations in your online business without some sort of failsafe or backup; if things do go pear shaped, look in your own backyard before setting fire to the service provider’s :).

Related article:

Using free offers in marketing


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