I have noticed that sometimes people’s opinions do not match up with their values. I get it. Life is hard, and sometimes we do not see the full implications of what we believe. It turns out those beliefs, at the end of a chain of reasoning, do not actually correspond to our values. Hence the disconnect.
The example of this I have been noticing of late has to do with software, and more noticeably, phone apps. I am old enough to remember a time when software cost somewhere in the ballpark of at least 100$ and came packaged in an oversized box and served on a series of disks. The software using world was still small then, but getting larger, and the growing ranks of users had no idea where the stuff came from or what justified such a cost.
If anything, the modern software landscape is even more mystical to the tax-paying hoi polloi, have have swollen in their ranks and are perhaps just moderately less mystified by it all. We understand that there exist a class of people called software engineers and from them floweth the software. We may know something else about programing languages but frankly, the sophistication ends there. You could reasonably convince a whole slew of people that software engineers get their ideas from shaving badgers and frankly most of us would have no avenue to contradict you.
Really, it was the advent of ‘apps’ that set everything wrong.
But the other changes to our conceptions of software are much more impactful. Software is ubiquitous and ephemeral. Seemingly, it comes right out of the air, as I can be in the bathroom shaving, pick up my phone, and pull up an app with grooming advice. It seems deceptively small scale for the amount of work that has likely actually gone into it.
If we look at things historically, the price has been jumping around the extremes. From the static highs there was a brief period where a lot of software, again in the form of apps, seemed to be free. This happened with the advent of smart phones and the stores surrounding them, when a good lot of apps came out with a lovely let ‘free’ price tag. This set people’s expectations, so that now people tend to think of aps as deserving to be around that price. ‘Free’, ‘0.99cents’, and ‘4.99’ if you are really going hog wild.
What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, that depends on what you value. Most of us have been commenting on the corporate coup of our lives; how large corporations are pretty much taking over everything. It is a problem, and it will ultimately to a worsening of things for all of us.
So now I ask you, who does the freemium model of apps and software really favor? Small developers, or large corporations? Linux fans and the FOSS community would love to tell you otherwise, but the truth is that it really favors the corporations. A corporation can put an app out there at no cost and then recoup the money elsewhere. The smaller groups of developers don’t have this option. So when you favor the free app, this is what you are favoring.
If the smaller developers are going to thrive, we have to become ok with paying them. Likely, we have to start getting used to paying them often. Frequently, they have a product worth donating to (there are several free programs I donate to every christmas, which means they are actually free in concept alone) for the value people are getting from them. It cost money to make these apps, it costs money to maintain them, and if you want the talent to keep working on these projects, they need to keep fed.