re: Google Reader Flap Shows 5 Problems With Free
I agree with most of your points, at a high level. However, not only do I disagree with your conclusions, but I would argue strongly that most of your conclusions are not supported by any evidence you provide. Specifically, the pending shutdown of Google Reader is disappointing; I use it very heavily myself. However, the fact that it was a free offering doesn't relate in any way to it shutting down or the risk of using it.
The analyst you quote, Anurag Agrawal also provides meaningless statements that are unsupported by reality or his arguments. To start with, he uses Google Docs as an example, without commenting on or differentiating the free version from the paid version. Is the paid version less risky than the free version? If Google decides to someday kill Google Docs, does he really think they're going to kill only part of it? How exactly is there "less exposure to long term risk if that service siappears or is otherwise disrupted" if I've been paying for a service, as opposed to getting it free? If the vendor kills the product, I'm screwed, regardless of what I paid for it.
As to your "5 problems", let's take a quick look at each:
1. "Free isn't often viable" - First of all, that's a rather large bias you're showing through the wording in that statement. You seem to be suggesting that free *usually* isn't viable. Considering the volume of free offerings, many of which have been around for many years now, I'd be curious to see if you can provide any support for that. Perhaps you should have worded it, "Free often isn't viable"?
Then we're back with another quote from Agrawal that applies 100% equally to all companies, regardless of how they're pricing their services. This is simple economics 101, without revenue and profits, a company goes out of business. It's up to the company to figure out how to make that profit, and there are many models available; yes, some of them even involve free products or services.
2. "Free is not always forever" - Of course not. Neither is paid. That's life. Nothing is forever. I've used 3 paid music services over the years. All of them have since closed up shop, and I lost anything I had invested in them.
Regarding your example of Google Apps, please note that they discontinued new sign-ups for it. They did *not* discontinue it's use by existing users. As someone who's using their free Google Apps service, they didn't take anything away from me. Maybe in this case, free is forever?
3. "You get what you pay for" - I'm not going to waste much time on this on, as it's just silly. I'll make sure to remind the next startup that builds a successful company on free and open source software, though.
4. "No neck to wring" - Most people are smart enough to know that free typically involves little customer support/service. If you want support, you pay for it. Offering a free tool/software/service, and charging for support is a very common business model, and many companies are doing quite well with it.
Yes, technically Facebook is free for users (although, there are plenty of paid services being sold on top of Facebook by Facebook). That doesn't mean that Facebook isn't being paid.