Open Thinkering


The problem with free stuff.

Image: ‘divieto?


I like free stuff. I also like Open Source (OSS) stuff. I especially like FLOSS. OSS has a model that works:

In his 1997 essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, open source evangelist Eric S. Raymond suggests a model for developing OSS known as the bazaar model. Raymond likens the development of software by traditional methodologies to building a cathedral, “carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation”. He suggests that all software should be developed using the bazaar style, which he described as “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches.” (Wikipedia)

The trouble is, the only real ‘model’ that non-OSS developers have for making software freely available is freemium: making basic services free whilst charging for more advanced features.

The problem:

Educators get upset when services they’ve been using (for free) get shut down. That’s understandable.

Why are educators using these free, online tools? Because those that are provided for them don’t cut the mustard. Why aren’t they paying for the more advanced (premium) features? Because they would have to pay for them personally.


  1. Encourage/dictate that staff and students use only Open Source software (if a developer leaves, the software is still there and you can find/pay someone to develop it further)
  2. Give staff (and students?) a budget to spend on software/web apps (a bit like a personal version of the ill-fated eLearning Credits system in the UK)
  3. Have a backup plan (what other services could you migrate to if the worst came to the worst?)


If you don’t pay for it (or, if ad-supported, click on the ads) don’t grumble if it’s not there tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “The problem with free stuff.

  1. Spot on Doug. So true. Although I think the conclusion is a bit harsh. People who grumbled about Etherpad being closed down eventually convinced Google and Etherpad to keep the service running and open up its source code. Perhaps grumbling does serve a purpose after all!

    1. I think what people did with Etherpad was *state a case* rather than grumbled. They gave reasons why it should be kept going, and Google had the resources to help them out. That’s not always the case, unfortunately. We, as educators, need to recognise and plan accordingly!

  2. Doug, I agree with all you say – even your conclusion. If a tool is valuable enough for someone in their professional or personal life then support the programmers. I had not thought of supporting staff with use of software requiring payment by giving them an allowance – great idea. I might see if I can work this into my budget for 2010. Great post, cheers.

    1. Thanks for the comment Shane. I’ve found that the problem with schools is
      that they are wary about (or completely disallow) purchases over the
      internet from any retailers or services other than the biggest names. This
      stifles innovation. If, say, there was a mechanism to claim back this money
      quickly and easily (as there is at *some* schools) teachers would be more
      likely to have a departmental Flickr Pro account, for example. :-)

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