Speaking of the need to be cautious of free stuff, as in a recent post, here’s an excellent example of why.
It’s called Delicious, and some of you old timers may remember it being one of the original web-based utilities for syncing and managing your bookmarks online. Back when bookmarks were actually a thing, in the early Google, pre-smartphone age.
In 2003, Delicious was a hip startup and got some big financing from a high profile venture fund and Amazon soon after going online. Adding to the hipness, they used a very funky, hard to type, address: del.icio.us. But the site did make it very easy to take all those links that were stacked in your browser and made them available from any computer. As an added bonus, Delicious was “social”, meaning you could share the resources you found and follow the links saved by others.
About two years later the company was bought by Yahoo! (back when that ! was not completely ironic), making everyone involved lots of money, and the service continued to grow and improve for the next few years. And it was still free, with every feature available to all. No “premium”, no “pro”.
Things started downhill a few years later as Yahoo began losing relevance almost as fast as it’s stock price was falling and in 2011 Delicious was sold to the guys who started YouTube (they still had some of the $1.65 billion in Google money to play with). Three years later, it was sold again. And early this year, sold again.
All this churn, of course, was largely caused by the fact that Delicious was free, and each successive owner couldn’t figure out how to make a profit by giving stuff away (or how to persuade users to begin paying for previously free stuff). At some point, one of them added advertising to the site, along with paid accounts that offered little more than relief from the ads. More importantly, the functionality of the site stagnated and declined. Plus the current owners, for some unknown reason, have decided to return the URL to the original mess: del.icio.us.
Also somewhere in the past few years of it’s history, I finally gave up on Delicious. I was one of those original users more than ten years ago, one who stuck with the service for most of it’s life. Even though I was very aware that making a free application with no visible business model a major part of my information workflow, carries a lot of risk.
Back when rumors had Yahoo planning to shut down Delicious, I moved everything to a paid service called Pinboard and posted to both for a while (made possible by IFTTT). But now it’s time to make a clean break with Delicious and review the first lesson of free: sometimes not paying can cost a great deal. Time, effort, and annoyance.