wasting bandwidth since 1999

Free Doesn’t Mean Forever

Last week the big buzz around my small corner of the internet was the leak that Yahoo planned to shut down Delicious, the venerable (if anything on the web can be called that) social bookmarking site.

While the fate of the service is far from settled, the whole dustup got me thinking again about our dependence on free when it comes to web utilities.

These days, almost all the services I rely on either charge a subscription fee, or have a relatively solid “freemium” business model, one with a basic level that’s free (sometimes with ads) along with one or more paid levels.

Delicious, however, is the one important piece that doesn’t fit. I’ve been using it since before Yahoo bought it in 2006 and always wondered how they could possibly survive with no visible means of support.  We may soon have an answer.

Of course, when it comes to teachers and schools, free is very popular, especially when budgets are tight.  But even in good times, government bureaucracy can make it difficult to get approval for annual subscriptions from small web companies.

Which means many educators are building lessons and activities for their students on free services that may or may not be available in future academic years.

Doug at Blue Skunk Blog has also been speculating on the longevity of Delicious and other web services while trying to finish a book about this moving target.

I’ve also been attempting to predict which tools are more than a flash-in-the-pan. I’ve been using word processing software for 30 years. I think it is safe to say that in some form or another it will be around for the next 10. It would really honk me off as a time-stressed teacher to put a lot of time into a tool that won’t serve me for a very long time.

And even paying for an account doesn’t necessarily guarantee a site won’t disappear and take all your data with it, which I suppose is a good argument for do-it-yourself.

For myself, part of the concern in the uncertainty surrounding Delicious is that I’ve spent a lot of time and effort helping colleagues learn how this service (and others) fits into their information management flow, both personally and professionally.

I know it would be more future-proof to put everything in general terms – social bookmarking, instead of Delicious – but most in the still-just-getting-started audience are looking for specific recommendations, not concepts.

At the end of his post Doug asks his readers which of today’s technologies will still be used by educators in five years.

By that time I would hope terms like “blog”, “wiki”, and “social bookmarking” disappear in favor of the much simpler concept of sharing information online, regardless of content or format.

Hopefully, by then we’ll also accept the reality that somebody needs to pay something to make it happen.

Update (12/20): Clarence also speculates on the death of free in the wake of the Delicious news and changes in other formerly free web services.


  1. Chris O'Neal

    Tim I wonder about this a lot. I teach courses in educational technology which, as no surprise, includes a lot of web 2.0 free utilities. Every time I update the syllabus each semester I pause, wondering if I should include some of these. It’s really challenging to decide what’s probably safe, as far as long-term availability goes. The whole Delicious thing has made me think even more differently about how to present these tools.

  2. Tim Owens

    I’ve been fairly vocal on Twitter of my disdain for Yahoo in light of this mess. I’m not even an active user of Delicious (Once I realized the majority of things I bookmarked I never went back to, and the rest returned 404s after a year or so, I gave up on bookmarking). For me I’m just very concerned of this growing trend of Yahoo acquiring important pieces of the web and then shuttering them when they can’t make it fit in their massive variety of we properties. We saw it with Geocities, an important piece of the early web that they shut down with very little notice and no formal archive of the contents of those sites offered. Yahoo is a sinking ship but it would be nice if they could manage to send a few things off in lifeboats instead of letting it all drown with them.

    I like what you said on Twitter: “eventually someone is going to have to pay for services on the web, and it might just be me.” (paraphrasing). It gives me some level of comfort when a service has the balls to charge people straight up. It’s way too easy to shutter a free service with a simple shrug and “what did you expect?” But I’m personally not going to concern myself with whether lesson plans created today in Prezi will exist in 5 years. While the content may not change, I think teachers need to push themselves to continually evolve and do whatever they can to engage students. Sometimes that is going to be with tools that are here for today. I won’t expect folks to still have their overhead sheets and VHS tapes. The hard thing is technology is moving a whole lot faster now than it ever has. The half-life of today’s technology is a lot shorter and I think that trend will continue. We’ve got to adapt, evolve, and do our best to keep our heads above water.

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