Free

The World Wide Web / Internet is really actually quite new. Given that I’ve kinda grown up around the growth of the Internet from when it was a new curiosity, to now that it’s entered into all aspects of life and all population. 

It was a fun thing. You wrote a html page, you hosted it somewhere, it worked, people saw it, it was free or low cost, there wasn’t much control, or regulation, or privacy, or security, or discovery. It was just a fun thing that geeky people used to play with, connect with each other, and just use computers for. 

And then it grew. Into more and more useful things that we needed for more and more important things. Health, banking, email, payments, shopping, bookings, etc.

While many of them are extension of normal business models, paid purchases, transactions etc, the core of it, the hosting, the search, has almost always been totally free to the average user. For every paywalled site, there’s been a free open alternative, and it’s difficult to beat free. People will just gravitate towards it – free search, free portals, free social network sites, free email, free videos, free hosting. 

And in that low $0 price, came ads. Ads have been on the internet since forever – stupid old banner ads, silly 1 pixel ad, text ads, picture ads, pop-up ads (near eradicated like measles or something). Ads support so many of the big traditional Internet companies like Geocities, Yahoo, Google, etc. Those who don’t sell hardware or direct services, well it’s really hard to convince people to pay for things online, especially when free stuff works so well. The global state of things also brings challenges in collecting payments, and the intangible software-ness of virtual stuff also is hard to sell, and in tiny bits.

So we’ve had free. And it’s gradually coalesced in a few big companies as things often do, like many corporations and industries, not just online.

People worry whether it is too much, whether they should be broken up. After now the tech giants are really big on paper and financial markets, overlapping the oil&gas giants in market cap and possibly cash holdings.

The single basket risk of so many essential services being provided by a single company also makes it difficult to regulate or ban. 

But I think it will be dramatically problematic if we split them up? All those free ad-supported products will now need to find their own fully sustainable income, their own data streams. If Google were to split up, their top 10 billion user products all need to run their own business models – you would have to pay to use Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Google Translate, Google Drive, Android, Google Photos, Chrome, and possibly more. Anyway, either they will all run their own ad engines separate from Google Search, or you would need to pay $5-$100 per month for some of these services, each.

If you hesitate to pay the additional $2 or $10 per month for additional Google Drive / Photos / Gmail storage, what’s going to happen if you need to pay for all these separately?

Not to mention, many backend services like cloud storage, account security etc are shared across all these same-company products. Once split-up, they will need to separately reinvent the wheel going forward or pay someone else for the service. Those free 2FA smses might not be free any longer. 

News agencies have had their own battles against this. Free news, paid news, articles scraped by search engines, it’s thrown the traditional news companies into disarray, and I’m not sure they have gotten out of it.

Frankly the bitcoin and cryptocurrency thing runs in the same vein – decentralized ledgers, lower cost, putting control into different hands (preferably no hands), etc. Disruption of traditional models.

It gets harder when the disruption hits your fundamentals that you kinda need to keep constant or have trust in over your lifetime – wealth, purchasing power, identity, career, etc.

This liberation is like almost like going from a big built-up city in skyscraper and ancillary services, to wild free nomadic liberty in the woods. Free, wild, less constant, more crazy.

What will the world balance look like after the Internet is done with it? 

Free

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