April 9, 2011

The True Price of Free

Listening to John Siracusa and Dan Benjamin on Hypercritical just now, I heard a phrase that succinctly points to the true price of "free." John said, "If you're not paying for it, the product is you." Reminds me of the poker chestnut that if you can't tell who the marque is at the table, you're it.

Think about that. Consider the free use of something common in everyday life. Google Search, for example. Google Search users are not Google customers. They are the product being delivered to Google Adwords advertisers, who are the real customers. The price paid is attention. Time is finite, making attention a valuable commodity. So when we receive something free of charge, it's probably because we're actually paying with something more valuable than money.

It's not anything new, just a handy way to phrase it.