Back in April, I was just about to announce a Lunch & Learn about Ning, the hugely popular create-your-own social networking site, when I received an email from Ning announcing that they were going to begin charging for use of their tool. So, I put the brakes on that Lunch & Learn since we try to feature free tools.
Now, a few days after I hold a Lunch & Learn featuring Xtranormal I go to my free Xtranormal account and attempt to publish the movie I made as a demonstration during the Lunch session. Guess what? In the past couple of days they have eliminated free accounts and now require you to pay to publish what you make.
I begin to wonder... is this the "curse of the Lunch & Learn" or is there something larger and more sinister happening here?
I'm now starting to recall that Pandora Radio, previously free, now charges .99 cents/month if you want to listen to more than 40 hours/month. ($1 is negligible, I know, but how long before they start charging more? Maybe $1/month is just a feeler.) Skype has also recently announced that they will begin charging for VOIP calls made over 3G from iPhones.
We've been spoiled with free tools for so long. Is it to much to expect that this would continue forever? I'm begining to fear that one of the free tools I love so much, and rely on, will be next: Wordpress, Blogger, Google Sites, Jing, Twitter.
How do we protect ourselves from becoming too invested in a free tool that may be taken away from us? Before, diving headfirst into the next free Web 2.0 tool, it's probably important to be able to answer "Yes" to one of these questions:
Do I like this tool so much that I would be willing to pay for it if they start charging?
Does this tool allow me to export my work into a format that I can take somewhere else, if needed?