I’ve had this article on draft since the Instagram TOS debacle, but I didn’t finish writing it because of reasons. Life got busy and I lost the timing.
Anyway, the crux of it remains relevant. I won’t get into the whole “if you don’t pay for a service, you’re the product” thing since it’s been done to hell, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
So, I decided to move from Instagram back to Flickr when the TOS “controversy” was at its height. I didn’t have that many photos or thought they were good enough to be used in ads, but I was a bit pissed off when Instagram decided to pull out Twitter integration about one month before that.
I had reached the 200-picture limit on my free account a long time ago, but there I had a service that did way more, where I could store full-resolution photos, create sets, use proper geolocation and, on top of everything else, had proper social network integration. A Flickr Pro account costs 25 bucks a year, a very fair price for a full-featured ad-free cloud photo storage service.
Please let me pay for stuff
It’s a known fact that paying for a service makes it more serious. Paying legitimizes a commercial relationship; it gives you leverage when you have a complaint, it creates a proper binding contract where you have a say about the services you’re using. When you use a service for free, the company can always come back at you and say “I was being generous, you ungrateful bastard”.
A good example is Posterous. I’ve used it for a long time to post pictures and short text posts via email when I didn’t have a decent smartphone. Twitter bought them and now the service is being discontinued. They offered an easy way to download everything as a working website (which I’ve uploaded here), but it doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t exist anymore. If I want to post via email, I’ll have to look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, not all “free” services have decent paid options. The biggest example is possibly Google. While I can buy extra storage for Gmail, that doesn’t really constitute a proper paid account. Yes, I can sign up for Google Apps, but that’s way more than most people need and still lacks integration with a few services (Youtube, for example). What if I don’t have (or don’t want to use) a domain? Would it be so hard to offer a Google Premium account?
I have a non-Google email that I use for serious stuff precisely to have an “exit strategy” if Google ever decides to pull the plug on Gmail. Don’t think it can’t happen - remember that Google Reader had a loyal following, and was killed anyway.
So please internet, take my money. Use it to remove those annoying ads and create great services for users, not shareholders.