It may be Free, but is it Valuable?

In the battle and discussion around Free (using Chris Anderson’s capitalization), I have felt that a missing component has been whether the Free stuff in and of itself has value to the consumer.  Sometimes maybe and sometimes maybe not.

I work in an organization in which we run across something like this: another business unit inside the company has created some technical training content aimed at consultants and systems integration firms.  Many times it takes the form of “<Name of technology goes here>-Brain-Dump-in-a-Box” which is duly posted for broadest possible distribution on the Web.  Great!  Lots of folks go there, download and/or watch it (if it happens to have webcasts that aren’t downloadable) and get whatever assistance the content by itself can offer.

Then, this internal group will approach my team and ask us to make it available to our training channel.  For various niggling reasons, a cost/price becomes associated with this training content in the process.  So the question is, will a training company be able to sell this same course to corporate customers despite the fact that they can get it “for Free off the Web”?

The answer is Yes.

The reason is value. When this corporate student attends an instantiation of this class, she or he will not be staring at a monitor for five days. They will be taught by an experienced technology trainer. There is the value!  It’s not just the content (or whatever other IP you might think of) by itself.  It is the context and the “value-add” that make it worth paying for.  The value-add also adds cost, but the Value scenario still comes out looking good.

Will some companies still opt to go to the site, download the content and point their employees at it, telling them to “get up to speed” on their own?  Sure.  There will always be takers for Just Free. However, context and extra value can make the difference.

The challenge is to discover the context and extra value the potential consumers of your currently Free Stuff would be willing to pay for.

Reflection: Presentation Jazz

My experience on Tuesday, presenting to my colleagues three consecutive times in forty-five minutes, felt very much like when I was a working musician. In most jazz groups I played with, we had a ‘chart’, so called because if provided enough melody and background riffs to play specifically, and then ‘chord hash’ that allowed an improviser to be able to play within the chord progressions (or not, depending on the player’s mood, sensibilities and abilities) while soloing.

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Reflection – 8/4/08

Howard Rheingold touched upon numerous things in his session with us and the one I found particularly significant to me was the importance of mindfulness in communications. Knowing the power and impact of providing solid or incorrect information, as well as the ways to shade and tone the communications can have any number of positive, negative or inconsequential effects upon the community. In his comments about education (evaluate information, asking the right questions, ascertain the mores of the community) he highlighted the need for foundational cultural immersion for denizens of the community or communities to which one can belong. His example of Stokely Carmichael alludes to this, as Carmichael was unable to maintain a different “face” between audiences. He was presented with a choice of communities with which to identify and ultimately represent and based his communications upon that culture thereafter.

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Reflection – Benkler, Anderson, Hoskins, et al

It seems that much of the economics discussion in Media Economics is focused on mass media and the definitions of these media as used by Benkler. This is visually noted by the continued use of “standard” Supply-Demand graphs instead of more power law-looking graphs. Also, chapter thirteen’s discussion of government intervention didn’t touch upon the particular challenges of Internet regulation and “Net neutrality”.

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Reflection – 7/21/08

I enjoyed Mike Culver’s presentation, especially regarding Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk). I began to think about how MTurk is conceived of today and the NASA Clickworker experiment that Benkler mentions in Chapter 4 of the Wealth of Nations. While this may seem a natural coupling in thought, I wonder just how many much larger organizations, like NASA, are finding methods to parse existing work items out to MTurk Clickworkers (if you will)? One of the observations Benkler and others pose is that the smaller and more discreet an item of work is, the more likely you can get an average individual to sign up to “take the HIT”.

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Reflection – Class readings and discussion: 7/14/08

The guest speaker, T.A. McCann, was an energizing visitor. His presentation about various manifestations of The Long Tail and Web 2.0, in particular Facebook Answers, LinkedIn Answers and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, demonstrates the kind of personal production that is not only interesting to me as a participant but to my business. Businesses spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to incent their communities. Many of them never get beyond transactional (cash) incentives. Further discussion about what incents production the further one goes into the tail was thought-provoking since you get into intrinsic value and prestige in varying degrees. His description and demonstration of his new business, MineBoxx, was interesting. His preface about tightly focusing the scope of the target market makes me wonder how valuable this service would be to a broader audience in different context, price points, and levels of functionality.

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Reflection – Class readings and discussion: 7/7/08

The level of discussion was more broad this week. I found the discourse intriguing on what constitutes free and the emerging requirements for effective filters, given the scale of information available. Attention and reputation as the stuff of value, with the decline of the cost of the information in an information economy, is significant as each of us only has so much time (an aspect of attention). To invest that wisely becomes critical for individuals, as do both of the above for groups/businesses/organizations.

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Reflection – Learning Goals

Identifying my learning goals for the Net-Centric Economics class has required my spending a little more time drilling down into my own thoughts more specifically than I might normally. I generally approach learning with a very open mind and with seemingly vague expectations. This can have the effect of allowing me to identify interesting directions and goals as I go and keep me from “rat-holing” my study by only looking for the things that I really am trying to find; this enables “found knowledge and insight” in my opinion and experience. Unfortunately, it can also have the effect of causing me to float through a learning experience without as much direction as might be helpful. So, this has been a helpful exercise.

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Reflection – Class readings and discussion: 6/30/08

I was most surprised by how intriguing the whole presentation, discussion and exercise around critical writing was to me. First I noticed how much I already do this, despite my not thinking of critique in that way. The challenges to assumptions, even my own, require a dual approach of approaching a topic or thought with both a strong sense of where and what I believe and know, along side of meta-awareness of this individual sense; to be in the moment and see myself in the moment, so to speak. I appreciated the consolation that “I can do this!” that I experienced, too. To Dru’s point, critiquing experts can appear a bit daunting.

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