Free is great but time is money


Free is Great – thanks to William White via Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now and I finally wanted to write something about gaming freemium. What do I mean by “gaming freemium”? How much effort will you go to in order to avoid paying for something?

Most free services place a limit on the usage that you can get for nothing, the clever ones give you enough to make the service really useful and make their money from a small percentage of users who see sufficient value in having less limited access to the service to be willing to pay.

We all love a free service, particularly if it is very useful or enjoyable, but a lot of us have a resistance to taking the leap across the payment chasm between free and premium. I know I have resisted, strategised, justified and wasted time and energy many times rather than pay!

Let me give you a couple of examples from my recent experiences.

I have had a Google account for almost 15 years, I use gmail for most of my mail, I use Drive for online document collaboration and storing presentations, I use Forms for all sorts of things and I use Photos as a backup for my photo collection. When I started using Google they offered 2 or 5GB of storage with the free account, that has gradually increased to 15GB and some types of data (eg. photos in medium res) do not count towards my 15GB. Recently I started receiving warning messages telling me that my storage was close to the limit. I hacked around looking for ways to strip attachments from emails (not as easy as it should be) or to move some of my storage to another account or deleting some stuff that I probably didn’t need or …

What I didn’t do was just pay £16/year to upgrade because the service was free when I started and I wanted it to stay free! After several attempts and quite a few hours trying to reduce my storage size I realised that £16 was not an unreasonable charge to have effectively unlimited usage of my Google mail and Drive.

I have been using ZeroSSL and Let’s Encrypt to generate free SSL certificates for 3 websites that I manage. The service is a bit fiddly for a non-tech like me but it works and after spending several hours the first time I generated and installed the certificates, I have now got this down to an hour’s work every 3 months (Let’s Encrypt certificates only last 3 months). When I went to ZeroSSL last week their whole service had changed and while I could generate a single free certificate, multiple certificates required a paid account or perhaps I could work out a way to register for 3 different free accounts with different email addresses. After my Google storage experience I decided to check out what it would cost to buy SSL certificates from one of the budget providers (I don’t have any e-commerce activities). The aptly named CheapSSL had a very helpful person providing online chat advice to answer my queries and in a few minutes I had bought 3 certificates with a year’s duration for less than £16. Job done and I won’t have to update the certificates for a year! Next year I will probably buy the even cheaper 3 or 4 year certificates to save having to install them each year.

I could go on with further examples but hopefully you get the point, even if I only valued my time at £10 or £15 an hour (and I promise you that I don’t) it would be cheaper to pay for SSL Certificates or Google storage rather than burn time trying to find a free alternative or a workaround.

But time is money – thanks to Luis Villasmil via Unsplash

My pal Ed Freyfogle runs a geocoding service at OpenCage Data. They offer a “Free Trial” tier which allows up to 2,500 hits a day but note the account is for trial purposes not production use. The FAQ says

How long can I use the free trial?

As long as you need for testing. That is what it is there for. If you decide to use our service in production you should become a customer.Please note: inactive free trial accounts are deleted after six months.

Can I just use multiple free trial accounts?

No, don’t do that. The free trial is a way to test our service – do not use it for anything mission critical. If you need production level reliability, become a customer.

That’s pretty clear and sounds fair to me. When I chat with Ed he often regales me with amusing tales of the extents to which people will go to exceed the 2,500/day limit without paying – fake emails, spoofing IP addresses, all sorts of wheezes. Of course if you really are desperate to get geocodes for nothing you could:

  • download the OpenStreetMap data for the whole world on which the OpenCage service is based
  • you could build your own geocoder
  • you could run it on your own server
  • and you could update the data on a regular basis

There’s loads of how to advice on downloading OSM and setting up a geocoder out there if you search. If you build your own geocoder that will give you unlimited free geocoding except for the time it would take you to build and maintain and the cost of the server or PC. If that sounds like too much time and hassle why not consider paying someone else to do it for you? If you want a top reverse geocoding service to support your business needs have a look at OpenCage.

Remember – Free is great but time costs money