“Free” means you pay for it

Today, the internet has made many services “free” in appearance. For example, previously to search something, one had to buy a lot of books or travel to the library to study a lot of books. Today, all one needs to is to enter the search on an internet search engine. Voila! We have all the answers at our fingertips.

The amazing thing is that this process appears to be free! However, one needs to think a bit if this is really the case. From a basic arithmetic viewpoint, one needs to bring in income in order to pay for the expenses incurred in providing such a service to millions of people. The income in this case, comes from ads.

Search engines (and social media services) collect information about users to build individual profiles. This is done so that ads can be tailored based on these profiles. Thus, online advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry which is being fueled by the activity of millions of people who use search engine and social media services. Thus, what appears to be “free” is in reality being paid for by the clicks and the attention span of each user.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the advent of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies could change the online search and social media spaces. Cryptocurrencies offer a model of explicitly charging end users for using online search and social media services. This could occur in a seamless and automated manner as cryptocurrencies can be transferred from person-to-person and computer-to-computer without the intervention of third parties. Many users of online services could find this attractive because it offers some level of anonymity or pseudonymity. It will be interesting to see how this phenomenon unfolds as this technology develops.