Sunday, April 8, 2018

Padlet and Scoopit - the perils of freemium in education

CC0 Public domain by Environmental Protection Agency on Wikimedia Commons
A common belief is that everything on the internet should be free, forever. However if a person or company has invested time and resources to build up a service, tool, platform or app then they generally need to earn something from it. Several models have therefore been developed to at least pay lip service to the concept of free whilst enabling the creators to make some money out of their product or service. There are three main categories of free:
  • Free services that are developed and maintained by voluntary communities of experts and enthusiasts in the spirit of the early internet (eg. Wikipedia, Linux, Moodle etc). They rely on goodwill and enthusiasm and can therefore become vulnerable if the community leaders no longer have the time and energy to lead the work.
  • "Free" services that are financed by targeted advertising, where you are in effect the product (eg. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc). These are, of course, under hard scrutiny today.
  • Freemium services where there is a free basic version but you are expected to upgrade to the pay version to get full functionality.
In education we use a lot of freemium products and services and teachers seldom upgrade to the pro versions. Some companies have made the mistake of making their free version too generous and as a result they get few upgrades and therefore risk going bust (as in the case of Storify). Recently, two of my favourite freemium tools, Padlet and Scoopit, have decided to severely limit their free versions in the hope that many of their customers will be prepared to go pro. This has, of course, irritated many teachers around the world who have integrated these tools into their teaching and find the price of upgrading just too high. Read a longer article on the case of Padlet on EdSurgePadlet’s Price Update Riles Teachers, Raises Questions About Sustainability of Freemium Models.

I use Padlet every week as a flexible and attractive collaborative work space for workshops, brainstorming and storyboarding and have been a happy paying customer for a couple of years now. I made the decision to upgrade as soon as I realised how important the tool was for my work but when it comes to other tools I'm not so sure how to procede.

Scoopit is an excellent curation tool and for the part 5 years I have saved interesting articles there and shared my links with anyone who might be interested (see my Scoopit page). It has an attractive layout and feels like a blog even if you don't have to provide any input yourself apart from linking to content elsewhere. Now the free version is limited to 50 posts (I have amassed 3340 posts as a free user) and if you want more space you need to sign up for the pro version at $14.99 per month. I don't mind paying for a few essential tools but there is a limit and in this case I will just have to learn to live without Scoopit. Of course there are alternatives that still have fairly generous free versions (Pocket, Pinterest) but the question is when they too will decide to trim their free versions. The big question here is what is a reasonable price for these tools that are affordable for educators? Very few teachers, if any, will feel like paying over $100 a year for any net-based tool. I suspect that the companies will have to adjust their subscription models again in the near future. the present price of Scoopit, for example, will only attract business users and the education sector will simply move elsewhere.

The landscape of educational technology is shifting fast just now. As I have written in previous posts, there is an increasing awareness of the dangers of using commercial "free" platforms like Google and Facebook in terms of integrity and security and now an increasing number of freemium services are restricting their free versions. The internet is a marketplace and we will probably need to pay for the services we use in the future. Yes we will still have truly free and open services run by enthusiast communities but the vast majority of web services will have a price tag. If you don't pay you will have to accept a bombardment of ads and lack of privacy as the price of free. A sad development but not unexpected.

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