Big free web services are all the rage these days.  Webmail started it years ago, with Rocketmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Bigfoot Mail, etc.  Flickr has been a darling for several years now, and blog services are hot.  A friend is working on a password manager called 7dots, and I know of several todo and contact list managers.

I’ve always avoided services such as these for a variety of reasons.  One is that I don’t like giving my personal information to a megacorp, however little I have to give, or however much the promise to play nice with it.  Another is that I don’t want to have my stuff wrapped in their ads and design when I show it to people.  The ads bother me less than the design.  If I’m going to have a web gallery, I want it to look like the rest of my site, not like a flickr theme.  7dots is going to be a passwd manager.  If anyone other than someone I know and trust were building it, there’s NO WAY I’d trust it.  That’s some scary stuff right there.

On the other hand, I’m lazy, and don’t really have time to build this stuff on my own.  And the people who make these services are (relatively) rich, and can afford to build in all kinds of features I don’t have the time or knowledge to do.  I use Flickr because I can send images directly from my cell phone to the web, and then deliver them to my website via an rss feed.  That’s slick.  I think I could build it, if I had lots of spare time.

I don’t use webmail because I don’t like webmail.  Gmail’s cool, but it’s still webmail.  On the other hand, it would be cool to offer a gmail style interface to my wife, without having gmail Know All about her email.

What I’d really like is to see stuff like flickr, 7dots, gmail, etc, offered as open source packages I could download and install.  Sure, there’s stuff like squirrelmail, but have you compared squirrelmail to gmail recently?  Please.  Gallery’s cool, but it doesn’t do the trick of taking pics from a pop account and putting them someplace nice.  Even the rss feed in gallery kinda bails.

Anyone know of a phplib to grab pics from a pop account?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this stuff for years actually, and I don’t really have a point or conclusion.  I just feel like, why should I use a free service full of ads that may or may not stick around and has limitations when I could install or build something myself?  Because the services have more features.  Why?  Why is there not free stuff just as good that can be downloaded?

3 thoughts on “Sevice or software?

  1. Topher,
    Have you seen the personalized desktop that Google offers which seems to have RSS built into it. It allows me to have a column design of rss feeds on the browser homepage. So when I open my browser I see that you made a post to your blog. It is still a google search page too, but personalized.

    Also I read that GMail now has RSS to your inbox, which if I weren’t using the Personalized Home Page they offer would be a nice compliment to gmail.

    I have surrendered to the fact that Google has a lot of money and a lot of very talented people who seem to come up with some great features, and currently they are all free. The ads they place in my e-mail (side bars) I actually never see ( I guess they’re being there all this time has allowed me to avoid ‘noticing’ them)

    All in all, it seems as like the rest of the Internet, those with the deepest pockets and greatest paid talent tend to create the more desired products. (via American Enterpise).

    Thanks for your post.

  2. “I just feel like, why should I use a free service full of ads that may or may not stick around and has limitations when I could install or build something myself? Because the services have more features. Why? Why is there not free stuff just as good that can be downloaded?”

    The free, featureful services have ads because the people that build the services need to eat, pay the mortgage, feed their kids, etc. Open Source software does not have as many featureful, free, ad-free alternatives because… well, for the same reason.

    Do you have time to create something as cool as Flickr as a downloadable app and offer it for free to anyone, then also support it, improve it, etc.? I’m thinking “no”, and that’s probably the case with Flickr as well.

    Also, regarding trusting the person who starts a service that stores personal/sensitive information. It may well be that you can trust that person with your life… but what about when the service becomes popular, unmanageable by one person, and gets bought by, say, Yahoo or Google. Do you trust them the same way? Are you confident that you could eradicate your passwords from the system before it gets bought out?

    BTW, Flickr is sweet.

  3. Part of the benefit of these services (gmail, blogger, flicker, yahoo) for me, is that they are hosted. Most of this stuff isn’t worth me paying a host to provide the space for me. My web host now is aboho, and I “pay” for the service with posts.
    Gmail provides me with an email address that is not tied to an ISP (so does my domain name, but…)
    Maybe as I get tied into always having to have cable internet, being my own provider might be more reasonable, but it would still require me to spend my time, and hope that I knew as much as google, the aboho admin, etc…

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