The Perception of Free

Take a look at this movie. Actually, go download it and watch the whole thing. It's funny, smart, charming, and beautiful. And it's free? Yes.

I've often run into this perception with the people around me that if something is free, it's not really worth their time. Well, in the regular world, with physical objects, that's often true. Those little staplers and pens they hand out with the company's logo on it? Not really that great. So it makes sense that free has a stigma.

But it's hard for me sometimes. True story about to follow. I'm about 95% sure that she was actually interested in my computer and not just randomly talking to me or flirting, but you never know (this is a Linux blog, after all).

Her: Hey, what's that on your computer?

Me: Firefox.

Her: No, I mean the screen looks different than the rest of the PC's. It looks like a Mac.

Me: Oh, I'm not running Windows. I'm running Linux instead.

Her: What's that?

Me: It's a system that can be run on lots of computers easily, it doesn't get viruses and there's lots of programs to run on it. It's pretty simple to use, as long as someone sets it up for you. I've done that for people before.

Her: Wow, that sounds pretty cool.

Me: There are lots of different types of Linux, and they're all free and you can download and try them.

Her: They're free?

Me: Yes.

At this point she gave me a puzzled look and turned away from our conversation (which wasn't as rude as it sounded, given the circumstances). I found it interesting that free just flipped a switch and made her devalue the product that much more. It's like free automatically meant it wasn't really worth her time.

I've been having problems with Site Sings the Blues as well. I describe the movie, people get interested, and then, "it's free, go download it," and they stop caring. (The immense irony is that my friends are huge on the piracy front, so they're getting a lot of movies for free to begin with)

You can name dozens of examples. Jamendo. Almost anything on the Internet Archive. Free video games like Nexuiz or Battle for Wesnoth. A lack of price somehow invalidates the quality, even if it's a great product and better than its competitors.

What a curious phenomenon.

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