Ludovic Frank - Freelance developer

Why is the idea that the Internet is free wrong?

ionicons-v5-k Ludovic Frank Jun 15, 2021
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Yes, I'm back this week... Did you miss me? No, well ... ?
Another thorny subject this week, I'm often asked: "Hey, do you know a free web host? How do you make a site for free? ... etc."
So here I'm going to explain why what we think is free isn't, and more importantly, why we think it is.

Everything on the Internet is free - where does that come from?

The Internet is a medium, and like many media before it, its business model is based on advertising, often aimed at individuals (there's also B2B).
Whether you're an entrepreneur, an employee, a freelancer... we're all natural persons, otherwise known as individuals, and we all started using the Internet as individuals (don't you remember?). Your hours lost forever to online chats (not the pet, eh?)? Or playing "Paff the dog"?).
As individuals, companies offer us services or content "for free". The best-known of these are Google and Facebook (ah don't you know? How did you do that??).
And even before that, in fact, we've been getting free stuff for 20 years, and it's become a norm for many people... but... who gets up in the morning to work for free? No one does.
It's simply because it's "fake free": the individual doesn't pay for it with money, but with his or her attention.

How can companies in the world's top 5 provide free services?

It's a little reminder that I like to make when people tell me that everything on the Internet is free, so... if everything is free, how can Facebook and Google be worth what they are today? Money isn't created out of thin air. If they have this money, it's because people have bought products or services from them.
Well, the business model of these companies is based on advertising. But not unwanted pop-up advertising like we saw 10 years ago, it's much more subtle...
By using these services (Google Search, Google Drive, Facebook ... etc.) we give clear information about what interests us to the companies that create these services.
Then they sell to other companies, not the data directly (which you can read about in several places), but targeted advertising space. You want to target people who like video games? They've got ad space for that...
On Google, in addition to targeted ad space, there are paid search results, when you do a search on Google, the first results (with a little "ads" next to them) are locations bought by companies.

"Advertising doesn't reach me".

We all think that ads don't work and don't get to us... and yet when was the last time a purchase was the consequence of a Facebook posting? A Google search for a product? Look hard enough...?

The online advertising business model has evolved.

In the early days of the Internet, targeted advertising didn't exist, it was more by site theme. For example, a site talking about cars would display car ads (logical ... ?), because there weren't the profiling technologies we have today. Advertisers (companies that pay to be visible) paid for 1,000 displays, known as CPM (cost per thousand), then CPL (cost per lead, i.e. filling in a form) and then CPC (cost per click).
This has become possible because it's much more relevant to advertisers, who pay for more targeted visibility. All this, of course, is made possible by targeting technologies that are far more advanced than those used in the early days of the Internet.
A business model that will continue to evolve...
And now, in 2020, you'll have noticed that more and more sites are asking you to either accept cookies, or pay for them.
Well, yes, cookies are useful for profiling in order to display targeted advertising. As targeting becomes more and more complicated, advertising revenues are falling.
More and more services, once free, are moving towards a pay model.


The conclusion of this article goes in the same direction as all other industries: behind the Internet, there's a business model, and what's free is only free in appearance, because in any case, just having a website involves costs (servers, bandwidth ... etc..) that someone has to pay for.
On that note, I wish you a good week and I'll see you next week.