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Why free software costs us time and time again

See the new features in THIS upgrade – now go forth and suffer!  I admit it. I am one of the millions of Android phone users. That makes me something of a glutton for Google-induced pain. This week, I was trying to provide helpful navigation assistance in downtown Boston, where any navigational aid is a blessing. I discovered that Maps and its associated and fast-talking Nav app were somehow upgraded -- and thus rendered mysterious. Maps still works – if you don't mind two crashes, the third startup is a charm. But it now has an unrecognizable set of icons and hidden options – and Nav is no longer a separate app. Sadly, I was not helpful navigating. Later I learn from the angry hordes on the Android forums that there is an Uninstall option to enable return to the previous version. And further research reveals a setting for the aptly named Google Play Store -- Do not auto-update apps. For good reason. The default is, naturally, the reverse.

Gmail – 425 million users, still no user support. Microsoft, which has more money than successful phone and tablet offerings, tried a snide attack ad a while ago. Beware the Googlighting Stranger implied that Google, unlike Microsoft, offered an untrustworthy set of web tools that could turn out to be unwelcome surprises. This was a memorable ad that seems to have done no harm to Google and did not seem to help hapless Microsoft messaging. But the ad was on target about the unpredictability of Gmail changes and lack of support processes for end users of the 'free' version. Don’t call us, please don't call. This was an early warning about future unwelcome surprises on mobile devices. If you think your email is broken and you are hysterical, you must ask DownRightNow if Gmail is actually down, right now. And consider this phrase during a sizable outage: "A Google rep told BetaBeat that users won't be locked out of their accounts for long." Whew.

LinkedIn recommendations were, in retrospect, quite charming.  It seems like just yesterday that LinkedIn added Recommendations. That was a pleasant feature – it required that you ask a recommending party to write a few lines of text for you to screen and perhaps add to your profile.  Hyperbole was the norm – it reminds me of reference checking processes. Of course, Sally Smart is an outstanding addition in the fill-in-the-blank-role for your company and she has no weaknesses that I can remember -- she would be a great addition to any team. The Groups capabilities also enhanced a decent platform – connections grew and groups were joined. Work life, hiring and job search processes were enhanced for all. So far, so good, and then came...

...Endorsements – too much of a good thing? If a bit of functionality is good, more must be better, right? Meet LinkedIn Endorsements. Software algorithms now pick apart words in your now-wordy profile, deconstructing them into separate LinkedIn Skills. These are presented as guilt-inducing requests to 'Endorse' you for one or more of the deconstructed skills. Does Sally have a Strategy skill?  How about Market Research? Yeah, yeah, you say, I guess so. How about these other skills?  Oh, and how about the skills of these other connections? So now let’s look at Sally’s cartoon-like Skills & Expertise page of her profile. She has 25 different skills and is endorsed more than 50 times for Marketing and Strategy – yay!  Isn't that amazing? Or is it a turn-off for recruiters and hiring managers – a feature that is optionally turned off?

What amazes -- control over our tech user experience is forever gone.  Let's admit that it was not a pretty sight to see a new SAP and Oracle trainee sobbing over a keyboard during training. But in the overall population, thankfully, only a few corporate employees were reduced to tears. Free software has created an egalitarian world -- now we can all sob at new and appallingly arbitrary user experiences, where familiar features disappear at the whim of a group of geeky guys gobbling free lunches in Mountain View -- putting local restaurants out of business and creating self-reinforcing smugness inside campuses -- aren't we clever? When your LinkedIn endorsements equal the number of people in the world, when a Gmail outage can bring half a BILLION people to a halt, when a phone software upgrade can reduce grown adults into a self-perceived level of blithering incompetence and inability to communicate, maybe Free will be too costly to buy.


So all of the things you pointed out are true. The problem is that even if you are using something you paid for the support options/availability is not all that much better. Given that I might as well go for free. LinkedIn is the most frustrating of all. I am a super user and do not used a paid subscription, because after looking at the levels of paid membership I would have to go to the highest level to get that value and even then it would mostly be about getting more data on who is looking at my profile. It is just not worth it. I think they could change their membership structure make more money and provider better service, but they are like Facebook and Google in that they don't have much interest in hearing from their users. Steve

Just experienced a mandatory free upgrade for Yahoo mail. Functionality that was there before is now gone. I no longer can do a mass check off to get rid of Email, instead must check each message. The delete button no longer shows up at the end of a read message so scroll up on each message to delete! I think that user feedback in beta testing is ignored

I operate under the premise there is no support. Maybe that is why I consider myself an electronic Luddite. Why should I have to learn 50 million ways to do the same thing?

I don't let anything update automatically as it either breaks or it breaks me.

I use Facebook only because some groups I work with with have stopped creating web sites. Every time I go on it, I have to relearn it as the interfaces change second by second.

I still use a phone as a phone - I still use a PC as a PC (yes - I just bought a new Windows based laptop) and my 91 year old mother has the iPad (she only uses it for Web surfing and Skype to Italy. . hasn't figured out email yet).

I like single function devices so I'll keep buying Garmins as long as I can! Redundant processors is where it's at. If my smart phone fails then no nothing. If my Garmin fails I can go over to my PC and find directions there!

That's how I attempt to maintain control! Let's see, we'll go through at least 2 generations of processors and software in the next 18 months so let's see if I survive!


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