Be a Free User, Be a Paid User

This is a guest post by Galen Wolfe-Pauly. Galen is the co-founder of State, a flexible tool for the content you consume and create. He is trained as an architect and spends his time building software and being outside. Follow State on Twitter @SharingState.

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Objects tell people what to do with them through their design. When something fits nicely in to your hand it’s telling you to hold it. When something is expensive it’s telling you to be careful with it.

Software doesn’t appeal to our intuition the way physical objects do. Software as a service has the potential to change continuously, in many cases taking the things you made with it along for the ride. Digital tools don’t keep a separation between the stuff that we make and the tools that we use, which can often be frustrating. Buying a better hammer is a lot simpler than switching from Facebook to Path.

At its best software gives us new ways of organizing our thinking, and it’s exciting to try out new services for this reason. Part of what a good service should offer is a sense of how it will evolve either alongside your data or as a steward of it. Whether you’re a free user or a paying user is only part of the picture: what matters is being able to have a clear sense of the institution you’re participating in. A project you paid for might disappear as its employees are acqui-hired by another company, and a free project could sell all of your data to someone else.

Companies often make an effort to sell early adoption as a new and exciting experience, and it can be, but you’re also doing some really important work on the behalf of the company. Your participation helps steer the product. Early users have the potential to help shape the direction of a company by giving feedback, discussing features and talking with the founders about their usage. This dialogue (which can oftentimes occur only in the form of usage statistics) actually helps make decisions about what gets built. This can be a lot of fun for both sides, and there’s no easy formula for deciding what projects are worth your effort to get involved in and which aren’t.

It is likely, however, that the updates made to a hammer or a large software service are only nominally connected to your participation.

At State, we think you should be evaluating us as much as the things we make. We hope to be as open as possible about our thinking so you can assess both what we make, and how we think about making it.

 

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