Google Maps Navigation on Android 2.0

It was only a matter of time, really, before Google Maps became a turn-by-turn mobile application.  And now it has.  Gizmodo has a good write-up on its features and abilities, and of course it looks polished even in beta form.  (What isn’t beta in Google-land, besides GMail?  Oh.  Google Apps, actually, and a few other things.  Drat.  It was always fun to joke about how long things stayed in beta with Google.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to fall back on making jokes about how no one knows you’re a dog on the internet.)  For right now, the application is available only to Android 2.0 users, but there are plans afoot to get it on the iPhone.

Anyway, what surprised me about the Gizmodo review of the application is this:

My fears on zero pricing, for the long term: If Google sells this in the App Store for zero dollars, those millions of bucks Apple makes off of GPS app sales will likely disappear. It’s not for us to worry about until there’s no more GPS competition except Google, and we’re dependent on their pace of progress, but no competition is a bad thing. And it’s a little strange that Google’s search money is going to pay for a free map app that is competitive with stuff that costs $100 a year from full-time GPS makers like TomTom. Unfair is the word that comes to mind. But I can’t say I don’t want this app.

I’ve written about my concerns regarding the freeconomy before, and this Engadget link essentially proves the point.  TomTom’s shares are down about 20% as of the time of this writing, and Garmin isn’t faring much better, down about 15%.  Free is nice and all, but it does have a cost.

(Sure, yeah, fine, in the long run all the buggy-whip manufacturers eventually ended up making something else, right?)

Changing Dynamics?

I think this is how it’s going to have to be if there’s any future for on-line content.  According to Gawker.com, which sources a Bloomberg article, the New York Times is considering charging a subscription fee, perhaps only $5 or so, to read its content.  This follows news that very popular (and very good) on-line music service, Pandora.com will allow users to stream music for up to 40 hours a month, and anything above that will come with a flat $.99 fee for the rest of the month.

I’ve mentioned the problems with whole freeconomy stuff before, and I think that the NYT is doing the right thing here.  Of course, people want things for free; who doesn’t?  And if things are offered for free, it’s awfully difficult to rely on people to just give you money for it.  But the reality is that people ought to be rewarded for their intellectual work, and if that means that a subscription fee is required, then so be it.

The Freeconomy Malaise

At the beginning of this month, I mentioned some of the open-source leeching going on, along with mentioning Wired‘s article, “Free.”  Well, “Free” is back in the news again, and not so much in the way that it probably wants to be.

Gawker.com is all over recent reports that Wired‘s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson’s new book, Free, contains a number of straight lifts right out of Wikipedia.  Putting aside for the moment the propriety of using Wikipedia as definitive proof of anything, the problems with doing so I’ve mentioned before, it’s of course ironic that there’s a lot of hullabaloo surrounding using free content in a book about the economics of free.  It probably bears mentioning, that Wikipedia, like many organizations, such as Gawker media, publishes under the CCL which means that contributors allow their work to be freely used, so long as the use is attributed and that the derivative work is then allowed to be freely used:  “To grow the commons of free knowledge and free culture, all users contributing to Wikimedia projects are required to grant broad permissions to the general public to re-distribute and re-use their contributions freely, as long as the use is attributed and the same freedom to re-use and re-distribute applies to any derivative works.”  (Source)  For Mr. Anderson, the issue appears to be whether there was proper attribution of the material allegedly lifted, and as a logical extension, whether he would then allow the use of the material he used in a free manner.  It’s a fascinating dilemma in many ways.  To me, anyway.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I find myself so fascinated by the whole thing is that I recently read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, published in 1992 (yeah, I know Amazon is saying 2000, but that’s just for the edition to which I linked), and it was incredibly prescient in almost all respects (okay, so we don’t have rat-things …. yet, or burbclaves …. yet) except for one area.  In Snow Crash, people pay–sometimes, a lot–for information.  I also recently listened to the book-on-CD of Douglas Adams’ quasi-posthumous work, The Salmon of Doubt.  One of Mr. Adams’ suppositions as he was writing at the end of the 90s was that individuals would be willing to make micropayments for content.  That is clearly not the case today. Somebody pays for the information, but it seems rarely to be the end-user.  At least in the dead-tree media days, subscribers would defray some of the cost of publication, but these days the cost is almost exclusively placed on advertisers and content-generators willing to receive little to no compensation for their work, all in the name of trying to get noticed in some form or fashion.  Gawker, to its credit I think, has pointed out the way this can be problematic.  (This is not to say that Gawker Media, as shown by Gizmodo’s call-for-intern, is paying its interns splendiferous salaries.)

As we move along in this terrible economy, it really does make me wonder what the end game will be.

Oh, and to satisfy the FTC, links to Snow Crash and The Salmon of Doubt, are not made as part of Amazon’s affiliate program.  And if you don’t like Amazon, here are links to B&N.com’s site for the respective works:  Snow Crash; The Salmon of Doubt (MP3 download).  I am not part of an affiliate program with B&N, either.

Open Source Malaise

InfoWorld’s Bill Snyder has a very interesting article about open source “leeching,” and the apparent beginnings of some grumbling in the bleeding-edge world.  I say it’s interesting because of what I perceive to be major fissures in our new freeconomy.  (I didn’t make up the term; it’s been applied to a lot of things…)  In February of last year, before the economy went legs-up, Wired had a cover article called “Free!  Why $0.00 is the Future of Business.”  That didn’t seem like a really cool idea to me at the time, and I still feel that way.  This is because, at some point, I think people want to be rewarded for their information or innovation.

But that doesn’t seem to be the prevailing ethos among certain tech blogs.  Take Gizmodo, for example, which called Psion, who had apparently challenged Intel on the use of mark “netbook” because Psion had registered it with the USPTO long ago, “dickish.”  (Ars Technica has a more even-handed analysis of the litigation. (Ars’ search function is broken right now, so this is the Yahoo! approximation.))  The upshot is pretty clear: free is awesome, and IP is bad.  But how long is that sustainable? (And it bears mentioning that Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, publishes under a Creative Commons License, but it has registered the names of its sites with the USPTO, and even the CCL has restrictions on how its work can be used.)

I think the economics of free are going to be challenging our society for a while, and I can’t end this post without acknowledging the fact that I’m writing this blog on a free wi-fi connection, using a free blog service (WordPress), giving away information for free, and making use of information that I was able to access for free.