The essence of the web or the height of exploitation?

Way back when, at the very beginning of home computing, you had two options for obtaining software. You could buy it, or you could buy it.

Luckily, things have changed. Companies like Google and Mozilla started to do something that was completely unheard of – something that would really irritate giants like Microsoft. They began to produce open-source services and software for large-scale distribution. Suddenly, you didn’t have to be a slave to the big boys – unless you wanted to. Open source went hand in hand with other free things. Crowdsourcing. GPL. Suddenly the Internet looked like a very different place. Thousands of people were working together to bring computing to everyone. Cooperation and free access were the mainstays of the movement.




The history of open-source software is heart-warming. It is also just that – history. Things have changed, and companies like the ones mentioned above are now huge corporations with multi-million dollar turnovers. They have money. They have fame. They have power. Is it still fair for them to ask other people to do their work for free?

Don’t get me wrong. I love free software, a pretty major requisite for working at Softonic. The other day I was browsing through the latest software news when I noticed an ad for a design challenge from a big-name company. The competition invited users to overcome a design problem with tabs and, although I found it hard to pin down the precise details, the winning solution would have a Creative Commons Attribution license. This means that the company in question, or anyone else, would be free to ‘remix’ the solution for their own use. And the reward for providing this solution, this raw material? Money? A job? A holiday in the Seychelles? Nope. As far as I could see, their name would be mentioned in connection with the solution.

Well, you might be thinking, that’s the whole point of it! People sharing their knowledge to improve and facilitate free products and services. They give us stuff for free, and we give them stuff for free. That’s true to an extent, but look at it this way. Winning that challenge has no material benefit for the winner, just the possibility of a (small) reward in the future, but yet it provides the company with unlimited ideas for new and improved services. They give us ‘stuff’ for free, but they also make a huge profit and stand to make even more money from our ideas. At what point does it stop being fair?

There are dozens of alternatives out there, many of them genuine software and technology competitions with great prizes, like this one (too late to enter now, but a great one to bear in mind for next time). Maybe it’s time to remember that the Internet kings are giants in many respects – great visionaries, great creators and, these days, great capitalists. Are they still so deserving of our willingness to work for free?


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