Everyone wants to debate Free nowadays. In truth, free isn’t the right word because there’s obviously a cost to everything, even if it’s not monetary. Most people, however, just focus on the monetary cost. That’s why Google is “free,” despite the fact that it makes lots and lots of money by collecting everyone’s data. "Free" Web services aren't public utilities. Users invest lots of time and effort in them at their own risk.
Facebook buying Friendfeed reminded me of this. For the most part, this is a complete inside baseball story that shows how insular Silicon Valley is. In the real world, nobody cares about a niche sharing service like Friendfeed. But it built a product the geeks loved. Facebook even copied some of its features. What interesting is now that they’re part of Facebook, there’s little chance Friendfeed itself has a future. (Facebook and Friendfeed are non-committal.) Friendfeed’s small cadre of loyalists aren’t so happy about this.
In essence, Friendfeed’s founders got a few hundred thousand people to serve as a focus group for them to refine a product enough that Facebook was willing to pay them a presumably large amount of money to come work there. Those that invested lots of effort into building up a network on Friendfeed -- I'm looking at you, Scoble -- are left holding the bag. That’s too bad, but inevitable. The interests of the founders at some point diverged from the users. It goes to show, again, nothing is really free.