12 What is Free Information?

What is Free Information?

Now that we have explored the characteristics of value-added information, what information is free? Can it be valuable?

First, we need to define what “free” means. There are two types of free information.

1. Free could mean that you do not pay for it . Technically, no information is free because it costs someone somewhere time and money to create. People often forget this concept about online information. Here are some examples of “ free ” online information:

  • Government web sites —Paid for by taxes
  • A blog with healthy recipes —Paid for by the creator
  • Federal research —Paid for by taxes
  • Library Collections —Paid for by taxes and college tuition

2. Free can also mean that something is unobstructed or has no obligations . Online sites are sometimes made free of cost to you by including advertisements. The information is available to you, but you are subjected to commercial interruptions. Examples of cost-free but commercialized information include the following:

  • YouTube —Funded by advertisements
  • Facebook/Twitter —Funded by advertisements
  • News Aggregators (e.g., Huffington Post; Google News)—Funded by advertisements

According to these two definitions of “free,” there is no such thing as free online information. Whether the information you seek is cost-based or “free,” you must first determine its value to you.

As a college student you have privileged access to library collections of content that include the scholarly materials required for your academic research. While this content is free to you as a student, much of this material is only available by paid subscription to databases and journals.

Did You Know?

Convenience Is Not Equal to Value

Conveniently placed items are used more frequently. However, just because it is in front of you, does not mean that it is of value to you.

Advertisement Placement

Companies can pay to place advertisements in search results from search engines. Companies who have the money to pay for expert designers or have advanced programmers can design their websites to rank high or at the top in search results.

Personalized Results

Search engines also use your past searches to personalize the search results and advertisements. This is called personalized searching. It is meant to refine results to things that you would likely use based on your past searches. But, if results are prioritized this way, you may miss important information outside your normal searches. (9)

Your Information is Valuable

Commodification of Personal Information

Your personal browsing history and online profiles are shared and traded. For example, in September 2015 Wired.com reported that a company providing free anti-virus software collects search histories. The software’s new privacy policy clarifies that in the future they may sell the data to advertisers.

The Secret Life of Bits

Personal information is out there. You’ve given it to companies so you can use an application for free or receive customized services and information. Sometimes your information is then sold in data markets to third parties who will use it to increase the effectiveness of their targeted services or advertising.

How Big is the Data Market?

This will give you a sense of the market size. According to the scholarly journal Electronic Markets (2015), BlueKai (owned by Oracle) claims to own 750 million user profiles that are available for purchase. Every day they hold online business-to-business auctions. BlueKai is just one of hundreds of companies selling data. (9)

Apply What You’ve Learned

Now that you have studied examples of commercialized, free, and value-based information, apply what you have learned to an online multimedia sales company called Zomm21.com.

Although they do not advertise it, Zomm21 pays search engines and social media sites for advertising space. It also does everything it can to increase its relevance rankings so customers will easily stumble into their website. Zomm21 obtains your search histories and demographic data from online companies in order to anticipate its customers’ shopping patterns.

Zomm21.com sells different types of information. Identify how the company added value to information in order to sell it.

Time to review what you’ve learned about value-added characteristics. Read the statement and select the blank lines to reveal examples.

Value-Added Characteristic 1
Who We Are—A one shop for buying all sorts of information online. We will match any other competitor’s price.
Example: Saves Saves Time & Money
Value-Added Characteristic 2
Simple—We help make sense of the 21 million products available through our short reviews and product descriptions.
Example: Clarifies & Simplifies
Value-Added Characteristic 3
Our Edge—Our website helps you easily search by author, artist, actor, title, relevance, popularity, and publication date.
Example: Organized Information
Value-Added Characteristic 4
What We Sell—We sell copyrighted materials from the biggest publishers. You can legally download ebooks, music, movies, and video games you can’t find anywhere else.
Example: Proprietary Information
Value-Added Characteristic 5
Customer Service—Chat with our friendly 24-hour personal shoppers or browse our Staff Picks lists to find the perfect gift.
Example: Expert Advice(9) (9)

The Value and Cost of Information in the Future

Although a great deal of information exists online, cost and convenience are not always the best ways to determine the value of that information. Some extremely valuable information is free. Some expensive information is not very valuable. Additionally, a great deal of vital information that was once free is now only available at a cost. There are many criteria in determining how valuable information truly is.

College research requires that you select credible and, most often, scholarly information. When you search for credible, scholarly information through a search engine, such as Google Scholar, or on the open internet, you will find articles and information that are free and others that require an access fee. Did you know that the same information might already be available in your college library collection, free of charge to you?

By learning what the value-added characteristics of information are, you can now critically evaluate a piece of information in order to determine its overall value. This will help you in the future to do four things:

  1. Make wise decisions when purchasing information.
  2. Determine the real value of information whether it is free or comes at a cost.
  3. Make the information you create more valuable to others and yourself.
  4. Identify the value of your personal information and online activities to commercial companies.

Now you know! (9)


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