John Gruber’s ‘Daring Fireball’ links to a blog post on the New York Times web site which reports the experience of a technically savvy web user staying at a Courtyard by Marriott in the US. It appears this establishment offer free WiFi but employ a mechanism which can theoretically inject banner adverts into all pages the user visits. Note that, so far at least, they are not actually putting adverts on pages, they just can if they choose to.
Outrage! I present two choice quotes from the story…
“Imagine the U.S.P.S., or FedEx, for that matter, opening your Amazon boxes and injecting ads into the packages”
“Imagine the hotel delivering complimentary issues of The New York Times to every room, except some articles have been accidentally blacked out, all the ads have been cut out, and on every page there’s a new ad that’s been stuck on top”
Er, actually, neither of those scenarios bothers me in the least – especially not in the case of the shipping if it’s Free.
This is a story that only techies — specifically professional web designers and professional blog authors — can get upset about. To the user, there is a long history of “free” translating to “free so long as you don’t mind adverts which you’re most likely going to ignore”. The issue for the angry mob is at worst that someone else is getting money for the adverts and they’re not, or that it may marginally muck up carefully designed web pages. To the remaining 99.99% of the populace, this is simply not an issue.
Yes, given the choice between “Free” or “Free with advertising”, the former is obviously preferable. However, if the other option is “£5 per hour – enter your credit card number here”, which most British hotels seem to prefer as their business model, well…
Gruber observes “Yet another reason to bring your own 3G or LTE hotspot with you when you travel”. Fair enough, except that isn’t a Free option by any means (and leaving aside the conspicuous lack of LTE technology in the UK – or indeed any iPad compatible LTE outside the USA).
Life’s No.1 rule: You Get What You Pay For.