At What Cost, Knowledge?

Free Beer?

There is a generation out there which has forgotten (or more correctly, never learned) the value of knowledge. In the last decade or so,  it is safe to say the internet has replaced television as the ubiquitous household media resource. It is available for free in most public locations, and even on our phones. We stream music. We watch movies. Need to know where the cheapest gas price is within five miles of your current location? Google it (or use Bing, or any number of other services available for “free”).

For this generation, the instant availability of up-to-the-minute, detailed  and accurate (ok, I’m using the term “accurate” loosely here) information on just about anything is simply an everyday expectation. And it better be free. The internet has been available to them since before they could speak. Even some of us who were alive and kicking in the pre-internet era have come to rely on this instant availability of data, directions, and content.

Which is a problem in some ways. There is a lot of information available for free on the Interwebs. Some of it is even of fairly high quality. To your right on this page I have added links to the weblogs of some folks who regularly put their time and energy into sharing what they know, bringing (in most cases) years of schooling and experience to  the table for free, so that folks like myself can improve their know-how.

The Shoulders of Giants

I am a self-taught programmer. Meaning, I have to seek and find the information I need in order to learn this complex art, because I didn’t listen to my mama when she said “go to college, son.” Now, in my forties, I really, really want to learn everything I can about programming and development. “Self-taught” is actually a misnomer here, because in reality, everything I know and have learned about programming has come to me through the efforts of people who saw fit to go to school for this, and/or who mastered the computer at an early age and have accumulated professional experience. Most importantly, these folks also felt some perverse inclination to share what they know via their blog posts. Via on-line forums and user-groups. Via Stack Overflow. Mostly for free.

Now, I am not so naïve as to think that there are not selfish reasons any blog author or “developer evangelist” type undertakes these efforts. Blog authors may, in addition to simply wanting to engage the community, hope to derive some ad or affiliate revenue from page views. “Developer Evangelists” are obviously paid to engage the community and build support for the ecosystem in support of their employer. But in most cases, each of these people would tell you they would do what they are doing for no money.

Quality Content vs. “Free”

Some of these folks have taken things a step further. Scott Hanselman and Rob Conery just yesterday released a screencast The Art of Speaking: Scott Hanselman on TekPub (Conery’s successful company which provides high-quality tech-focused screencasts for professionals) featuring Mr. Hanselman presenting on the topic of, well, presenting. The cost for this 90 minute, downloadable, stream-able content? $18.00.

Scott Hanselman is one of the foremost presenters on tech topics today. Yes, he is employed by Microsoft as an evangelist. But for years before that Scott has been publishing content on his blog for his own reasons, and on a wide variety of topics. He is in high demand as a presenter, and for good reason. Rob Conery has created a business which provides high-quality video productions at a comparatively modest cost. The two decided to publish the afore-mentioned screencast, and it is exceptional.

Immediately began the G+/Facebook/Twitter complaints about price. Really?

I have to seek and find the information I need in order to learn this complex art, because I didn’t listen to my mama when she said “go to college, son.”

We expect the web to provide everything for free. We complain about the price of a $0.99 app for our smart phone. We complain when someone makes space for AdSense ads on their site, hoping to recoup the cost of hosting and possible put some pocket change away. We want the top-rated educators and presenters of our time, who have invested countless years and countless dollars into learning their craft, to turn around and share the wealth for free.

At What Cost, Knowledge?

I for one, am happy to pay a paltry $18.00 for 90 minutes of Mr. Hanselman’s time. Or how about $30.00 for several HOURS with C# guru John Skeet? Or any of the other TekPub subjects, who have created hours and hours of content, for very, very modest prices.

Does this sound like a plug for TekPub? It might, but consider it instead a metaphor for all affordable, quality content. TekPub is currently but one of the more visible examples where one can find true “rock star” status professionals walking us through some of the most relevant content in the tech realm, at prices rivaling that of a decent dinner or a few drinks. I am not ashamed to discuss products here that I believe in. In reality, I was simply angered by the complaints I read on-line by people who thought that $18.00 was just too spendy for a 90 minute video by a well-respected authority on the subject.

profile for XIVSolutions at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmersMany in the tech community give freely of their time and knowledge, in so many ways. There is definitely a sense of “giving back” despite the fact that some also attempt to garner a little revenue from the deal. I myself have started this blog so that, maybe, someone coming behind me might garner a few nuggets I have picked up along the way. This is also why I contribute, to the degree I can, on Stack Overflow. I also hope, maybe in a year or two, to pay my hosting bill. Yup. There are a few ads sprinkled on here, in case either or both of my readers want to click on a product, and help me pay the hosting tab. But in reality, I just want to contribute, engage, and be “part of”.

When all is said and done, I owe that much, for all I have taken. But when those with the know-how and experience to do what I can only dream of doing decide to charge some nominal fee for access to what they know, count me in. If you don’t like the cost, go search Google and assemble 90 minutes of content matching the clarity and quality of a TekPub or other screencast for which you might have to shell out the price of an evening at the movies.

Lemme know how that works out for you. In the meantime, I have some vids to watch.

Referenced in this post:

  1. Stack Overflow
  2. Scott Hanselman
  3. John Skeet
  4. Rob Conery
  5. TekPub

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  • John Atten

    John AttenJohn Atten

    Author Reply

    @thedotwriter – Thanks for reading! The comment is much appreciated. Getting a blog going is a tough business these days! :-)

  • thedotwriter

    That's a great article! I was already fully convinced that buying a TekPub screencast would be a good idea, but it still is comforting to see such praise.

    [quote]But in reality, I just want to contribute, engage, and be "part of".[/quote]

    Sure, no one is against some pocket change to afford the price of hosting services, but at the end what matters is that we are now part of a really big family. Prepare to be quoted!

  • Jerrod Moller

    Thanks for the great post. Keep up the good work