Nothing free on the internet is free

“Better spend money on free stuff than on wallpaper.”

A while ago I read an interesting article about free stuff on the internet and how it really isn’t free or shouldn’t be free. Too bad I didn’t save the link and Google only returns me a list of sites that try to offer me things I probably don’t need – for free. Much ado about free stuff on the Interwebz! In a nutshell: the author of the article pointed out that free on the internet is not really free. There is always something to be paid, how small the amount may be. Who pays for the hosting of the website? And the bandwidth for the Internet traffic?

I reflected this on amateur radio of course. Take for instance contesting’s most popular free item: N1MMLogger. What is needed to make this product? Chief N1MM has gathered a skilled code writing posse of a dozen people. These people use a PC, but they would have had one anyway for personal or business purposes so we can exclude this PC from the cost. They need a version of the VB programming software, but since most of them are in one way or another involved with programming and computer stuff, they would have a license anyway. The team communicates through the Internet but they would have had access without being involved in the N1MM-project. These developers invest a huge amount of their free time. But free time is free by definition. So far, there is no specific cost made to bring us N1MMLogger.

But how is N1MMLogger brought to a few thousand people? By means of a website. A website that needs to be hosted on a machine. This machine is maintained by a company that feeds it AC power, keeps it cool and installs current software on the server for fast page loading. Furthermore this machine is connected to the Internet so every user can read the online manual and download the latest program updates. Big files times many users equals a huge amount of monthly traffic. Keeping the server online with a fast connection comes with a bill. The end of ‘free’. Who should pay for this? Tom N1MM alone? That would not be fair, even if he splits the bill among his team. Which would be even more unfair: co-developers needing to pay to be allowed to help out. These people already invest their free time for us to enjoy a super piece of software. It’s only logical that the bill is paid by the users, even if the product is free. It’s the least we can do for ten years of free contest logging with such a fine program. I did not hesitate after reading this message and donated a small amount, and a lot of loyal hams followed me: “Thanks to the generosity of the N1MM Logger community, we met our goal in less than 5 hours.” A small amount from my side, but multiplied by the number of donators it can add up to a nice sum.

There is another free service on the Internet. One that probably is used by more people than N1MMLogger. One that is often used on a daily base. It’s called ClubLog and if you don’t know this or never have used this, you’re not an active 21st century DXer. Period.

ClubLog by Michael G7VJROnline DXpedition logs became popular along with the Internet in the beginning of the previous decade. Each expedition had their own way of making the logs available. Halfway this previous decade online QSL services like LotW and eQSL popped up. And now there is ClubLog. Forget all the rest! I don’t really use ClubLog for uploading my own QSO (shame on me but too little time, I will later on!) but I use their Prefix and Exception Table XML file in my own software to check the UBA contest logs. As such I exchanged a couple of software related emails with ClubLog inventor and designer Michael G7VJR. I was charmed by ClubLog’s functionality, statistics and pretty user interface. Much more funny information and nice charts which LotW can only dream of. LotW with it’s simple outdated rigid user interface measured to modern day web design standards. I’m a big fan of statistics and charts so I kind of owe it to Michael to upload my 150k QSO so far. It’s on the ‘to do’ list but I want to combine it with a small software project.

ClubLog is especially known to host online and sometimes even real time DXpedition logs. A few months ago HK0NA, VP6T and TN2T were active at the same time with the online logs hosted by ClubLog. Periods like these stress ClubLog’s infrastructure. To send out the data to thousands of users loading the pages simultaneously, the ClubLog website must run on a potent server with a fast broadband connection to the Internet. Quote from their website:

Club Log is a very intensive application that analyzes a vast database, and it also receives large volumes of visitors. For example, hosting a large expedition typically results in over a million page loads in a few weeks. This means the servers and internet connections used to run the service are expensive commodities.

And to conclude and kill the ‘free’ myth: “The annual running costs for Club Log are approximately £3,500”.

There you go: if there is no free lunch then there certainly is no free seven course banquet! So as a follow up to my “Why pay 200 $ for 5BDXCC paper”, I’d rather donate a few Euros left and right to DXpeditions bringing us on the air fun of chasing DX, and to ClubLog for enhancing the DX fun with the online log, propagation time slot charts and zone/DXCC leader boards.

Think about it. Think about these ‘free’ services. Think about ClubLog when you visit the next DXpedition’s online log a dozen times a day or more to see if you’re in the log. Maybe you don’t pay because it’s free but be aware that someone has to pay the bills. There must be a word to describe someone who uses something that’s being paid for by other people? Why not just chip in a few Dollars / Euros if you actually use it?

One reply on “Nothing free on the internet is free”

Free on the Internet usually means paid for by advertising.,, etc. are all ham examples of going that route, though QRZ also sells add-on services for a fee.

Then there are some like that take advertising revenue *and* look for donations from users. This is what print newspapers and magazines have done for many decades!

N1MM and DXLabs are amazing examples of pretty much completely free to users that have even eschewed the advertising. ClubLog is at that end of the spectrum.

The “hams doing it for free even though it costs” has always been part of the hobby’s tradition – that’s what “Elmering” and emergency support and traffic handling has always been all about, really.

Pesonally, I do the Paypal thing for services I use a lot but I sort of like the way use advertising revenue to cover costs, or the way eQSL uses a mix of advertising and donations. I never minding quickly turning the page past the adverts in my newspapers, don’t mind them around the edges of my pages on the web!

73, John K3TN

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