Experts-Exchange has always been a more-closed-than-most professional forum. From the start, you’d have to pay a price in order to ask a question on the site, and then give the sum to whomever helped solve your problem. So by helping others out, and answering their questions, would earn you EE points, which were an indicator of your reputation, or whuffie, which you could then use for asking your own questions. The site was nice enough to offer you 5 free points a day, for every day you logged in. (Asking a question would cost between 50 to 200 points).
I stopped frequenting Experts-Exchange at some point, because their Business Objects community was rather small, and I found the way the site works detracted from my day job. I’m sure the site worked great for many people, who’d spend idle hours of their freelancer careers helping others, earning more whuffie, and creating more opportunities for themselves down the road. But it didn’t suit me.
A few months ago I started visiting the site again, because it would come up more frequently in my search queries, and seemed it might help me get my job done. By that point, you could no longer sign up to the site for free – the only type of membership they had was a paid one, and without it, all you got to see was the question someone asked, and tons of ads. If you wanted to find the solution to the problem, you’d have to pay experts-exchange. As a perk for giving them money, they’d stop harassing your subconscious mind with ads. Since I had a membership from days of yore, I could still Sign in and view full threads, answers and all. I guess there’s something to be said for working in the same field for over 5 years…
But all that has changed. I tried signing into Experts-Exchange today, and was greeted by the following message:
Site access is now limited to Premium Service Members. Convert your account in just minutes and stay connected to the #1 resource for solving technology problems on the web.
… Followed by a purchase interface, offering me many options for giving them money. All the links on the site seem to be broken, too: Contact us, Help, Home on the top of the site, as well as Site Map and (get this!) member Agreement on the bottom, all lead back to the same lockedLimitedMember.jsp page. If I want to see any of those, I need to log out of the site. So now a newbie has more access than a user with 5 years on the site.
Does Experts-Exchange have the right to do this – to close off access to parts of their site to paying members only? sure they do. Like any self-respecting porn site, they’re offering you just a taste of what they have to offer – the tip of the iceberg – and you need to pay if you want the stuff you really came to the site for. But what happens when closing off access means cutting people off of information that they contributed? whether it’s questions I asked or answers I offered, I now no longer have access to information I contributed to the site – a droplet of information that increased the site’s reputations just a bit more, toward being able to charge $12.95 a month.
I think the least the decision makers at EE should have done is send out an email to the site’s members, informing them of the change in policy. At the least, it would have allowed me to backup all the data that I contributed to the site. I’d like to keep my whuffie, please.
And the absurd irony is that now, being locked out of all the site’s features, I can’t modify my membership information. So if tomorrow EE decide that all but premium member accounts will be spammed with offers for the latest tech, software, counselling or what-have-you, I can’t even opt out without paying up!
Experts-Exchange is a rather small locked garden from my point of view, but I’m sure for others it’s a more valuable asset. And I’m sure some of those will pay the quart of blood the site is asking for, while others will just have to shrug it off.
But what happens when other sites that have your information on them – especially social networks – start locking out users who are not willing to pay a ransom to get access to their own information?
This is exactly what Richard Stallman was talking about 7 months ago:
Web-based programs… will force people to buy into locked, proprietary systems that will cost more and more over time
RMS was talking specifically about web-based services like gmail, but it’s just as true about social networks, blogs and forums. It seems like some executive at EE read that, and decided it wouldn’t at all be a bad business decision.
What do you think about this? Can you think of some solution to this problem? To what point will the market converge?