I also like using free services. I truly appreciate people putting time and effort into developing free software, into making free-to-use web sites, and all other forms of volunteering. Their actions make this world a better place.
What I hate, however, is software, services, and media that is funded by advertising. There is an unpleasantness in a company seeing the users of its products as assets to be sold to advertisers. Where I am a user, but somebody else is the customer, there is inevitably going to be a conflict of interest. And if one follows the money, the conflict will always disadvantage those who aren’t paying.
I have been happy to pay for online services; with paid accounts on (amongst others) LiveJournal, Flickr, Github, Spotify, and more recently, App.net, I am happy to deal with companies that (to one extent or another) treat me as a customer.
I am much less happy with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Google — companies with desirable products, but that give me no opportunity to be a customer. These companies gather vast amounts of data on their users, and develop closed systems that fail to play fairly with others, because it benefits their real customers — advertisers.
Facebook gives us a convoluted privacy system that encourages over-sharing, and introduces user-hostile features like sponsored posts and Facebook email addresses. Twitter gives us sponsored tweets and buggers about with third-party client software. Google are just evil.
These companies should offer a premium product. They should accept a few pounds a month from users who want to turn off advertising, who want decent API support for client software, who never want to see sponsored content, and who want to be treated like a valued customer.
In the mean time, I’m happy to be a customer of LiveJournal (through all its ups and downs) — that is why I keep blogging here — and am happy to be trying out App.net for microblogging. I like app.net’s attitude, and their up-front desire to take money in return for providing a service.