Why Should Expertise Be Free Just Because It’s Online?

by Martin Malden

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

I’m continually making resolutions to improve the way I do things, so what’s so different about January 1st?

But two articles recently caught my interest and, since it is January, they’ve provoked the closest thing I’ve come to a New Year’s resolution.

It’s about being paid for my expertise.

This article on Men With Pens and this article on CopyBlogger both question the ‘tradition’ and wisdom of free information online.

And, although I heartily agree with the sentiments of both articles, we who work online only have ourselves to blame.

We’ve created a rod for our own backs and it’s not going to be lifted any time soon.

The problem is that blogging started as a personal diary (free to set up and free to read) and steadily moved towards commercialism.

When people started monetising their blogs it produced quite a backlash. From what I’ve read, that is, because I wasn’t blogging at the time.

Then came social media – which was an even easier way for people to create online diaries and, in addition, to hook up with friends. And that was free too.

Bloggers and Internet Marketers soon cottoned on to the potential of promoting their products or services through the social media – but that produced an even more violent backlash (I was around for that one).

People were banned from Digg, not allowed to advertise on Stumbleupon and had their pages suspended from HubPages.

All those (and more) happened to me.

By the time Twitter came along marketers had cottoned on to the need to be super low key with any promotional activities they tried.

My own approach has been to monitor questions people are asking about WordPress. To write blog articles when I find a common question and direct people towards the articles when the question is repeated.

My blog articles are not promotional. They are all aimed at providing useful information to people.

But I’ve been slagged off a number of times on Twitter for doing exactly that (providing useful information) because they saw it as me promoting my article.

Somebody asked a while ago whether anyone knew any sources of educational WordPress themes.

Although I didn’t know specifically of educational themes, I do have an article on here with links to nearly 2,000 themes on different theme sites.

So I sent in a reply that said exactly that: No educational themes that I can point to directly, but there are links on here to nearly 2,000 themes and you may find something you like among them.

I received a barrage of abuse in reply. Telling me that I knew there were no educational themes in that article (err – yes, that’s what I said at the outset), that what I did was out of order and that I was just trying to get links to my page.

I wasn’t – but so what if I was?

What’s wrong with trying to let people know about my work? If they don’t like it they can leave at the click of a mouse.

This blog takes a lot of work, all of which I do myself. I enjoy it, so I’m not complaining about the work.

But the result of my work is to provide information that will help other people to improve their lives.

Just as I’m trying to improve mine.

The fact is, though, we’ve created this monster: the culture that everything online is free and anyone who dares to promote their work or charge for it is a charlatan.

So what can we do?

There are several things that I’ve resolved to do as part of this almost-resolution:

  1. I’m going to continue to provide as much value as I can (for free) wherever I am online, be that the social networks or on this blog
  2. I’m going to stop under-valuing the knowledge and expertise I’ve built up. Yes, I’ll provide as much value as I can, but after a certain point it will become chargeable
  3. I will ignore the howls of protest when I point people to articles that contain useful information
  4. I will set up a more regular routine of promoting good sources of information on my various sites. Yes – I will attempt to get more links to my pages

You see, we can’t beat this monster. We have to work round it.

That means that we have to continue to provide good quality, valuable information for free.

But we have to learn where to draw the line between free and chargeable.

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