Nothing's free? Zeldman writes, "Some people have decided that nothing on the web will be free any more," pointing to our little End of Free blog and indicating in the title text that we're proposing that nothing on the web will be free anymore. Woah, woah, woah! Perhaps my intentions are easily misconstrued.

Let me clarify: I am not suggesting that everything free on the web is going away — nor that it should. Of course there will continue to be tons of free stuff on the web — much more than non-free stuff. However, the difference I'm interested in is that not everything will continue to be free by default, as it more-or-less has been up until recently. As for, "The web is free. Don't like it? Publish books and magazines. You can charge money for those." — note that I'm primarily talking about services and applications, not content. (Though the distinction can be blurry.) Web-based storage, for example, wouldn't work quite as well as a magazine. Like it or not, companies are having to adjust to the fact that their free-only models of delivering various services and applications are not viable in the long-term and many are exploring subscriptions and other alternatives to make these services viable. If no one can find a way to make these services work, many useful things will go away (as so many already have) and the web will be a less valuable place. That would be a bad thing.

If, on the other hand, these companies can successfully make this transition, that will be a good thing. I believe that innovation will flourish and quality of user experience will increase, because it's always been somewhat hindered by what could reasonably be offered for free and the expectation (in both service providers' and users' minds) that no one will pay for anything on the web.

The point of The End of Free is to chronicle the end of the free-only web and to explore how the next phase of the web — one that is self-sustaining, not built on a VC-fueled, IPO-crazed, land grab — comes into focus. What various companies are trying and how it's working. What are people willing to pay for and how much. What will disappear, what will morph, and what will stay as it is.

And yes, The End of Free is published with a free content-management system. One valued by thousands of users, many of whom have begged for a paid version and who have suffered because it has been in jeapordy, due to the difficulties of offering a service that costs a lot of money and doesn't make any. That makes it all the more interesting, doesn't it?