The Zero Budget Fallacy

Another day, another couple of links to interesting projects…. projects that are interesting not just because they were executed well, and created something worth seeing, but interesting because once again the people behind them claim that they did it for “zero dollars” or “300 dollars” or some other number that is ridiculously low.

As someone who has worked in the creative industry for many (many) years, I know it’s not true, and I’m guessing others in the creative industry also know it’s not true, but does everyone know? Does the general public know? Do potential clients know?

One project was a film that someone worked on for 6 months, and the end result was pretty damn cool, but by claiming the project cost $300 the person is suggesting that their time was worth nothing, and their equipment was worth nothing, and somehow it all just materialized out of thin air.

Another project (again, a film) said it was done with “zero budget” which I guess means the experience of the people involved was worthless, and the $10,000 worth of equipment they used was just sort of magically handed to them, and anyone could have it.

If your band wants to shoot an epic music video for free, and you manage to get your friends with the experience and the equipment to donate their time, and the results are amazing, that’s cool… I’m all for it. Just don’t devalue the efforts of all involved by saying it was done for $0.00

I’m going to assume that the people behind these things know what they are doing, and my guess is that what they are doing is marketing. To that I say well done! It’s clever, I’ll give them that.

But wait, don’t I do the same thing? I mean, I shot like 50 free portraits at BarCampMilwaukee4. I could say it cost me NOTHING but in all honesty, Sam Dodge and I spent a few hours doing the shooting, and I spent many more hours editing and posting the photos, and I had to buy my equipment in order to even take photos (as did Sam) and I had to put in hours to learn how to shoot portraits… Don’t get me wrong, many things can be done for low-costs, but to assume it costs nothing seems silly.

If you look at a project like Help-Portrait, it’s about giving back, from people who are skilled, and have the equipment, and want to help others. It’s only made possible by the fact that people are willing to donate their time (which has some value) and that people have the needed equipment/supplies/etc. (which was probably paid for from some other paying job.)

If it’s a labor of love, and a project you want to do, by all means do it, do it well, do it great, and talk about it. I just have an issue with people telling other people it cost them “nothing” to create something. I’m working on a film and while I’m doing it for very little cost, and even though I’m borrowing a lot of the equipment, there’s still consumables like gasoline, and tapes, and paper, and ink, and things like hard drives and software, and web hosting, and there’s the many, many, many hours I’ve spent (and will spend) shooting, and editing, and eventually promoting it.

There’s an old saying that comes to mind: It’s only free if your time has no value.


Business Disruption

I have this problem… whenever I see some commercial service demonstrated, I start to think of the alternatives to it. Why is that?

I got a demo of an interesting service recently, and the first thing I thought to myself was “hmmm, this is really similar to what I had running in Drupal two years ago” and then I thought about how the service could be cloned with a few Drupal modules and a few days of hacking. I was relatively sure WordPress also had similar plugins to attain the feature set. (I’m probably underestimating the amount of work, but we tend o do that sometimes, don’t we?)

Don’t get me wrong, the service I saw was not without value… it had great value! But the support for the service was probably the number one value. I mean, the software wasn’t magical (it may have some magical stuff on the inside or on the backend filter that I didn’t see) but the basic functions were not in any way amazing. For someone who doesn’t want to think about it, and outsource all the technical voodoo to someone else, it would probably appear pretty damn amazing, so if that’s you, then yes, it was amazing.

At that point I start to wonder… should they have built their product on top of any open source platform like Drupal, and then build things on top of the plumbing it provides? Expertise, customization, support, hosted services… and on and on.

Maybe it’s the whole “we have tiers, it’s $XX per month, or $XXX per month or $XXXX per month depending on the features you want” where I start to think that cloning it would be a great idea for someone, because somewhere, somehow, there’s always someone who wants to build it themselves, or modify it, or make it do something someone hasn’t thought of yet, or even just not pay $XXXX per month for something.

Maybe business deserves to be disrupted sometimes.


Twitter-Free Friday Explained

Maybe I did a poor job of explaining Twitter-Free Friday. See, it all goes back to 2001 when Dave Winer suggested Microsoft-Free Fridays, and was followed up by my idea for Google-Free Friday (which was resurrected last year by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land.)

It’s not so much a boycott of Twitter, or a condemnation of Twitter. I like Twitter. I’ve been using it since late 2006 when there were less than 6200 users. I’ve convinced other people to use it, I’ve written code that uses it, and I was even interviewed about Twitter a few weeks ago.

Twitter is a monopoly. Just like Microsoft was and Google is. And any time you rely on one single entity for something, that’s bad news. Even worse news if it’s something you need or really want, because at some point, after you are hooked, they will screw it up, and you’ll have no alternative. As much as I am a fan of Apple, they got problems, and I’m glad Microsoft (and the Linux folks) are there to keep Apple on their toes, and keep them honest, and keep them innovating. Competition drives innovation, and we need innovation in this MicroBlogging world.

But… Twitter is this proprietary thing, owned by one company, and in the end, I am still a big fan of a decentralized system, and open source software, and standards… and that’s when (and Laconica, the software behind comes it.

It took Twitter 9 months to add the ability to search for people. got the feature in a week. And while still does not match all the features of Twitter, I believe it will, and it will surpass it. Things are moving fast, and not because of dollar signs, or the future hope of dollar signs, but because people are excited about the possibilities. With Twitter you see the fail whale and we all go “oh well, try later!” and that’s not good enough. Laconica, in a free and open environment offers the ability for us to do better, and to have some control over such things.

When I find blog posts from people about they are often from people I know and respect as visionaries of the web, people who have had good ideas in the past, and put those ideas into code… Those are the kind of people I trust to build an open system for the future.

So join us tomorrow for Twitter-Free Friday. Go a day without using Twitter and see how it goes. Maybe it will suck, and you’ll appreciate Twitter even more, or maybe you’ll find an alternative. I know, it’s all about the network right? If you’re friends stick with Twitter and you leave, you will be lonely, and sad, and cry… but the idea behind a federated system is that your friends could use a different system than you do, and that’s ok, cuz it all hooks together. Yeah, that’s the idea.

So while other came along (Jaiku, Plurk, etc.) none of them made me (and so many others) say “Damn! This could be it… what we are after! An open source, distributed system like Twitter” that, you know… isn’t Twitter.

I am raster on See ya there tomorrow!


Twitter-Free Friday

Remember Google-Free Friday, and The Return of Google-Free Friday? Well, I propose Twitter-Free Friday…

That’s right, on Friday, don’t use Twitter.

Does that sound difficult? Is it anymore difficult than a Google-Free Friday would have been in the past? In fact, Twitter might make it easier for you by failing anyway, in which case it’ll be Fail Whale-Free Friday.

On Friday, I will plan to not use Twitter. I will use though, so you can see what I’m up to over there.

It’s an experiment, and who knows where it will go. Join me if you dare.


Twitter, and the rest

Despite my being a fan of Twitter, just like Dave and Dave, I am getting fed up with the failing… and the fact that the fail whale is like some cute little “oops” mascot is sort of annoying. But hey, it’s a free service, what do you expect? No much, right?

Along came Plurk which is, well, I dunno… completely ignorable. Oh, and there is FriendFeed which Dave Slusher dumped Twitter for, but that just feels like too much too often to me. Too many updates, and updates from friends of friends? Argh…

Right now Twitter still has an advantage, but I feel like it’s slipping away with every feature that gets disabled, and every whale they serve up. is interesting to me because it can be decentralized, and because it’s open source. But is it too late? I don’t think so. I mean, Blogger was the deal years ago, and they kept having their own fail, and nowadays look at WordPress. It ain’t over til it’s over.

I think has to do a few things to step up as a Twitter replacement.

  • Twitter compatible API – We need clients to make as easy as Twitter to use
  • Friend importer – We need an easy way to migrate from another service
  • Continued development – Right now Laconica is open source, that’s all good, but interested from developers and widespread adoption of a community will be key

I’m now using to post to both Twitter and This is a bit of a pain, but it works. Sort of. I opted not to post from to every damn service I belong to, as I find it annoying to read the same thing from my friends on 6 different networks. (And yeah, some sort of de-dupe filtering sort of thing is needed here.)

Anyway, I have hopes for as a replacement for Twitter, or at least as a “private label” Twitter since the source it out there for you to use as you like. Go forth developers, and make something awesome!

(You can follow me on, I am raster)