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This is the picture you should have in your head when you hear 'Free Basics'



There are two kinds of consumers. I say this primarily in the context of content consumption, but is applicable to pretty much any kind of consumption. One kind rely on others to curate and categorize so it makes their decision of what to consume very easy and structured. The other kind do their own curation by going through a lot of options before making the decision on what to consume.

This is only in the last few years.

Until a few years ago, it was close to impossible to discover anything in the long tail. Publishers would pick books that fit clearly into one of their categories in the book stores (self-help, fiction, fantasy, etc), studios would pick artists that fit a specific genre, producers would pick movie scripts of a particular genre. Well, you get the drift.

Someone hoping to reach her audience would have to create content that would fit well into one of the pre-defined categories. Not all movies could be screened, not all books could be on display at the stores. So, there were middle men that chose what was good enough to be offered to the audience and what was not. These were businessmen that made these decisions with the intention of making profits. Of course, we have had publishers and studios and movie producers backing content not solely with the motive of profits, but these cases are in the minority.

But, in the last few years, pretty much anyone could create content and pick themselves (and remove the middle man) and self publish on Amazon or Youtube or Soundcloud or something like that.

This still didn't change things that much in terms of consumer behaviour. Despite the large number of options available, majority of the people still wanted others to continue making the choices for them and continue to rely on bestseller lists.

It was nevertheless a win as those that would never get published before because they would end up having a low audience now started getting published and serving those little pockets of audiences that were willing to pick their work. The power now shifted to the creator of the content as opposed to the middle man with the profit motive.

All this is simple and logical and nothing new. But, consider this argument in the context of Facebook's Free Basics and the debate on net neutrality.

What Free Basics is offering to do is be this middle man, albeit without the profit motive. At least for now. They will have a few websites and a few apps available for free to everyone on Free Basics while the users will be charged for the other websites and apps for the data they consume.

If someone will curate a handful of websites and apps, they will have some logic behind doing it. I'm thinking it will be along the lines of the music and movie genres and the book categories of old.

This might still work out well for a majority of people that rely on others to curate things for them, but this can potentially kill the long tail (like it was until a few years ago). And that means the little niche audiences that content creators are now targeting successfully might cease to have content created for them as it may not be profitable to do so (like with publishing a book that wouldn't fit into any categories at the book stores of old).

The idea and the vision of Free Basics is solid and something I respect, but I hypothesise negative effects coming out of it (as I have highlighted here) that may not be the best thing for a consumer of content like me, who does his own curation of most content.

I'm for net neutrality and Free Basics doesn't seem to cut it for me at this point. 

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