by Cesare Rocchi

The Unsustainability Pattern

by Cesare Rocchi

New shiny service announced. “How much does it cost? Nothing? I am in!” We have seen this many times.

The fact that you don’t pay doesn’t mean that there’s no cost.

Somebody is paying, maybe you’ll never know who, but believe me somebody is taking money out of his pocket to put it in someone else’s wallet. It may look free to you, but somebody is paying for servers, electricity and bandwidth. This happened with a bunch of services which you might have used in the past. For example here is a list of discontinued services by Google. For each one, while it was running, Google had to pay for servers, electricity, bandwidth, people to write and debug code. A free service gets discontinued when it “doesn’t work”. Most of the times that means we can’t lure and lock in enough users to justify the cost.

Take the example of Heroku. It’s gonna change its pricing. It a totally legit move but it’s hard to not speculate that the move is meant to make the business more sustainable. So far a truck load of developers could run small applications for free. Don’t just think of one app per developer. You know, developers are smart and they have probably created an Heroku account with all the emails that they have available, not to mention aliases. So yeah, one person can have 32 (totally made up number) free applications running, without paying a dime.

After the pricing changes developers will need to either open their wallet or move away. Obviously there’s a heated discussion on HN. It is sad that someone is still looking for an alternative free solution, thus perpetuating the unsustainability pattern. If it doesn’t exists this is an expression that I am coining right now for the following behaviour:

I will exploit this free service as much as I can. When I can't anymore I am gonna move to the next free service.

I can’t resist to see a parallelism between this behaviour and the one of parasites. It’s good to feel smart I can’t deny it. It’s good to have a “product” and run it without expenses, it makes you feel cunning. Until you are gonna be bitten, and left with two options: either you move to another service or start paying. Either move is not gratis, unless you value your time 0$/hour. So all the time/money you saved with the initial “shortcut” is now gone and possibly you need to spend even more to catch up with competitors. Moral.

There’s no free forever, there’s is just temporary free.

Virtual machines prices are now more affordable than ever. Docker is growing like crazy and it’s making almost trivial to set up a scalable infrastructure. Before hosting your application on the new looks-free-forever service I invite you to consider the possibility to spin a virtual machine and host it yourself. This is exactly the approach I am having with AppVersion.