Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Gratitude is a virtue...
Published on August 28, 2004 By Draginol In Business

Never underestimate the ability of human beings to rationalize their behavior.  No matter what it is you give away freely, you will always end up with some people who will rationalize that they are customers and should be treated as such.  

The blogger who inspired me into starting my blog, Steven Den Beste, has decided to take an extended break from blogging.  In a nutshell, he’s fed up.  Fed up with people nitpicking his writing. People who make demands on him as if they were his customers with some right to make demands.  

He puts it thusly:

I've learned something interesting: if you give away ice cream, eventually a lot of people will complain about the flavors, and others will complain that you aren't also giving away syrup and whipped cream and nuts.

This isn’t confined just to those who write articles that they freely share on the Internet. Any sort of free product, good, or service will have people who feel they are entitled to make demands on the creator.  

 So let me share with you what I consider to be the 5 rules of free stuff:  

(1)   Unless money is being paid by you for the product, good or service being provided, you are not a customer. Get over it. You have no rights. Deal with it.  

(2)    Even if you paid money for the product, good, or service under discussion, your ability to make demands decreases depending on how many separations there are between you and the person you are making demands on.  If you paid the person directly, you have maximum leverage. But the more layers there between you and the person you’re talking to, the more diluted your leverage becomes. If I work at Microsoft and I’m posting on some forum, don’t bitch at me that I need to personally solve your Windows problems .  

(3)   If it’s free be gracious about it. Don’t complain that you should get more free stuff from the person. Anything you ask for is you asking a favor of the person providing the free thing. Polite requests = good. Demands = bad.

(4)   Don’t get mad or accuse the person/company of being “greedy” if some of their products/services aren’t free. Who is really the “greedy” one? The person who has given away things for free or the person who, having paid nothing, makes demands for more free stuff?  

(5)   If you think you can do something better then do it. Talk is cheap. Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn't have to deliver the goods.    

Let me give you some examples of free stuff that we regularly get people demanding customer level treatment:
JoeUser is a free blog site I provide with the help of Stardock. The business case for the site is that it doesn’t cost much to provide and enables us to write articles and attract potential customers by its sheer popularity. Eventually it will hopefully pay for itself by having premium blogs. But that amount will still be fairly small.

Even though it is free, every day I get people who email me personally demanding all kinds of things. Not requests -- demands. Requests for help are fine. Demands are another thing. When people start making demands on how the site is run, they need to look up rule #1. If you’re not paying money for the site, you have no rights. You have no right to demand anything. But still, we see people who regularly make public demands or argue how unprofessional I or someone else is. Unprofessional? We’re not being paid to post there. We’re not paid to moderate. We go on there in our free time because we enjoy it. It really gets surreal when I occasionally get people who will create a blog on JoeUser that will call me all kinds of names. Needless to say, those blogs don't last long. Then come the screams of censorship and cries of first amendment protection. There is no first amendment rights on JoeUser. You want rights, then send me a check for $50,000. That's about the amount this site costs to have each year.
This is another free site – to a point. Originally it was completely free. But the site costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to run so we eventually had to put a limit on how much stuff you could download before contributing something back. It had a negative affect on its Alexa ranking but we learned something valuable: We'd rather have fewer users and more customers.

Amazingly, we regularly have people who show moral outrage at the idea that they should have to pay. Somehow we are greedy because they want to use our bandwidth for free forever without giving anything back.

This is one of the most notorious ones. ObjectDock is the world's most popular "dock" program. Docks are programs that let you put short-cuts and tasks and other things and typically "dock" them to an edge.  ObjectDock is freeware. But from day one, there's been a lot of people who have made demands on us to do this or that with it as if they were customers.  Not requests -- demands (requests are fine).

And when we came out with ObjectDock Plus (2 years later), which adds more features than what was in the free version, all hell broke loose.  All kinds of people started calling us "greedy" and worse. Lots of demands were made that its features should be in the free version. Or that we have no right to charge in the first place. Why? Because we made the free version available first (as if that makes sense).  There are other docks available and they're free too. But they're not updated anymore. Only ObjectDock receives regular updates. But do these people make the connection that maybe the reason the free version keeps getting updates is because of the existence of the Plus version? Not likely.

All of our freeware programs tend to get ignored when people describe our company as a whole.  Because we're a (gasp) for profit software company, we get the lunatic fringe anti-capitalistic people who think it's wrong that we sell software at all. Not that they are willing to write software and give it away. But they consider themselves just as much as customers as the people who pay for non-free products.

Like Steven, I get a lot of nit-picking about my blogs and articles and comments.  Usually from people who feel they know more than I do on a given subject.  Maybe they do but there's no way to know since they're not willing to take the time to demonstrate their knowledge. Most of the time when I write I simply don't have enough free time to qualify every statement to the nth degree. Sometimes I have to oversimplify something to get the point across.  I don't have patience for including things that are theoretically possible. I tend to stick with what is practically possible.

Still, some people will pass me links or names of books or articles that I "need to educate myself with" so that I can write a retraction or correction at a later date.  When I don't answer those emails, I'll occasionally get a "You've just lost a reader" as if they paid for the site.

The bottom line is that if you didn't pay for the product, good, or service that you're using you need to be conscious of that.  Don't delude yourself into thinking you're some sort of customer entitled to anything. Any request you make is asking for a favor. No matter what that request is, no matter how reasonable or justified you believe that request to be, you are asking for a favor.

In other words, don't complain about the free ice cream.

Comments (Page 1)
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on Aug 28, 2004
Couldn't agree more!
on Aug 28, 2004
You should link this piece to the sign up page along with the TOS Brad.
Thanks for the site!.
on Aug 28, 2004
I Agree!
on Aug 28, 2004
Amen. Let the bastards choke on their own feces while rats gnaw their skulls.
on Aug 28, 2004
Your article is right on target, I couldn't agree more or have said it better. Thing is in every area of life where you provide a service or product for free or for a price, the percentage of those people is very minute. The "silent majority" rarily ever speaks aloud, but votes with its feet or pocketbook.
on Aug 28, 2004
D@mit brad you greedy software selling monopolistic pig!

Just joking,

I couldn't agree with you more, Just like everyone I try to pay for as little software as possible, by using free ware and Open source, but I don't beat the authors up if the software is crap, I Do however leave suggestions........

As far as Stardock goes I have and will make suggestions and requests that might sometimes border on demanding, but you guys have come through probably 89% of the time....Oh and I pay for my OD subsctiption and my wincustiomize subscription, so that I can do that........

Which reminds me when are we going to have a new premuim suite for the Wincustomize subscribers?
on Aug 28, 2004

This is so frustrating. The man who littered little DWL's all over the place when the simple solution was DRL.

I'll miss his writing.
on Aug 28, 2004
Thank you Frogboy for making my Sunday.
I personally purchase all the software I use, but not a day goes by when some-one asks me for a copy of something.
They do not understand (or try not to) when I will not copy it for them, I payed the $$$$$. Some call me tight fisted, Oh yea who payed out the $$$$$ bro.

Keep up the great work at Stardock
on Aug 29, 2004
People complain about free ice cream?

That is certainly in bad taste, especially when the ice cream really is made with alot of effort and care.

As Darkee put it - I pay for all my software as well. It is amazing that some of the software I bought in my earlier computer experience can't compare to most of the free stuff that Stardock and others have been offering lately, with updates no less.

Strength and good spirit to any who are being criticized for giving so much in their free time, and the people complaining and demanding in the free arena may want to think before they type.

Best regards,

on Aug 29, 2004
I demand some free icecream....
...and I want it NOW
[hold the nuts]....
on Aug 29, 2004
Being a strong advocate of open source, I must say I agree.
Even being strongly anti-capitalistic
So called left-wing idealists, true ones, know the proper value of work, contribution and community.
People who find a way to offer free products in a capitalistic economy deserve respect.
I'm not for profit. One must however know that there is a cost to every production in time, energy, material and human ressources.
Getting ressources for bandwidth costs - is not - making profit.
Getting ressources for fair salaries - is not- making profit.

So yeah, if someone is to bitch on something, leave the free stuff alone, concentrate on the expensive stuff and examine the cost/profit ratio
on Aug 29, 2004
Thanks for pointing this out, Draginol... being one of the developers from an open source application portal (PHP Application Tools,, I have noticed this behavior too. From people who demand better documentation to those that want us to change our coding style, we've seen it all. Thanks for your 5 rules, they are enlightning

Oh, and by the way: keep up the good work, the web needs more quality like yours!
on Aug 29, 2004
You given free ice cream??? Wheres mine..I paid for all my OD software and a wincust 2 year subscript..I didnt get no icecream..V anilla or otherwise....Oh wait I get it its a euphanism right??? Im sorry you get so much grief from users who dont pay...
on Aug 29, 2004
This is a great article to put things in perspective. Please don't allow those who are ignorant, demanding, out-of-touch with reality, and [just plain] rude, get to you. Know that your support base is much larger . . . and hopefully influential. We support your products, your concepts, and all that you do. Hats off!
. . . btw, where can I get free ice cream?
on Aug 29, 2004
Great article, I agree on everything. I know the feeling of having something, and providing it for free, and then have people wanting to "run" things for me, "change" things, "add" things etc. It's really annoying. The last time a guy did that, I just told him to get the hell of my site seeing as I didn't want him there. Oh well, there are stupid people in the world to.
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