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February 28, 2010


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Amen, Phil. I think this is the hardest idea for many librarians - and corporate IT bods! - to take on board. I've yet to find a way of explaining the situation that helps them feel less insecure about the whole deal, except in the negative sense that you're not tied into a mistake for a decade.

Jonathan Feinberg

I agree with your dictum, "don't rely on any product."

I disagree with your implication that paying for the use of software in any way increases its reliability or the provider's sense of responsibility. I'd be curious to see any evidence to support that idea. Trivial counterexamples abound.

Phil Bradley

Jonathan - if you want to close down your service, for whatever reason, you can do so. Just like that. You don't owe your users anything, in the same way that they don't owe you anything. Your 'contract' as it were is simply a moral one, and one which can be rescinded at any time. You've demonstrated this yourself; Wordle is your (very excellent) product, but it's yours.

If I purchase a product, then I may physically own it - if I buy software, I install it on my machine and I use it however I want to. Even if the company goes bust, I still have that product. It's perfectly obvious that there's greater reliability! Now, if the product is online then it's a slightly different matter, since the product can still disappear (with my money). In that instance I do have legal redress however, and can take the matter further. Of course, this may not make any difference in the long run, but the responsibility of the provider is not only moral it's also legal.

Do I trust your product? Absolutely - it's great, and it does a superb job. I use it when I'm teaching, and I encourage other people to use it at every opportunity. However, I don't rely on either it or you - I have no reason to, nor (I suspect) would you want me to. If I'd purchased a copy of Wordle software and had it installed on my computer I would however be much happier. Since I can't, I'll encourage people to explore alternatives, since none of them, Wordle included, can be relied upon.

Jonathan Feinberg

Yes, you have a physical copy. Now, what if the product activation expires, and the company has gone south? What if it simply doesn't work? What if your disk goes bad?

And, by the way, you don't "own" the software you've paid for. Instead, you've paid for a license--in most cases, a temporary and at-will one on the part of the provider--to use the software. And no, you can't use it "however you want to"; the license typically places a variety of restrictions on your use.

You may or may not have legal redress. If you read the terms of service on the various sites you may enjoy each day, you'll find that they typically can do whatever they want to you. Let's take a look at, say, TypePad, whose terms of service specify, amongst other things, that "Six Apart reserves the right to change, suspend or discontinue part or all of any version of the TypePad Service at any time, for any reason, without notice and without explanation." and that "Six Apart, in its sole discretion and at any time, may discontinue providing the TypePad Service, or any part thereof, with or without notice. Any termination of your access to the TypePad Service under any provision of this TOS may be effected without prior notice. Six Apart may immediately deactivate or delete your account, as applicable, and all related information and content. Six Apart reserves the right to bar any further access to such information or content or the TypePad Service. Six Apart will not be liable to you or any third party for any termination of your access to the TypePad Service."

So what did that money buy you, again?

Phil Bradley

Hey Jonathan - if you're this unpleasant to people who like your product, who tried to help out on Twitter when you asked for assistance, who tried to set up a pledge bank for you, who has promoted your product to just about *everyone* - I hate to think what you're like to people you don't like.

Jonathan Feinberg

"What we have here is a failure to communicate.
If you gonna hate, might as least get your rumors straight."


Jonathan Feinberg

Oh, and, by the way, you can go get yourself a copy of a command-line version of the word-cloud generator that powers wordle.net at


But you certainly can't do "whatever you want" with it! The license is, sadly, extremely restrictive.

Demetri Karavas

I've been disappointed with so many commercial products that have been orphaned. I disagree completely with your statement about payed software being more reliable.

Once it is orphaned, or the company goes bankrupt there will be no more support or updates for the product. Great in a static world but not so great when you try to move a commercial product with stubborn copy-write prevention tools.

Most of the free software out there is open source and anyone can download it and use it with very little restrictions. I've built my core websites using great open source technologies like MySQL, Memcache, PHP, etc... There are a lot of open source projects that don't get much traction but that happens for a reason, usually because there is something better or there wasn't a need for it in the first place.

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