Making world history for free

This spring will mark fifteen years since I built my first web site -- years marked by an avalanche of convulsive technological change. It was the spring of 1994, and I was working at Microsoft as the managing editor of the Microsoft Developer Network, in charge of providing information, software development kits, and useful resources to an audience of a few million developers creating software for Windows. We did so by sending out a monthly tabloid newspaper, and a subscription CD packed with technical information and an interface you would recognize as a kind of clunky website-on-a-CD nowadays. The previous fall, I had seen my first web browser and was immediately hooked. Right away, I wanted to get rid of our CDs and put all our content on a website for free downloading. All the other managers on my team thought I was nuts and wanted to destroy our revenue stream!

In the years since then, giving stuff away free on the web has become the engine of the global economy. Moreover, free information services such as Facebook, Al Jazeera, Twitter, blogging, and Youtube have helped alter the course of history. Witness the madcap celebration of the victory of the  Egyptian democratic revolution two days ago. It's a truism that all the most valuable things in life are free. My life is most enriched when I give away whatever is most valuable to me.