Let’s face it – everybody likes freebies.  I love them as they come at no cost and can provide a good launchpad for projects and ideas.  I am a WordPress themes developer and I have repeatedly had situations when freebies helped me a lot.  Also, there were a lot of times when it made no sense to use them.  

The thing is that free goodies are not always really free. Using services or products that were obtained without paying for them does not necessarily mean that these are actually free.  Most of the times there is a reason behind this, and believe me – there can be quite a few of those.  The majority of us don’t really pay attention to these details when looking for free movies, free music, free stock photography, free WordPress themes, free scripts or libraries.  Below, I will try to explain the costs we pay or the risks we take when accepting to use free stuff from the Internet.

1. Privacy and hidden user data

You’ve heard it before – everybody collects data.  Facebook is a free service, Google Search Engine is a free service. Google Analytics is a free service as well. The important thing is that a lot of people don’t know is that they all collect lots of data about us:  behavior, needs, purchases, searches, history and more.  They are building our Internet behavior profile and use it to sell to us their products and services.  So, these free services come at a cost.

2. You are risking with your private information

Free themes, free plugins, free music, free everything.  If you were to check Google searches you will see that people love using freebies. But have you ever wondered if the free items that you are using are as good as you think? Let’s think about it – would you work on something, put your time and resources into it and just give it for free? There are very few people that can do that, or better said – afford that type of work.  I’ve been analyzing some free WordPress themes and plugins (it’s what I do, so it’s more relevant) and the result was disappointing: huge amounts of code and resources that are nowhere near optimized, lots of irrelevant code added, no SEO optimization or OOP (Object Oriented Programming), not to say about the tons of cropped image options, lots of database queries, lots of vulnerable and unescaped variables, websites that load in years. I even found plugins that were using the client server’s resources (yours in this case).  Why would someone use this?.

3. Most users and clients don’t know

Ok, why fake it? You are probably not a programmer and you won’t ever check what’s inside the package.  It’s free, might look good and gives you a few options to play with.  It’s a good start you might say.  I beg to differ.  You, your server, your data and the data (protection) of your users are being exposed to someone you don’t know.  I don’t feel comfortable knowing that my website can collect data of me, my visitors (or clients) and even use my server for promoting and sharing malware.  Of course, not all resources do that, but you need to be very careful when you decide to go with these things.

4. File sharing websites and pirated versions

If you ever thought about using a “cracked” or “nulled” items – don’t even think about it.  Not only that you are using products that you don’t have a license for, but you are exposing your website to a big risk. These are the nr. 1 resources for viruses and malware, unauthorized scripts and credentials theft.  I found some nulled versions of our themes and they had hidden code snippets, included some scripts from some questionably URLs that were never added in the original versions of the product.

Why it is important to pay for products?

There were a few situations in my life when I avoided paying for some online services.  Needless to say that I did not have the best experience.  The lesson here was:  If you want to build a good product you should use the best services available.  Usually you have to pay for that.  In the end, all the investments pays off.  There are many other arguments why you should pay for some services:

1. Support and promote innovation

Paying for products and services means you are investing in innovation and in someone’s work.  If you benefit from it, why not help the others do as well? If nobody invested and paid for work, how would progress be achieved? How could the engineers create new technologies, better cars and faster computers that you and all of us use?

2. Stimulate originality

I am a WordPress developer. Most of the guys/companies that create websites are using free stock photos and scripts available over the web.  Last year I was checking the new themes coming out of Envato’s ThemeForest and not only.  Most of the items sold there are using the same images for their demos, scripts and designs are being copied and re-copied day in day out. And looking on the market now – few have remained that are original, use custom resources and pay for them.

If you choose to use freebies, do it smart

Premium companies provide freebies.  If you can’t afford to buy a premium item or just not sure weather to in one, just check the best companies in the business.  Do some research, read some reviews and choose a trusted one.  Usually they have free products that they use to promote them or there are websites and repositories that offer some good options.

So, next time when you think about using something free, question yourself about a few things. Pay attention to how you expose your private data and your visitors, what type of freebies you use and what are the risk when you go for that decision.