David Heinemeier Hansson

January 20, 2022

Free is never forever

Google gave away free email on custom domains for years. This unsurprisingly lured lots of people into switching to Gmail. But now the party is over, and what used to be free will now easily cost $500/year or more (if you have 10 users on a custom domain). Yikes.

Unsurprisingly, I'm not actually against Google charging for email. The long deep freeze of innovation in email came as a result of Google giving away free* service. (* It wasn't ever free FREE, of course, but the price in data and attention wasn't obvious to most before they got hooked.)

The problem is the switcheroo. When you give something away for free for years, and then suddenly show up with a demand for payment, people are rightfully going to feel like it's a stickup. Especially if they have over a decade's worth of data that's difficult to get out locked inside that box you gave them for "free".

It feels even more so if the vendor showing up with demands for payment is a monopolist like Google. Who controls the majority of all email that flows in the US. Then it very much feels like you got suckered. Oh, we were just the stepping stone for you to get the dominant marketshare, and now that you've captured it, you return for the loot? Gah.

Email wasn't ever free to offer. Especially not the unlimited kind with gigabytes of storage that gave Gmail its original splash. It's just that Google monetized it through data plunder (like reading your purchase receipts!), attention drains (promoted emails!), and now finally with a paid switcheroo for the most locked-in accounts.

You could of course also just pay with cash monies from the get go. And vote with those dollars for what you'd like to see more of in the world. How's that for a New Year's resolution: Paying for things with money, and skipping the ones that aren't worth it.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.