As grad students in educational technology, my peers and I are regularly asked to find and evaluate the latest technology tools. Our advisors emphasized the importance of critically evaluating technology tools and how they apply to education. A great number of these are Web 2.0 tools, most of them free.
If you’ve been paying attention to Web 2.0 tools over the last few years, you’d have noticed the way the best ones have largely become paid tools. Remember Ning social networks? What about JayCut movie editor?
We want what’s fresh.
Once a new tool becomes popular, users flock to it. Larger companies see the potential for the tool to make money and the small startup that launched the tool will often be paid out and absorbed. This can seriously change access to the tool, most of the time leading to paid-only use. Alternatively, the startup may receive investment capital to expand the capabilities of the tool and allow the company to grow along the lines of the founders’ ideas. Lots of tools under that category will stick to a freemium business model, allowing free use of many functions of the tool and the option to pay for advanced features.
Should we pay for Web 2.0 tools?
This is a tricky question. The answer will depend on the quality of the tool and the uniqueness of its features. A tool has to offer something really impressive to earn my dollar in the competitive market we have today. Some tools like Dropbox (for cloud storage) are free, but also allow users to have more space by either paying a nominal fee or by recruiting friends. A colleague of mine that began using Dropbox for the last year eventually ran out of space and felt that the $10/mo/50GB fee was worth the cost. Not a terrible price to pay, especially if your employer recognizes the benefit of the tool and is willing to cover the cost!
What does this mean for people in education who want to use free tools?
If the last few years are any indicator, there will be a constant flow of new free Web 2.0 tools for us to use. The more successful tools will grow and/or be absorbed by larger companies, forcing us to seek out new free tools. This is a good thing as the best tools will earn a following from loyal users that will support the craftspeople who built them.
Following close behind a great tool is usually a handful of competitors with similar Web 2.0 products. Sometimes the tools are copycats, not offering anything different other than a new name. Every now and then, a competing company will introduce a similar tool that works much better for a select audience. Education is a common area of focus when reworking a tool or thinking up something new, which definitely works to our advantage.
Many Web 2.0 tool sites allow users with .edu email addresses to have a premium account for free. Look around and you can usually connect an educational email address to a free account if you returned to school or forgot to use it the first time around.
Don’t download everything in somebody’s “Top 100 Web Tools” blog post.
It’s important to keep your eyes open for the next great tool, but users should always examine a tool and how it will help them achieve a goal. Go read a number of reviews before devoting any of your time to a new tool. There are lots of people you can connect with via various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc) that will commit their own time to evaluate new tools. This information is free and will help you decide which tools to try out, saving you a great deal of time in the long run.
Who do you turn to for new Web 2.0 tools?