Saturday, July 07, 2012

Free? Trial!

Free is generally a good thing. Free food, free beer, freedom. In almost every case, the idea of getting something and not having to give anything has almost no downside. But not always. Consider two examples I've been hit with in the recent past. 

In the first, I was looking for a way to share some files with a client. I wanted to post them to a central spot, then have others be able to retrieve them with no hassles. One would think with this cloud-thing that "they" keep talking about that "they" would have figured this one out. So I google-ed and bing-ed around, looking to see what was out there. Some services seemed easier, some harder, some more limited in practice. I felt a little like Goldilocks: at first blush nothing seemed to fit the bill. It would take sitting in them a little longer to suss out which one would be just right for me.  

Luckily, any number offered a free trial with a limited number of days and capabilities. Perfect: I love to try before I buy, especially if I can try, use and be gone before I have to buy. I signed up for one. But in a quick test drive the interface was too clunky (too hard!). I tried another, but the security was lacking (too soft!). Still another and another, all ending on a slight variation of the same result: they just weren't right. In frustration I gave up, and moved on to other projects. 

Shortly thereafter I checked my email, to find a message from one of the services. "It's been an hour since you signed up, and it doesn't look like you're using us!" Well! Nothing like chasing me down. I ignored it. Next day, the same thing: "Hi there. It's been a day since you took us for a test drive, but we haven't seen you sign up for the full package!" Right you are. And you won't. And again the next day: "You're two days into your free trial. How can we help you?" Enough already! And a week later. And a week after that. "You're almost at the end of your trial." Indeed I am. Thankfully. 

Then there is the mailing service I use to send out this column to a more far flung audience. Indeed, some of you read this in that quaint old time medium called a "newspaper." But others in more distant environs see it virtually as delivered to their inbox on a weekly basis. For nearly a score of years it has gone out like clockwork to delight or harass that crowd, depending on your point of view.  

With my account coming up for renewal, I did some shopping around to see if there was another service which would fit the bill. After reading reviews and some small test runs, I settled on one. Again, the ubiquitous free trial was offered. I filled up the address list, uploaded my latest opus, and programed the hammer to drop as it usually does at 430AM on a Saturday morning. Then I went to bed, anxious to see the reaction pour in from my adoring public. Or at least from my mother. 

I work up and checked by inbox. Nothing. I asked around. Nothing received by my wife or son. I quickly checked the site, to see it hadn't gone out, with no explanation offered. Swearing loudly, I deleted the service, then went back to my old haunt, reactivated the account and proceeded to annoy people in the usual way. I typed a poison pen note to the newbie who let me down, with a subject line which was fairly self-explanatory, or so I thought: "You suck!" 

So it was curious when I got an email a few days later with a note from them: "Hi! Just checking in to see how your first week with us was!" Needless to say, I repeated my withering mantra, and hit reply. No response. A few days later, the same chirpy "Just checking how satisfied you are with us!" came back. I responded again, pulling no punches, but losing any hope that I would sear anyone's eyeballs. It is now a chapter best left to history. 

Lesson? Free always comes at a price. All the computerized systems in the world won't replace people if you're selling to people. And please, please: read your mail, and make free trials more free, and less trials.


Marc Wollin of Bedford concedes you sometimes do get what you pay for. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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