The Web has encouraged a belief that things can be free, or at least very cheap. It seems everyone is looking for a deal on the Web.When the recently leaked 20 million America Online search queries were analysed it was found that a great deal of people wanted free sex, free pictures or free music. And if it couldn’t be free, then they wanted it “new” or at least with a “sale” on. It seems that 70 percent of people aged 16 to 24 download music online but only 1 in 40 tracks are bought legally. This is according to Lance Ford, chief sales and marketing officer at SpiralFrog, which has just announced a deal with Universal to sell free music. Click to learn more about EMC document and image processing. Universal intends to sell its entire catalog for free (Eminem, Kaiser Chiefs, etc.). The music will be totally free except that you will have to pay with your time by watching ads. This will be perfect for those who are time-rich and money-poor. The desire for free stuff is part of the nature of the Web because the Web is self-service and self-service is all about being free, cheap, fast and convenient. Buy some cheap food at McDonald’s and you get a free Coke glass. The Web brings out the cheap in us. We don’t need to buy that newspaper now because it’s on the Web for free. We don’t need to pay for music anymore; we can just file-share it. It’s interesting how words change their meaning; how stealing has now become file sharing. But it’s not really stealing, is it? Those rich artists and record companies don’t deserve all that money, so that makes it okay to steal from them. Of course, it’s not as black and white as that. There’s an old saying in art: Geniuses steal, beggars borrow. There’s a long tradition in folk music where melodies are ‘borrowed’. Artists as legendary as Bob Dylan have borrowed their fair share of melodies. I know a restaurant that offers free meals. The only catch is that you have to sweep the floor and wash the dishes afterwards. I know a bakery that offers free bread. The only catch is that you have to come in at 4 a.m. and help bake it. I know a surgeon who offers free heart transplants. The only catch is that you have to donate one of your livers. Free is a funny word. We all know that very little is really for free. If we go searching on the Web for free music and free screensavers, we know-or should know-that there are risks involved. “Free screensaver and games sites are notorious for bundling spyware and adware with downloads. Free e-card sites often share users’ e-mail addresses with third parties and can lead to a never-ending influx of spam,” according to Web safety firm SiteAdvisor. It doesn’t matter, we still want free stuff, or at least the sense that we’re getting a real bargain; that at minimum we’re saving time. Because, what can be the absolute worst experience on the Web? A site that charges us high prices and wastes our time. --- Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.