Should knowledge always be free?

With a wealth of websites and forums online, packed with knowledge and experience, have we become too used to finding what we want for free? 

And has this lulled us into a false sense of security where we’re happy to trust the word of an online stranger over official sources? Even for matters as important as visas and tax?

Copenhagen based relocation expert, blogger and freelance writer Melanie Haynes asks why we’re happier wasting time piecing together scraps of dubious information from strangers, than we are paying for an expert to give us exactly what we need.

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Should knowledge always be free?

I saw this tweet recently:

Wearying of people complaining about journalism being behind the paywallas though its a new evil elitism. Papers used to be in a shop called a newsagentand if you wanted to read the news you bought one. Radical.

It made me think about the expectation that any kind of knowledge and information which people spend time educating themselves about should be given freely. Or any expert who knows their stuff or simply spends time researching and delving into an issue or topic should not expect payment for this.

Expertise has no value today

Expertise has no value in the age of social media and home assistants. Why learn to tell the time when you can bark out “Alexa, what is the time?” Why look to experts when 15 people can share their opinions rather than facts on a matter? Who cares how correct this information is, if is free?

I have written a blog about living in Copenhagen for the last five years, and two years ago I started a consultancy to help new expats navigate their move and settling in time.

I have lived here for 10 years and gained a wealth of knowledge, I discovered a lot the hard way and from being curious and tenacious. I am brave enough to ask questions when I don’t know something, to spend time looking at reputable sources to find out answers.

I write pieces about life here in a number of online publications, I know my stuff. I have tons of free resources which I know answer the real questions and pain points of moving to a new country because I have been there.

Why do we trust the word of online strangers?

I love sharing knowledge and helping people, but increasingly I see a reluctance from people to actually use expert information or well researched or knowledgeable material. Facebook forums mean that people think they can just ask the ‘hive’ of the internet and that is enough to know everything. Ask a question and someone answers.

But the big questions should be: what are their credentials for knowing this? Someone told them? It was their own opinion about something? They read it ‘somewhere’ online?

Would you act on something a stranger in a car park told you about how to pay or avoid your taxes? I doubt it, but many people will believe the same type of person online. Throw into the mix the fact there are many people who cruise around the internet simply to wind people up or to spread misinformation. 

And why do we ignore official sources?

Last summer after reading the same questions, and spurious answers, time and time again about basic bureaucratic issues facing expats in Denmark I realised that it is virtually impossible to people to use a simple Google search.

If this is pointed out to people, they ignore the comment or say they are looking for personal experiences. But they’re not. They are not, they are passing the responsibility for their decisions and actions onto perfect strangers.

Many government agencies and local authorities here have spent a lot of time and effort providing the relevant and accurate information in English to be simply ignored as people flock to forums to seek answers.

I created a paid guide – and sold very few

I decided to write a guide bringing all the publicly available information into one document with checklists of all the paperwork people need for smooth bureaucratic processes.

It took for some hours to compile this, to check the veracity of the sources, produce images. I then had it designed into a user friendly interactive document and loaded it onto my website, which costs me money to have hosted.

I regularly check the information is up to date and amend appropriately. The guide costs just a little less than the price of two lattes in a city centre coffee shop. Despite promoting the guide in a variety of ways, I have sold hardly any. And yet the same questions are still coming up in forums, which the guide would answer straightaway and accurately.

Isn’t it time we stopped expecting everything for free?

If I were to offer this for free people may be more willing to download it. But is that undervaluing knowledge, time and expertise? I think so.

This week I have added a new button to my website where I offer a growing library of over 40 guides and free downloadable information sheets which will really help people out. I am asking that if people like what they read and find it useful to ‘buy me a cup of coffee’ as a thank you.  

To date not one person has ‘bought me a coffee,’ yet I can see the guides have been downloaded many times. I believe it is about time that we valued the efforts people put into gaining and sharing accurate knowledge and not to expect everything for free.

How to start charging your worth

Are you frustrated at working for free? Or just not being paid what you’re worth? If so, you’ll find some helpful advice in these articles:

Love to get your hands on one of Melanie’s guides? You can browse her library of free resources here, and buy one of her guides here

Photo credit: Rochelle Coote