Well, I tried, and everybody I know tried. None of us made it. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think any of us are going to die. If you haven’t heard about SparkFun Electronics’ Free Day, it may be that you just don’t care. If you didn’t care, it seemed to me for a moment that you were the only one.
See, back in November SparkFun Electronics, a hobby electronics store, decided that they wanted to do something special. They decided to have a “Free Day” where they would give every customer up to $100 of product on their site. This spread like wildfire on the tubes, and when the day finally arrived there was far more traffic than Sparkfun could handle. I want to say that there was far more traffic than *anyone* could handle. The result could be categorized as a disaster. Many people could not load the page at all, many couldn’t log in, and even if they were at the logged in point, checking out was just as bad.
Lots of people are angry. They put in a lot of effort and ended up with about 2 hours of not getting free stuff. I’m not too tolerant of people who are whining because they feel entitled to the SFE free stuff. My expectation is that many people who got things will be reselling them at worst, or at best the items will end up in a drawer waiting for a project that will never happen. I’ve heard rumors and whispers (okay, comment posts) that FreeDay was going way farther than expected, ending up on frugal shopping and coupon websites. The result (I imagine) is that there were a lot of people looking to get free stuff, not understanding what SparkFun Electronics was, or what they sold. By the time they got to the site, they were just compounding the problem.
So now, on ebay there will be a few dozen more Arduinos up for sale. I think this is a good thing…”What?!?!” you say? Well, economics is an interesting thing, even on eBay. See, if you have a dozen Arduinos suddenly hit eBay, the supply has suddenly increased. Market forces work their magic and for a bit, Arduinos on eBay will be cheaper. Maybe $15 instead of $30. A quick glance at eBay shows that Arduinos are already selling cheaper there than from SparkFun, or anyone else.I think the thing that really gets me is the number of people who feel that they should have gotten something, but didn’t. I’m sure I’ve felt a sense of entitlement where it didn’t belong, but I also like to think that I’ve grown out of that. Many people have not.
Am I thrilled about Free Day? I’m thrilled about the idea. That a company would say “Hey, we’ve had a great year, let’s give back to our customers, and have some fun with it.” was brilliant. I think it’s that kind of thinking that will allow businesses to function exceptionally well in the 21st century. Do I think it went well? Obviously not for me, but I’m not relying on free items to forward my projects. When I have the funds, I’ll buy the things I need. I hope next time they’ll do it a bit differently so the traffic isn’t as bad, and I get a chance at something. It went well for a lot of people, and it generated some press for SparkFun (though it may not all be good press.)
In the end I think that maybe the lesson to be learned here is that there’s still no such thing as free. Many people ‘paid’ the price of waiting online for two or three hours only to get nothing. I don’t think SparkFun could have anticipated the traffic they’d get. Initially I didn’t even predict the kind of hailstorm that “Free” brings on the internet. I hope SparkFun finds the future to be just as bright. I don’t think this will turn out to be more negative than positive. I hope if they do anything like this again, it’ll work out to be a little smoother, offering something for everyone.