To be honest, I'm not sure.
Over the last few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about the number of 'layers' in my own digital life. For example, every morning I wake up and open 6 tabs in about 3 seconds in Chrome - Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Reader. I then go through the tabs checking messages and what has happened - responding when I need to.
Then - and only then - I hit the normal information sites - news mostly (NY Times, HuffPo, Globe, BBC) and read any article that catches my eye.
And, of course, on the way to work I check my BlackBerry, continue reading on my iPad and check in when I'm extremely bored on Foursqure.
Question is, do I really need all of this stuff? And what would I actually pay to use these services?
Let's start with the ones I'm already on the fence with - Foursquare is out because I don't really care where people are and being the Mayor of my own house isn't cool. I also hate the Twitter feed integration and think that my stream would be a lot more interesting if people linked to content they liked vs. the Starbucks that they just entered.
If I had to pay for email, I'd ditch the Hotmail account. It was my first and I've had it for about 12 years but I could easily switch everything over to Gmail and be happy (although I do like keeping hotmail around for Spam related requests / new site tests).
So now we're down to four - Gmail, Reader, Facebook and Twitter.
To be honest, Twitter and my Reader do - somewhat - serve the same purpose. I use them both to curate the links that I get and to keep me updated. In a head to head battle, Reader loses to Twitter on this one - less functionality and ability to connect (no..I don't count Google Buzz as an advantage here)
Now, I realise that Gmail vs. Facebook vs. Twitter isn't really a fair comparison. Especially because on Facebook you can do so much more than the other two combined (ie. play games, post multiple types of content, send private messages, etc).
I love Gmail but have a work account so that could suffice (although I do like the idea of private emails). But for the sake of the post, Gmail is out.
That leaves the two hottest social networks right now. So what's my choice?
It would have to be Facebook. More content, better friends and less desire to continually post whatever it is I'm doing at the moment.
But if Facebook charged me, would I pay to use it?
I don't think so.
Let's take a best case scenario. A one-time annual fee for usage. Maybe $12 a year. I'd consider paying this if it meant no more targeted ads, strict privacy controls and limited application access to my data. But to just keep using the same old services? I don't think so.
The point is that in the age of free, what would you actually pay to continue to use? And if you wouldn't pay for a service, do you really need it?
Think about it another way. How much is your time worth? With the average Facebook user spending 30 minutes a day with the site, that's 210 minutes a week (3.5 hours). If you're on minimum wage at about $7/hour, you're spending about $25 a week to hang on the site.
Is it worth it?