Free Day Recap Video And Book Recommendation


SparkFun’s free day came and went as entertainment for some and an infuriating event for others. They filmed some video in their office during the madness to give us a look at how it went on their end. We find it amusing that Solarbotics, one of their competitors, sent them flowers with a card reading “Rest in Peace SparkFun”.

According to [Nate’s] original post, the concept of free day was inspired by reading [Chris Anderson’s] book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”. We recently finished reading this wonderful work and we’re making it our next book recommendation. [Chris] is editor-in-chief of Wired and has had a ring-side seat as the digital world rose around us. He takes a historical look at what the price of free really means, defining cost by adding more terms like Gratis and Libre to the mix. If you have a good handle on the companies that have defined the 21st Century business model so far you wont’ be able to put this book down.

Now, we should mention something that is remotely related to hacking since we try to do that sort of thing around here. The SparkFun post also reminds those folks lucky enough to get a $100 credit to chronicle and share their projects. We’d love to see them too so get your projects written up and send us the dirty details.

21 thoughts on “Free Day Recap Video And Book Recommendation

  1. Yeah. SparkFun’s been stroking itself pretty hard over this one but they fail to mention that some people had credit card problems, a few black-hat’s had claimed to have gotten access to much of the valuable information their servers, and that many of the successful orders were to those who cheated in some way.

    Another gripe was that it was more and more difficult to get an order through the further away you were from the company’s headquarters. Admittedly, that’s simply due to the fact that communications takes longer, but they could have done something to even things out and make it a little more fair.

    The real kicker is the awful book that inspired them. It’s full of plagiarism, from Wikipedia no-less. It pushes the old “give them something for free, but only if it benefits me” trick, which is already extremely common business practice and not new knowledge. The trick has been known as “Give ’em the razor for free and sell ’em the blades” for a long time. Anderson comes off as a hack and teaches us nothing. His book has a value of less than free.

  2. Anyone following Chris Anderson’s advice is foolish. None of his advice or musings ever actually work, they’re just attention grabbing ideas that are meant to sell books.

    He’s happy to get the attention and doesn’t care if none of what he says makes sense.

  3. The Solarbotics flowers weren’t sent as competitors or spiteful or anything to anyone who misread that on here.

    Quote from the Solarbotics site:

    “We did our part to contribute by sending a mourning/rest in peace flower bouquet for each of their poor, dead servers.”

  4. @moo
    Yes and no. 70k connections that stayed active. So at least 70k people at any given time waiting for a page to load or their cart to check out. Not necessarily 70k people all clicking at once.

    After the video, I’m a fan of their IT Department. They knew ahead of time that they were hosed, and they sat and watched the servers die off. Wouldn’t have helped them any to panic, so I think they did just fine.
    I didn’t get anything, but it was a fun mess of a giveaway.

  5. I got through to the SparkFun servers on Free Day, and I live all the way over here in FL. I didn’t do any scripting or anything, just refreshing a tab in firefox… so it was possible to get free stuff if you were just a person bored at work hitting F5 each time the connection timed out. The IRC channel was also really entertaining during the event.
    Anyways, I got my stuff: two 900Mhz XBees with 6mile range, which I am currently building into a remote vehicle platform that is web controlled and will later be autonomous, which also has DGPS and accelerometers in it, which I got late Decemeber from their dings and dents after fixing them up.
    Sparkfun is alright in my book – seems like a great group too.

  6. Personally, I plan on never ordering from SparkFun ever again. I had my cart filled out with only 60$ worth of stuff that I needed, weeks ahead of time. For hours before the event, it was about 400+ ppl in irc and such, all hardcore geeks waiting for freeday. within the 2 hours before freeday, apparently a major news show mentioned it, and suddenly 3000+ people were in irc spamming HOW DO I GET FREE STUFF. The site would not load, and almost no one who actually ever orders from sparkfun got anything. the event was supposed to support people whove ordered before, yet people who barely knew what it was got most of the free loot. FAIL SPARKFUN.

  7. @Spork
    tnx for clarifying
    i had a arduino starter kit in my cart and i got my order through. it was a painful hour of f5ing but it was all luck, if i wouldn’t have won i wouldn’t be mad at sparkfun i would have bought it anyway.

  8. I live all the way over in Australia and everyone i have spoken to wasn’t succesful but who cares? Ok some free loot is nice, especially for University students but stop the whining! you sound like spoilt children who missed out on an ice-cream, im sorry to flame here but seriously get over yourselves! @Bcaseb your seriously not going ot order from a company who tried to do something nice? Mouser is over there waiting for your money then

  9. @Apothos:

    They didn’t try to do something nice- Free-Day was a marketing ploy and nothing more. If it was about giving back to the community they would have held a lottery or restricted orders to previous customers and forum participants, or something similar. Instead- they upset a lot of their base and I seriously doubt whether it will result in enough new customers to outweigh the damage.

    I didn’t even try to order anything- I completely forgot about free-day until after they had already melted down. As someone who works as a Network Engineer (routing and switching) and a Unix Engineer- it was sad to watch this travesty. I honestly thought they were joking when they were talking about their “beefy new servers” and new found ability to scale! Unfortunately- it turns out that they were serious. Next time guys- ask for help. Anyone with half a brain and any experience could have told you what was going to happen right away.

  10. You raise some valid points Mark, it was partially a marketing ploy. although a very expensive one, $100,000 is a very large addition to any marketing budget. Unfortunatly your argument still tastes a little of sour grapes.

    I agree it is unfortunate that many existing users felt left out, that is something that could be better catered for if they ever chose to do it again but i constantly hear of declining admission rates into science and engineering degrees, coupled with an ever expanding gap between technical people and the general poppulace. If this free day serves to provide kits and electronics to even 50 people who would not have otherwise experienced what is a truly rewarding hobby then wouldnt it have been worthwhile? i personally would forgoe my share to provide someone else with an opportunity to develop an interest in this field because i have more than enough electronics crap lying around my room to keep me occupied and as a fellow enineer im sure you do to.

    As for the servers well that is your area of speciality and not mine, i will take your word on that even with the smack of sarcasum in your tone.

  11. I for one had no luck. I had URL’s and started trying to fill my cart 20 minutes early…yeah, didn’t help at all. It’s hard not to be bummed out over missing out on free stuff, but that’s just the way she goes. Sparkfun really did a great thing, but it’s important to remember that there is no altruism in the business world(though this is as close as it gets). What I mean is, while they gave away so much, it would be extremely foolish to not use the event as an opportunity to expand and grow.

    With that said, I do still feel a bit angry thinking about the various ways participants of free day could have(and probably did) take advantage. Like the guy they said got $100 in LED’s, think those went on eBay?

    @3:00: I spy a hippie chick!

  12. @Apothus

    Given that pretty much everything you can get at Sparkfun retails for half or less at other places I suspect that the $100,000 of merchandise actually cost them a small fraction of that.

    I had a cart already to go, with just a soldering iron (that I have since found for HALF their price via Amazon). I then saw time out after time out trying to checkout.

    Had it just come back 1 sec later and said sorry… you’re too late I would have been fine with it.

    The impression I am now left with is that the sparkfun site is a steaming pile of frustration. I personally won’t be buying from them again not because they “screwed me”… they didn’t have to give away anything… but because I now very thoroughly associate them with a very frustrating experience.

    So Sparkfun has taken someone who happily tossed them lots of cash in the past… despite their poor pricing… to someone who is extremely unlikely to shop there again.

    If all the freebies went to new enthusiasts: great! I suspect a bulk of it will end up in someones drawer or on ebay.

  13. Seems that people are forgetting that they are not a huge supplier corporation like mouser either, so their prices are generally higher because they buy at higher prices. They cannot buy the 10,000 quantities that it would require for certain discounts.

  14. I’m also one who was burned on Free Day.

    I sat in a computer lab during my only opportunity to get lunch at a frantic F5ing to try to get my order to submit.

    Free Day was my only chance at bootstrapping a major project I was to undertake. I didn’t get through.

    I got through at the end, though – after the “hey, it’s over!”. I sat there cold, tired, and hungry knowing that the project I was to undertake is no longer able to happen.

    And even a month beforehand I had mentioned it during an “Ask an Engineer” chat and had a Sparkfun employee have me email my project and its’ various designs and sketches to them. Never got a reply back.

    Have fun with all the bad PR, Sparkfun.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.