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The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest

Paying for Content - SQL Server Knowledge

Someone asked me recently if I subscribed to any services to keep up with SQL Server content. Meaning did I "pay" for content.

I said "no" at first, but wanted to follow up with more details. Since this was across Twitter, 140 characters doesn't leave much room for details, and I hate, hate, hate, people that can't be succinct on Twitter. If you can't make your thoughts known in 10 characters, write somewhere else, but that's another post. Moving on.

I want to revise my answer. I do pay for content all the time. If you clicked the link for to look it up, you paid for the content. How? By viewing advertisements.

Sure, you might have glossed over the ads, not seen then, and just read the definition. In that case, let me show you them again:

dictionarydoc

In this slice that shows what I had on my screen, there are actually 6 ads that I noticed. I glossed over them as well, but I went back to look. There are 3 traditional ads: the top banner, the left bar, and the lower right. However the other three items are actually ads for their sister services, or related content, trying to get you to stick on the page, and perhaps give them a chance for another ad to catch your eye.

Some people just see this as annoying, but it's a part of how the world works. Most things cost something, and advertising is one way of moving the cost away from a direct payment. You might not like it, but do you give things away for free? Most of you don't. Sure, you might do a nice thing here and there for people, but if the guy or gal in the next cube came and asked you to teach them something every day about SQL, you'd get annoyed. You'd want some compensation for your time. Maybe them buying lunch or bringing donuts in the morning would satisfy you. But you'd want something.

Most people want to be paid for their knowledge, but don't necessarily want to pay others.

I'm ranting a bit, and I apologize, but it's important. I make my living with words, out on the Internet, mostly for free dissemination, allowing you to read them without paying me directly. You do pay, and if you look around our site, there are a few subtle advertising items that pay the bills.

However in order to not confuse you more than you already are, I'll not count advertising as "pay" and say that those sites are "free" to the average user.

Is it worth paying?

Yes, it's certainly worth paying for good information. If someone goes to the trouble of researching, organizing, and then explaining things to you, they deserve to be paid. I think books are a great example of a concentrated amount of knowledge that is worth paying for. Not all of them, and you can argue the specific costs, but there is value from the authors putting the entire thing together.

Books Online, which I use almost daily, is sorely lacking in areas, and really doesn't give you enough information in how you might use a particular feature. A great example are the security and encryption sections, which I think are poorly thrown together. There are others, but it's really lacking in detail.

White papers, articles, blogs, all are great sources of information, but to really cull together a good slice of knowledge, you end up searching around, and putting things together for yourself. There's nothing wrong with that, but you are spending your time doing that, and presumably your time is worth something.

The "something" is either more or less than the cost of a book or subscription. If it's more, it's worth paying someone for the knowledge.

So are there good "pay" subscriptions to be had?

That is a very interesting question. I'll try to give you a few thoughts here on some sites that do charge you money and let you know what I think of them. If there are any that you use, please feel free to ping me and I'll make some notes, or update this blog post.

SQL Server Magazine

I used to have a subscription to SQL Server Magazine early in my career. It was a place to see Kalen Delaney, Itzik Ben-Gan, and others writing regularly about SQL issues, at a time when there were few SQL Server publications. It was something I looked forward to every month.

However over the years I've seen the size of the magazine shrink and shrink, and seeing fewer and fewer authors. As a result, while I think this is a great magazine, I'm not sure of the value for the cost. It is one of the few places to see regular work from people like Mr. Ben-Gan, and you'll have to decide if there is enough value for you.

SQL Server Professional

This was the inspiration for the SQL Server Standard magazine I used to publish. We looked at this journal from Pinnacle Publications and thought if they could sell this magazine, we could as well. It's now SQL Server Solutions and while I haven't seen it in awhile, it had some great content years ago. However at $300 a year, I'm not sure there's that much value in the magazine when there are so many other publications around for free or less money. This is essentially 6 books and do you think you get more value then from 6 books?

I don't think so.

To me, this magazine is getting fat from relatively few subscribers that like the journal format. Good for them, but I wouldn't recommend this. In flipping through the sample issue, I don't see content that is substantially better than what I put out for free.

SSWUG

This one is the most common site that I see people talk about. In fact, I get a few complaints a year emailed to me, asking for refunds of their subscription fees. Why they email me, I'm not sure. Maybe they are confusing one Steve (Jones) with another (Wynkoop). Most likely I think they come to SQLServerCentral so often, it's second nature. And when someone says they didn't pay to subscribe to SQLServerCentral, they email me.

In any case.

The SSWUG model originally was that of an aggregator of SQL, XML, and other content. Kind of like a domain specific search engine. I think Oracle and DB/2 as well. It was a mix of original content and content available around the Internet, with the catch that you had to pay to get the links. I, along with a few other authors, were upset that our content was appearing on SSWUG, where people had to pay to get the link when they could come to our sites and view the content for free. It appears that SSWUG has changed as I don't see content from around the web on the site.

This site has a lot of regular content, both SQL Server, Oracle, Sharepoint, and XML stuff in both text and video. There's a SSWUG TV show that regularly appears and is well produced. Steve Wynkoop hosts it and has a great studio set up, much better than anything I have. I'd like to get there, but it's time, money, and not sure it fits for me. At least not right now.

I don't have a paid membership at SSWUG, which costs about $80 a year, mostly because I don't think I'd get that much from the content. I'm a good self-starter, read a lot, and can find things around. I flipped through the authors on SSWUG, most have no bio, and aren't people I've heard of. A few have written some articles for me, and so I'd question the value of paying for their work at SSWUG.

Try it if you want, but buyer beware. I'm not refunding your money if you don't like it.

Expert's Exchange

It's not an articles site yet, but I see that section in beta. However this site comes up a lot in Internet searches, so I mention it.It's a site where you can get information by subscribing, and the experts that answer your questions get paid somehow. Plans range from $12.95 a month to $99 a year.

Is this worth it? I don't think so. A guarentee of an answer in an hour is pretty good, but I bet most questions on SQLServerCentral are answered within an hour. I bet MSDN, StackOverflow, and many other sites boast the same track record, and you have acknowledged experts in their fields, MVPs and others, answering the questions. You can see what other things they've answered, get their bios, etc. In other words, gain some confidence from their answers.

If this site paid well, I'm certain I'd see lots of MVPs and other experts recommending it since they'd be working there. My guess is the corporate owners of this site make most of the money. I think most experts work for free, so I wouldn't recommend this location.

Books

I love books, I love my Kindle, and I think books are a great way to dive into a topic. They don't necessarily give you practical information, but they are great references, they're organized, and I think they give a great jumpstart into a new topic.

I definitely think there is value in having books, especially as I am seeing more and more focused books on topics like Backup and Recovery, Full-Text Search, and more.

Free Choices

There are lots of them out there. I run SQLServerCentral, there's SQLTeam, Database Journal, SQL-Server-Performance, SearchSQLServer, and more. We don't always organize the information, and don't necessarily lead you from point A to point B, but we have lots of great articles, scripts, and other sources of information to help you learn.

One thing I will say is that we have some great forums as well, so if you want to have someone assist you in learning, ask a question. I bet you'll get a response, and someone will help you move forward, something quite a few paid resources won't do.

Comments

Posted by Dugi on 23 June 2009

I disagree for paying...! I hate paying...I never pay nothing at all(sure the money is big problem!!!), I find much articles and tips and tricks from the Internet...I agree to pay for any book or any technical support (online or offline), but for the content no, no, no never! I'm sure that in the begging of these sites that requires paying, they started for free but when they see the large number of users they change conditions to pay for the content. I think that all authors should feel free to share their knowledge in general not in particular(this section belongs to them who have the problem!). If you want paying, is better do not post the articles, you should go to work for a company or open the office and work as consultant.

On the other hand, all users that should be the active on the posts and other things like QOD etc, otherwise it would be better if the editor make mandatory to pass the test about basic knowledge to register, it will filter the users that don't have idea about the SQL, Access and Database system in general in our case, here in SSC.  

I like SSC! - The best site that you can find everything about SQL for free!

Posted by Steve Jones on 23 June 2009

Thanks, Dugi, keep in mind you are paying here, with the email you give us and ads, but it's not a monetary cost.

Glad you like the site.

I don't think everything has to be free, but it has to provide value to the user. If someone wants to charge, I have no problem with that.

Posted by Jeffrey Langdon on 23 June 2009

My question to you on Twitter, a couple days back, was to see if professionals like yourself who have extensive knowledge pay for any services that are worthwhile to further enhance their understanding of a given subject.  

SSWUG is a great aggregator of information, but I wasn't sure if it was worth it to spend the money.  I don't think it is considering how information is available for free, but I don't have a subscription so I wasn't sure what exactly I might be missing.  My guess is not that much.

Your point is well taken, you have to get value for your money and SQL Server Magazine is good example of one that used to be worth it, but maybe not so much now.

Posted by Andy Warren on 23 June 2009

Free only scales so far. SSC just wouldn't be the same without a paid editor/guide to keep things going. As soon as it becomes a job then you have to subsidize it - whether it's ads or subscriptions or barter!

Posted by Andrew Peterson on 3 July 2009

From a business standpoint, don't confuse the revenue stream from the expense side. Google and Yahoo scale just fine using free on the "free" user side.

Steve, you did a good summary of the offerings, and I concur with the reasons for not using them. A good comparison might be broadcast TV vs. cable. If there is a real need, and the offering is valued, people will pay for it, if it is cost effective.

Posted by Noel McKinney on 3 July 2009

SSC is fantastic and I really appreciate Red Gate's support of the SQL Server community, which extends beyond SSC... for example, Brad McGehee presented a very useful session I attended at IndyTechFest last fall (a FREE event).

I subscribe to SQL Server Magazine because I had a 2 year for price of 1 coupon, so at $49.95 for 24 issues it's a good deal. Yes, the magazine is thin, but a lot of article content (graphics, source code, etc.) extends to the website so you can grab it (plus lots of other material) there if you are a subscriber. They also have great telephone support... my account got messed up so I called their 800 number and the person was really helpful. She got my account working while I was on the phone, then she spent about 10 minutes going over other features of the site with me. It was a very positive experience.

SSWUG couldn't convince me to part with $80 a year however. I get more value buying two SQL Server books on Amazon for that.

Posted by David.Poole on 3 July 2009

SQLServerCentral is my first point of call for anything SQL Server related.  Otherwise it id DBJournal and SQL-Perfomance.com for me.  The "Additional Articles" links lead there for most cases anyway.

There was a delicious irony of doing 2 months of MySQL research only to find the points I wanted to make on SQLServerCentral;)

Steve did an April Fool saying he was going to set up MySQLServerCentral.  Steve was only joking but frankly I think the idea is a good one.

SQL Server and MySQL seem to dominate the small to medium sized business world so I can see some demand for such a site.

Posted by JPluchino on 6 July 2009

SQLServerCentral.com has introduced me to many sources of valuable technical information. The links from these sources once lead me to Mike Murach & Associates, Inc. Publisher of Professional Programming Books 4340 N. Knoll, Fresno, California 93722 where I purchased 4 books costing $200+.  The productivity gains achieved in my product development work after acquiring these books have been orders of magnitude greater than the $200+ cost. I hope you will continue along this course of doing business.

Posted by Tom G on 10 July 2009

A tip on Experts Exchange: A while ago they got in trouble with Google for showing Googlebot one set of pages (with the answers to questions on), and users clicking a link from Google a different set of pages (saying "Sign up to get answers").

So- you can find all the answers to questions right at the bottom of the Experts-Exchange page. This only works when you're coming directly from Google though. Just scroll all the way down, and you can get all the content without needing to subscribe.

Posted by nathanb on 14 July 2009

You legend, Thomas! I've spent ages just deleting any reference in my Google Results where ExpertsExchange has come up, so had never realised the results started being displayed.

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