Free information

Have you ever searched for information on the web, clicked on a link and been asked to log in or pay before continuing? Let's look at why you might sometimes need to sign up or pay to access information.

Free access

Most of the information we see on the web is free – it's published by people or organisations that want us to read it, use it or even share it. This is particularly true of official sites, which have URL addresses ending in .gov, .edu or .org. 

For example, most governments try to publish as much information online as they can, ranging from trustworthy health information to taxation processes or data from the Bureau of Statistics.

Universities publish the work of their researchers and academics, and provide links to reports, theses, articles, blogs and books. Similarly, university and research libraries publish a huge array of information online.

Many non-profit organisations and community groups publish reports or news and share their expertise in their area of interest, from the environment to quilting to local history.

And, of course, there are millions of individuals who are keen to share their knowledge on almost any topic, through their blogs, articles or social media.

Perhaps the best example of community-sourced online content is Wikipedia, one of the world's largest sources of information, compiled and edited by people from all over the world. It's a great place to start, and to find other sources that might help answer your question.

Paying for access

Sometimes, though, we come across material that isn't free. If the site's URL ends in .com or, the chances are good that you are viewing a commercial website.

Perhaps the resources are available to look at, but aren't able to be downloaded. Or maybe you can see a preview of the information, but need to pay to see it in full.

Often this is due to copyright: if the information is taken from a book or publication, created and owned by the author or publisher, you'll need to purchase it, either from a bookshop or online.

If you visit a magazine's website, you can often access a certain amount of free information such as recipes, gardening tips or short articles, while other information is reserved for people who subscribe to the magazine, either in print or online. Some newspaper websites will only let you read a few articles a month, and then they'll ask you to subscribe to continue reading. A service like Google Books will allow you to read a few pages, but not the whole book.

Other websites may have 'premium' content that you have to pay for, either by regular subscription or for a one-off fee.

Articles from magazines and journals can be very useful for homework and research, providing information on a huge range of topics. These articles are stored in enormous databases, which you can access by either paying for a subscription or by joining a library, university or community group that makes databases available to members. 

Things to remember

  • Information in the public interest is generally free
  • Commercial sites may ask you to pay for premium content

We'll now look at smart searching.


Last modified: Thursday, 22 September 2016, 2:05 PM