Researchers at the University of Michigan did an experiment to figure out how much Internet search was worth.
They asked students to find answers to questions using the stacks (average time: 22 minutes) then using Google (average time: 7 minutes) then used the difference (15 minutes) and the average American wage ($22/hour) to determine that this worked out to a savings of $1.37 per search. (I’m half asleep as I type this so I’m probably missing something obvious but if you saved 15 minutes per hour, wouldn’t that value be $22/4? = $5.50? Oh, I see – that’s the time difference for answering a number of questions, not just one. Never mind.)
Anyhew, it’s an interesting subject given that so many web services have evolved to be free but there’s always the possibility that things that weren’t charged for before could suddenly have a fee attached. (Even my beloved MetaFilter went from free memberships to a $5 fee to join – as much as a deterrent to drive-by troll posters as a revenue generator.)
The person writing the article says unlimited search is worth $500/year to him. I don’t think it’d be that high for me but I’d probably pay up to a couple hundred bucks if I had to pay (and I’d like access to all Google services for that money – not just their search.) The article also does a slight digression to talk about what people might pay for other very useful, very popular sites such as Wikipedia or Yelp.
(Hmm, I hope they don’t read this and get any ideas!)