Which name should you use?
The Free Software Foundation has this to say about the term "content":
- If you want to describe a feeling of comfort and satisfaction, by all means say you are "content", but using it as a noun to describe written and other works of authorship is worth avoiding. That usage adopts a specific attitude towards those works: that they are an interchangeable commodity whose purpose is to fill a box and make money. In effect, it treats the works themselves with disrespect.
- Those who use this term are often the publishers that push for increased copyright power in the name of the authors ("creators", as they say) of the works. The term "content" reveals what they really feel.
- As long as other people use the term "content provider", political dissidents can well call themselves "malcontent providers".
On the other hand, the term "free content" has been in use for quite some time, very notably in the Wikipedia and Wikimedia environment (not a small argument, since Wikimedia is arguably the largest single source of free content). Wikipedia's article about itself describes it as "a multilingual Web-based free-content encyclopedia". Incidentally, the actual article about free content in Wikipedia has lacked any reference whatsoever before this definition.
Furthermore, one could counter that
- the fact that the term "content", by itself, is used predominantly by a particular group of people does not make the phrase "free content" subject to the same problem
- indeed, adopting the phrase "free content", while avoiding "content" by itself ("It may be content, but is it free content?") could be considered a clever strategy to subvert the existing connotations of the term.
The argument that the term derives from the idea "to fill a box and make money" is one which sounds catchy, but is that really what people think of when they hear the word? And is it related to the actual etymology of the word? Before it became a dot com buzzword, "content" was used to describe mostly what a work is about: the content of a book, an essay, etc. That is, the word described the properties of the text, picture, etc. This usage is clear from some other phrases such as "Table of contents". The word was not intended to reflect any desire to monetize the work itself.
It is true that the term is today often heard in the context of commercial endeavors. However, that does not mean that "free content" is automatically a problematic phrase. In fact, it can be the opposite.
"Work" is a very general term to describe information which has recognizable merit. It avoids some of the problems people may perceive with the word "content". However, it has its own ambiguity. People might read "Free Work" as meaning "you work for free", or deliberately refer to this ambiguity to get laughs from an audience.
While "free content" can be used like an adjective, e.g. "a free content production", "free content encyclopedia", this doesn't work as well for "a free work production", "free work encyclopedia". Content is both singular and plural, e.g. "This movie is free content", "these movies are free content", as opposed to "This movie is [a] free work", "these movies are free works".
Arguably the most sterile term, it is somewhat long and unwieldy. Compare: "free information encyclopedia" vs. "free content encyclopedia"; "free information provider" vs. "free content provider". It is mundane to the point of being not easily recognized as a distinct phrase, which may increase the problem of ambiguity with the word "free". "Free info" avoids some of these problems, but may be perceived as sounding somewhat diminutive ("Hey man, got some free info?"), which may lead authors and artists to be disinclined to use it.
None of these terms is perfect, so we allow you to refer to the Definition as the "Free Content Definition", "Free Work Definition", "Free Information Definintion", or "Free Info Definition". However, based on the above considerations, "free content" is the primary term used in the URL of this site and in some of its pages.