I am always amazed and annoyed at web sites that decrease their “promised” level of service. It has become that I am not even really surprised at it anymore. For a period of time I was using a free hosting service that offered “free PHP / Postgres hosting for life”. I used them for about a year and then they changed their tune, and wanted to charge about $50/year for hosting. I had been putting up with their moderate instability and speed for a few months, but, at $50/year I was not going to, so I switched to another provider which was more modestly priced, about $30/year. They worked great until they decided to change something or another and then I would frequently not get emails for days, or emails to me would just bounce. I stuck with them for about 4 months of problems, but, finally gave up when their email and their hosting became incredibly unreliable. I am pleased with my current hosting provider. The price is reasonable, speed is good, support is responsive.
The same that has repeatedly happened with email. I used mail.com for a while because they promised a free account and forwarding for life (I am a major supporter of having an email address that will live for year, even when you have to change hosting providers or service providers). After a couple of years they decided that forwarding would be a premium service for $3/month. I tried their “free” web client (which most major features still requiring a monthly or yearly payment), but, found their interface really lacking and their spam filtering quite atrocious). It is ultimately thanks to them that I decided to get my own domain name and hosting. For $3/month I can get pretty much everything — the domain, the hosting, etc. Yes, I have to manage the domain myself, but, I am capable of doing that.
Ultimately, I now pay for an email client (I am using Fastmail.fm for my email), but, that was because their web email client is really fantastic, fast, secure, etc. and now I don’t worry about backups of email on my desktop machine — and can access my email anywhere. But, I also use Google Mail for work which continues to improve. Maybe someday I will just move to Google Mail? Who knows. Google Mail and Fastmail have both really upped the bar for web email.
This is all not to say that I don’t understand why companies flip from free services to pay-for services. They go into the market either knowing they cannot sustain the free service, or, not realizing the costs involved with running an Internet-scale service. Some sites can use ad-based revenue to pay for everything, some cannot. Also, ad-based revenue probably doesn’t bring in what it used to. I just hope they realized that their changing model will often drive people to rethink what their needs are and often reevaluate the competition. If you are the best thing going, raising your fee may not be a problem. When there are a dozen competitors with just as strong a product or have a stronger product, you may be sunk (no surprise to anyone, I am sure).