19 January 2011

Self host, pay host, free host - we lose

I came to Brad Kozlec's post, The Puzzle of my own Personal Cyberinfrastructure via a rather down and dirty comment exchange over on the Bava. Let me switch gears, and civilly join the conversation being had under Brad's post.

I'm posting this here because Brad's blog rejects my comment as spam, rather than hold it for Brad to decide. And anyway, the content of this comment explains another reason why I should post here instead, in the true blogging tradition of building and preserving the network.

First, highlighting Brad's latest, yet all-too-brief point made in comments:

"You all are entrusting me to be a caretaker of this conversation."

To my mind, this concern out weighs the concerns about massive advertising companies care taking [over] our culture (that started happening long ago), and undermines the worthy vision that Jim wants to bring to us all  (see comment 6 on Brad's post).

An all too frequent scenario:
Someone posts something remarkable on their BlueHost (or whatever hosting company), self managed blog. A slew of insightful comments follow. It didn't take off as a meme though, it just stayed in its corner, important to a few hundred people, possibly more important to some historian later. A year or two pass by and that person forgets or neglects to pay their hosting company and their domain rego - its all over. I can see this happening hundreds of times in the case of Jim's DS106 open course - where he is asking people to DIY their websites. If even 50% of those then decide to let that site's fees slip and the content go into the extinct URLs, not only will Jim's record of DS106 be compromised, but the longer term asynchronous learning will be impacted. We might as well give it all over to Blackboard and leave the deletion to the institution. The business model, that deletes content because hosting fees aren't being met, is a irresponsible model. But Jim's reasons are good.

Contrast to this with services like Blogger - under the Google mission to make sense of the Internet, and make advertising and database money doing so - its in their interests to keep the content up. So, one person moving on in life and forgetting to pay their bills, doesn't render whole swaths of content and shared experience, void.

I'm not suggesting that the Google model is ideal. Far from it - control of ones own online record remains an issue here. I am pointing out that the business model of the little hosting companies and the domain registrars who take content offline if their fees aren't met, is crappy.

Perhaps we should use established not for profit services like Ourmedia more, started by JD Lassica, author of Darknet. Its not commonly recognised that Ourmedia (and the archive that makes it possible - Archive.org) most likely started all this Web2 crazy by announcing back in 2004 that they would freely store, host, serve and manage and unlimited content forever. Soon after, Youtube stole the limelight. Even though Archive.org has been storing and serving unlimited user content since 1996, and despite the Ourmedia.org front end changing its tune a little - focusing on activist media more, non of it solves Jim's mission of showing the world the value of peer to peer DIY/conviviality.

What we need is a service like Ourmedia, not-for-profit, or running on a business model that ensures preservation of content, that enables people to access and control all levels of the production process, but doesn't put all our networked artifacts into the fickle hands of monthly fees. Essentially what the likes of BlueHost do, but taking out the precariousness of fees to keep it all up there... perhaps a fee to keep it up forever, or until the author says stop. 50c a post say... that gives me 10 posts a month, and those posts stay up... or as with Blip.tv a nice little copy distributor, where the video is sent across to Archive.org as a kind of backup. Now we just need URL forwarding in there for when the original goes offline...


Scott Leslie said...

Leigh, it's a valid concern without a perfect solution. But I do agree that there is value in looking at Commons-focused solutions/approaches like archive.org/ourmedia. We are in such early days of this yet; it is still challenging enough in most jurisdictions to talk about the idea of net access as a Right before "moving up the stack," so to speak. But it does speak to an approach I've been advocating to "institutional repository" types for a while, which is to get out of the repository business and into the spidering/harvesting/indexing one. This can be done, at least in the case of openly accessible resources, without needing to even involve end users at first, and as in the case of archive.org, they'll end up thanking you for doing it when it saves their bacon down the road.

Tim said...

Let's not fool ourself into thinking Big Company = Longevity anymore than my self-hosted blog will rely on me opening up my wallet regularly to keep it live. Many thought Yahoo buying Geocities would allow that archive of content to remain online I definitely. Instead they shuttered it on very short notice. Google did essentially the same thing with Wave, I don't think we can rule out that as soon as they decide Blogger can't compete with Wordpress.com they would shut it down with just enough time for those paying attention to grab an XML file of their data.

Having everything we put online archived for eternity is a lofty and noble goal, but perhaps it's off target. Surely not everything I ever post will be noteworthy enough to take up the resources of a non-profit, no matter how small that upkeep is. The reality we face right now is that every one of these hot new startups with a great publishing platform write checks to the public they can't cash, and when Tumblr goes down for days we here the tired cry of "You get what you pay for."

I think I'd simply be comfortable enough with any service that has a clear business model with some semblance of an SLA that let's me know in return for ha ding them cold hard cash they will promise to keep it online. Right now self-hosting is perhaps the only scenario that I trust in that instance, mostly because it's me calling the shots on when I decide my stuff will no longer be online, whether it be from lack of funds or by choice. Lesser are all evils perhaps in the face of no good answers.

Brad said...

Leigh, you raise some points that have been nagging at me this day as well, namely the longevity of the self-hosted stuff.

When we started Blogs At Penn State, it was around a personal publishing model where students would all keep their own blog. Instructors that were using blogs in the classroom would ask students to each keep their own blog and aggregate them together. The problems came when after the semester was done, students would delete their blog, or in case of a graduating students, their blog gets deleted by the institution. Also, there was some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the sense of community was greater when students were all contributing to a single blog. Yes, now students give up some ownership, but instead they entrust the instructor to be a custodian the the content they collectively created. Is this even related to your post? Maybe only tangentially.

Another notion in all of this: what happens when you die? Does your family need to become a sysadmin to keep all your stuff going - or even just to be able to view it as time goes on?

Maybe at the end of the day, ds106 should be the monolith place where we are all posting and having these discussions.

Maybe none of it matters so much and we should just get used to the idea that these interactions and words and their context are all somewhat ephemeral.

josswinn said...

"Maybe none of it matters so much and we should just get used to the idea that these interactions and words and their context are all somewhat ephemeral."

Exactly. People move on and nothing is permanent. Dead links are meaningful.

Brad Kozlek said...

Just another piece of the puzzle, possibly:

https://files.dreamhost.com/ - web hosting that will host your stuff forever for a one time fee.

NIck Kearney said...

We talked about these issues with some friends over coffee, especially the ephemeral nature of conversation. Each of us probably took away something different, but we took it with us.

One thing we discussed was that not everything needs recording, and how recording is too often a substitute for remembering. Data can perhaps be recorded, ideas should perhaps be remembered.

jimgroom said...

As promised...

Leigh Blackall said...

it ain't over yet big fella!

Leigh Blackall said...

"Dead links are meaningful" perfect. tshirt material!