I’m confused. Really. Like Michael Pusatieri, I just don’t get it.
Last month, Six Apart changed the terms of their software licensing, for a new product. Public reaction was swift and scathing. Hundreds of users tracked back to Mena’s announcement of the changes, most of them outraged by the lack of warning, and the impact on current users. (I was one of those who expressed concerns.) From what I can tell, SixApart has been working hard to address the problems in the proposed licensing, and I’ve heard rumors that some significant improvements are about to be announced. And, as many people pointed out, their announcements had no effect on existing sites, which continued to run under the original license.
In contrast, this past weekend, Dave Winer pulled the plug on ~3,000 weblogs that had been hosted on the weblogs.com server. He did this with no warning to the writers involved. All links to those sites now point to this page, which has only an audio file from Dave to explain the reasoning decision—meaning it can’t be quoted or searched (or even accessed at all by those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or unable to listen to sound files on their computer). The response from the blogosphere has been less than deafening.
So, why the differing responses? I suspect that part of it is the difference in the scope of impact. The MT changes affected
several more than an order s of magnitude more bloggers than the weblogs.com decision. And the MT changes directly affected (and caught by surprise) some of the highest profile bloggers using the software, while Dave cleverly exempted the highest profile blogger on weblogs.com, Doc Searls, from the unannounced shutdown.
(I suspect that another factor is the differing behavioral expectations that the blog community has of the Six Apart crew versus Dave Winer; no one who knows all the parties involved needs much explanation there.)
The important lesson to be carried away from all this, however, is something that’s been said many times before. Don’t put all your data in someone else’s basket, no matter how much you like or trust the person (or company) holding the basket. Use your own domain name, keep your data in a form that can be repurposed, and always (always, always!) keep a regular backup of that data in a separate location. As Jerry Lawson of netlawblog.com says, “plan for success,” and build your infrastructure to support that by reducing your dependence upon the kindness of strangers.
Update: Brad deLong has a nice musing on the expectations issue:
it’s a free service, a free gift that he gave, and he has no obligation to provide notice or warning or anything beforehand before discontinuing it.
But people using weblogs.com—and people using other free and open-source internet services—may have different expectations about persistence and warning and notice and graceful shutdown, expectations that may well be very naive. But without those expectations of persistence and warning and notice and graceful shutdown, it’s hard to see how anyone can justify building a system around free and open-source components. An internet in which open-source and free software are routinely used as building blocks is one in which expectations of persistence and warning and notice and graceful shutdown have to be validated. An internet in which you can expect persistence, et cetera only if you pay for it is a quite different animal
One Last Update
James Grimmelman on LawMeme has written an insightful essay on expectations, obligations, and credibility. Well worth reading.