ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Secret Cost of the Database —

I made a discovery the hard way over the years, in the way one doesn’t like to make discoveries. That is, I made the finding that database maintenance is hard.

Oh, sure, laugh at me and my vital announcement of a thing well known, but there’s a more sharp edge to the coin besides just knowing that databases can be difficult. It’s that, without knowing it, you can find yourself in charge of a database and the maintenance of it.

When I started, I didn’t understand that this little lark would be a daily (and I do mean that, daily) maintenance task for the next eight years. People send me changes, updates, descriptions, and artifacts for that BBS List Database pretty much every single goddamn day. I am happy to have the duty and the pleasures of maintaining this list, even if people sometimes get a bit pushy about it.

But there we go, a daily strapped-on duty and chore on top of my other stuff. So when I think about projects I want to do, I have to ask myself: will this become a database? Will this become a database requiring maintenance? Because honestly, I probably have to walk away at that point.

At some juncture I had this idea of a “who owns what” database. You’d type in the UPC product code of a item you bought, and it’d immediately tell you what fucked-up, evil corporation you just plunked your cash over to. People are sometimes not aware that they’re dropping bills into the hat of what they would think was a completely non-related competitor but in fact is a big daddy to your favorite little munchable. Hay has been made along these lines.

But the thing is, these sales and purchases happen every month. I’d be in the critically sad business of tracking corporate earnings statements, taking letters from people on boring consolidation announcements, and probably ending up going somewhat crazy. Also, I’d never be quite accurate. So no, let’s not do “who owns what”.

Similarly, I had some sort of idea to do a compilation of photos taken at all hacker cons. In fact, I own a domain,, for this. But the fact is, I’m stymied along two lines. First, Flickr does this a thousand times better than I do. Second, a lot of people don’t want their fuckin’ photos used without their permission! But ultimately, again, this is a database, more pain in the ass, more needless maintenance.

So on, and so on. I have a lot of waylaid projects that translate to “please give six months of your life to this”, when six months can be spent in other arenas to a greater level of quality. I just don’t see myself having that time, that way. I get suggestions for things I “should” do and the fact is, when it turns out to be a big maintain-me-daddy database, I have to say no. Again. And again.

I do what I can, but realizing this fundamental fact has saved the world a lot of half-baked Jason-maintained databases.

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  1. Natali says:

    Would take that database management job over the crappy pensions admin job I’m working at the moment. Any day. There aren’t enough geek related admin jobs out there.

  2. Flack says:

    At some point you may consider going from “Jason the Doer” to “Jason the Organizer”. For example, you announce that you are interested in organizing con photos. Then someone else says, “hey, I’d like to help with that!” Great — you set up the infrastructure, turn it over to someone, and let them run with it. You maintain administrative rights and perhaps send out weekly/bi-weekly/monthly e-mails, checking up on things. Kind of a “program manager” role, of sorts. I don’t know if this meets your needs or not but, if your ultimate goal is getting information out there, this is certainly one way to do it.