ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Eviction, or the Coming Datapocalypse —

A terrible thing happened recently. You might have missed it.

AOL Hometown, which itself was actually a combination of a bunch of previously acquired websites, shut down. It shut down on October 31 of this year. If you try to go to a site that used to be hosted there, you are forwarded to a weblog entry by “The AOL Hometown Team”, that says this, in total:

Hometown Has Been Shutdown
Posted on Nov 6th 2008 1:30PM by Kelly Wilson
Dear AOL Hometown user,
We’re sorry to inform you that as of Oct. 31, 2008, AOL® Hometown was shut down permanently. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Sincerely, The AOL Hometown Team

And that, my friends, is it.

There was a weblog posting on this same site, informally, on August 4th, letting people know AOL Hometown was being shut down, and maybe you should make an effort to get it. Officially, though, notification was sent out (how? In what way?) on September 30th, giving people essentially 4 weeks to figure out how to get their data off the servers, find a new place to send the data, get that arranged, and then do the transfer.

Of course, many people may not have been checking their e-mail. Some people might have had un-working e-mail and not been notified. Some people might have not understood how to make things run.

Go ahead and read these comments. They’re heartbreaking.

2.  Is there not a way to obtain the blogs anymore. I was unable to transfer them before oct 31. Please let me know if there is anyway to get them. Thank you Sandra

5.  My question is like those above. Is there anyway still to retrieve my hournals and homepages? I tried before the deadline but nothing happened. These are my memories. Things I wanted to remember about my kids. And when I tried to access them before the deadline I was unable to. Otherwise I would have printed it all out. Please help.


17. What happened to my web page on my husband, Bob Champine, that took me many years to put together on his career and which meant a lot to me and to the aviation community. I noticed with 9.0 I lost the left margin and the picture of him exiting the X-1. I need to restore it to the internet as it is history. Please tell me what to do. I will be glad to retype it, I just don’t want it lost to the world. I need help. Gloria Champine

It’s all fine and good, those readers who sneer and say “you get what you pay for” and “ha ha, losers”. But the fact is, these people were brought online and given a place for themselves. Like a turkey drawn with a child’s hand or a collection of snow globes collected from a life well-lived, these sites were hand-made, done by real people, with no agenda or business plan or knowledge, exactly, of how everything under the webservers worked. They were paying for their accounts, make no mistake – this was often provided to them as a tool combined with their AOL accounts. Some were absorbed from other companies as AOL purchased them. Some of these websites had existed for a decade.

Some people didn’t back things up. Some had moved on. The data, however, stayed where it was, for years on end, and if someone happened to not be online for 4 weeks and be prepared on short notice to retrieve their stuff, then they were well and truly fucked.

Browsing the weblog that represents where these tens of thousands of websites used to go, you end up facing Kelly Wilson. Kelly Wilson is like the fucking Grim Reaper of websites. If you browse this collection of her postings, you can see she’s primarily doing the same thing: “These sites will be shut down. You better get your shit off because that’s it, it’s gone. You have 3 weeks. GO.”  One of these sites being shut down is Ficlets. Read this weblog entry from the creator of Ficlets and try not to have an emotional reaction.

If you’re going to start composing something at me with a salad of sneering and a dash of cynicism, just fuck off right now. We’re the failures here. We failed them.

Our little technorati, our people who cry for open source and beg us for money to Fight For Electronic Freedom and make their rounds at all the right cocktail parties at tech shows.. where the hell are they now? We’re talking about terabytes, terabytes of data, of hundreds of thousands of man-hours of work, crafted by people, an anthropological bonanza and a critical part of online history, wiped out because someone had to show that they were cutting costs this quarter.

It’s an eviction; a mass eviction that happened under our noses and we let it happen.

I’ve been evicted before – I was kicked out of a boarding house I used to live in between 1992 and 1997. Eviction laws were in place and I was sent notification after notification, shoved into my mailbox, left under my door, explaining my rights and how to appeal and how much time I had. It was done during the summer months, because winter would be a hardship. It was handled coldly, nastily, but it was done according to law, and luckily, I had a place to move onto. (They were closing up the building to turn it into professional space, which it is to this day.)

When we evict people from their webpages, fuck all is required.

And before you sneer at AOL people, these people who trusted AOL: how about your Flickr? Your Facebook? Whatever the hot new wig-wag that you’re dumping hours into without thinking about it? What, you’re paying for something? Check this recent event out, paying subscriber: you have shit. Because of a cascade of EULA and Best Practices, and most importantly, a complete disregard for the importance of this data, we’re going to let it happen again. And again. And again.

Think your site is untouchable? Think again, pokey.

What am I saying here?

I’m saying that, like a real eviction, there should be practices in place. When you open your doors to hosting user content, you should have rules in action that, unless it’s a complete and total fire sale and you have no hope of even staying open that long, then you should be required, yes by law, assholes, to make the data available to customers for an extended period of time.

There’s business opportunity here, for warehouses of data that can take in, say, AOL Hometown, and hold it for a year or longer, allowing people to acquire their data over the course of that year. With legislation or even the kind of peer pressure you all used to dupe people into Creative Commons, you could have this be the norm from this point forward.

If you tell people they can upload their content, you should have a clear and distinct way for them to retrieve their content. People do it ad-hoc as they can, but the abilities of most people, the people without an engineering degree or years of experience, to get back what they put up is minimal. It’s not that important. We should make it important.

How many more times will we allow this?

How long before someone takes a fucking stand?

Update: This page got an awful lot of attention, and so I decided a clarification was in order.

Categorised as: housecleaning

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  1. Christina says:

    I am reacting to your technorati comments with a mix of guilt and “This is exactly what I can’t stand about the culture that I have immersed myself in and I bitch about it all the time.” But all of that is fairly unproductive.

    This is really, really something I want to work on when I’m done with el college. Let’s please talk about it some more!

  2. Shannon Harris says:

    I know it may not be well known to alot of these people, and may not be perfect, but is there any hope for some of these people to recover some data using the Wayback Machine on ?

    • Jason Scott says:

      I avoided mentioning that because really, it’s the equivalent of “your house burnt down but maybe someone took some photos of it”. only archives the barest essentials of websites, and often doesn’t capture any scripting, media files, or likewise. So while I’m sure of these people might (might) find some material there, it comes down to whoever grabbed copy, not the fault of the place that ripped it down apropros of nothing.

  3. Chris Loft says:

    Terrible. Maybe there are still remnants of these pages around, in caches, in google caches, or other digital sewers where data goes to die. Perhaps we need a team of super heroes who will rescue lost data and salvage the rights of ignorant users.

    I’ve lost my data and had to start all over. I lost my home and my studio and another home I lost my space and my life and my dignity – and migrated whatever I could onto the net. Then I lost my internet access.

    So I just started all over again whilst everything fell apart around me. Just wait until this happens to more and more people. Hold your data close. And have it backed up somewhere.

    adioso – Lofty

  4. Joey Hess says:

    This is the kind of thing that gives me the shudders, evokes worries of living in a dark age and not knowing it. And then I get paralysed and wonder why I’m wasting time typing into a little text box that will be saved, or deleted, outside my control.

    Anyhoo — Giving people who actively care about their sites a mandated year to migrate would certianly be an improvement, would have saved some people grief, but I suspect that on a service like this there’s a long tail of content whose authors have died, moved on, or generally won’t migrate it in a year, or two years, or any amount of time. Content that is mostly useless to most people, but has bits that will be very interesting to someone.

    There have to be better ways of preserving that content than Ways that would let copies of a site be set up w/o any data loss, after the original is taken down, and continue to evolve or grow as a replacement of the original.

    I’ve done some work in this area with wikis, blogs, and distributed version control. With limited success of a few hundred sites where `git clone $WEBSITE` will get you a live copy.

    I think that the (a?) key is to come up with compelling enough features that nobody would imagine not using such a system. Not because they care about what will happen to their data in 100 years, but because using a system that preseves it enables them to do things with it now.

    Anyway, that’s a track that doesn’t involve archiving wikipedia database dumps, or petitioning flickr, google, etc to let go of their siloed data. Doing those things is surely important too.

  5. Peter says:

    Recently, two more sites, ones that I used went offline. Mixwit and Stikkit. Mixwit also gave about 4 weeks notice. Stikkit gave about 4 days, seriously.
    Luckily I didn’t have any vital information on any of those services, but it’s seriously troubling to consider that such a thing might happen with something I do use a lot (like gmail for instance).
    It’s totally unacceptable, but nobody speaks up. I guess that’s the downside of free.

  6. Angie says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while, from another angle.

    For centuries at least, it’s been common for the “papers” of great people to be saved for study, in archives or libraries or even boxes in a university basement — somewhere. Scholars have tracked down friends and family and associates to collect letters saved and diaries handed down, anything they can find.

    What’s the next generation going to do? How many people send paper letters anymore? Paper diaries are becoming less common too; even before LiveJournal and MySpace and other similar places, I knew people who journaled on their own computer. I had thoughts and memories of my own on 5.25″ floppies, back in the eighties.

    What’s going to be known about the people of the 21st century, in the 22nd or 23rd? Where are later generations going to get their impressions of who we were and what we thought and what we said to one another?

    All that we’re likely to leave future generations will be piles of electronic media no one can read, because the media and their read/write devices will have changed so many times between now and then. People who entrust their data to commercial entities which shut down and flush everything will lose their records first, sure. But even those of us who do back up everything we create won’t have it much better. It’s like those 5.25″ floppies I used so many of back when — I can’t read them now. Even if they’re still good, I don’t have a floppy drive that size. Sure, I could probably find one with some persistence and money, but for how long? If some historian in 2394 wants to write a book about all the archives, will they be able to? I’m betting not.

    But I have books on my shelves originally written hundreds of years ago, and a few (Iliad, Odyssey, Gilgamesh, Hammurabi) which go back thousands. There’s something to be said for hardcopy when it comes to longevity. I don’t think we as a culture have really given much thought to longevity in the context of electronic files. This is a bigger issue than Gloria Champine’s Hometown page, or my LiveJournal, or Peter’s Stikkit account.

    The early Middle Ages was called the “Dark Ages” for a while, not because nothing happened during that period but because later scholars knew very little about it. I can easily imagine the 21st century becoming another Dark Age, from the POV of, say, the 25th century. There’s certainly more lasting information about the people of the 19th century, who were enthusiastic letter-writers and diarists. People now might well write more than our 19th century ancestors, but we’re scribbling in electronic dust and ignoring the wind.

    Angie, who’s feeling both gloomy and bombastic tonight 😛

  7. Dezro says:

    Reminds me of the Great AOL Downloads Data Loss of whenever that was. There are so, so many files lost forever to the deletions.

    I sometimes dream of, at an estate sale, coming across a big box labeled “AOL BACKUP TAPES 1998”. But I know I’ll never see that one HyperCard stack again, let alone that neat Wolfenstein 3d level.

  8. ross says:

    i saw the aol thing a little while after it happened, and it made me real sad.

    i’m the kind of person who likes pictures of burnt down buildings, and it still makes me sad.

    are there any institutions that do public archiving aside from

    also there’s this book that covers the dataclypse thing.. digital dark ages it calls it..ermm.. “The Clock of the Long Now” i forget who writes the digital section, could be Brian Eno.

  9. ross says:

    re angie, one thing i’ve been doing with my written stuff on the computer is compiling it and printing out a copy or two via lulu, it’s been quite nice because i don’t trust computers at all and although i don’t care too much about the crappy writing stored on there i figure i might one day.

  10. jas says:

    you get what you pay for.

    i’m sure these people were contacted regarding the sites shutting down; they probably get so much spam they just deleted it.

    if these these people’s websites were SO important, they should have backed it up, that’s just common sense.

    • Jason Scott says:

      These people were, in many cases, paying for these sites as part of their AOL contract. But that’s OK, you’re new here.

      They may or may not have been contacted, but in all cases, they were given less than 4 weeks to respond. That’s not, even objectively, enough time for a good portion of people. But that’s OK, you’re new here.

      Part of the tragedy is not just that some people lose data, but that people who have passed on, who are not paying attention to their e-mail during the month of september, or who otherwise have issues, now have lost the data, or, have backups but we, the commons are poorer for losing all this information. But that’s OK, you’re new here.

  11. James says:

    My personal solution is to not be a sharecropper and manage my data myself, but that’s hardly a solution for most people. Even for those who do, you can still be caught out – see the Gentoo wiki data being held hostage as a result of a billing dispute between its host and its host’s host. So, lobby the California legislature for a data bill of rights and hope other states follow? Or congress, under the commerce clause?

  12. Around 2002 I was using hosting from Geocities. Yahoo acquired them. It wasn’t some great site, just some info on the text game Knight Orc.

    I purchased a car during this time, and took a digital photo. I wanted to show my friends what it looked like, so I uploaded a pic and hotlinked it.

    Boom! Yahoo DELETED MY ENTIRE WEBSITE. Everything. I had it backed up, but only because I was working on it locally, and moving the files to Geocities/Yahoo through their terrible web interface. I was paying them $4.95 a month for this service as well, and I don’t care what they put into their terms, the first response to a violation being “delete everything and keep charging” is absolutely laughable. No e-mail, no warning, the first response (to the LAUGHABLE idea that somehow fucking image linking was beyond what they could provide) was rm * /s /a /yes deltree *.* format c:

    … I’m using the occasional capital letter, so what do I know, but I am equally positive that in a lot of these cases, people AREN’T contacted that the plug is about to be pulled on their service. Christ, the webhost I was using until last month for Caltrops never bothered to inform anybody when work was being done on our (shared) machine and that there would be data loss, and the entire idea of such companies is that they have their shit together.

  13. John says:

    Sucks for those people but in all honesty I just cannot be outraged about this. People need it drilled into their heads that if their data is important to them, they need to back it up.

    It is almost 2009. Backing up your data shouldn’t be a “techie” or “geek” thing. It should be a basic common sense part of doing things in the digital realm. I have lost data and it sucked but I learned from the experience. Hopefully these people will learn also.

  14. Flack says:

    I currently host everything at my house. It’s not a solution I would suggest to most people — hell, technically it’s not a “solution” at all, it’s more of a “avoiding the problem.” Self-hosting is not all it’s cracked up to be. It gives you a lot of leeway in the fact that you can install and do whatever you want, but on the other hand when you lose a drive or a box dies or someone hacks your site, you’re the one that’s gotta fix it. Sometimes that means shelling out bucks for hardware and sometimes that means scratching your head at two in the morning, watching your drives and cable modem flash with activity as someone is tearing apart your site …

    In the past, “data” has been seen and treated as valueless. As more of our information and lives move “online,” the more value “data” will be given. It’s the equivalent of saying that a book is only worth the sum of its parts (paper, cardboard and ink). Like books, do different types of data have different values? Is a downloaded mp3 worth the same as a digital picture of my kids?

    That AOL Hometown thing is bullshit. That’s like a bank locking its door and putting a sign in the window that says, “LOL UR $$$ IS GON3 L8R :(“

  15. Chris Barts says:

    You mention “open source” but you don’t mention how it ties in with this, mainly because it doesn’t: The open source people don%rsquo;t like this social media crap. They advise caution regarding it, in fact:

    [Web 2.0] has led to a rising clamour of marketing for schemes to export one’s computing operations to some thinly capitalised commercial firm, and use only a Web browser (as a “thin client”) locally. This tendency poses a (renewed) threat to the very most fundamental goals of open source: That includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, our keeping custody of our own data. Many of these new “Web 2.0” businesses tout the “convenience” of doing the opposite: entrusting our personal and business data to their specialised Web-based servers, and then manipulating that data remotely via AJAX-driven messaging from our Web browsers, so that all that confidential material lives on the service’s data store.
    Let’s say you start using some of those. Now, you have an entirely new class of worries: Your files are accessible only when your Internet connection is up. They’re at the mercy of your vendor’s security problems, reliability, management, and funding shortfalls. They may vanish if the firms change their business models, go broke, or undergo many other types of abrupt change, possibly even just to silence critics. Not only may the firms pry into and abuse knowledge of your personal affairs, so may their business partners and people with both legitimate and illegitimate access. Check the fine print in your service agreements: You’ll probably find out that there not only are big holes in your privacy, but also that you specifically consented to them.
    Did I mention those business partners? One of the lessons of the USA “Nationwide Do Not Call List” is that there’s an exception (in its enabling legislation and just about all other privacy laws) for firms you have an “existing business relationship” with, plus their subsidiaries and allied businesses. Guess what? When you sign up with one of the “Web 2.0” companies, that’s a business relationship: You’ve just given them leave to market you to distraction.

    It just seems ironic that you tar the very people warning about this danger with your extremely broad brush.

  16. Jason Scott says:

    I like to think it was clear I was saying that technorati, who focus on open source and electronic freedoms, don’t focus enough on this particular aspect of a “data tenancy bill of rights” because it simply doesn’t currently have any cachet. I am not tarring the ideals of open source in and of themselves. The essay you linked me to was a person going “I am so super-smart I will not fall for all these centrally manifested server-based offerings” while not addressing any way of forcing the people who DO offer central hosting into behavior and guarantees that should be expected of each and every one of them with regards to exporting of data and backups.

    It’s all fine and good to say people shouldn’t use these central services; but I am saying that a lot of people do, and will continue to, because many people lack the ability or opportunity to be self-starting hosting operators.

    Let us now avoid the response where someone again says “then they should get off my Internet”.

  17. Chris Barts says:

    Well, jumping off of a high cliff is a bad idea, too. We don’t all sit around making contingency plans for the bags of beef stew that do so because it’s pointless: Applying chest compressions requires, at minimum, a chest. The best we can do is post signs and occasionally write longer warnings about the expected consequences of that behavior.
    This is very little different from a head crash or similar catastrophic hardware failure. The only recovery from that is to have already made backups, so, absent a time machine, an ounce of prevention is the only cure. But if you tell people that, they nod and smile and do absolutely fuck-all, because it would require putting forth a positive effort on their part and it just isn’t worth it until everything is gone.
    I suppose the solution is to legally mandate backups. Nothing else will work.

  18. Jim Bennett says:

    The loss of data – any data at all – is, to me, an incredibly, incredibly scary thing – not just my data, but any data at all. Knowing that something can be erased forever to the point where no one will ever know it even exists horrifies me for some strange reason.

    This news was awful. I feel bad for those people.

  19. random says:

    It’s not as though the technorati haven’t gotten worked up over this kind of issue. Remember the shutdown of

    There’s explicit resistance to this approach in the Free Software world — ask a maintainer for a feature and they’ll probably tell you’re welcome to fork the project or send in a patch.

    The high-profile examples of FOSS ideologues “taking a stand” on open data are things like Mark Pilgrim switching to Ubuntu (escaping lock-in to undocumented iTunes/iCalender formats) or Cory Doctorow advocating DRM-free music stores. It almost always comes back to asking individuals to vote with their wallets and support providers with good exit strategies.

    I’m not sure how much more it’s reasonable to ask for. From a company’s perspective, providing a month’s grace period is probably quite generous enough in terms of resources burned. It should be standard to provide an easy export (e.g. a zip file of your content), but keeping them around for years sounds like an expensive endeavour.

  20. […] ASCII by Jason Scott / Eviction, or the Coming Datapocalypse "I’m saying that, like a real eviction, there should be practices in place. When you open your doors to hosting user content, you should have rules in action that, unless it’s a complete and total fire sale and you have no hope of even staying open that long, then you should be required, yes by law, assholes, to make the data available to customers for an extended period of time. … If you tell people they can upload their content, you should have a clear and distinct way for them to retrieve their content. People do it ad-hoc as they can, but the abilities of most people, the people without an engineering degree or years of experience, to get back what they put up is minimal. It’s not that important. We should make it important." (tags: data ownership terms-of-service EULA web2.0 archives computing via:vielmetti courtesy law) […]

  21. DBL says:

    It’s not that ‘you get what you pay for’, it’s more like ‘don’t put your data on marginal or fly-by-night operations’. AOL has not been a major content player for a very, very long time, and the writing has been on the wall for years. This doesn’t excuse short notice, but if you want your data to survive, put it on major services that get so much press that you know they are very unlikely to go down. It’s no guarantee; it’s more like not building your house along a fault line.

  22. Evil Dave says:

    I won’t lose a thing if flickr go away, because I never trusted them in the first place – plus I can do a much better user interface myself. If facebook dies, I won’t lose anything that isn’t trivially replaceable. And my website is protected by a contract with my hosting provider that I understand because I actually bothered to read it – and if they get eaten by Godzilla it’ll still be OK, because I have backups, that I’ve tested and can deploy elsewhere at very short notice.

    The people who are to blame here are the uncaring bastards who encouraged the ignorant to do stuff without providing the necessary instruction. The necessary instructions for making a website – indeed for using a computer – obviously include “keep backups”. Gloria Champine was fucked over by whoever encouraged her to use a cheap low-end provider and didn’t teach her the basics of computing. Not by AOL. She was probably fucked over by one of her children.

  23. Flavio says:

    Loss of data is always a pain in… you know where. As an “expert”, I know about risks of sharing stuff in these sites. Don’t think I’m sneering or whatever, but normally these sites have rules written clearly that state that they might disappear from one day to the next without them being obliged to do anything.

    You talk about rules to evict someone, well these are their rules, and you stick to them when you accept to create your profile. In a completely free service there is no space — imho — for claiming those conditions as “vexatory” (I’m using a term we have in Italy, sorry if it’s not clear). If you pay for the service, you’ll probably have to appeal to a court. In any case, setting a “law” on this kind of things scares me to death, jusk like hearing Berlusconi saying that we should put a harness to the Internet. Small services, ideas, etc. shouldn’t be blocked by bureaucracy: that’s what “they” want. Paid services should probably be respectful of laws of the country they are delivered from, non-paid ones are… you get what you pay for.

    Whatever the case, the problem is twofold: on the one hand people should be educated. I was touched by the letters, but what if a big crack in the disks had caused the loss anyway? People should be educated about what means putting their precious stuff in someone else’s house. About not keeping a copy.

    The other aspect is educational as well: people should be able to evaluate different services, paid or not, and decide how much they care about their stuff. This of course can be tricky, because for certain “services” (like Ficlets) you have no alternatives. We should probably invent some means to deliver this kind of education and make it as non-tech as possible, and as understandable as possible.

    The natural consequence of education, I hope, is that people isn’t going to lose their data, and possibly AOL (Yahoo, whatever) loses many of its customers.

    A last note about you *not* mentioning the wayback machine. I agree that’s not perfect, but putting the touching message of the wife that lost her husband’s photos, and not mentioning some means to at least try to recover it, seems just bad journalism practice. Let’s blame AOL, but let’s help each other please.

  24. Ed Piman says:

    Be careful what you wish for; the law of unintended consequences is a bitch.

    Imagine laws were passed mandating that user contributed data must be preserved for N years. Would you still be willing to accept comments on your blog, knowing that you are legally on the hook to preserve them? Would you be prepared to guarantee that this comment will be availble five years from now? Ten years?

    I think a more rational response would be to turn off comments. And your webhost’s rational response might be to jack prices way up to purchase liability insurance, and banks of redundant storage. Or they might just bail on the whole business while they still legally could.

  25. I’ve definitely experienced this myself, having a webhost go completely dark with no explanation, no contact information, nothing. So I feel their pain.

    If someone was to architect a service to do something like this, where would they start? How would you import the various types of code these services use? Would there be legal ramifications for duplicating the functionality of X company, or would you just store the raw data? Some sort of data peering agreement could be setup with web companies when they go live to ensure the life of this data, and perhaps could take the responsibility off of the company if they go out of business. There are a lot of questions but I think this would be a great idea.

    I’d imagine you’d want to have a multi-pronged storage system. Maybe a combination of S3, and local storage. You’d definitely want even this service to be resilient to closing shop.

    Bounce around ideas! Instead of people arguing “should have backed up their data” etc, why don’t we just figure out a way to fix the problem?

  26. Jason Grossman says:

    Good post. Thanks.

    “Our little technorati, our people who cry for open source and beg us for money to Fight For Electronic Freedom and make their rounds at all the right cocktail parties at tech shows.. where the hell are they now?”

    Richard Stallman has been campaigning about this issue for a while.

  27. chat says:

    I sometimes dream of, at an estate sale, coming across a big box labeled “AOL BACKUP TAPES 1998″. But I know I’ll never see that one HyperCard stack again, let alone that neat Wolfenstein 3d level

  28. none says:

    Much of this content may be in the internet archive.

    Type your hometown url into the wayback machine and see what comes up.

  29. Zs says:

    If you took even the most basic backup procedures, none of this would be a problem in the least.

    How about instead of calling for regulation, you ask yourself why you don’t have a copy of your own data on a local drive?

    The problem isn’t service providers, it’s foolish users.

  30. ricky says:

    I can guarantee you that nothing of value was lost.

  31. Robert Plante says:

    Sorry to disagree with your conclusions but I think they are bullshit:

    “When you open your doors to hosting user content … you should be required … to make the data available to customers for an extended period of time.”

    Wrong. The only thing a provider should do is tell people to keep copies of their stuff ON THEIR OWN HARD DRIVES. I’m sick of whiners like you making excuses why people don’t have to take personal responsibility for their actions. Your argument is pure crap. If people want to put their lives online and then NOT keep a copy on their own computers, they deserve to lose it — end of story.

    “If you tell people they can upload their content, you should have a clear and distinct way for them to retrieve their content.”

    Wrong again. If they upload it they ALREADY HAVE A COPY which means they don’t need a way to retrieve it. Or if their online websites do not exactly match the data they store offline they can easily TAKE RESPONSIBILITY (instead of being lazy) and use any web copying software to download complete copies of their own copies any time they feel like it.

  32. There’s a reason the law requires specific steps to evict somebody from a residence: a place to live is a basic human right. Web services aren’t, and I’m sorry, it’s very difficult for me to get worked up about this.

    There are companies who’ve been in business for 10 or more years that provide fairly advanced webhosting services for $10/month, provide the tools to provide backups, and are financially stable and aren’t “going anywhere.” If your content matters, there’s little barrier to getting your content on one of these hosts: most of them support Microsoft Frontpage and/or Apple’s iWeb.

  33. Anonymous says:

    My contract for free services specifically says that I can delete the tenant’s data or put them off the web or both at any time I want for any reason or no reason and without any kind of notification, and that it is their responsibility to backup their data, and that I can turn offline the server at any time I want for as long as I want for any reason or no reason. In short I make it clear that free stuff is given as a gift and does not grant any rights at all, only responsibilities.

    However, in the majority of cases, when I had to evict some people off my free web services servers I did sent them one or two emails providing them with a notification as a courtesy and offering them the option to compress and send them their data, and in the majority of cases the users didn’t reply probably because they had changed email address. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that I usually evict people who were inactive and did not used their free resources for some time, or who have never used their free account after they opened it. In some cases where the user had some data, even though I could delete them if I wanted, I just put them off the public network and kept them for some time in a secure location just in case the user asked for them later (in no case this happened).

    If there was a law interfering with my services by requiring me to provide notification or backup the free account holder’s data I would never provide any free service again.

    If my servers have some unused capacity I consider it a courtesy to share it with others for free. For example whenever I have lots of spare room, I enable free/open-source developers to get free services for their personal web presence, imap/web email, software development (svn etc), and source/tarball distribution. There are no ads or other income, I just provide the service in low numbers only as a means to say thanks to the free/opensource community collectivelly for their great software (after all the servers themselves are built on 100% free software, so my motto is that 10% of the server’s resources should be given as a gift to free software people who need free services, since without them I could not run the servers on free software at all!), but if they like the service I expect them to donate something so that they contribute towards the server expenses, just as I sometimes donate money to free/opensource projects/communities/developers I appreciate.

    It is important to realise that when I provide someone with some free services, I do take some risks: for example, what if they try to hack into my server or what if they put online something which is not okay? What if someone who claimed to be an opensource developer turns out to use their free online space for hosting something bad? For this reason, I usually ask in Freenode for people who know the guy or gal who asks for a free account or ask to see their existing web presence if any to get a feeling of their personality and whether they can be trusted. But still, I cannot easily know whether the free software developer’s pet project violates an obscure US patent from the 1980s, and whether in today’s lawfare paranoia someone would prefer to sue the service provider instead of the person who is actually responsible (whether fair or unfair).

    There are already a myriad of laws that could cause trouble to a provider of free services, and surely I don’t want one more law to interfere with what is essentially my gift-giving. Corporations or people who shut down thousands of free sites with little notification perhaps could try to be more kind, but a law trying to force them to behave in any other way would be disastruous for any free service providers.

    It is the user’s responsibility to choose a good provider. If the contract says I can delete your stuff anytime I want and I do so, you should perhaps ask yourself why you didn’t take backups or chose me as your provider. My free services are gifts given under the condition that you have no rights associated with them, so it’s your responsibility to decide whether you want the gift under that condition.

  34. Mike says:

    I understand your loss, but really- if your data is important to you, BACK IT UP. I’m not sneering or gloating- I’m genuinely sorry for what you lost, as it obviously meant something to you. All I’m saying is that there are no guarantees in life, and if something is important to you, protect it. In this day and age there is no reason for anyone not to be able to have a backup of something they’ve created in a digital form. Again, I’m sorry for your loss, but honestly, the AOL or Yahoo or whoever is not the only one at fault here.

  35. Max says:

    You make a stirring case for laws protecting hosted data. I absolutely agree with this post, and I will write to my senators about it.

  36. Lionell Griffith says:

    Web 2.0 and the cloud?

    Wave of the future?

    You have to be kidding.

    If the data is important to growth or survival of the enterprise, the data MUST be under tight control BY the enterprise. Outsourcing your life’s blood is not a way to assure growth or even survival.

    PS: Free is as successful as poverty.

  37. sys admin says:

    you are a deadbeat. I run a hosting service, I get inquiries like, can I have a static ip and mod_rewrite so I can host unlimited domains for $100/year?

    And now you want rights?

    Do your own backups, take responsibility for yourself.

  38. AOL should have given its users more time, but it did offer a conversion script that would automatically move AOL Journals sites to Blogger:

    No matter how much time they gave users, it was inevitable that some of them wouldn’t get the word fast enough or wouldn’t have the technical skills to move a blog from one CMS to another. Doing that is a pain in the ass. Even some well-known tech bloggers like Robert Scoble and Doc Searls have left old blogs behind rather than moving the content to their new blog.

    A few years ago I saved 3,000 Weblogs.Com bloggers after a quick shutdown. I gave them two years to get their data and offered my technical expertise to help. Around six of them took me up on the offer during that time. Most people don’t care enough about what they’ve created to either move it or back it up. That’s as big a factor in the loss of this content as hosting services shutting down.

    One thing I wonder in circumstances like this is whether web-based RSS readers have the content archived. Bloglines goes back at least 100 entries for all of the feeds its subscribers read. There may be more content archives other than the Internet Archive.

  39. Fin Keegan says:

    Well said.

    You are absolutely right that we are vulnerable to all online service/space providers, no matter how popular they are among the technorati, and no matter how we identify with the original founders.

    As further evidence consider the recent abandonment of clients.

  40. Frank says:

    web site hosters whoever they are have no responsibility to you. They are providing a service that you are probably using for free and yet you want all kinds of service level agreements, phone numbers to call, and extra provisions, costs and distractions from services you’ve never once ever paid to use — nor ever will.

    Everyone has to eat.

    Get a grip on yourself.

  41. Kyle says:

    Max, fuck you, and your senator (especially your senator, if he even so much as pretends to take you seriously), and Jason for coming up with this crackpot bullshit. Whatever agreement I make with providers/clients is my business and theirs, stay the fuck out of it, assholes.

    There’s a real problem here, but the solution is not more laws. Laws are *never* a solution, so if it’s that important, get your heads out of your asses and start thinking of actual solutions, instead of passing it off on everybody else, lazy motherfuckers.

  42. […] a prominent podcast host, shutting down with only a few weeks notice given to users by email and no visible notice on the home page ever […]

  43. […] Jason Scott covers the service closures in a blog entry (also covered by Slashdot) in which he proposes an on-line version of “renters’ rights” that […]

  44. I am loving the fact that this got linked somewhere, and now a bunch of lazy, sneering assholes are getting shrill and indignant.

    You’re all very transparent. Yes, you know something about computers that most people’s mothers don’t – you should all definitely make that knowledge a pillar of your self-worth. I’d sooner kill myself than subject my ears to a five minute conversation with any of you boring cretins. I don’t know how someone can take a backup of a database SMUGLY, but you’ve all, individually and in concert, managed to bust that mystery wide open.

  45. Edward says:

    This is, I think, a rather silly suggestion drawn out of an irrational attachment to data.

    When you subscribe to a service or rent out some disk space you have an obligation to understand the limits of what you are getting and what you are not getting. Other people are allowed to turn their computers off, corporations are entitled to cease certain offerings, and it is patently foolish to suggest some sort of long term archiving on someone elses disks should be expected or, even worse, obligated.

  46. Ronin says:

    I think you make a great point. And there may actually be some law currently on the books that would allow people access to the backups.

    But real evictions are happening as well, and unlike your experience the tenants are not getting any notices at all. And the courts are all for it. So I am not too hopeful about the judiciary acting any better in this case.

    Your call for legislation or peer pressure is a needed one. Thanks for posting about this crisis. There is no way they should be allowed to shut down years of work with less than a month’s notice.

    In fact, feel free to contact me and I might be able to get some lawyers to volunteer to help recover some of these sites.


    PS. The most embarrassing thing is that hosting these sites is practically free. If bandwidth was a problem just reduce it.

  47. Chris says:

    In the immortal words of the late C.G.B. Spender, trust no one.

  48. Flack says:

    @Ice Cream Jonsey — I saw this linked from Slashdot earlier today.

  49. For what it’s worth, I put together a tutorial to show Ficlets writers how to spider their work so they can save it all to their hard drives a lot more easily than copying and pasting one by one into a word processor.

  50. […] my most hardy readers. So for you another post, via slashdot. It’s time to raise concern about the coming datapocalypse. There’s going to be a bag of hurt for many people as the economy takes down their favorite site. […]