David A. Wheeler's Blog

Sat, 02 May 2009

Own your own site!

Geocities, a web hosting site sponsored by Yahoo, is shutting down. Which means that, barring lots of work by others, all of its information will be disappearing forever. Jason Scott is trying to coordinate efforts to archive GeoCities’ information, but it’s not easy. He estimates they’re archiving about 2 Gigabytes/hour, pulling in about 5 Geocities sites per second… and they don’t know if it’ll be enough. What’s more, the group has yet to figure out how to serve it: “It is more important to me to grab the data than to figure out how to serve it later…. I don’t see how the final collection won’t end up online, but how is elusive…”

This sort of thing happens all the time, sadly. Some company provides a free service for your site / blog / whatever… and so you take advantage of it. That’s fine, but if you care about your site, make sure you own your data sufficiently so that you can move somewhere else… because you may have to. Yahoo is a big, well-known company, who paid $3.5 billion for Geocities… and now it’s going away.

Please own your own site — both its domain name and its content — if it’s important to you. I’ve seen way too many people have trouble with their sites because they didn’t really own them. Too many scams are based on folks who “register” your domain for you, but actually register it in their own names… and then hold your site as a hostage. Similarly, many organizations provide wonderful software that is unique to their site for managing your data… but then you either can’t get your own data, or you can’t use your data because you can’t separately get and re-install the software to use it. Using open standards and/or open source software can help reduce vendor lock-in — that way, if the software vendor/website disappears or stops supporting the product/service, you can still use the software or a replacement for it. And of course, continuously back up your data offsite, so if the hosting service disappears without notice, you still have your data and you can get back on.

I practice what I preach. My personal site, www.dwheeler.com, has moved several times, without problems. I needed to switch my web hosting service (again) earlier in 2009, and it was essentially no problem. I just used “rsync” to copy the files to my new hosting service, change the domain information so people would use the new hosting service instead, and I was up and running. I’ve switched web servers several times, but since I emphasize using ordinary standards like HTTP, HTML, and so on, I haven’t had any trouble. The key is to (1) own the domain name, and (2) make sure that you have your data (via backups) in a format that lets you switch to another provider or vendor. Do that, and you’ll save yourself a lot of agony later.

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