Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Hot on the Web

Ingratitude and the 'Net

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 16, 2004
(Issue 2229, Healthcare and Medication)

Blogdom is a fascinating community to observe; its inhabitants worthy subjects of study.

Like other subcultures – comic book collectors, say, or, 'Star Trek" fans – the world of blogs (shorthand for web logs) has its own set of customs, rules and even expectations.

Among those expectations, it would seem, is that bloggers deserve whatever they want, even if they aren't paying for it.

What brings this up is the recent experience of blogging pioneer Dave Winer, who runs (among several other sites) the site that tracks updated blogs.

Winer had been offering free blog hosting on this domain. According to an Associated Press report, Winer had purchased a bank of servers on his own, and then let people sign up for free space for their own blogs.

Soon he had thousands of people hosting their blogs on – and zero of them were paying for it.

In late spring, Winer found that the free blog hosting was taking over his life – with his 'customers" sending demanding e-mails and calling him on the phone yelling at him.

And so he just stopped. Turned off the free hosting – and found himself the target of even more vitriol.

Lesson not learned

Three thousand people suddenly couldn't access their blogs – nor could their visitors.

The whining on the blogs of the world reached a crescendo, and quickly – because if there's one thing bloggers like to do more than anything else, it's complain about other people.

Interestingly, on his own website ( Winer pointed out that it wasn't his suddenly displaced clients who were doing the whining (even on someone else's site) – it was just the blogging community in general that was calling him names for no longer offering a free service. Accusing him of betrayal. Of being undemocratic.

Which makes you wonder where these people were when their parents and teachers were explaining the whole 'There's no such thing as a free lunch" concept to them.

Not that it's really a surprise, really. When early site-hosting services such as GeoCities, AngelFire and Tripod began charging for what had been free – or even just adding new subscription options, or maybe capping what you could get for free – similar outrage flowed through the Web.

Not the end of whining

Someone name of Jon Perr runs a site called PERRspectives. It's your typical political site – everyone who agrees with me is good and kindly; those who disagree are the great unwashed who must be converted. Perr apparently got an e-mail from Google informing him that the content of his site meant that he didn't qualify to advertise through Google, and he was being dropped from their advertising program.

Now, a reasonable person might recognize that Google has every right to set its own advertising policy, to decide which kinds of sites meet that criteria. Google is in business to make money, and so a reasonable assumption might be that Google is probably going to accept advertising from as many people as possible.

Perr, however, is raising the usual cry in such cases: He's being 'censored" by Google, you see.

It's an interesting phenomenon in this country that anytime a private party exercises their own First Amendment free speech rights to not publish something they disagree with, it's labeled censorship.

Think about it: If the courts could make Google accept Perr's advertisements, they could make you buy books you don't like – maybe force you to subscribe to a newspaper you don't like, all in the name of 'free speech."

But free speech for who? Isn't the right not to read or publish something just as important as the right to do so? After all, if you're not free to say 'no," how free are you?

Don't like this column? Don't read it. And in not reading it, you're hardly censoring me – you're simply exercising your own free speech rights.

Free blogs back online – for now

The Winer story has a partially happy ending: He has his life back, and someone else picked up the free blog hosting, at least for the summer. Rogers Cadenhead's is allowing the old sites to reside on his servers while their owners seek permanent hosting. Another possibility is that Cadenhead will offer his own paid hosting solution at the end of the summer.

Either way, all the whining and bitching about Winer didn't serve any appreciable purpose other than to heap abuse on a man who was trying to do right and became overwhelmed by it.

And for the rest of us? Learn from Winer and his users' experience: If it's free, it may not last. Have your e-mail on Yahoo or Hotmail? Better back it up somewhere else, too. Still hosting on GeoCities? Back your site up to your hard drive.