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Dear "Landlord" (raganwald.posterous.com)
325 points by vetler on Mar 14, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 148 comments

I use Posterous, Weebly, Hacker News, and twitter, and love them all. I don't pay a nickel to any of them and never will.

I hope very much that they all last forever.

But I will lose nothing if any or all of them disappear without giving me a chance to retrieve my data. Why? Because everything I've ever posted to any of them was already saved on my hard drive first. A simple solution for a frugal, OCD hacker who wants the best of all worlds.


[UPDATE: Several people have suggested automating this or making it easier. My response: If you're a hacker and more than 5% of what you type goes anywhere other than your code repository, you should probably reevaluate what you're doing before you make it any easier to do it.]

Idea: a browser extension that automatically saves a copy of every form you fill out, as well as content you submit to common XHR-based sites.

I thought of that (it's rather easy to do in Firefox), but the content would be lost in the noise of all the little search forms and automated XHR requests. I think it makes more sense to write scraper to download your data from the website after its submitted, which is essentially what the Locker Project[1] is trying to do.

[1]: http://lockerproject.org/

Using html classes, ids and other identification methods I'd think it would be fairly easy to set up intelligent filtering that differentiates between different types of input fields. Discriminating between input and textarea probably gets you already 90% of the way.

+ Ignore forms with a password field

And hope nobody trojans the Firefox extension you're using to handle passwords "specially".

All Firefox extensions can read the passwords if they're trojaned, regardless of whether they handle them or not.

Oh, no, I just meant that most forms with a password field are either log on or sign up forms, which I wouldn't want to bother with preserving locally.

I assume that Reginald's complain was not about the data itself, but about the fact that he will now have to move his blog elsewhere - the drag of setting it up, and making sure that everyone can find it.

Any major platform has import tools from the other large platforms.

In fact, it's ironic that Posterous once wooed users by building simple import tools to pull in data from Wordpress (among others). Now, people are using Wordpress's import tools to pull their Posterous blogs back into the WP platform.

If you have your own domain name set up, rather than a free subdomain tied to the blogging platform, there is no issue of worrying about people finding you. Same goes for using RSS if you use Feedburner or have your feed available at a standard location on your own domain.

In addition, there is the problem that links from other websites to your blog will stop working, and your Google search rankings will be affected.

I have a custom domain name for my Posterous blog, so links to the main site will not break, but links to individual posts will break if the new blogging platform doesn't follow the same link naming convention as Posterous (which most likely they don't)

Do you guys have any ideas/tricks how I can avoid issues like the above, and how to make sure that certain posts which currently rank high in Google search results keep their rank, if possible?

You can create a set of 301 redirects to make sure traffic that is sent directly to a given post finds the correct page. It will also let search engines re-index your content at the new address.

You can do this by dumping the relative paths of your previous blog posts and current ones into your .htaccess file. This won't get all of the old links (category/tag links, for instance) but at least direct links to a specific post will end up in the right place.

I guess the only way to accomplish that is to set up the new blog on my own server where I will have access to a .htaccess file. That is, I can't use any hosted blog like blogger, tumblr, wordress.com. Is this correct, or are there any hosted blog services that will give you this fine-grained control? Or are there any things I can do on the domain registrar side?

Alternatively, is it a good or bad idea to route all traffic to my blog through a VPS I have, so that all the old blog post addresses go to the right place on one of the hosted blog services? (I'm just trying to avoid hosting my own blog, since I assume there are a lot of headaches involved)

I decided a while ago to move my personal site from Posterous to GitHub pages [1]. It's been a little tricky to set up but only because I'm fussy and haven't messed with css before. Still not finished since I can't find a sensible way to extract my content from Posterous (that dosen't involve the API).

With GitHub pages, you don't need to worry about the hosting aspect and you'll always have a copy of your site locally. Pretty sure you can deal with the .htaccess file stuff too.

If you decide to look into this, check out Jekyll-bootstrap too [2].

[1] http://pages.github.com/

[2] http://jekyllbootstrap.com/

I moved mine from Tumblr to GitHub recently and used a migration script to grab all the posts and turn them into Markdown files. There's a script that works with Posterous too: https://github.com/mojombo/jekyll/wiki/blog-migrations

Yup, I already tried that script and I believe it's out of date. Open pull request at https://github.com/mojombo/jekyll/pull/477

edit: I've just realised I don't need the code to be merged into jekyll in order to use it (facepalm).

edit2: ok, maybe not as straightforward as I thought. I'm not really a coder so it takes me longer to understand what scripts are doing (and then tweak them so they work for me).

why not use the API?

If you don't have access to the .htaccess file you can use WP plugins to set up 301s, e.g. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/simple-301-redirects/

Routing all blog traffic through your VPS is a bad idea, IMHO. Your VPS becomes a single point of failure for your blog - if it stops working all of your posts are unavailable, not just the ones that require 301s.

Why do you think that having your own Wordpress stand-alone blog is such a problem?

If you're a hacker and more than 5% of what you type goes anywhere other than your code repository, you should probably reevaluate what you're doing before you make it any easier to do it.

You know, I was more than willing to "agree to disagree" until I read this. Sorry, but I just don't buy the idea that I should spend 95% of my time in front of a computer writing code. I don't think it's practical or even preferable.

Writing things other than code is a useful thing for a hacker. It certainly doesn't seem to have hurt pg, does it? Plus, I can't think of very many people whose emails I've read (myself included) who wouldn't benefit from more writing practice.

I think you misunderstood; he suggested using a (version controlled) repository to store the 95% of anything you type (emails, docs, blog posts, etc), not spending 95% of your time coding.

He wrote 'type', not 'time'. I think there is a huge difference.

How? The way I see it it just makes things more extreme because you type orders of magnitude more in a ten minute comment than in ten minutes of coding.

95% of your computer typing is far less than 95% of all your time.

But still, if this 95% of what you type is code, it takes much, much more time to type it than if it was a free-form text.

In other words, it means that 'if 99.9% of the time you spend typing isn't spent on typing code, you're doing it wrong'. Or at least I understood it this way.

It's worth mentioning that, if you're not doing regular backups of your hard drive, storing something on your hard drive as a "backup" is a gargantuanly bad idea. Use AWS or some other redundant cloud solution; the likelihood of Amazon shutting down AWS within the next <X> <time unit>s is a lot smaller than the likelihood that your hard drive will fail in the same timeframe.

As natural as it feels on everyday use, dropbox is really an amazing thing

Seconding this. Dropbox is the first "backup" system I really, really like.

These days, most folks posting here have a backup regime for their PCs.

My experience would lead me to disagree.

I would hazard to guess that a lot of people reading this are very capable of creating a backup system, but they 'don't have the time' to either implement it or double-check that it's working.

A lot of smart people who deal in abstractions (like computing) are paralyzed. They have understanding how to do a task, but never seem to have the motivation to follow though. Especially if the task has no immediate reward, or no obvious indication that the task is done.

That might be true - but in my little corner of the world, Apple have solved that problem for their users, and even most of my least technical friends know the importance of keeping regular backups and Time Machine has reduced the friction enough that proper backups are the rule rather than the exception. I also see a significant number of friends/colleagues in the Linux camp telling people how they've got backup regimes that work "just like Time Machine", so I think the effect of Apple having shipped a "good enough and very easy-to-use" backup system has further reaching consequences than just people running Apple hardware - when people have Macs at home with Time Machine, they ask difficult questions at work when the IT people tell them recent revisions of their files aren't available…

Going forward, I see Dropbox or something like it making "backups to additional local spindles" become quaint and anachronistic. Why backup to an external drive next to my computer, when "the cloud" arranges to have copies (and archives) of all my data on multiple machines I own, as well as on Dropbox's (aka Amazon's) servers?

I agree concerning non tech people. From my experience, they start doing back-ups once they lost a disk.

However, considering how ridiculously easy it is to set up a simple rsync script, I doubt that many tech people do not do backups. Even though proper backups include frequent integrity checks, just setting up a rsync script gets you a long way already. If your data is encrypted though, a flipped bit might cause havoc already, thus making frequent backup integrity checks absolutely mandatory.

Sysadmin here; I've set up Amanda (and those damn disk "tape" rotate scripts) and Crashplan before, and both are currently broken (mostly due to the awful high failure rate of WD and Seagate "green" drives)

TL;DR I agree with the above.

Really? I have lots of WD Green's and none have ever failed me. In constant operation (however, mostly parked and idling) since the first generation came out. With me for a long time, they're been around the world. What do you suggest instead? Where do you see problems? I guess my usage profile is very different from yours..

Wow, do you always copy+paste or download everything you write on the internets?


I write everything in TextPad first, saving as I go with Control-S to the appropriate directory using the date & time in the file name. I like to work full screen in large letters and I love lime green on black.

I have one corporate client that deletes all emails every 6 weeks (for legal reasons). Seems like I'm the only one who has a record of anything because of my practice.

I operate under the assumption that anything free will go away at some point. I plan on moving somewhere else with my data. Also, it's really easy to find anything on my hard disk.

A little background:

Years ago, I found my best friend from college and we started to exchange emails. I emailed him a trivia quiz with 20 questions. He later told me that he was laughing like crazy while he answered them for the next hour. His wife called him when he was on Question #19. By the time he returned, his computer had crashed and he lost everything. (This was obviously pre-Gmail.) Now we'll never know what he answered.

I don't know what will be important later, so I'll never let anything like that ever happen to me.

I'm pleased it works for you.

I'm gently surprised you haven't created a more automatic solution. Something that's autosaving (with a timestamp in the name) every X seconds, perhaps. Something that allows you to enter text direct to the browser text field but still saves a copy for you.

I'm sure a many people would like to automatically capture everything they type and have it saved, but would not have the discipline to copy and paste.

But, as I say, if it works for you that's all you need.

Years ago, when computers were more crash-prone and and autosave wasn't yet a feature in MS Word, I ran a keylogger on my own computer for just this reason. On several occasions, it saved me from having to rewrite multiple pages of school assignments I would have otherwise lost due to crashes.

I like Microsoft's OneNote for this because it removes the saving/naming from the workflow, and it has a decent search.

<i>I have one corporate client that deletes all emails every 6 weeks (for legal reasons).</i>

Isn't this kinda weird? How exactly is he operating his business, such that needs to leave absolutely no paper trail?

You can surround your text in asterisks to achieve italicization.



Do you sincerely think that everything you (or anyone) write on sites like this is worth saving for later? I don't think so. 99.99% of comments are inane and worth 0 (including mine).

What do you do with those texts? Reading them back months later and say "oh, what a sharp mind I have"? And what about the context (other's messages you answer to or that answer yours)? Do you also save it? Are also as worthly as yours?

I'm really surprised somebody does this.

Funny you should ask that, of Ed in particular.


Of course, you are welcome to judge it as simple ego-stroking or whatever, but quite a few people would disagree.

There's the "It's all text" Firefox extension which might help here. It can open your favorite text editor for text areas. This makes it easier to save a backup copy (I guess you could change it to do this automatically), no copy/paste needed.

That's a pretty neat extension, thanks! To make it work on my machine I had to follow this though: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/its-all-text/...

Interesting. How do you deal with / save / manage permalinks and inbound links from other sites? Or is it a case of those are just not important enough to worry about? (Since Google has a record of all the content it believes is currently on the Web)

What exactly do people do with this data, specifically for sites like hackernews? I don't think I've ever particularly cared about my own comments. Without context they are pretty much useless anyway.

I'd go further and say that even with context my comments on hacker news are practically useless. I see online discussions as a pastime, not something that needs to be conserved on triple redundant backups.

"If you're a hacker and more than 5% of what you type goes anywhere other than your code repository, you should probably reevaluate what you're doing before you make it any easier to do it."

I'm a hacker but I'm also a blogger, marketer, entrepreneur and many other things. And I am sure many other users here also are. The idea that you should only write code all the time is flawed, at best.

And hard drives crash. And other backups also can get lost.

But I agree one shouldn't worry much about online data being lost. And for any data you really care about, have some backups, yes.

Interesting idea. I do a similar thing with OneNote on long outgoing mails that I write that take a long time to compose.

However, how do you deal with threaded conversations and tracking the 1 liner replies to those mails? There are a large # of mails that I write that fall into this category.

Someone I know wrote his own email client that is essentially a long text buffer where email conversations are persisted to a single text file. He has commands that allow him to select portions of text from that file to compose in his replies. He's used that system since the 1980's and still has all of his email from back then logged into individual files.

I don't get it, email is the easiest thing in the world to backup and view offline. You can just run e.g. offlineimap to periodically download the messages, and then you can use virtually any email client to view them

Tracking replies is done automatically as long as you actually click "reply", because mail clients add the In-Reply-To header with the ID of the message you're replying to.

I'm not trying to be obnoxious, I just don't understand what's the issue.

I have a cron job that archives all my gmail content to my local box in mbox format. I use getmail: http://pyropus.ca/software/getmail/

how do you deal with threaded conversations and tracking the 1 liner replies to those mails?

I only save that last copy in the same .txt file. I email it to myself, Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, X-Delete.

I plan on taking this approach and moving my blog to GitHub Pages w/ Jekyll. That way it will all be neatly backed up in a local repo as well, with the benefit of version control.

edit: Has anyone here migrated from Google Sites to Jekyll before?

That's what scripting is for! 10 minutes with Python + lxml and I have a script that saves everything I write to a text file (usually in JSON to keep the structure).

For example, I use Read It Later, so I wrote a script to fetch the URLs and then use wget to mirror each URL.

Tumblr is even easier: open the e.g. Liked page, use xdotool in a bash loop to keep pressing pagedown, then just save the page with the browser itself.

I think carrying this to its logical conclusion will lead you to a self-hosted instance of something like http://www.engag.io meets http://thinkupapp.com/ meets https://singly.com/

Which would be a very useful tool indeed.

"But I will lose nothing..." Oh come now - surely your time was valuable. And your enthusiasm/willingness to give another service hours and hours of your time for the hope that they will be around "forever" will almost certainly wane if these services went down for the count.

And of course you grab a copy of what everybody else says too, since things like HN and Twitter are mostly about context...

Well, I pretty much do, but my process is automatic and heavy on third-parties: http://www.gwern.net/Archiving%20URLs

What you've alluded to is actually how people will interact with nearly all services in the future, through a proxy. Great effort is taken by social media sites to make it difficult to migrate off. But what they, and their investors, don't want you to know is that eventually these services will be reduced to API's that your proxy (an intelligent agent) communicates with.

Proxies already exist for linking your Twitter and Facebook feeds, and this trend is going to continue and possibly one day even replace the WWW we use today.

Why would the site owner allow this?

Site owners can't prevent their data from going through a proxy. If they don't provide an API the service is going to look backward, and be less useful in the future. This type of system is inevitably coming because there's no way a human can possibly keep up with the number of new content services that are coming out.

This is well said and reflects my experience. These days I look for services that a) take money, b) probably won't get acquired soon. (a) is easier than (b), but if you look around you'll eventually find something.

Good examples are:

* Instapaper — Marco's one-man-shop, stable and profitable,

* Smugmug — family owned, users pay them money, stable and profitable,

* Dropbox — which I also pay for — but is still unlikely to find an acquirer.

I recently decided not to sign on several new services because I couldn't see a business model.

I'd like pg to address this in one of his essays, given that YC is all about building stuff people want without paying too much attention to the business side of things (e.g. actual cash flow), and with the explicit goal of reaching an exit for the founders.

You need to add a c) data liberation and this is/was Posterous' long time problem, and tellingly so.

Would raganwald be writing his essay if he owned his data and could easily export it from Posterous?

Or would he have just exported his data and imported it into another blogging service?

People have been asking Posterous for a data export solution FOR YEARS, and Posterous NEVER supplied one.

There is backuperous, but that's some guy's project and doesn't save media.

I wanted to learn more, so I wrote my own data export tool in elisp -- it took me a couple of weeks to do so, with the main task being learning elisp and how the url package works, and now I feel confident I can get the data in several client's blogs back from Posterous and import it into another blogging service. But it will surely be a pain in the butt.

So while you are looking for a) and b), also look for c) companies that allow you to own your own data and export it and back it up.

On that scale, Posterous is/was always just absolutely terrible for their customers, and at the risk of alienating people here, I absolutely condemn Posterous and their behavior in this manner.

Posterous had years to supply a backup/export solution and consistently, and clearly intentionally, failed to do so. In contrast, I wrote my own backup solution in a very short time. There was no technical reason why Posterous could not supply a backup solution. And the resources required were minimal, almost trival. That they did no do so indicates this was part of a strategy of customer lock-in, and was a value-subtract to customers, not a value-add, and just abusive of the customer in general.

Here at HN, we love to laud the founders and act all clubby with them, but ya know, what Posterous did to its users by failing to provide a backup was just terrible and shame on Posterous' founders for using the user's data as an element of their lock-in strategy.

YC seems (I obviously don't speak for them) to like companies like Smugmug and Instapaper --- see what Graham writes about Wufoo --- and over the long term, companies with established niches can obtain valuations that outstrip that niche. Black swans happen, and it's good to maximize your exposure to the good ones.

But fundamentally YC is about shooting companies out of a cannon. Charging users a fee puts user acquisition and retention at risk. For Instapaper and Pinboard that risk is well worth the reward. But most YC companies have acclimated themselves to the idea of working for a VC-funded board of directors; if you're going to take VC, the risk is very often not worth it in the first year or two of your company, because traction trumps revenue in most VC-funded companies.

The overwhelming majority of YC's returns come from exits from VC-funded companies.

So the interests of free users and YC don't really so much line up here.

Actually, YC's real returns will come from IPOs of big profitable companies like Airbnb and Dropbox, not exits any smaller than them.

And I think there's room for more Dropboxes. What I find strange is that so few startups (YC-funded or not) even try the freemium model seriously. It took Dropbox a long time and a lot of experimentation to find a scalable business model, and they wouldn't have found it had they not been persistent.

Building something great is harder than making money, but even YC's success depends on startups that can do both.

Ok, but that just reinforces the point, right?

It reinforces jwr's point, not your argument that YC's interests are not aligned with free users.

It's only companies with a good business model that can support free users as a marketing cost in the long run. All others die once they run out of funding cycles.

Why do you think dropbox is unlikely to find an acquirer? Because they're too proud to get absorbed into Apple?

I can easily see them being a massive acqui-hire, as they've solved the problems Apple, Google, and Microsoft (lexicographical order) have been trying to solve for years, and I mean the technical problems and also the marketing problems.

I don't pay for dropbox. I love it, but I could replace the utility it affords me with a couple of shell scripts and an S3 instance in a heartbeat.

I really wish I could pay for free services just for the peace of mind that they'll stick around.

I've got my website on Tumblr and by using their service I feel like I'm making a pretty big commitment to them, but since it's free it doesn't feel like they have the same level of commitment to me.

I freaking love Tumblr and would be happy to pay. But right now it's not clear to me if they're making any money at all and that's a big concern as a user. Just remind me, how do those guys make money again?

Also, Pinboard founder Maciej Ceglowski wrote on the topic of being a free user not that long ago: http://blog.pinboard.in/2011/12/don_t_be_a_free_user/

The TL;DR version was: Exploding growth + free service = losing lots of money. Ouch.

(It's peace of mind. Piece of mind is something a brain surgeon finds stuck to his shirt when he goes home for the day)

There is also "to give a piece of mind".

I'll give you a piece of my mind if you keep going on about this! (not really, just giving an example :)

Doh! Thanks. :-)

"I really wish I could pay for free services just for the peace of mind that they'll stick around. I've got my website on Tumblr ..."

The sensible middle ground is to host your site anywhere you want, but only using your own domain. If someone pulls a Posterous, you just point your domain at the next vendor, export from old and import to new.

Same with email. Your address should be under a domain that you own, then you can host your email anywhere that allows you to use your own domain. Even gmail does this.

I think it's a little .----- and more than a little hyperbolic to suggest that Posterous wasn't a business, but rather just an exhibit for the team's portfolio.

The fact is, Posterous tried and lost. By all accounts, valiantly.

I find myself nodding when Maciej writes "Don't Be A Free User", because he is competing with free (and also because I want him to give me a tour of his vault of golden coins). Pointing out that your pricing scheme makes you a sustainable competitive alternative is fair.

But to the best of my knowledge, you aren't competing with Posterous. Why do you feel the need to rub this in?

I sincerely apologize if I'm just missing some parodic element of this post.

There is no criticism of Posterous or anybody else intended. I apologise if it comes across that way.

I did, however, try to make a point that I would never move my business onto a free or pre-revenue site.

FWIW, I knew this could happen when I first started using Posterous, and I deliberately cut my blogging in two. The stuff that is just hot air—like this post—is on Posterous. I could honestly live with losing all of it, permanently. It’s personal and not mission-critical to my livelihood.

The stuff that I cherish, the stuff with code, is on Github. That’s my business, and I treat it differently. They seem to have a working business, and I have an automatic backup strategy, I have other places I can re-host it, I can Jekyl-ize it to a standard web host, I have my own exit plan.

So no quarrel with Posterous, I’m not losing a thing. I’m just pointing out that while I might do something personal with a pre-revenue business, I’m not betting real money on it.

Consider striking the "exhibit for the portfolio" bit.

Try the current flavour and see if it’s still as bitter.

Way better!

> There is no criticism of Posterous or anybody else intended by the post, and I apologise if it comes across that way.

> I did, however, try to make a point that I would never move my business onto a free or pre-revenue site.

That sounds like (and certainly comes across far more strongly in the blog post as) a criticism. It sounds fairer the way it was put here than how you said it there. Not having a monetization strategy that involves charging customers is not coextensive with being a mere portfolio exhibit.

Well, I tried to write it in two sections, one for each point. If I failed, I apologise. maybe it’s just like launching a startup, you get some things right, you get other things wrong.

I'm still getting upmodded for this but 'raganwald graciously fixed my concern with the article; if I could edit the comment, I would. 'raganwald is a stand-up guy.

Out of curiosity - why are you adding an apostrophe before raganwald's name? I assume it's some convention I'm not familiar with?

I'm quoting names so they aren't evaluated as English, because people here have names like 'the.

It's just a goofy thing I do.

Fair enough :)

Posterous took investment not only from venture capital, but also from users who believed and trusted that the service would find a way to make money and stick around. It hasn't repaid that investment. This feels like a turning point to me as I have no incentive to start investing as a user with the next hot startup that comes along.

You were deluding yourself that you ever had that incentive to "invest" your time with free-to-use startups. Or, more likely, you used the service because it was awesome at the time, better than the alternatives, and didn't think about the downside risk.

There are people out there trying to compete with free and building slow, deliberate, organic growth on the model. So it's hard for me to feel sorry for the users who feel burned when "free" doesn't work out.

I'm not sure if it's the architects fault or the real estate investors. Land is so cheap, and investors seem to really like watching architects build stuff. For a long time, investors have believed if there are people in the building, the coffee bar or the valet parking will make them a lot of money.

The problem is that it has also conditioned people to believe that all office space should be free. Those who build incredibly efficient office space are still going to have a hard time charging rent.

These architect aquisitions are every bit as much about the investors as they are the architects. Until investors get selective and demand real value, I'm not sure it's going away.

(Wow, I might need to go to prison for extended torture of an analogy.)

The biggest loss is the backlinks to your carefully created content.

For that reason alone I would never consider hosting something like a blog on real estate owned by another party.

Another risk is that the domain sooner or later ends up in the hands of some scammer or pill pusher.

Yeah, this has happened a number of times, enough that I'm wary of investing time and energy into using a service that appears to not have any means of making money. Last fall, I evaluated Posterous for my personal blog, but one of the reasons I ended up going with Squarespace instead is because it's a paid service:


I don't think being a paid service makes it more likely that it will be around forever, but it is a good input to use when weighing and comparing different services. I would probably place as much emphasis on data portability and content license terms.

This is, off course, assuming you are comparing products that are like-for-like in features and that the product is good. Paying for a crap product won't save it.

Indeed. Google is a free service and Google Apps is a paid service, but I wouldn't expect significantly more longevity from the latter just because I'm paying them $x a year than I would from the loss-leader service.

I think it is a bad example because it is probably contributing less than 1% to Googles bottom line. Much easier to cut than if it were the primary revenue source for n individual company.

For exactly that reason it's a really good example of the point I was making: what you really need to know is whether a given product is strategic to its supplier. "Am I paying for it?" is one indicator that it may be, but it's not conclusive

Took me a minute or so to figure what he was talking about. I am not sure what the greater message is, here. Was Posterous "evil" for selling themselves to Twitter? Or, should users generally beware any company that does not have a revenue? At what level of revenue should users stop worrying? Not saying that it is likely, but should users of Dropbox worry that Apple will acquire them?

Completely separately, Posterous lost all personal credit when they did that anti-Tumblr campaign a while ago. Not that I care at all about Tumblr, but I felt it was in bad taste. When a company does bad things, I cannot help but imagine that they will do other "bad" things.

I think it’s a question of lock-in. If someone wants to give a free service away and there’s very little lock-in, great! If a new restaurant opens in my neighbourhood, maybe the owner gives away free lunches to all the people working nearby. Great, go have lunch.

But if there’s a big lock-in, as users you have to do your due diligence (we used to jokingly call it “doing the dew”). Say there’s a service for managing software projects. Well, if I’m going to bet hundreds of thousands of dollars plus my career and reputation on a service, I want to ask a lot of questions, that’s natural.

I’m actually cool with Posterous, I hope the folks behind it do really well.

That makes sense.

I realized just now that I sounded very critical of Posterous. I also hope they do very well.

Posterous' "badness" is more of a matter of corporate moral personality. As a company develops, its leaders will have opportunities to make decisions which show their opinions on things. It doesn't surprise me when their future decisions also reflect those opinions.

For a high-profile example: Remember when Google decided it was going to start censoring search results in China? At the time, it was huge, extremely surprising news. However, it also showed a change in corporate opinion. Given subsequent developments, you can "see" the change in corporate decisions.

Interesting metaphor.

The reason this doesn't happen with real-estate is because unlike startups - there are no Facebooks.

Someone once explained Disney's town of Celebration to me this way:

It took Disney more than a decade to develop Celebration. They spent several hundred million dollars. In the end, they made about $200 million. The ROI on Pocahontas was significantly better.

Celebration is also ongoing PR for the Disney mystique, like Google's autonomous car project.

In my limited but growing experience dealing with free and paid users, I see it this way: when a customer pays for your product, it's like they're saying "I trust you." When you charge for something, you are asking for someone's trust because you believe in what you've created. You owe it to yourself to make people pay for what you build.

Maybe Aladdin said it best...do you trust me? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkwMEwenaQQ)

This used to be called "Who is not on LiveJournal[1]"



1. An interesting story itself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LiveJournal

> When Bubble 2.0 is dead and gone, we'll still be here.

of the alternatives he listed, 6 are dead.

of the supposedly dead and gone bubble 2.0 products he listed, all are up and running.

I think it is an interesting point that people get more value out of your product when they are invested in it.

When friends call me for marketing advice, I enjoy talking about it, and am always willing to share some insight for free, but this makes me wonder if I am doing them a disservice.

Odds are, they just resent the advice, or even if they agree with it, how likely are they to use it if it's free.

Seems like sharing ideas and free advice is a lose-lose.

If you really want to help people, make them pay for it!

But what's the alternative?

Assume that Posterous was charging for their services with a monthly fee. Is this any guarantee that they wouldn't take the same offer to sell? Or would you just be out your monthly fees and still have to move?

The more money they have coming in, the more desirable an acquisition they become. In theory, they might have less pressure to sell if they have cash flow, but it's not clear this is enough to counteract their increased appeal to an acquirer. Rather than indicting "free" services, it would seem more rational to avoid "cloud" services whether paid or unpaid.

Perhap you should choose only services from companies you feel are too large to be acquired (Google) or companies whose code is available to run on your own if they were to close down (Github). Or stick with self-hosted solutions with that plan that you can change hosts as necessary.

For any company you chose, I think you have to presume that while they will try to keep their service running, they will be doing so primarily out of self-interest. The more you can align your interests with theirs, the better the chance that the service will continue and you won't have to move.

I think being paid there is more chance that they would be acquired for their product and not just the team. There is still no guarantee of course.

Paid product companies don't get bought nearly as often, either. In a lot of ways it makes you an unattractive acquisition target.

I think that Reginald is talking about social media platforms' APIs and other infrastructure that 3rd parties can connect to for whatever business they are in.

It is valid concern that, for example, Facebook may decide that providing their graph APIs is suddenly not in their interest and cut off the service.

Same thing happened with some Google APIs like the Buzz feed. I only briefly used the Buzz feed for a small customer task one time, and the termination of Buzz and the feed does not hurt me, but it could have.

I find the user experience using G+ to be good, but the APIs are not in anywhere near a form where I would build part of a business on them.

The situation is different with other infrastructure like AWS, Heroku, and AppEngine: I understand the long term business model of the providers and trust that these services will likely be available for a long time.

From reading the other posts, I see that I misinterpreted the article.

Saving blogging and other self promotion information is important. I hosted my own blogging solution in the past, but now I compromise: use Blogger, map it to a subdomain on my main web site, and make sure I back up Blogger's data so I could re-host it with some effort. So, I trade off some control for making life easier.

I think we're currently in the era of the government-funded type of web projects that serve a great purpose for a large number of people who wouldn't otherwise be willing to pay for them. Right now the climate is such that developers with an idea can very inexpensively get that idea built and used, which can in turn, bolster their own resumes or possibly even result in an IPO exit or acquisition.

Profit is not crucial because the only asset that has seen substantial investment is time. However, I don't feel sorry for consumers of these services. The services are, after all, free, and don't usually make any guarantees that they will be around for ever. In this case we're talking about a blogging website that's been around for a few years, not a bank. A little perspective helps a lot.

That's nice, but what's the alternative?

Putting the onus on contributors to back up what they publish would be a crap shot; even with backups there may not be a plan for recovery, and recovery may be impossible if the contributor is unable or unwilling to handle it themselves.

Commenters and other participants have it even harder, due to the variety of sites and platforms they participate in (Lazarus can help saving one's own comments now that CoComment is shutting down, wget can be used to rescue content with advance warning).

Maybe the best alternative would be a commitment from the platforms to keep a low-bandwidth, possibly throttled archive available; failing that, to outsource the work to an organisation like the internet archive. This would be a step up from the current standard, which is, at best, a period of warning (lets external participants make backups), or a commitment to data liberation, which unfortunately ends up with many contributors failing to republish their content.

It's probably well worth questioning the value of any of this crap above and beyond whatever immediate social value it gives. I can't think of anything more ephemeral and useless than blog comments--does it really matter whether those are backed up for the ages?

It's probably worthwhile giving your users a chance to recover their content. It's probably not worthwhile to be a digital packrat.

I mentioned commenters and comments because I wanted to discuss the roles either party could play, not because I wanted to highlight their value. That said, some bloggers do have highly interesting discussions in comments, in part because they see value in them and spend some effort moderating them.

> I can't think of anything more ephemeral and useless than blog comments--does it really matter whether those are backed up for the ages?

You might be surprised. Archaeologists are forced to derive much of what they know about vanished cultures from bits of ephemera from their daily lives -- things you'd find in a midden heap, like shards of discarded pottery, spat-out plant seeds and gnawed animal bones, and the like. Why? Because those are the things that survived.

Would our understanding of those cultures be richer if we could hear their songs and read their poetry? Undoubtedly. But we can learn an awful lot about them from their ephemera, even without that.

If we're worried about archaeologists, we should inscribe our blogs on stone tablets and bury them underneath our houses. Short of that, backup tapes will decay, hard drives will fail, and if the data somehow stays alive in the "cloud" in a form that's accessible to archaeologists of the future, then they'll surely have an utter surfeit of data.

the onus already is on consumers to back up their stuff. nobody else is doing it for you, if you don't want to lose your stuff you'd better back it up.

relying on anybody else to do backups for you is the crapshoot. doing it yourself is really the only way to be sure.

This reminds me of the advert Google put out recently where it shows a father documenting his daughters life in YouTube, and sending her emails (from birth) with the videos on with a note of what it was all about in the email. She comes back to the email 20 years later and sees the document of her life with it all in.

I just don't buy it, how do we know Google will be around in 20 years, never mind free solutions not supplemented with paid for services?

Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is secure, nothing is forever. I wish I could say I could make a solution that would ease this problem but my solution might not stand the test of time. Shit happens! Saving it to your hard drive means you are only backing it up to something that could explode (dramatisation). Further backing up to the cloud is relying again on a solution that you are expecting to work and stick around, it may not!

You need to go into any situation like this with some level of acknowledgement that it just might not work.

For a second, he had me thinking that there were actually cool office buildings somewhere filled with interesting people providing free office space complete with coffee bars.

That actually sounded like a great deal. Easily worth the hassle of possibly having to move out and find space elsewhere.

This happens repeatedly outside the startup world as well. The company I work for has relied on technology that Microsoft developed, supported, and subsequently walked away from. That is the nature of both business and technology.

Is the De-Stijl Schroder house now an office?

No, it’s a museum. It just happens to be a favourite building of mine and an excellent example of making a complete break from convention, just like many start-ups :-)

Is it a little ironic that the blog is posted on Posterous? I only say that cause the complaint may disappear before its intended effect ring through the rest of the startup community.

That was one of the things that delighted me about writing it!

That's precisely what makes the landlord metaphor so effective.

I've setup http://p.ostero.us It's a paid Octpress based blogging service for the ex-posterous users - not more free rent - using an awesome blog platform - and a ongoing income generating service

Hopefully this will help other posterous user wondering where to go

* http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3713092

An interesting satire on what's happening in the tech world, however, I'd be hesitant to be quite as critical. In the end, the service is free, it's not something that has to be provided. You should enjoy it while it's there and appreciate it, not feel entitled to it. Is it a little bit of a dick move? Yeah, but then again, what would you do if you were in their position?

I don't think the issue is so much "what should they do now", because what they should do now is constrained by what they can do. The issue is "what should they have done in 2008?" - should they for example have said "please note that our current business model is not sustainable, and while you are welcome to enjoy it while it's here you are cautioned not to behave as though it will be here for ever"? Providing a limited, ephemeral, or best-effort service is a perfectly OK thing to do provided your service users know that's what you're doing and can (as raganwald says he has) tailor their behavour accordingly

Great point, but it's unbelievably difficult do carry something like that out practically. Who are the CEO's customers, the market the company is targeting, or the company's employees? I'd argue both, the CEO is the visionary and cheerleader for the staff, and also the public image for the customers. If you come out and say we are not sustainable, guess how many employees you'll have at the end of the week? Guess how many customers? After putting 100's or 1000's of hours into something, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone willing to go that route

This is where honesty has to be given its due. I expect A CEO to honestly state the max plausible downside and upside of their business, and to have a decent argument (which I take with a grain of salt) for why they expect the upside to happen. Then I make my own estimate, somewhere between the extremes, and act accordingly. The CEOs I respect (as employers, vendors, and investments) behave this way.

not including warren buffet (ironic that he's considered one of the most ethical guys in the business and he's on top of the world), name a few CEOs. Not a call out, I just want to know who they are so I can start following them

Joel Spolsky and Stackoverflow is a good example. They build a quality product, treat users with respect, and (I guess) are on a good track financially, and make their money in an aboveboard way. They even go so far as to build in some defenses (like Creative Commons licensing) to proactively preempt future possible evildoing.

Stephen Wolfram (though an egomaniac that has picked some unfair fights against his employees) and his company Wolfram Research built a rather solid offering in "old style" proprietary commercial software with Mathematica and now Wolfram Alpha, making his money on incredibly high quality and pouring decades of revenue back into product development and offering a generous free tier of access and deep discounts for educational and personal use.

Thank you

So where in the world does this kind of thing happen? To me it sounds like a made up scenario and then an argument against the made up scenario. Could just be that it doesn't happen in the parts of the world that I have lived and worked though.

UPDATE: Thanks for the clarification everyone. I guess I'm way too literal early in the morning.

It's an analogy for "the super latest greatest startup web site" and how it's risky using it (aka moving in).

You don't pay for it, so you don't have any claim as a tenant when they decide to cash out.

He's talking about startups getting acquired and then shutting down (see the last link of his post referencing Posterous).

I could be wrong but I think this is a satire on what happened to Posterous, he's saying Posterous is the "landlord" and they built this "space" to work in for free; but they just did it with the intention of getting their name out there knowing that there would be an exit at some point. He feels betrayed b/c there was all of this trust built up and now they are closing down.

It was analogy, not to be taken literaly. Ragenwald wanted to say that free services (webpages, applications, etc) provided by startups often ends up after a while, and people depending on them are left hanging.

Indeed. Maybe it's actually a metaphor for cool free apps and what happens when the startup behind them gets acquired?

Spot-on. I looked at using Posterous, but decided against doing so because there was no way for anyone to pay them.

In response to that all I can say is I have a landlord issue as well.


Use a Key logger

This is an interesting analogy, yet laughably impractical and wrong.

Paid business models do not guarantee success. If they did, Posterous would have charged. It seems land is so cheap, landlords have concluded the best possible chance to find a business model is to be a free landlord. That is a great world for tenants since they don't have to pay rent, and it's a tough world for landlords since they have to maintain beautiful buildings with donation boxes and ad banners.

Given the lack of tenant laws (imagine if there were tenant laws...) paying rent is no guarantee of anything. You can be evicted, abused, moved around, neglected, or anything else without warning or compensation. That's a good thing, which demonstrates how strained and poor this analogy is.

Good luck finding quality, innovative, paid services to match Facebook, Twitter, and Posterous. Let us know how that goes. You'll have some luck, but I'm not sure your chances are much better. I call bullshit.

Everything Apple and most of Microsoft is paid.

Apple is an hardware company that writes software to go with it. It's apples and oranges, if you excuse the pun.

I think we have missed the un-mentioned point...

What does this say about Twitter that they have to buy product staff? What does that say about the value of their IPO?

The Thiel proposition would be, long-term, we should be betting against every one who IPO'd thus far.

We saw a lot of this during Internet bubble v1.0

The issue is that a bunch of folks who will flip IPO shares need to quote a number-of-employees. The implication is that a high number of employees is an indicator of the viability of the company.

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