From: Adam Rifkin (adam@KnowNow.com)
Date: Thu Jan 11 2001 - 09:58:39 PST
One of the biggest problems I foresee in a world of Web services will be
this: you write a service, it becomes popular, and then you have to
spend lots of time (to figure out how to provide the service in a way
that scales) and money (to pay for the scaling) supporting that service.
Actually, support includes not only the cost of scaling but also the
cost of debugging, improving, and maintaining the service itself.
Right now there's no company out there that can ease the burden of the
time and money needed to support a service. That will have to change.
Recently Blogger and Organizine, among others, have felt this pain.
(Correct me if I'm wrong, but AmIHotOrNot also Got Big Fast and were it
not for the generosity of Rackspace, would have had quite a hosting bill
on its hands...)
What does Strata call this, "success disaster"?
(By the way, Organizine was brilliant. Brilliant.)
> Mistakes Were Made
> January 9, 2001
> Preface: Have I mentioned recently that I suck? Sorry about that.
> I'm shutting down Organizine, barely a week after it launched to the public.
> Everyone thinks I'm crazy. This is understandable. I probably am.
> When you run a completely free service for a week, I don't think you
> "owe" anybody an explanation, as some have suggested to me. I mean,
> really, that's just absurd. I don't owe anybody anything, I was giving
> away software and storage space for free, asked for nothing in return,
> and made no guarantees about the service.
> And there really isn't much of an explanation that will make anyone feel
> any better. This is more about me than anything else, which is why it is
> in the personal essays section of my personal web site, not on the front
> page of Organizine.
> Yes, I'm shutting it down for "personal reasons."
> I just don't want to run the service, it's that simple.
> I enjoyed writing the software, I enjoyed using the software, I enjoyed
> seeing my friends use and like the software, and to a cetain extent I
> enjoyed seeing people I didn't know use and like what I created.
> But I just don't want to be responsible for hundreds of users' content,
> and supporting and maintaining a web application. It's too much
> responsibility that I don't want.
> I just don't want to deal with it at all while I'm in school.
> It's not that I can't do it, I simply don't want to. Is that selfish? Of
> course, I'm the first to admit that it is. I probably don't have the
> right kind of personality to run a project like this. I should have
> thought a lot more about the sorts of things that were involved in
> providing a free web application that stored and published content
> before launching it to the public.
> And giving things away for free doesn't really work forever, you
> know. And for every kind and grateful person that makes it seem
> worthwhile, there are a dozen other rude, ungrateful jerks. But I
> expected that.
> I don't think any of the issues I have are insurmountable, it's just
> that I do not want to deal with them right now. Leaving it running and
> never bothering to support it, or worry about backups, and security and
> hosting and a bunch of other things is not an option. I would just leave
> me feeling guilty and horrible.
> Aww, aww, poor me, I'd feel "bad."
> But it was honestly making me physically ill.
> I know, I'm crazy, that's my fault.
> Cliche as it is, I just don't like the way I'm living my life right now.
> I'm 20. I'm a college student. I'm still a kid. These aren't the
> problems I want to deal with. These aren't the things I want to worry
> about. And I don't have to, these are responsibilities I've taken on
> myself and I can get rid of them if I so choose. And I'm choosing to do so.
> "Can I just say something here that may be a bit out of line?" my
> roommate Yuping asked me at lunch today as I explained all this to him.
> "After months, you finally launch this thing over winter break, and now
> you're shutting it down."
> "That's right."
> "You're whacked."
> "I know."
> Organizine isn't what I want to do with my junior year of college. This
> isn't what's going to make me happy. I'm neglecting the things that are
> important to me. Sometimes I'm not even sure what those things are anymore.
> And I know that this is drastic, and stupid, and that Organizine and the
> Internet are not my problem. I am my problem, no arguments there.
> I can't deal with change. Anybody that knows me knows I can't deal with
> change, at all. Drastic measures are the only things that force it in me.
> What I'm trying to say is, I'm taking an extended break from web
> applications, personal publishing, the Internet, and all the rest of
> it. This isn't some cry for attention, I'll be fine, I just need to
> figure some things out and deal with the real world exclusively for a while.
> I'm sorry to the users who genuinely liked Organizine and were planning
> on using it. But it was only available for a week, I honestly doubt that
> anyone has put so much content into this application as to be seriously
> affected by its closure, and it does transfer the files to your server
> so that in an event like this, you don't really lose your content, but
> still, I'm sorry. But it's better to do this now after a week than wait
> months and stop it due to some catastrophe I'm unwilling to deal with.
> Thanks to everyone who said nice things to me about Organizine, and was
> positive about it. It was nice to know that some people actually liked
> it. And like all the rest of my mistakes in life, it was definitely a
> learning experience.
> So, basically, I'm a selfish asshole. I never claimed I wasn't.
> Anyway, this will be the last texty text for a while, not that they were
> ever that frequent. I'm going back to scribbling things in a notebook
> for a while. Oh, and leave my room. I'm going to try and do more of that too.
Adam writes about why he shut down Organizine, the content management web application he spent a few months building and then launched very recently. He writes: "Everyone thinks I'm crazy. This is understandable. I probably am." I think quite the opposite. Adam is completely right and sane-sounding to me. Why on Earth would he want to spend his junior year of college managing a web application? Most people have no idea what that involves. If you say, well then he was crazy for building it in the first place, I say wrong again: Building stuff is fun!
This episode brings up some interesting issues about web applications. If Adam would have chosen to take on the responsibilities of running Organizine, and it gained popularity, it would have become a significant financial burden, as well as a time- and energy-sink. In order to manage that burden, he would have needed to either limit users to some manageable level or start charging money (or find some other business model to sustain the free service). Going to all that work for a limited number of users would be discouraging. But to start charging money requires forming some sort of business (or other entity) around the service, which creates all kinds of new headaches.
For non-web applications, there isn't such a dilemma. You can release your software for free (or shareware, or whatever) and put it out into the world without such the responsibilities or potential burdens of success. Of course, prior to widespread Internet use, it was difficult and/or expensive to get your software into many people's hands quickly. So, as more application move to the web, it's kind of like we're moving back to a time when distribution for software is an issue for software companies, where, for a while there, it wasn't so much. Kind of.
-- http://www.evhead.com/ January 10, 2001
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