One of my first posts on this blog was about the rather sudden and unexpected shutdown of two web services, Stikkit and Sandy, and the anger that shutdown prompted against the services’ providers. We’re going to be hearing many more such stories, I think, during the recession/depression. Sites that have been funded by VCs while their creators have been trying to come up with a business plan are going to find themselves out of cash, and are going to shut down, and their users — accustomed to free services — are going to be seriously ticked off. And of course larger companies are going to be closing down unprofitable projects, with similar consequences. There’s even a website devoted to tracking such closings: It Died.
It Died took me to a really interesting rant by Jason Scott about the closing of AOL Hometown. (And there’s a follow-up rant here.) Jason’s point is that, just as landlords can't simply evict a renter for no cause and with no warning but have to follow carefully specified procedures, so too virtual landlords shouldn't be given unlimited right of eviction. There needs to be, Jason says, some kind of website eviction law — or, failing that, a volunteer Archive Team that vacuums up the data of doomed websites and hosts it until people can rescue their data. (Jason came up with the volunteer idea after his legal ideas were descended upon by the SLV.*)
I don't know what I think about all this, except that there seems to be more and more to be said for the 37signals philosophy: if the creators of web services charge money for their product, they’re more likely to be able to keep offering it. The people at Jott, an excellent phone-to-web service for reminders and to-do lists, have come to this conclusion: they’re eliminating their free plan. Howls of outrage to commence immediately.
*Slashdot Libertarian Vigilantes