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Warning: If Your Business Depends on a Platform, You Don’t Have a Business

There’s a considerable amount of well warranted concern over the increase in the amount of account suspensions at Twitter and deplatforming/demonetization at YouTube. Under the excuse of going after soi-disant right wing conspiracy theory, plenty of content on the other end of the spectrum is being removed…apparently for the sin of doing a good job of covering and calling out the right wing! The latest of many examples:

I am not going to dispute the injustice of situations like this. However, we live in a world where powerful interests feel freer than ever to flex their muscles. And whether out of malice or inattention, it’s too easy to wind up the loser.

We were lucky enough to find out the hard way, early on (one of my owns sayings is “Sometimes bad luck is good luck.”). I’d only been blogging a bit over a year and was invited to the Milken conference, which was April 2008. At that point, everyone still assumed I was a man, which amused me enormously, and I was conflicted about outing myself. But I decided to go, particularly because I wanted to hang with some of the other invitees on the blogger panel (Felix Salmon and Mark Thoma).

Just before I was set to go, Google took down the site, which it was hosting on its free service, Blogger, as a spam blog. It was clear that it would take two to three weeks through the normal process to get the site back up. I was hysterical, because here I was about to get a star turn as a blogger and no one would be able to find my work.

Luckily I was friendly with technology writer turned management guru Michael Schrage. Michael was so gracious as to contact his brother, Eliot Schrage, who was then Vice President of Global Communications and Public Relations. Naked Capitalism was back up in 24 hours. But how many people who are similarly screwed have the good fortune to have a C-suite connection at Google?

I realized I could not have my site hosted by a big hermetic company, even worse for free, since they had no service obligation to me. So even though the site was generating only modest revenues from Google Adsense, I moved it to a private host. The layout you see now is a minor rework from the its original Blogger template, Simple. We have had a lot of tech hair-tearing over the years, since our decision to host our own comments makes unusually high database demands (due to the size of the database and the frequency of refresh). But we’ve finally gotten a very good tech team and most of the time, site plumbing is the least of our worries.

So you’ve been warned: if your business depends on a platform, you don’t have a business. I am simply gobsmacked that writers with the huuge reputations and followings like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi don’t have their own sites. Lambert mutters that he is worried it might be some sort of honeypot, or at least not proven to be trustworthy (but the flip side is Substack is apparently very lean, with only 20 employees, so they may be able to make this model nicely profitable for them).

Whatever functionality Substack offers (and it appears the main one is ease of setting up/monetizing mailing lists), it can’t be that hard or costly to reverse engineer, particularly if a few people got together to fund the development of a plug-in or plug-ins that could also be monetized.

To put it another way, it’s all well and good to want to be the creative person and not be bogged down with having to deal with the business side of publishing (and trust me, I do not like administrativa). However, when you choose to hand off the tech and monetization activities to the suits, you are at their mercy.

I have always been sensitive to my legal rights, and recall that I also wrote for many publications, some industry specialist, some MSM or MSM-adjacent, so I’ve looked at a lot of publisher copyright agreements. I am sure there will be nay-sayers, but I do not see how any content creator could be comfortable with the Paetron copyright language (this is the May 7, 2019 version; if there is a newer one, please pass it along and I’ll insert that instead, but I doubt it is materially different):

By posting creations on Patreon, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your creation. The purpose of this license is strictly limited to allow us to provide and promote memberships to your patrons. We will never try to steal your creations or use them in an exploitative way.

Paetron bizarrely and misleadingly has told the financial press that it does not have “contracts” with “creators” and they still control their content. Huh? With an unlimited, perpetual license AND the right to create derivative works? You give away all your rights and 10% of your gross too? By contrast, the normal deal with a publisher is they pay you, either for the work or for a right of first publication (with a certain period of exclusivity) but you as the author have the right to republish for self-promotional purposes. Some pubs also pay a kill fee if you submit an article on time on the right topic but for some reason they don’t run it.

Needless to say, I am also curious (as in suspicious) as how easy it is for a “creator” to download their full opus from Paetron were they to decide to cut the cord.

I wish there were easy answers. But we’ve stumbled though 14 years and are a survivor. I hope other publishers see the storm clouds on the horizon and take defensive measures.

Update 8:30 AM EST: In a bit of synchronicity, Greenwald tweeted (hat tip John Siman) shortly after our post went live:

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110 comments

  1. vlade

    The problem is that most of the people, “before they are famous”, don’t have to money to set up a good platform. So they use things like YT, Spotify, Apple, Twitter, FB and Patreon. It makes life easy.

    Once they have enough money, they often go on ignoring the infrastructure, because they:
    – want to focuse on what they see as their job, which is not taking care of the infrastructure, or the people who would care about the infrastructure, they see it all as taking their valuable time from posts (and are right)
    – have “it can’t happen to me” mentality

    Basically, they keep selling options to the platform, because short term, it’s cheaper. IMO, it makes sense for some (basically the uncontroversial entertainment stuff, education etc.. ), but not for anything that is, or can be, courting controversy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Just so you understand, it took the better part of a decade and a lot of tech person churn before before our platform was solid. In fairness, WordPress has gotten much less flaky over time too, so if you can stand the cost of entry (learning WordPress, which is feature heavy), that’s not a bad way to go for authors. And this was when the site wasn’t paying enough to provide a living for me, much the less other writers.

      I haven’t looked lately, but WordPress will also host, for money. I think their moderate page view plans are not too pricey. So while I am not current on alternatives, I’d trust WordPress way more as a paid host (and then move up to doing one’s own hosting as traffic grew) than a service like Substack or Paetron where you don’t even control your IP address (on Blogger, you could; if that’s an option on Substack, Greenwald and Taibbi are not exercising it).

      We had a guy initially who tried being host and developer, but his development skills were a bit like watching an ant push a piece of rice around until it fell in a hole. I am pretty sure we had at least one other host before we got our current one Keith who is excellent. We also now have an overqualified code jockey, Dave. In between we had just about every flavor of software support quirk, ones who really wanted to be designers and weren’t very good at plumbing, ones who found troubleshooting (most of what we need) too stressful and a couple who literally wanted too much attention.

      I will admit I have no answer for those who do videos, although they might talk to Paul Jay or Lynn Fries for some practical feedback. Both post content on their own sites and also publish it on YouTube, so they aren’t at the mercy of YouTube.

      Longwinded way of saying as a small business the much bigger problem is all the effort it takes to find good people who can do what you need and don’t want an arm and a leg. The funny bit is when you do get them they are usually not too pricey because they are very efficient and what you need isn’t that hard relative to their capability level.

      1. vlade

        I understand that (I had two web sites, one on plain HTML to save costs as it wasn’t much, the other was WordPress) – that was the point I was trying to make (although a more generic one, as some businesses will never find a good one, even an adequate one).

        I remember your numerous technical problems, and am glad they sound sorted out.

      2. .Tom

        > The funny bit is when you do get them they are usually not too pricey because they are very efficient and what you need isn’t that hard relative to their capability level.

        I can confirm this. With the right staff there’s no fuss.

        When I needed a Discourse for my own business I found a freelancer listed on their web site who did the whole setup for a flat fee. It was still not technically trivial since I had to set up the accounts at the service providers and delegate access tokens. As a relative expert in that stuff I still found the instructions fairly complex. So I can understand that some writers don’t want to deal with this stuff at all.

      3. Mk

        The conservative tree house just had to move, I think they used to be hosted on WordPress. I may be mistaken, but if not, I wouldn’t trust WordPress either.

        1. Darthbobber

          There’s two ways to do WordPress (and of course they’re completely different). WordPress. com, their free, ad-supported, limited service, is rather like Blogger. It’s a platform. They control it.

          More common, I think, is downloading from wordpress.org,
          and doing an install on whatever shared hosting service you have, or your own if your plan for world domination is going well.

          So you’re not ON a platform, and the app store/play store bottlenecks that Parler fell afoul of are avoidable.

      4. cocomaan

        Would love to know what can be done for podcasters. I have two podcasts on soundcloud.

        Not as heavy bandwidth as video but still heavy.

      5. Luke

        AWS showed that even running your own systems and tech is dangerous. Find a host who manage their own servers and who you can speak to “face to face”. And have a second working backup at another host if you can afford it.

        Many “hosts” actually use AWS.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          We don’t use AWS and I have no idea why you assumed we did when we clearly have a web host, as in person, not a service. And we have made clear to him that his backups are physical, not in the cloud. I want to be in control of our data for legal as well as practical reasons.

      6. none

        Self-hosting isn’t hard if you use a one-click installer on a place like Digital Ocean. The main thing is you control the domain name and don’t rely too much on the server provider’s unique features, so you can always change servers if things go wrong with the one you are using. Monetization is more complicated. The choke point is credit card processors. This article comparing Parler’s recent tribulations to those of the porn industry in years gone by was interesting:

        https://onezero.medium.com/whats-next-for-parler-ask-the-porn-industry-3142aa5fa744

        Finally, search engines also exercise a huge amount of control over who sees your site. I haven’t figured out an answer that would make any sense for a site running as a business.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Sorry, if you have any kind of traffic, this is not on. You need dedicated hardware and a decent sized pipe, which won’t be a residential connection. And you seem to forget that content producers on the whole lack the skills and appetite. We only ask Lambert for sanity checking what our tech guys are doing even though he was an IT consultant and did host his own site once.

    2. Comboman

      it makes sense for some (basically the uncontroversial entertainment stuff, education etc.. )

      Unfortunately, even “uncontroversial” stuff (entertainment in particular) can run afoul of copyright trolls looking to demonitize you for the slightest infraction, “fair use” be damned.

      1. Louis Fyne

        not defending copyright trolls……’fair use’ only concerns legal liability. Youtube has no mandate to respect, the federal concept of fair use… eg, a critic’s or teacher’s use of a video clip.

        Youtube (meaning a low-level staffer, potentially a contractor in the Phillipines) can de-monetize/ terminate any user anytime, for any reason..

        just saying

      2. Richard Hershberger

        Also, what is an is not “controversial” can be non-obvious, and can change instantaneously. This is my point about Wikipedia. Any sensible person knows you can’t trust it for anything controversial. What many miss is that there is no way to know from the outside what is controversial.

    3. the mongrel

      People ask me all the time why we don’t run the Greylock Glass via Medium or whatever. And while we do have both a Patreon account and a SteadyHQ account (EU-based, possibly more under the radar), we urge people to contribute directly via our website, with cryptocurrency, or via PayPay if the name brand recognition makes them feel safe. But mostly we beg people to contribute directly. Why? Because platforms. Just look at what pushed Joe Rogan to Spotify. Most listened-to podcaster out there, and he had to choose between being demonetized or wearing out the knees of his jeans.

      If you can find a low-cost, trustworthy, host that goes to bat to protect their customers (e.g. https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/08/feds-drop-demand-for-1-3-million-ip-addresses-that-visited-anti-trump-site/), you can absolutely get a payment gateway set up at no cost. Install WordPress, then install the BuddyPress and PaidMembershipPro plugins (https://www.paidmembershipspro.com/free/). Open an account with Stripe, hook it all up, and you’re good to go.

      What most people don’t want to do are these three things:

      Do the research. It’s time consuming. Sometimes the first five solutions you come across don’t work out for you. Sometimes the solution that seems best is used by, like…17 people and you don’t know if it’s really ready for prime-time.
      Read the user guide / install doc / tutorials / etc. It’s time consuming. Some solutions are necessarily more techy than you’re used to. Sometimes you have to visit a forum, ask questions, and then wait and hope that someone answers.
      Do extensive testing and tweaks. It’s time consuming. Even the best plugins that work right out of the box may need to be customized to fit in with your site. Also, if you’re taking people’s money electronically, you better know you’ve got everything securely nailed down before you switch from sandbox to live production environment.

      You may have noticed a theme here. You can have free, fast, and solid. You just can’t have them all at the same time. Now go out there and build your own platform.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Sorry but as we indicated we need a good host, which costs, and we need commercial grade Cloudflare. Decent hosting is not free.

        And we don’t customize plugins but we do test them.

        And I am not about to use Stripe. They aren’t free, so you have misrepresented them.

        1. the mongrel

          Decent hosting is definitely not free, which is why I specifically used the phrase “low-cost.” I linked to an article about DreamHost, not because they are the cheapest around (they are not, but they have some really affordable plans), but because they defend the privacy rights of their customers. They do offer free (limited) Cloudflare services, which is good for most individuals, but if you belong to one of a couple/few dozen organizations that are part of the Galileo Project ( https://www.cloudflare.com/galileo/ ) you can take advantage of the robust enterprise-level protection that Cloudflare offers absolutely free.

          As far as customizing “to fit in with your site,” I’m not talking about getting elbows-deep in code. I’m talking about seeing what stylistic tweaks are possible so that the site operator doesn’t have this weird block of content/functionality that looks like it belongs on a totally different website. Every WordPress theme is different, and some handle the display of plugins better than others.

          I stand by my claim that you can “get a payment gateway set up at no cost,” PaidMembershipPro has competitors that do NOT have a free level — in fact, some have a sizable monthly or yearly service charge. As far as Stripe not being free, I never said they were. I said set up a Stripe account, which costs nothing up front and a very standard 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction, which is exactly what PayPal just charged you on the donation I just made. (https://www.paypal.com/us/smarthelp/article/FAQ4103)

          I don’t have to send my prospective members somewhere else for the transaction (which might look sketchy to some folks depending on the gateway), and it works on mobile as well as on desktop.

          Stripe supports recurring payments and can be used with any subscription or WordPress membership plugin. It’s available in 40+ countries and supports 135+ currencies. It supports Apple Pay. It supports Google Pay. It’s recognized. So, when someone wants to tip me $10, I really can’t complain about a fee of 59¢.

          Of course Aurora Advisors may have a better deal with PayPal than do I; however, I have a few contributors who refuse to do business through PayPal, and I’m not going to say, “Nope! Won’t take your money any other way!” I want them to find the most frictionless route for their generosity that I can provide. Now, I’d be thrilled if more people started tipping me in Bitcoin or Etherrum (esp. a moth ago…) but that’s an uphill battle getting people to adopt crypto for my sake.

          Ultimately, I want to make sure you understand that my post was absolutely not a criticism of your standards and practices. I started from square one, with no knowledge of accepting payments online, and I did a TON of reading on all the options. What I presented was basically just the shortest path I found, with no overhead except a $3.95/month shared hosting plan. My needs have grown since then, and I pay rather a bit more for my digital presence, but if I can point people towards a way to open up the floodgates of reader support, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.

          Respectfully,

          the mongrel

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I am shocked that you recommend Stripe. It gets 1.2 stars out of 64 recent customer reviews here, with the negative ratings due to Stripe freezing accounts and withholding merchant funds:

            https://bestcompany.com/merchant-services/company/stripe

            Cardfellow also says negative reviews have been increasing and its 14 reviews give the company an average of 2 stars:

            https://www.cardfellow.com/credit-card-processors/stripe

            I have to question whether you have our or other sites’ best interests at heart.

            1. the mongrel

              That’s interesting and surprising. The listing you cite on Best Company gives it 4.4 stars overall, though, so it seems that their assessment balances out negative user reviews a bit. I needed some assistance when I first set up my Stripe account five years ago, and they were quick to answer my questions. It is quite possible that they are less responsive to complaints — particularly the enraged, profanity laden ones that tend to get fired off when a person suddenly has no access to their own funds (apparently a problem for some Stripe customers).

              I searched for a card processor after two of my friends had their PayPay accounts frozen, one of whom, an artist who was being paid for the bulk of a project — $1,000s — spent close to six months getting her funds, even with the client trying to explain to PP that their was zero suspicious activity. She lost her apartment, ran up credit card debt, and was forced into downtime during which she couldn’t actively hunt for more work.

              She’s the one who recommended Stripe to me. I’m sure her review of PayPal reads about the same as other people’s reviews of Stripe. Now, I still use PayPay, and have NEVER had a problem with them, so I absolutely encourage people to stick with what works for them. I can only speak to my own experiences (though I’d point out that a reading of customer reviews at, say, Amazon, reveals a massive population quick to blame others for their own inability to 1) buy the right product for their needs, 2) manage their expectations when they buy the least expensive version, and 3) follow directions about assembly/installation/use/maintenance.

              Nevertheless, I can see why the bad reviews would spook anyone — had Stripe been so roundly panned when I was in the market, I can’t say that I’d have gone with them.

              Still, I hope the link to the Galileo Project ( https://www.cloudflare.com/galileo/ ) is useful to you and others. And while you seem to be all set with a solid host with whom you’ve got a great relationship, I do heartily recommend DreamHost for those who haven’t found such a service provider.

              I absolutely have this site’s best interests in mind, so please disregard any suggestions that run counter to your experience and instincts, and adopt any that can help you save time, money, or headaches.

              Ciao!

              — the mongrel

        2. none

          Stripe takes a cut out of every incoming payment, just like anything else having to do with credit cards does, but there is no signup or monthly fee iirc.

  2. marcel

    Setting up ‘your own website’, like a naked version of NC, costs you less than 50$ a year (depends a bit on whether you want a .org, .com, .co domain name), and gives you at least the feature set of Blogger or other platforms. You’d need extra money for smart features (e.g. a payment gateway, dedicated SW applications),but you’d those to monetize stuff.
    There is also extra to pay when you grow to cater for the extra bandwidth/storage/database capacity.
    But for $50 a year, you are your own boss on the internet, which is not bad.

    1. vlade

      NC, in its current position, would not be able to run at $50/year, I’m pretty sure of that.

      It gets substantial traffic from all around the world and is a popular web, so easily subject to DDoS and hacks (which a lot of $50 sites gets too…), managing comments database is not trivial etc. etc.

      You can start on somethign small, if you’re a blogger. But if you do video/audio, it’s a lot of space (and streaming capacity), if you want to push out things to keep in touch it again gets more complex etc. etc.

      1. Darthbobber

        Yes. I have customers for whom something like inMotion’s shared hosting is abundantly adequate. But the largest of them probably has significantly less traffic in a year than Naked Capitalism has in any given day.

        And such work as I do is for organizations whose budget would cover nothing beyond a shared hosting plan.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      We spend $200 a month ALONE on Cloudflare, because they have the horsepower as well as the anti-bot blacklists to withstand a DDoS attack.

      You advice might be sound for a newbie site, but we have over 25,000 posts and 1.5 million comments in our database. We push the WordPress database management features hard. And we think keeping control of our comments is important (and third party comment hosting is crap) so we’ve also invested in customizing our comments section.

      1. fred

        > 1.5 million comments
        I’m sure you’ve considered near offline storage. If you wants the comments that badly…

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, when people go to old posts we want readers to see the posts and the comments too. Comments nearly always add considerable value, as well as a reminder of how people saw the issues back then.

          1. Bob Haugen

            The comments are half the attraction for me. A well-moderated commentariat is rare and delightful.

      2. Dirk77

        I don’t know if that is a coincidence, but Cloudflare is hosted in Canada. Which I infer gives at least a delay in responding to FISA warrants on blog commenters. I see that Cloudflare is trying to do business in China now, so probably wouldn’t hesitate to sell you out if the USA came calling, but there would be a delay and they may not be muffled about alerting the warrant subject. (Speculating wildly as I’m not a lawyer.) So hosting in another country than the one you are in may be something to consider if any readers want to rehost their blog and protect their commenters. Also cut legal costs. The host also often throws in email accounts, so your mail would then be non-Big Tech.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I doubt Cloudflare would be the first point of call for FISA warrants and they have US servers, which implies a US entity.

          Of all the things we have to worry about, FISA warrants are not on the list. We don’t write about politically sensitive topics. PropOrNot was a widely decried fake and denounced as obvious amateurs, although it was annoying to have to deal with.

          Our worry has been suits from private equity, and we did most that content to foreign servers for a bit. But since all our content forevah is on the Web, I am not sure what would be gained by a foreign server, even though we could implement that quickly.

          1. Dirk77

            With all the fishing expeditions our protectors seem to do, it was unclear what a hassle those might be to deal with. Ok, thanks.

        2. none

          Cloudflare is a US company (based in San Francisco) but they have servers everywhere since they are a CDN. They are not the only game in town but they are a reasonable choice.

          I don’t use WordPress but 25k posts and 1.5M comments isn’t a huge amount of data–a few GB tops. With today’s servers accessing them shouldn’t present too much strain. No idea about the wordpress setup though.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            This issue is the frequency of the database refresh with both posts and comments. WP’s weakness has long been known to be its DB management (Microsoft SQL but it may be the way WP interacts with SQL).

            We can’t even query the comments DB from the inside (the admin section) without have the query nearly always time out, for instance. The solution, partitioning, isn’t satisfactory from an admin perspective.

    3. cfraenkel

      It’s not the money. The $50/yr talk assumes you know what you’re doing and can deal with the basic architecture and setup yourself. That’s not the audience discussed here. You need a basic understanding of DNS, operating system, database setup, system security, version control, testing, deployment etc before you even get to selecting a blogging platform and setting up your site. IF you’re already a developer, sure you do this in your sleep. For everyone else… it’s a constantly shifting minefield.

  3. Arizona Slim

    Hmmmm, your post reminds me of a couple of things:

    Thing #1: I’m going to tear a page out of the Yves book and do a presentation. Not at a financial conference, but to a local business group. Now, in these COVID times, such presentations are virtual on Zoom. I’m going to be using my own photos in the presentation, and e-v-e-r-y one of them will have my copyright notice. (I also have an excellent copyright lawyer, BTW.)

    At the end of my presentation, I’ll have a contact information page with nary a reference to social media. Instead, I’ll be showing retro things like the URLs of my three websites, my email address, and my phone number. And, yes, I’ll invite the attendees to subscribe to my email newsletter. Talk about retro. An email newsletter.

    Thing #2: Lent is coming. And I’m going to start what I finished in 2018. Back then, I logged out of my Facebook account. Haven’t been back since.

    But I’m going to break my Facebook sobriety so I can log in long enough to delete that account.

    The stirring conclusion: Hope my little comment serves as an example of how to be in business without social media. It can be done, people!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      When we got bashed by Google multiple times (as in severely downgraded in their search, we were early to be targeted due to our Links feature), we wasted time on SEO as one way to remedy what was going on. I came across some excellent posts (which due to the hour and the horribleness of search I won’t attempt to track down now) which argued that SEO is significantly a crock (basically the search engines are in a arms race against the SEO types, so worrying a lot about optimization, unless you have a niche business, is not likely to be terribly productive) and more important, there were much better ways to find people on the Web than either SEO OR FB!!! And they recommended strategies like yours.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Oh, brother. Yves, if/when we ever meet in person, I’m buying you a drink. I really am.

        I’ve used SEO successfully for a niche site. Matter of fact, I had a #1 Google ranking for several years.

        And then it happened. My trendy topic wasn’t so trendy anymore. Search-driven traffic fell off a cliff. So did my little business venture that was based on that niche site.

        As for articles stating that SEO is a crock, here’s an oldie but a goodie:

        https://www.burnstheattorney.com/2011/12/29/10-things-to-do-for-your-biz-in-2012-the-gloves-come-off/

        In the interest of full disclosure, this article was written by the copyright attorney I mentioned above. She’s smart as a whip and funny as heck. I highly recommend her services.

        1. fred

          SEO is a crock. It’s one big network. I got to NC via some weird anti-semitic Austrian econoblogger via Zero Hedge. That’s the point of the blgoroll. What else do you want? Video? Does it have to be realtime? Post the video and make it available via P2P. Your current site has the bandwidth-itude

    2. Joe Well

      The problem with email newsletters is that you are still intermediated by Google (Gmail) and Microsoft (Outlook/Hotmail) which control the huge majority of the market and play gatekeeper with the Inbox.

      Still light years better than any social media platform so you’re doing the right thing, I’m just saying that trying to escape FAAMNG on the internet is like trying to escape capitalism offline.

      I am curious what people think about podcasts which like email are open source but heavily intermediated–but I think with podcasts you have a better chance of your subscribers noticing your publications. Also I would love to hear NCers (including commenterati) in their own voices!

      1. fred

        Email, by definition, is still Open. If you’re doing an email newlsetter, convince your subscribers to whitelist. If they care about yr. content, they’ll do that. Otherwise, your content isn’t as compelling as you think it is.
        Podcasts are one of the few bright spots in social media. It’s surprisingly easy to setup a podcast server, as it’s really just RSS. It’s still all about leveradging the netwrok.

        1. TheMog

          Actually, email isn’t quite that open anymore either.

          A certain member of the FAANGs has taken it upon themselves to “define” what “good email behaviour” looks like and it can be a pain in the posterior to comply with and still doesn’t guarantee that there aren’t other medium sized email services that will block you anyway despite you doing everything correctly.

          Plus hosting companies are getting more concerned about hosting small email servers because they are worried that someone might use it to send out spam and then the big services will suddenly start blacklisting them. So by default, a lot of hosting companies even won’t let you set up your own email server. You can usually negotiate that, but it’s a lot more work and you have to convince them that you know what you’re doing.

          And you really don’t want to use one of the big email providers for your email newsletter, because then you’re back to square one.

          I’ve been running my own email servers for 20+ years and it’s not that easy to do in the current environment anymore. Still not willing to give up on it, though.

      2. none

        I hate podcasts because of the intrusive medium (audio) and because they are time consuming to listen to. I’d rather read something quietly and quickly skip to the parts I care about. Similar with video. There’s a saying “always bet on text”. But I know that video and podcasts are popular for some users.

        1. vlade

          Podcast for me are good-night stories.

          Just yesterday I fell asleep to the last episode of In Our Time on Emilie du Chatalet. I remember somone sayin Emilie managed to shield Voltaire for 10 years politically, but blank after that, so was a good one.

          The only problem is that I need to listen to the really interesting ones more than few times.

    3. CHUCK SEARCY

      Arizona Slim, thank you for your comment which actually motivates me to go ahead and do what I’ve considered for a long time: get out of Facebook. I really despise the FB concept, the architecture (if that’s what you call it), the random exposure to people you don’t know, and all the other more egregious practices of Zuckerberg and his exec crowd that have been exposed in recent months. I rarely post anything anyway; I almost never look at Facebook unless I get one of those annoying alerts, and then I sometimes succumb to a glimpse to see who is rattling my chain (usually amounting to nothing important). I’ve been told, however, that it’s difficult — nearly impossible, some say — to truly extricate oneself from Facebook. Is that so? You obviously know much more than I do. I wish you could publish a brief step-by-step guide explaining how to get unbound from Facebook. I have a feeling a lot of people would appreciate it. (I long for the days of simple, old-fashioned e-mails. They still work fine for me.)

      Chuck Searcy

      1. coboarts

        I know this is late in the thread, but if you want ghost social media, do this:
        Delete every post
        Unlike every like
        Unfriend every friend
        “Delete” the account
        If you want to come back, and I have, come back on your own terms

  4. jsn

    As an architect I’ve watched over the last 3 decades as more and more of our creative content migrates onto softwares that are increasingly consolidated, monopolistic and developing sharp elbows.

    Our industry needs to get its head out of the sand and understand that Autodesk (AutoCAD) and Adobe have taken it over. Even 15 years ago software and hardware cost had become barriers to entry in the field.

    As more and more business functions migrate to digital, more and more businesses become dependent on privately owned and operated systems that should have become public utilities after their inventors/founders had made a few million.

    1. sd

      I currently have over 20 monthly “subscriptions” for work, whether I work or not. It seems like the number just keeps going up. Adobe is the first that I really remember changing to subscription with its CC.

      Sometimes I just feel like I’m being held hostage….

      1. Arizona Slim

        When Adobe went to the subscription model, I ditched them. For photo editing and graphic design projects, I’m using other software. Am really happy with the Affinity suite. You pay for it once, and you’re good to go.

  5. Thuto

    It goes deeper than this, we are living through a time when your business can be deplatformed for saying something unrelated to said business e.g. an innocuous comment on twitter that nevertheless offends someone from some corner of “Woke-i-stan”. Before you know it an online petition is gathering signatures calling for your Platform-as-a-service (Paas) provider to deplatform your business, with an official notice of your removal from said platform not far behind.

    Radical activism from the woke left has been weaponized to the point where the state, big tech, and corporate HR departments in general have been pummeled into submission and bent to the will of social justice warriors and other ideological zealots. To Vlade’s point above about leveraging outside infrastructure to focus on a business’ core strength, this should have been a boon allowing entrepreneurs to, amongst other things, accelerate time to market and reduce overheads by e.g. sharing server space with other businesses.

    Alas, what should be a common sense dependence on specialist providers for non-differentiating features has become a guillotine waiting to snuff the life out of businesses at the sole discretion of platform owners. For entrepreneurs building Tech/tech-enabled businesses, reliance on saas and Paas providers is almost a requirement to maintain competitiveness and agility in today’s rapidly evolving market, and to enable the focus of the enterprise to be on writing differentiating code and not building easily available, non-differentiating features in-house.

    The pernicious effects of entrepreneurs waking up one morning and their application isn’t able to make API calls to access mission critical services from a saas provider because they’ve been deplatformed overnight doesn’t bode well for the future of innovation.

    1. fred

      I’ve been reading that some are questionging the trufullness of “The network treats censorship as damage and routes around it”. I believe there might have been an essay on NC to that effect.
      We will figure this “de-platforming” thing out. There are too many voices clamoring for a solution. It will come at cost, in that “Open” gives way to “Decentralized”. They are two different, though overlapping concepts. ‘Open” => Anywaone can play. The Ultimate API
      “Decentralized’ => Yiou can play, if you know the sekret Kode. The Net will realize that deplatforming is the real danger, that Open does not provide true disintermediation, only P2P (whioch couldn’t be seen when Open was in vitro) . The Net will use P2P as a ubiquitus technique to reroute around damage. @jack wants frederated social media. It’s a system!

      1. cocomaan

        I agree that we’ll come to a solution because someone will realize that there’s a massive market for people, for instance, espousing “far right” views.

        Problem is the transition period could last a long time, with a lot of people being driven out of their livelihoods in the process.

  6. TheCatSaid

    Beware. Even WordPress itself pulled its hosting for no valid reason from a huge and popular website with lots of original investigative work, The Conservative Treehouse. At least in that case they were given a couple weeks notice. Like NC it has a massive comments database which for their own reasons they wanted to keep in its original, searchable format with threads, which made a tough situation almost impossible technically to do quickly–even more so considering the timing for a politics site, a couple months before the 2020 election. The site blogged extensively about the complex nature of the technical challenges and the phased solution they chose which preserved all comments, thread format, etc.

    That *WordPress* would pull its *hosting* services in this way should be a big wake up call. It’s the most popular website creation suite in use.

    In more “conventional” de-platformings many investigative journalists have lost years of irreplaceable work (photo and video evidence!) as no notice was given.

    1. Acacia

      Not to minimize the threat and costs of deplatforming, but isn’t WordPress just a pile of PHP plus a database? Can’t you use PostgreSQL or some open source thing? I.e., If you really want to use WordPress, isn’t it possible to just install it on your own server (or a hosted server of your choosing), and then you are the boss? And, if not, aren’t there a bunch of other open source frameworks for building web sites with functionality akin to NC?

      What I glean from Yves’ comments, above, is that the technical issues are all manageable provided you can find a solid crew of people to help, and you have a bit of budget. The latter are the tricky part.

      1. vlade

        You can use WP on your own infra, I do that (sort of, it’s not my infra, so pain like upgrading to the new version of PHP etc..)

      2. TheCatSaid

        The website in question was quite complex and had a lot of specialized aspects to it.
        It wasn’t a “basic” simple WordPress website at all.
        Not to mention many years of historical and important comments in their database.
        They had a number of threads that described the issues in some detail. A few of the threads are here.

      3. hunkerdown

        MariaDB, licensed under GPLv2, is the customary choice of database engine for use with web apps, and WP is no exception. The bulk of Yves’ problems with WP are due to generally high traffic multiplied by an extremely active comment section. A less active, less interactive blog is unlikely to ever smell the ozone or burning rubber, unless featured on Slashdot or subject to some other DDoS attack. 100% correct on all other points.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Thanks so much for saying this.

          One WP consultant who was too pricey for us (his market was serious media outlets that used WP like HuffPost) but offered to be helpful (vet sample code of candidates for our software work) said we had what he called the “2% WordPress” problem. The top 2% of the sites load WP harder and expose its breaking points, so they encounter problems the overwhelming majority of WP sites never encounter. He said that is why we’d so often hire WP jockeys who were confident they could handle our needs, and then find they were over their heads (and too often blame us!!!)

      4. Cynical Engineer

        You can easily host WordPress on your own equipment. Which these days translates into a V/M located in a cloud provider (Amazon/Google/Microsoft or one of the smaller players), plus a contract with one of the limited number of Content Delivery Networks (Cloudflare, Akamai, etc) for a high-volume website.

        The choke-point here is the CDN….they can/have dropped sufficiently “controversial” sites. Less common than being blackholed by the likes of Blogger/Wordpress or YouTube, but still a concern.

        As you mention, WordPress is a pile of PHP with a database behind it. It also needs a fair amount of server muscle plus bandwidth costs to make it happen. For a high-volume site, you are looking at hundreds of dollars per month in hosting costs. There are no Free Lunches.

        I won’t even talk about buying your own machines and obtaining a high-bandwidth Internet connection and truly hosting it yourself. That will cost $Thousands/month.

        I built a setup like this in a co-located data center in the late ’90’s. Roughly $500k in equipment, plus $150k/year in maintenance costs. At the time, Slashdot.org was in the same co-located data center, and I’d guess they had over $1m in equipment in there. Costs have come down in the last 20 years, but it’s still expensive to truly do-it-yourself.

        1. Joe Well

          The issue, I think, is the comments on recent posts and (I imagine) the sidebar of most recent comments. Those can’t be cached, short of going with some kind of JS solution which would mean the comments load slower, right? Which means CDN is way less useful.

          If someone who wasn’t committed to comments took over, they’d probably get rid of the sidebar of comments and close comments a lot sooner so all but about 20 posts could be cached. Which would probably mean crapifying NC.

  7. flora

    Ajit Pai as head of the FCC repealed the IPS Net Neutrality rules. He’s stepped down now. Here’s hoping the Biden admin will appoint someone to the FCC who will reinstate the Net Neutrality, common carrier rules for ISPs. Another line of defense for digital content creators.

    1. Fazal Majid

      Those rules never applied to the content platforms Yves is referring to, even if Telcos tried to create buzz around a concept of “web neutrality” in their efforts to hobble Google, whom they increasingly view as threat No. 1.

      I’m not sure the FCC alone can reinstate Net Neutrality as IIRC the Congressional Review Act was used to torpedo them. In any case, Net Neutrality is a poor remedy for the consequences of oligopoly. I think Structural Separation (forbidding wholesale ISPs from retail activities, or entering content businesses) is a much stronger and enforceable mechanism, but of course highly unlikely to clear our venal legislature.

      1. flora

        I think Structural Separation (forbidding wholesale ISPs from retail activities, or entering content businesses) is a much stronger and enforceable mechanism,

        Sounds like a good idea.

  8. Another Scott

    Patreon has been involved in controversies before over deplatforming a number of right-winger for a variety of reasons, including using racist language elsewhere. Why does the left think that it won’t happen to them?

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/24/technology/patreon-hate-speech-bans.html

    I also remember a few twitch streamers being suspended for using a homophobic slur (no one would say which one). This gets into a strange area because much of the Twitch community encourages extremely adult and sexual language. Where is the line? Will there be a modern day George Carlin with a bit: “The Twelve Things You Can’t Say on Twitch?

    Unfortunately, a lot of the people who create content, whether blogs, video streams, podcasts, or videos need to use these platforms because otherwise they would not get enough income from ads (many of which also depend upon the YouTube platform). They really seem more like employers than platforms.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Our current person isn’t really a WP person, he’s a top notch developer who decided to slum to help us. It turns out we were super lucky in that he was the perfect guy to patiently troubleshoot the crazy intermittent 524 errors we were getting a few months back.

      Some of our recent guys were very good if you want design more than maintenance. What are your priorities?

    2. Fazal Majid

      I ditched WordPress for Hugo 2.5 years ago and have no regrets. It’s way more secure (it’s all too easy for WordPress to be hacked because of generally sloppy coding practices of most PHP programmers, including those who write WP plugins), far faster to serve because each page is a static file, not a dynamic page making a dozen database calls, and can be hosted on CDNs to speed up delivery even further.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        WP is very good if you have multiple writers. The access control (the “roles” and their authorities) are important for us. Also pretty easy for not tech savvy writers to use, another requirement for us.

    3. Arizona Slim

      I run one of my three websites on WordPress and my developer is first-rate. Want his contact info? Get in touch with me via Yves or Lambert. You can start the process via the contact form on this site.

  9. WhoaMolly

    Another platform to beware is Kindle Books.

    I’ve dealt with publishers and publishing for nearly 30 years as a writer, researcher, and editor. As a favor, I recently helped a friend publish a Kindle book. There’s a lot going for this method. You can become your own publisher, with a reasonable quality paperback and digital book on Amazon in a few days.

    Unfortunately, it is totally controlled by Amazon. I don’t know how many books and authors have been ‘disappeared’ by Amazon, but I imagine there are a few.

    I do not know if there is another option for a book author. Probably a basic HTML site, an email list, a newsletter, and relationships with a few small publishers.

    I may use Kindle Books for a few small things, mostly to test book ideas. Their publishing agreement appears to allow me to ‘unpublish’ easily. A quick read of their publishing agreement says I still own copyright.

    1. Joe Well

      You can absolutely sell PDFs directly from your own site and many people will buy them. You can just create a PayPal buy button and put the link to the PDF in the thank you email.

      Yes, some customers prefer Kindle but many prefer PDF. A lot of businesses do this, especially if the books are instructional, business, anything non literary.

      Kindle is good for promoting yourself or your business, that is, turn your book into an advertisement for your business and call on the reader to visit your site. In fact, that is evidently what most Kindle Unlimited business books are, to judge from those I have read.

      Audible, meanwhile, unfortunately does have a near monopoly on audiobooks that is hard to avoid now that Android and iPhone make dealing with MP3s challenging.

  10. Fazal Majid

    Building a content site that scales is easy (well, I’ve been in the business for 25 years, so you should take my opinion on ease with a grain of salt). Managing one with a community of commenters is orders of magnitude harder, from a technical, spam management and moderation perspective. Dealing with Denial of Service attacks gets harder and more expensive. Finally, if you are in the crosshairs of vigilantes who want to deplatform you, even the most innocuous aspect of your hosting platform can be an attack vector, like this story:

    https://krebsonsecurity.com/2021/01/ddos-guard-to-forfeit-internet-space-occupied-by-parler/comment-page-1/

    I am personally a big advocate of RSS as the way to get news, and Substack’s lack of support for it (no premium RSS feeds for subscribers) is the main reason why I haven’t signed up for it. NC has its pledge drives but I’d prefer a more traditional subscription model, as I subscribe to The Information, Ars Technica and a number of other paid publications or individual bloggers.

    The really hard problem Substack et al do not solve is how the next Glenn Greenwood or Felix Salmon will emerge if traditional gatekeepers like Salon.com or the FT are disintermediated.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, there is a lot to be said about having been edited and for traditional reporters, working with more seasoned journalists to get tips and ideas for how to find, approach, and interview sources.

      And regarding our fundraiser, you most certainly can “subscribe” as in pay monthly rather than annually. A fair number of people sign up as subscribers in our fundraisers.

    2. beatnikpicnic

      There are signs of attempts to expose newsletters, subscriptions, RSS, and even comments in a more accessible and decentralized way than wordpress. The major “engine” I can think of is ghost, which provides hosting like wordpress, but can also be self-hosted. Engines like this enable hooking up to external tooling like comments providers or analytics tools.

      My hope is we’ll see more of these types of solutions, as part of a broader move to distributed web / “dWeb” / “web3”. The tradeoff is that if you aren’t self-hosting, you may be nickel-and-dimed in monthly fees by all of the various unbundled integrations (comments, rss, analytics, etc).

      I have mixed impressions about Balaji Srinivasan’s advocacy, but he describes the decentralized network vision here. I’m skeptical in the short term due to the search monopoly mentioned elsewhere here.

      Note: I’m not sure if Balaji has a stake in ghost, which could certainly influence his advocacy for it.

      1. Calypso Facto

        The hole in Balaji’s concept is in who is hosting the site (whether the site itself is running WordPress or Ghost or Hugo + Disqus is irrelevant, they’re all open source and fine), because the host, platform or small, is who has the power to take the site down in the event of complaints.

        Self-hosting (as in running a home server through a residential ISP) is often frowned upon for heavy traffic. Buying a server and colocation space in an ISP would give one the most control given where things are today. The cost of a server and colo would be less than ~3-4 years of AWS and CDN services at moderate traffic.

        There are some extremely interesting open source proposals (eg petnames + distributed permissive clustering + open source hardware/chips) that suggest lots of storage can be served from small, cheap devices (running virtualizion, sharing resources, similar to a cloud in concept). That could be a very effective long term solution, because it would drop the cost of hosting. It would also create something akin to a ‘shattered’ internet, or no longer a single corporatized Internet. Lots of things at the bleeding edge seem to be converging into that vision, but its still at least 5-7 years out.

        1. beatnikpicnic

          Wasn’t very familiar with these proposals and look forward to them. 5-7 years out is still not soon enough, but gives me hope to see some optimism for the idea outside of social media hype. Will be looking more into colo myself too.

  11. fred

    ClamoringForAnOpenNet?

    Consider your browser. Not to name names, but there’s only one left standing.

    Consider your email client. All email clients suck. Some suck less than others. Again, not naming names.

    Actually, I will name a name, if only for the moderator: Aaron Swartz

      1. fred

        Because I think NC has a prohibition against commercialized speech in that respect. I want to honor that code. reddit et. al can recommend good OpenSoruce solutions. OSS is all we have left. Witness this ‘umble blog…

    1. fred

      My apologies for piling on…

      Within some of your lifetimes, you’ll need to be licensed to surf the ‘net. I’ll be dead long before this rubber meets the raod.
      https://yro.slashdot.org/story/21/02/03/227251/pornhub-announces-biometric-technology-to-verify-users

      Electroporn “I Sing the Body Electric!” has led the way on so many tehcnical innovations. This is another way to avoid de-platforming. It’ll have it’s own code of conduct to avoid being deplatformed. It’s a system!

      1. RMO

        Call me crazy, but I don’t find the idea of giving my biometric information to any company at all appealing, let alone one named Pornhub…

        Then there’s the fact that with something like fingerprints or retinal scans (even if they are actually secure which has been shown to be dubious) you can be forced into unlocking things without any cooperation on your part. Actually you don’t even need to be alive or in one piece… Along with the more practical issues of what happens if the information gets leaked – you can change a password, fingerprints and eyes, not so easy.

    2. vlade

      I don’t know, I’m very happy with my Firefox, thank you very much. Way more so than with any other I tried before.

      Thunderbird was ok, but had very annoying search. The current paid client (and not outlook) is ok too, again with a few annoying things, but I’m not asking for much.

    3. .Tom

      ClamoringForAnOpenNet?

      The success of Cloudflare’s business proves the Internet as we know it cannot be open.

  12. Carolinian

    This is not a new problem since history didn’t start with the web. One could argue that disputes over speech are woven into the fabric of the country starting with the Alien and Sedition Act (which some now want to revive) through the Abolition movement–mail distribution of Abolitionist pamphlets was a major friction between North and South–through WW1 and the Espionage Act to McCarthy and then Vietnam, where a lively alternative press movement came to be in response to the–even then–groupthink of the national newspapers. Maintaining a website is surely no more complicated and definitely a lot less physical labor than trying to keep an alternative newspaper alive.

    That people have been willing to make the effort shows that freedom and above all freedom of thought have always been worth fighting for and indeed our only defense against oligarchy and entrenched power.

    The left should be coming to the defense of those conservative sites now under assault because they of course will be next. And clearly the big vulnerability here is the money lever which means defenders of speech may always be closer to the starving artist model than the tycoons. Information really does want to be free and, to reconfigure the headline, if your speech depends on a business then you are vulnerable. So perhaps the key is to keep it lean and focus on the ideas. When the time is ripe people will seek them out.

  13. kiers

    “on the 8th day the devil invented the transistor, on the 9th day he taught his minions how to use it: information monetization via network effects”.

  14. Cetra Ess

    Does this (which platform to use) seem like it should be less of a concern than the fact that Google, Amazon and Facebook/Twitter, due to anticompetitive predatory behaviour, are on a path to successfully rule/dominate the world?

    1. flora

      Break them up. Regulate them. Just like the railroads in 1890-1920. Amazon is the new Northern Securities Trust company. Our new Robber Barons in the modern tech industries. Break them up.

  15. Calypso Facto

    Great post, Yves. A few additional points from my perspective as a tech worker:

    – A big component of the solution to the platform problem is going to be forcing Amazon Retail to split from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and then further regulation of the individual Service platforms within AWS. Amazon doesn’t release the numbers publicly and depending on how the search engines feel that day it can be hard to find sources that don’t trace back to a quora post. I have seen credible estimates of 40-60% of the western internet running on AWS infrastructure and can confirm from the back of the house that it is dominant at enterprise and SME level – every platform is itself built on AWS infrastructure in partial or toto. (Microsoft’s Azure is #2 – new vs old software monopolists)

    – Rolling one’s own stack is expensive and a time-consuming learning process, and the death by a million platforms that a small company gets into before they build their own stack seems avoidable when just getting started. Since AWS is so dominant there aren’t a ton of competitors or options and every smaller platform hits funding issues at some point, and are usually scooped up at a healthy profit to the owners and then the content creators are subject to the rules of whichever behemoth purchased them. So to reinforce Yves point from the tech provider side, it’s probably cheaper in the long run to roll your own solution in addition to owning all your content. But like most serious businesses it is hard and often boring work and the platforms obscure much of that away with monthly fees.

    – I’ve made this point here before but I’d like to restate it again: so much of the software industry is predicated on novel and necessary or improved solutions, but the vast majority of software is worse than worthless, it is an active drain on productivity and a means to introduce enclosure and gatekeeping fees. In the business example of journalism, individual writers no longer have the options of local papers or periodicals to write in, yet we’re flooded everywhere with miserable, vacuous ‘takes’ masquerading as journalism because the combination of social media and loss of local papers (due to collapse of local ad sales models) means click velocity is more valued than actual reporting to the entities paying for the servers. AWS didn’t exist 15 years ago and near as I can tell the majority of productivity improvements thanks to digitization over the past 35 years have been limited to accounting, freight movement/tracking, software versioning, and camera/image processing. And that is it. Was that worth the ‘inevitability’ of software eating the world? I personally don’t think so.

        1. vlade

          don’t know, my after-remote-meeting productivity always goes up after fragging a few guys with faces of my coworkers. swearing loud now that our daughter is home schooling is frowned upon

  16. Riva

    Does anyone have experience with Ghost CMS?
    https://ghost.org/about/

    It appears to be an open source version of Substack that, like WordPress, offers commercial hosting for those who don’t want to go through the trouble of set up and administration.

    I am a longtime WordPress user/designer and just came across Ghost while researching options for a client seeking a paywalled site. It was not a good fit for my client as it does not support custom post types or custom fields, but for people considering substack this may be a good alternative… curious if anyone has direct experience!

    1. beatnikpicnic

      Mentioned just a bit before your post here (comment above)! Calypso Facto responded with a good point about the salience of where you host, which also relates to some to Facto’s comments about ubiquity of AWS above.

      Ghost is interesting to me inasmuch as it enables decoupling the newsletter part from hosting. There are probably others that do similar. I’ve tried it for two blogs, and it’s fine, though I’ve not used the newsletter features yet. It is perhaps worth noting that the substack-like features are a more recent addition; its original aims were to be a stripped-down wordpress alternative. It does signal something positive to me that the DuckDuckGo blog uses it.

      There’s also a risk that Ghost goes under. If they do there will likely be some folks who stick around to maintain their code for at least a while, but it is admittedly less safe than completely rolling your own as NC has done.

      1. Riva

        Thanks for weighing in! I didn’t realize the substack-like features were newer additions. That’s a significant change in mission, especially since accepting payments/managing subscriptions and sending mass emails are nontrivial endeavors. You certainly wouldn’t know it from their front page, but their feature index says these are still in beta :/

        Payment systems are another issue, similar to hosting … a smaller/simple site (one that doesn’t have millions of comments) won’t have much trouble moving hosts. But what happens when Stripe blocks your account? I suppose if it allows for manual subscriptions you could accept checks, but from what I understand it is the auto-renewals that make the new subscription models successful.

        The issue of code maintenance is why I stick with WordPress, despite its inelegance in certain respects. It powers so much of the web that love or hate it, it’s not going away anytime soon. Though the new Gutenberg editor is not widely loved, so it will be interesting to see how the community responds over time. I’d guess the user and developer base is large enough to sustain a fork, if it comes to it.

  17. nn

    I think Greenwald and Taibbi have enough name recognition that they need not to worry about being kicked out of substack. If substack tried to cancel them, they could easily find new place. After all Greenwald is at his fourth or fifth stop at this point.

    1. JBird4049

      >>>they could easily find new place.

      One would think that, but the urge and the means, to censor any inconvenient truths ideas or just random thoughts from the internet or anywhere really is growing stronger and easier. The censors will find a way.

      Just look at Kindle. Amazon can and has disappeared books like 1984 and Animal Farm from people stored copies on their own devices. Refunds? Why?

      This is not directly connected to this post, but getting physical copies of books, especially older ones, that are controversial at least to the rich or powerful or the government can be surprisingly hard to do. Either they almost do not exist or are very expensive, not least because they are so rare. Now, many of them are sold as eBooks from Amazon and other sellers,which is good, but again they can be disappeared. You have to strip their Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions and place them in a different library. This technically makes me a criminal, maybe even for all I know a (gasp) a felon for mucking about with something I supposedly own.

      Fortunately, for me, I can now access the research resources available to a college, but I don’t really think being a college student should be necessary to do some research. And some books or texts are still almost impossible to get despite the First Amendment.

      Since more and more book publishers are being consolidated it is being easier to either not publish a book or just botch the rollout. Even if a book is printed, if nobody knows about it, what is the point? Which is the point isn’t?

      Of course, some people will say almost any book is usually, ultimately available, but really, spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a book that originally cost $14.99 or is just a few decades old is rather hard for most people. Or one can spend a few months searching everywhere for that book, which still might not be found or afford It is invisible and insidious, these disappearances. At least the Comstock Laws, the Hays Code, the Red Scare blacklists of the 1950s and 1960s were more open, more acknowledged.

      At least they aren’t arresting those writing or saying bad things as was done in the 1920s and 1950s. Yet. As with here, people write of different ways of hosting or writing as if they are solutions when they aren’t. So long as everything is increasingly centralized and controllable by those in power it will become increasingly difficult and then impossible to say anything. New laws can be passed or old ones ignored. The Palmer Raids could easily happen again. Indeed, what makes you think you will even get paid? Naked Capitalism is still getting its money for now.

      The Hays Code and the blacklists did not legally prevent you from working or showing your work. It just made it impossible. And the Comstock Laws did make it illegal to send even written materials on contraception and other similarly “immoral” things through the mail. Off to prison for you. Of course, as was common then, the FBI can always just question you, your family, your friends, all your neighbors, and everyone at work. Again. Just a few harmless questions. Again.

      So Hell, no, I don’t want to go search, yet again, for these writers and their ideas. Looking for what rock they are now hiding under for their horrible, no good, bad, awful and evil ideas. The Powers That Be will just keep on whacking them from one internet hole to another like the doubleplus ungood moles or rats they consider them.

  18. Gamer Hegel

    Decent article, important core message. But a bit of confusion arose for me, for example regarding this part: “if your business depends on a platform, you don’t have a business” Can you clarify why not? Does PewDiePie not have a business?

    I suppose it’s about where the money comes from? E.g. creators on Patreon receive their money from patreon and not their “customers”. Youtubers receive their income from youtube and are beholden to its advertising policy.

    I don’t think it’s about independence per se, cause that can only remain an illusion. The company hosting my site on their hardware can decide to stop doing business with me. If I get my own hardware instead and self-host, my ISP can do so as well and stop serving my content. It would also be silly to discredit an endeavor as not-a-business solely because of dependencies, because those are an unavoidable part of most businesses. Suppliers can stop supplying you, banks can stop loaning money, etc. Right?

    1. turtle

      I think it’s not so much about the money and who pays who, but which platforms have the concentration of users (the actual and potential audience). Youtube, for instance, completely dominates video, at least in the US and most of the world, except maybe in China. They are dominant because most users looking for videos to watch are there, so that brings the content creators there and vice-versa, it’s a vicious cycle.

      Even if youtube were not directly paying content creators and the creators were making money through selling t-shirts outside youtube, youtube could still inflict a ton of damage on those creators by deplatormfing them, because it essentially cuts off their current and potential audience.

      Speaking of which, for video there are other solutions that don’t rely on free hosting like youtube. The most immediate one that comes to mind is Vimeo, which offers paid plans and allows a lot of control including paid videos and subscriptions. They could still deplatform you if they really wanted, but at least you have a little more recourse due to them being smaller and you having a paid service relationship with them.

      Beyond that, for video, there are private video hosting providers that focus only on hosting and not on aggregating viewers. Brightcove is one (perhaps main) example of this kind of service.

      For podcasts like someone asked above, there should be even more, cheaper, simpler solutions, since it doesn’t have the same technical demands as streaming video. Any web host that provides file storage and bandwidth should do the trick. Then it’s just publishing the podcast in a blog and/or the podcast directories/aggregators.

  19. Edward

    This sounds similar to the problems with academic publishing. In both cases you have scattered individuals working in a system which they depend on and which imposes lopsided terms.

  20. Offtrail

    Hi Yves,

    I really like reading your stuff. You make good sense about just about everything.

    Having read this you are now obliged to delete it, per the TOS.

    Cheers,

    Offtrail

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, our Policies clearly state that by commenting, you have agreed to them and we have no obligation whatsoever with respect to your demands. Even though this was a presumably a joke, we don’t take well to misleading readers.

  21. barnaby33

    Build a site that runs in Docker and can be hosted on any public cloud. WordPress is fine. So are other options. Docker (containerization) can be run on any cloud. Make sure you have a strategic failover the covers more than one cloud provider so you don’t have Parler’s problem. If you have questions email me. I realize I have just given a terse answer to a complex problem, but there is no point giving a detailed answer to a general audience. Yves is right, once you’ve achieved scale enough to make a living your options get much more limited.

  22. Eric Dynamic

    I tuned out of most everything a couple decades ago to be insular and suicidally depressed. I remember back in ’98 when Oracle wanted to push its NC (network computer = thin client PC), I made fun of it, saying, wow, spend money on a device so that Oracle owns your data and leases to you services you used to own the programs for. I made fun of “cloud” on the same basis, ‘outsource to and become dependent on us’; I ran and continue to run an Internet Service Provider business and watched as a nation of lemmings was suckered onto Gmail – “why should I pay you $5 per month when Gmail is free?”, well, because I don’t use your email to sell my service and I can’t be bothered to spy on you. By now I watch Google (now the #1 source of domestic spam) do racketeering by getting two “everyone in India wants to write an app for you and sell you SEO” emails daily /from/ them that they would refuse to accept being sent /to/ them, and I second “flora” above, socialize what the big boys do and kick the mercenaries out of the market.

    The “distributed” aspect of ‘cloud’ is useful, maybe a’ la bitcoin “we the little people” can create a public distributed network that can compete with the big players (*), and again citing “flora” am tired of watching people debate the relative merits of using which rich asshole’s global services.

    I tired of sitting in a fluorescent-lit hermetically-sealed office 14 hours a day writing meaningless code for a corporation, quit to work for a computer sales and service store in 1995, and by 1996 the ISP was born, after which we were the fastest (speed of access) ISP in the SF Bay Area from 1996 up to about 2003. The 1/10 gbps business plan written at the end of 2009 never got funded, the partner burned out and I have what paltry’s left. I say that “anyone” can do the basics, all anyone needs to put themselves online is a fixed IP address, and perhaps the thinnest of “how to” books. There’s functional literacy (getting it running) and literacy in depth (endless nattering about which API written in the last 10 minutes is the best.)

    I consult {laughs}, you can determine whether my attitude works for you or not: I care about it working, not about it being fancy (at the expense of it not working.) I have to learn Laravel and Vue to help fix WT.Social’s site, but otherwise have the same contempt for ””modern”” programming techniques I’ve had for 20 years: if it becomes about the 2,700 outsourced tools you need to use to get it running at all, rather than insuring it runs, runs well and runs serviceably, I tune out. It used to be about writing code, then fixing it; now it’s about discussing code and selling books discussing the discussing of code, while the users die on the vine. If it makes money, it might or not get fixed nowadays; if it merely serves people for their sake, it goes wanting.

    (*) Any three people, preferably geographically separated, should be able to launch a serviceable, redundant network … the “Floyd, Chang and Sally” network, or whatever. P.S.: use FreeBSD.

  23. PlutoniumKun

    After reading this I see that one youtube channel I follow – Global Cycling Network – is leaving to its own platform on a subscription based operation (they are saying it will be advert free for subscribers). I’d imagine this has needed a lot of funding to pull off. This seems to be the way forward for those that are big and popular enough. Others seem to have gone the Joe Rogan route of playing off different platforms against each other. But very few of course would have his clout. A lot of football you tubers seem to be moving to Twitch.

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