So the blogosphere is abuzz over Dave Winer’s recent decision to abruptly shut down his Weblogs.com free blog hosting service, which some 3,000 blogs called home until this week, when Dave pulled the plug on them without giving their owners any advance warning. Opinions on the subject are running pretty hot at the moment (as you can probably imagine), and seem pretty evenly split between two opposing points of view:
I’m not going to wade into the argument as to which of these is right or wrong (it seems to me there’s been enough written on that subject already). What interests me is more what the difference in these reactions says about the worldviews of the people who are having them.
The first reaction — “Dave can do what he wants with his server, and if that inconveniences anyone, tough” — strikes me as reflective of an essentially libertarian view of the world. In this view, when Dave offered a free service to people, there was no social obligation that came along with that; he was free to essentially cast off his relationship with those people and leave them to fend for themselves. If this meant those users lost their data, the fault is their own; they should have been making backups.
The second reaction — “Dave owes it to his users to communicate with them, even if they’re not paying him” — strikes me as reflective of a very different worldview, that of communitarianism. To people of this frame of mind, Dave’s initial act of generosity (providing free hosting) was also indicative of willingness from Dave that he was willing to shoulder some of the responsibilities inherent in providing services to a community. These responsibilities include certain unwritten obligations that we might, if we were living in gentler times, call “etiquette”, and among these would be the obligation to let that community know if the services were going to be turned off so that they could make alternate arrangements. His failure to live up to these obligations makes the communitarian-minded feel betrayed.
It is this clash of expectations — this collision between people who see the world as a place where random acts of generosity don’t change the fact that you’re essentially on your own, and people who see the world as a place where informal social ties are both easily generated and essential to the smooth functioning of society — that explains much of the vitriol surrounding Winer’s decision. (That, and people are pissed at losing their blogs, of course.)
Personally, I can see the merit in both perspectives. I host a few people’s blogs for free myself, though not anywhere near 3,000. All I have to do is look at my hosting bill to understand Winer and the libertarians when they say “it’s my box, I can do what I want with it”. And yet, it’s probably indicative of the general tilt of my personality that I don’t think I could just turn the lights out on my non-paying users like that; I try to keep them posted on things like service outages, software updates, and so on, and I would certainly feel like I would need to give them a couple of weeks’ notice to migrate off before I shut down their blog altogether.
Do they get the same level of contact and customer service from me that they would get from a for-pay vendor? Probably not; but I do feel that by offering my resources to them, I have also committed a certain amount of my time as part of the bargain, so I take the time to send the occasional e-mail, and if it ever became too much to handle I’d ask them either to pay or help them migrate to a different host, rather than just bouncing them out. It’s just part of the bargain I made when I volunteered the resources.
Does that make me better than Dave in some way? Not particularly (though I do think that more communication is better than less in these circumstances, and Dave has definitely been erring on the side of too little communication, unfortunately). It just means I see the world, and the way I fit into it, differently than he does. How do you see it? Does the idea of an act of generosity growing into a burden of responsibility depress you, or do you see it as an inevitable cost of being tied into the social fabric? I have a feeling your answer to that question will correllate pretty closely to your feelings on the weblogs.com issue.Posted by Jason Lefkowitz at June 17, 2004
If you think anything I write here represents the opinions of anybody but myself, you need more help than I can give you. The opinions are all mine, folks. Nobody else's. ESPECIALLY not my employer's.
If that's too hard to understand... well, I'm sorry. There's only so much I can do. I'm not a therapist, and I'm not a miracle worker. (Unless you consider staying employed in this economy a miracle.) I wish I could help you work through your delusional belief that I'm speaking for anyone else but myself. Honestly, I do. But in the end, that's a monkey you'll have to get off your back on your own. Sorry.