19 Sep 2017

The “indie” fallacy

I won’t travel by plane, because when they crash, a lot of people die. I’d much rather drive my own car.

There is absolutely no doubt that plane crashes are spectacular and awfully painful. Yet, when comparing to other means of transportation, there is no doubt either that flying is by far the safest mode of transportation. A recent article explained that, in 2015:

13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled

Airline accidents per 100 million miles flown came in at a rate of 0.35

I consider myself a member of the open web community and very friendly with the goals of the IndieWeb community. I too wish for a world where web giants have less power and where the user is in control of more of their data. Yet, I now work for a large (the largest?) publishing platform. It is not often easy to reconcile, but one thing that I can tell you for a fact is that your data is, on average, safer on large hosting provider than it is on your small indie site.

I built and run a company that crawls the web (and which was acquired by Medium). Superfeedr is at the front row to witness the death of a website and the loss of the data that it hosted. Of course, sometimes, too often, large silos go away, taking with them a ton of content. However, for every one of them, how many domains expire? How many hosting contract is terminated? How many database failure happen? How many open source CMS instances are compromised? …

The Superfeedr database is full of dead and broken URLs which are not accessible anymore, and the vast majority of them is not from large and once popular companies, but rather from small, independent sites whose owner’s interest vanished.

In the same way that we hear more about plane crashes than daily road casualties, we hear more about these large companies which ran out of funding… but it is pretty clear which ones are actually more likely to disappear with their content.

There are also a lot more practical reasons why one should decide to host their content on large providers like Medium,: convenience, distribution…

That said, it is important to focus on platforms which actually do not act as one way streets: not all platforms are the same. Make sure you pick one that minimizes the “coupling” so you can safely move away when you need or want to with features such as :