Billions of Websites
Saturday, February 18, 1995 by Dave Winer.
Every new website begets more websites. If I have one, I want my friend to have one, so I can point to it. And so they can point to my site. Someday I'll be able to walk a network of friendships, automatically knowing that each of us has mutual friends. It'll be cool.
The whole controversy started by A Tough Customer a week or so ago, was a non-issue. When I write about relationships between people, I *am* writing about technology. That's the future, as it was the past. It was just an illusion that somehow you could talk about technology without really talking about people.
Anyway -- perhaps contradictorily -- it seems that the web should be a finite thing -- that someday all the websites will be done, and we can do something else! But that's just an illusion too. The breadth of the web is limited only by the available space on hard disks, and the availability of human thoughts and feelings to fill that space. There's no shortage of either! [Technically our capacity to create *is* finite, but our ability to travel, even electronically, is finite too. You'll never visit all the cool websites. So the web, for each of us, is infinite. Also for worm scripts, but that's another story.]
Every writer can participate in the web. Someday, very soon, I believe, every writer will. That's the next big opportunity in the online world.
As of February 1995 you still need a degree in rocket science to get a website on the air. I know -- I am trying to find a reputable and professional business to manage my site for me. Most of them are flaky, the ones that aren't are hard to get into. All my content is ready. The HTML is written. The scripts are running.
Who can I pay to keep my site on the air?
There's a barrier here, and therefore, an opportunity.
Any one of the popular online services could be instrumental in opening up web authoring to all their users. They're all moving in that direction. Prodigy and Netcom users can already browse the web. America OnLine (AOL) and CompuServe promise it soon. They're also getting their own websites ready. Each will have their own unique look. And people from outside their service get to look too. AOL has opened up a mirror to popular FTP sites on the net. This has been well received in the net community.
But the clean up act, the new leader of the online business, will be the one who makes it really easy for anyone to publish a website on their server.
Email addresses are a great promotion vehicle for the service. Website addresses will promote the service even more widely.
The economics are simple. The user pays a small monthly fee for the site, assuming it gets a reasonably small number of accesses. If it becomes popular (I think this is what the online vendors are afraid of) either the site moves off the host, or the service makes a deal with the author, a deal that they both profit from. A win-win. After all, the goal of every writer is to have lots of readers. Winning is a happy time, not a problem time. [In case you're wondering -- the answer is advertising.]
A little bit of software is added to the client. A new command, call it Update Website, is added to the Members menu. Choose the command, then choose a folder of text and GIF files. The rest is automatic. [It should be smart enough to not upload files that haven't changed since the last upload.]
A second new command opens a web browser window and shows you what your home page looks like. In version 2, provide an HTML compatible editor for all text displayed by the system, including email, so the websites look great even if the writer doesn't know anything about HTML. There are other spiffy ideas and new directions that branch out from here.
I'm a software guy.
In my previous life, as a personal computer industry software developer, that meant I wrote strings of little ones and zeros that made hardware do stuff that people wanted to do.
In the online world it means that I write little strings of ones and zeros that amuse people and I write software for writing and delivering those ones and zeros in entertaining and enabling ways.
I'm not a hardware guy. I don't like opening computers. It reminds me that there's a physical side to all them dancing ones and zeros. I prefer to believe it's actually done with magic. It helps preserve my sanity.
I don't want to see the computer that stores my website. I want to believe it's magic. I'm a software guy. I want someone else to worry about it. I have enough to keep me busy in my world of ones and zeros.
I want two things from the system that runs my website: the ability to respond to hundreds of thousands of accesses per day and 24-hour-a-day uptime. In the world of the Internet these two things are in *very* short supply.
I want to know that if my site becomes popular, the service will be able to handle the load, and if Bill Clinton decides to take a look at 4AM some morning he won't get a "Unable to Locate Host" message.
As the current online services all move into the Internet world it would be easy and profitable for them to apply their competency in these areas to running websites.
The platform with the most powerful users is the most powerful platform.
If all the cool websites are emanating from your server, it will become a cool place to send email from.It will also be a cool place to put up new websites.
This generates billing and lots of publicity.
It taps you directly into the growth of the net.
It's also a good defense against threats like Senator Exon. If millions of people understand and use the expressive power of the web they would be easier to organize against paranoic attacks on our civil liberties.
I'll let you all know when the problem is solved!
PS: The Well already offers this service, but they add a legal notice to every page they display. This is a deal-stopper for me. I don't want to provide free web space for The Well's lawyers on every one of my pages. Here's another reason to oppose Exon with some positive legislation that specifically absolves the service provider from responsibility for pages that the system serves.
PPS: Both Mitnick and Exon evoke a common hope that's unrealistic -- that the net will be a safe place. It mirrors the world. It can't be safe. You still have to protect yourself. Be vulnerable only when you can afford to be.
PPPS: It's possible that The Well will go down for 48 hours sometime in the next few days to implement a new security system after the Mitnick attack. If you get bounced sending mail to me in the next few days, please (temporarily) try sending mail to email@example.com. Sorry for any inconvenience.