Subtitle: Unless you own your domain, you’re a pawn in Web 2.0

First off, before I get into my angry philosophical rant, a quick shout out to the 2507 Troops. Thanks for checking in, and yes, Sis is Ok. ‘Twas just a dream.

Now for the meat of the post.

Rupert Murdoch web property MySpace has just announced a deal to buy out photo storing and sharing site Photobucket. For Joe Average out there, this falls into the category of “Who cares?” Trust me. You care.

Why? Because it’s yet another signal to the tens of millions of people out there who rely on corporate owned hosting services for their blogging and personal web presence needs. That signal is: “Big business owns your ass.”

Many moons ago, when the web was a younger place, I built some sites on “free” hosting services like Tripod (now owned by Lycos), Geocities (now owned by Yahoo), and 100MegsFree (which had the misfortune of not getting bought out, and is limping along in a semi solvent state). Those services kept me happy for, oh, about a year or so.

But eventually I started “hitting the wall” with those services from a design standpoint. Both Tripod and Geocities had some pretty whacked filters at the time which limited what you could do, in terms of design. Part of the problem was that I would design a nice clean layout, then an automated script would come along and completely fuck it up to insert the ads that pay for the service. 100MegsFree was a bit better, because it allowed me to select pop-ups as the ad delivery method, thereby preserving my layouts. However, the automated script still mangled the odd bit of code, and also stripped out “code comments” to lighten the bandwidth load. You might think this is no big deal, but I had a habit at the time of planting easter eggs inside the code for anyone who bothered to view source.

All this filtering lead me to actually go in and read the Terms of Service for those hosting services, and I was kinda shocked at what I read. Essentially, the TOS outlined the fact that once I uploaded to the site, I no longer owned the code or content, the hosting service did. And for those you out there who say either “So What?” or “Tough Noogies…” to that, I partly agree with you.

There’s no free lunch on the internet. If you want free hosting, you’re gonna have to give up some rights along the way.

If you use Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, Photobucket, or any of the hundreds of other free hosting services out there, I suggest you go and read the TOS. I can pretty much guarantee that somewhere in there is a clause in which you basically give up the rights to your content.

Think about it. Those little poems and short stories you write and post? You’ll have to fight to get the copyright back if you want to publish them somewhere else. Post some of your music on MySpace? You get to keep the right to sell it, but Rupert Murdoch also has the right to sell it as a jingle to an Ad Agency, and you don’t get one red cent. Post your home videos on YouTube? Google owns the rights that those videos now. All those family photos you put on Flickr or Photobucket? You just signed over a heck of a lot of rights to those too.

Now, so long as these companies remain in their existing form, there really isn’t a major problem. None of them are going to go and abuse the copyright priviledges, because word would get out, and their ships would quickly sink. But you have to remember that these hosting outfits are essentially properties, and they can be bought, sold, and traded amongst big business. And whoever ends up owning the site is the one that gets to decide what to do with all that content they acquire with the site.

PhotoBucket getting bought out by MySpace is a troubling indicator of this. Rupert Murdoch, who owns News Corp, which in turn owns MySpace, is a bit of a notorious dink. He’s the guy who sees no problem in turning Fox News into a big propaganda machine for the Republican Party. Essentially, he’s a right wing control freak.

So how did he get to buy out PhotoBucket? With a bit of Machiavellian Muscle, is how. The owners of PhotoBucket had been looking to cash in for a while, but they weren’t initially interested in selling to Murdoch, because they thought he was a jerk. Murdoch proved them right. He used his ownership of MySpace to put the whammy on PhotoBucket.

Here’s how it played out.

Of the 41 Million (yes, that’s “million” with an “m”) PhotoBucket users out there, somehwere around 35 – 38 million of them also have MySpace accounts. They upload, sort, and store their images on PhotoBucket. Then they use MySpace as a sort of blogging, personal home page creator. When they need to illustrate a post on their MySpace page, they would simply Hot Link to the image on their PhotoBucket account. For many people, this was an effective way of dealing with their digital information.

Murdoch was aware of this, and he wanted PhotoBucket. So he used his ownership of MySpace to make PhotoBucket unsellable to anyone but MySpace. Last month, MySpace put in a filter which blocket all images from PhotoBucket.

Dirty pool, my friend.

In doing this, he essentially guaranteed his ability to buy PhotoBucket. Any other prospective buyer had to know that PhotoBucket had lost an essential reason for its existence to a huge chunk of its demographic.

And now that MySpace owns PhotoBucket, what next? Well, the filter on MySpace that blocks out PhotoBucket images is sure to soon become a thing of the past. But what about other filtering? Is Murdoch going to sabotage the value of PhotoBucket to others by blocking hot linking to PhotoBucket images unless it comes from MySpace? Ya think?

So what’s a Web 2.0 user to do?

Well, if you want to maintain control over your data, there’s only one real solution.

Buy your own domain.

If you won your own domain, then you get to keep ownership of the content on your domain. Even if you use a commercial hosting provider (and who really wants the hassle and cost of running their own server?), you get to have the legal protection of ICANN behind you. You pay a fee for the hosting company to host your files, but you get to retain ownership of those files. If your hosting provider pisses you off, they are legally obliged to let you move your hosting, and domain registration, to another company.

But, you say, that sounds expensive, and technically difficult.

Well, no, and not really, in that order.

Competition is so strong in the domain reslling and hgosting business, that it has become actually quite cheap to buy and host a domain. You can buy a domain and basic hosting for under $10/year. If you want something a bit fancier, like the ability to host a database driven site running WordPress, Joomla, or some other site management tool, it’s still only going to cost you about $10/month, and that will get you all the bandwidth you’re likely to ever need (unless your site really takes off – in which case you’ll be able to quickly set up an advertising account with Adsense or some other ad syndicator to cover your costs).

And as for technically difficult, the answer is “not really”. Sure, you’re going to have to learn a few things, but again, the competition in the hosting market, along with the growth of Open Source web appliances (like WordPress, Joomla, PHPNuke, and others), are going to help you out here. The software to run your site is going to be free, and most discount hosting providers will even install it for you and get it up and running for free.

Don’t believe me? Go poke around GoDaddy, IPowerWeb, or DotEasy and see for yourself. But don’t stop with those three. shop around a bit and figure out which hosting service is going to give you the site building tools, bandwidth, and services you need.

And then, before you pull out your credit card, sit back and think, and ask yourself…

“Do I want to own my family photos and videos, my short stories and poems, my thoughts and my data, or do I want to give up ownership of all that to some schmuck like Rupert Murdoch, just to save a few measly bucks?”

One Response to “Buy your own domain, or get owned.”

    In addition to my comment on your “cake” post, and who doesn’t love cake? Can you tell me if at $9.99/yr on et al – do I own the domain or am I renting it? Out of the 30 domain names I want to buy, all are $9.99/yr and only one is $1,688 for the premium domain name. What’s the difference besides hosting it myself? If I pay the yearly fee for them hosting it, can anyone else buy it or is it mine untilI decide to buy it?
    P.S. I love cake

Something to say?

%d bloggers like this: