We're here to tell the story of the Hosting Industry. It’s just one part of the larger history of the internet, but it’s an important part. Without the emergence of the web hosting industry, none of what happened to spin out the web would have been possible. But the hosting side is the background, not as visible as for example, the software side of the industry. Tools like Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome are highly visible and much debated. Applications like Facebook, Google and YouTube get so much attention that you start hearing terms like “post human” and “singularity” when people talk about them.
Without web hosting to provide the skeleton, this new type of intelligent being would never have been able to stand up at all, and the people who made it happen were not governments or mega-corps. A lot of them were just kids who started in Mom’s Basement. We’re literally talking about 14 year olds who worked in blue sky and made millions within a decade. We’re going to talk with them.
We have to do this because everything is happening so fast that the history will be lost. Robert Marsh died. He was one of the pioneers in the wild west early days of the web. Much of the history, lore and legend went with him. Other pioneers are cashing out and living on yachts, taking up sports car racing. Some just walked away. Many acts of courage, moments of inspiration, and strokes of genius have taken place, and meanwhile people have fallen through floors, absorbed shocks and nearly drowned in data centers.
There are already whole population groups who are tech savvy and obsessively engaged with internet technology who do not know this sound. That’s a hyperlink. Go ahead and click it. You’ll hate it but it may make you smile. A smaller group of people know what “war driving” was, but they’re starting to forget. It’s fun to recall a time when everyone’s WiFi password was “admin”. I know that because I was part owner of a company in an emerging industry installing WiFi networks in apartment complexes. Then one day we heard about 3G. The next day the entire industry shut down.
It’s not clear what will emerge from this project. We’re collecting stories. It could go anywhere. It should be sort of funny. I’ll work to make it thoughtful. It will take the form of both podcasts and transcripts of podcasts. We won’t necessarily avoid controversy, but this will not become a forum for bashing a rival. What I have in mind is the record of a moment when we stop to catch our breath, before we go on to the next thing. Here’s some of what is planned as podcasts:
City in the Cloud
There are now around 6 million pages in the WebHostingTalk archive. There were three million page views every month at WebHostingTalk. A core group of hundreds of thousands gathered at a single address every day to share information, meet and greet, solve problems and yes, cause problems. WHT is a forum where people can post questions, opinions, and information and enough people gathered there that it was like a city. It was like a frontier city because it sprang up out of nowhere and everyone there was a drifter, just passing through. It was common to see a post that was all code and ran several pages, and asked, “Why doesn’t this work?” Dozens of people, sometimes hundreds would review and analyze the code, and very often someone would find the cause of the problem and report it back to the poster. This was high level expertise being shared for free. It still is.
Just as often a sketchy individual would create a half dozen member accounts and praise the quality of his own service. That’s called shilling. It made everything unfair. Then a new sheriff came to town. A team of volunteers, hundreds of them, served as moderators and they would catch the people who were shilling. The moderation team brought order to the frontier. Here are some podcasts.
So here came this new thing, the internet, and there were no laws in place to govern it. Who owned a domain name? If a foreign government published a terrorist recruiting website, was the company that hosted the site responsible? If a technician at the hosting company moved to swap out a hard drive that failed, but inadvertently pulled the wrong one and then threw away millions of pages of data, who is responsible? If a website owner fails to back up their data, is that actionable?
In the beginning, nothing was settled law. Copyrights, contracts, taxes, everything had to be debated and decided.
Curious tales abound.
No Barrier to Entry (Don't Fence Me In)
Not much more than a decade ago the world wide web was still a niche business, a hobby that appealed to a subculture of brainy types. Some people famously dismissed the web as a fad along the lines of CB Radios. Others saw promise and wanted to participate. Some wanted to be programmers. Some wanted to develop websites. Some wanted to imagine new applications. What if you wanted to speculate on domains? No problem.
What if you wanted to be a web host, what was stopping you? Not a damn thing. You could get a reseller account from another host, so you didn’t have to know anything about network administration or spend a dime on a server. You could advertise for free at WebHostingTalk and other places and customers would just sign up. You could job out your billing. There was no expertise required. There was little or no investment required.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity available to anyone. People made millions and millions and millions of dollars.
They like to tell stories.
Everyone is a Stranger
I worked with a person named Chris. We worked strictly through email so I did not know whether Chris was a man or a woman, but I knew that Chris was demanding and self centered, had no patience and most clearly, Chris was as dumb as a rock. Chris couldn’t write a coherent sentence and had a style of negotiation similar to a small, yappy dog.
A few years later there was a last name change, so I figured Chris must be female. She must have gotten married. But I thought it was odd that over that few years time, Chris also kept getting smarter, more literate, more savvy.
Seven years into our relationship, I had the opportunity to meet Chris. He – it turned out that he was a guy – was 21. I had started working with him when he was 14 and owned a hosting company. Now he wins awards. We’ll say hello again.
Gateway to the Web
This is The American Way. It is the story of a business owner who started small, worked hard and reinvested their profits into growing the business. For the most part, we don’t really do business that way anymore. Now we have business plans, we raise capital, we create boards of directors, we recruit teams, sometimes we issue stock but always we have a Mission Statement and a way of measuring success.
But much of the growth in the hosting industry was done the old fashioned way. There were a lot of small groups of people working in basements and spare bedrooms and in the stock rooms at computer stores. They jumped into the game and built the new world. In one story a hoster went from a T-1 in a garage to a billion dollar plus sale in just a few years. In another a college student rented out space for hosting on the computer in his dorm room – using university provided bandwidth – and that netted millions too.
Others raised capital and tried to start big. It didn’t always work out.
Once I Built a Railroad
From the beginning, the web has been compared to the wild, wild west. The build out of the infrastructure for the internet and the construction of the railroad seem to have a lot in common. There was no slavery or genocide involved in the placing of high speed data lines but the comparison is irresistible. It was a race with high stakes – one that is still going on. Unlike the railroad builders, a lot of the day laborers who did the day to day work to build the data centers, run the cables and make the connections were rewarded.
Laying the rails and building the data infrastructure both opened whole new worlds of commerce. Both involved clashes of cultures. Both moved goods and services with speed that was previously unimaginable.
You Can't Outrun the Telegraph
In the 1970’s Alvin Toffler wrote “Future Shock”, a widely read and prescient think-book about the growth of technology. One section plotted growth on a graph. “Stone tools” appeared on the left of the timeline on the bottom, and after an interval we got the “Iron Age”. As we move to the right on the graph we move through time. As centuries pass we get to “Steam Engines” then “Radio”, “Automobiles” and “Television”. The line on the graph goes up as new technology emerges. It’s the familiar and regular curve on the left side of the bell curve. The acceleration is regular and predictable. In this business, we all know Moore’s Law. It’s like that.
In Toffler’s curve, the line goes straight up around 2007. The prediction was that the available technology would double in a day. This was thought to be impossible. It was put before us as a warning. It was thought that the human mind is not capable of working through this rate of change. Then 2007 came. Smart phones were introduced, along with hundreds of thousands of new apps. The doubling occurred and we just blew right past it….although it’s still an open question whether we’re capable of working through this.
Who owns this thing? There’s a grand legal battle
Looking at that, it seems like whoever controls the bandwidth controls the web. Controlling the bandwidth is certainly a powerful position, but the web has always moved to favor freedom. This is fascinating.
There’s more. We’ll speak about:
· - Nasty hacks
· - DOS attacks
· - Porn
· - Visionaries
· - Green Future
· - And more