I've been thinking about the Posterous shutdown, and about previous large-hosted-service shutdowns, going all the way back go Geocities. I think I've been so deep in the host-your-own-stuff world that I haven't been seeing the larger context. Just because I host my stuff, and just because most of the people I know host some (or most) of their stuff, doesn't mean that the rest of the online population does the same thing. But, how far out of whack are my feelings about the commonality of people managing their own stuff?
I spent a few hours today trying to dig up historical numbers for people using various tools and services to host content. It was surprisingly difficult to find historical data for the number of people with active accounts or downloads of various tools and services. So, I had to settle for cobbling together numbers from various press releases and questionable online reports.
Here's a rough timeline of active content producers, from 1995 - when Geocities kicked off - to the end of 2012. The figure on the left is raw numbers of people publishing online, using hosted services (blue) or self-hosted software (red). The figure on the right is the proportion of the active content producers using hosted services (blue) or self-hosted software (red) - note that this figure is zoomed in at the 95-100% range because, not surprisingly, almost everyone uses hosted services.
Services that I could find numbers for:
- Geocities (now defunct)
- Posterous (now defunct)
- WordPress (.org and .com)
I haven't been able to find numbers for Movabletype or Typepad, or a long list of other tools and services. I'll keep poking around, and will update the figures when I find more data… This also doesn't include the ~50 million Flickr users etc… (yet).1
It boils down to this - almost everyone - well over 95% of people - use hosted services to publish their content (if they publish content at all). And, these hosted services have a long history of withering or closing down entirely. With about 2 billion accounts2, and with almost all of that publishing activity occurring in hosted services, we will need to come to terms with what that means for an online culture when these now incredibly popular services do what hosted services do.
Do we step up attempts to archive these services, as the Internet Archive did with the 650GB of data from Geocities? Do we attempt to help distribute content across multiple services or self-hosted websites to try to mitigate the impact of any one of these services disappearing?
Do we even care? Does this stuff even really matter, or am I just over thinking this?