Free Online Tools, Communities, and Hosting Can Expire

The first dot-com bubble saw a huge number of free Linux hosting providers. Not the case today. The number of free Linux hosts seem almost zero. At least that is the case if you are searching the web. Between 1998 and 2001, I had about 10 or more separate websites hosted on various free web hosts. I did not even check in on them. Assumed they would run forever. Years later, I found out that some of the web hosts were bought out or folded altogether. That was before I had a good backup strategy. Those websites and associated code and graphics are gone for good.

The digital technology lesson is … nothing is truly free. A cost exists somewhere even if you do not see it. An operating system, for example, may be free. When running a website’s server software, that operating system has to run on hardware. That hardware is almost certainly not free nor is the electricity supplied to power it. Not even the bandwidth to download the operating system.

That surely applies to other things we think are free today. Software code of a certain kind will always be free, but there will be a cost to distributing it somewhere in the chain. Nothing you put on a free online service today is guaranteed to last. The eternal youthful vigor of digital technology is an illusion. Bits don’t decay but the hardware, operating models, and conditions that sustain those bits do decay. Companies go bankrupt, operating divisions fold, and market conditions change. You have to decide what to do from there.

Free online services should be viewed as a temporary situation. A given situation may last 10 years or 40 but whoever is operating a free service must have money coming in to sustain the infrastructure behind the service. When that money dries up or shrinks below an acceptable level long enough, it is almost certain that service will cease to be free if it continues to exist at all. While they are in their stride however, free services, may be a proving ground for your ideas or a stage for activities. Whatever else they are, they are not a long-term solution.

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