Friday, December 3, 2010

WikiLeaks, Amazon, and My New Startup

I've been working on some stuff I really dig over the past year or so. This summer I shifted to something else, tried some new ideas, and discovered some things that just excite the hell out of me. For the first time since ChiliSoft, I'm incredibly excited about a startup. (Mission Research was heart work, not head).

And I think it will be big--certainly could be. People will be able to use the new stuff to reduce the time it takes them to find stuff on the web, and discover other things and people they might be interested in. Vauge, but it's still early and too soon to talk about.

To be big, we need to scale. We can do that by adding servers as the software takes over the world, but then we have to lease and maintain servers and manage the people who run them.

"To the cloud!"

The cloud has become cliche, and we've been forcefed the term, but the actuality of the cloud existed before the imperfect term was applied to it. For a very small amount of investment, we can get just the capacity and performance we need to serve the customers we have at any given time. It's elastic, it's highly affordable, and it's a lot easier than building your own data center.

So to Amazon we go, which turned its eCommerce system into a cloud hosting system, and it's very, very good. And cheap. It's literally in my plans.

Wikileaks ran on Amazon's cloud service. The site publishes state secrets leaked to it illegally, but its possession of them is legal (someone will debate that, but let's wait for the court decisions to take away freedom of the media). Was it damaging? Certainly. Was it wrong? Tasteless, but I'm fuzzy on the right/wrong thing, and smart people on both sides argue vigorously and intelligently about the merits of their positions. That's not why I'm writing today.

I suddenly don't feel like I can trust Amazon. It's their sandbox--they can shut it down for just about any reason, when it comes down to it. Read through their "agreement" (it's not really an agreement, it's what you accept if you are going to use their service, so there's really no discussion about it, which in my mind is key to an agreement) and you'll see they can do what they want.

So why would I trust Amazon to keep my incredible new startup rolling on their servers when they suddenly dislike or disagree with something my customers have to say?

Well, I wouldn't, I don't, and I think I'm going to pass on hosting there--at least until there's clarity beyond their actions that assures me they won't pull the plug on unpopular ideas or sharing of information that might hurt someone somewhere. Who are they to police that?

And exactly on what authority was Senator Lieberman speaking when he demanded they shut it down? He's got a vote, that's it. The difference between authority and power is that power is what you have when you get people to do things, including well beyond your authority.

So yeah, this stinks. It complicates things. Amazon is an easy choice for hosting. But it's not an easy choice for startups that care about surviving when their customers or users say something Amazon doesn't like.

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