in social networks, tech, webhosting

Why will flop and what we should learn from it

Of late, I’ve been investing my time and money on two online platforms – WordPress and (ADN). The first, for blogging and the second for micro-blogging and conversations.

Around the same time that ADN launched, another service started off – While ADN’s objective was to provide a scalable API that could and would do anything its developers asked for, began with the earnest aim of letting users own their own data. ADN is like any other online service in that the company runs its own servers, users push data – updates, photos or links to these servers and the servers push the data to other users. This single point of access means that all the data is stored on ADN infrastructure and this will not change. The big difference is that ADN doesn’t assert control over your data and you can export all those posts anything before you leave the service, if you do.

But there lies the problem. Facebook allows you to export your data, so does Google. Twitter, no longer interested in letting people export their data, is still figuring it out. The problem is, once you export the data, what do you do with it? Like a dog chasing its tail, exporting your data sounds excellent, specially to save you data from misuse by the respective companies, but once you download it, you’ve got nothing to do with it. There are no easy tools that allow me to transfer all my twitter posts to ADN or my 5 GB of GMail emails to an email account elsewhere. Even when these services exist, there’s barely any scope of the old data to exist in the new environment because each service tries to be different from the previous. For example, the testimonials people wrote for me on Orkut still sit there on that now defunct service. There is no ‘testimonial’ section on Facebook where I can place that data. So once you’ve exported all your precious data from a social network you’re leaving, that data will sit in a zip file on your hard drive until an eternity.

That’s where systems like and WordPress come in. My blogging has gone through many iterations – from a modest blog to hosting on free web hosting like HelioHost and ServersFree when I discovered that I wanted more freedom with my blog’s theme and plugins.  Finally opting for paid hosting on NearlyFreeSpeech when I discovered that my blog was often overstepping the limits set on free accounts, I’ve traveled far and wide on the Internet (one of my web hosts was based out of Eastern Europe). The only glue that help my blog together was the fact that I had total control over WordPress files, the database and backups. I even faltered and forgot to take backups until I discovered that automated backups to Dropbox were the best thing since sliced bread. One day, after discovering that one of the free hosts had shut me down overnight, the only way for me to get my blog back online was with the backups in my Dropbox. I did not lose a single file. Now, most of us don’t value our interactions on our social networks as much as we value our blogs. We think that it’s all pretty fleeting, just our thoughts at a particular moment or the lunch we had three days ago. But the value of that data grows with each tweet posted or each photo uploaded. We’re building our bases on ground that’s shaky. Consider two experiments I did –

1. I’ve been using a lot of bookmarking services over the past few years – I used to keep it simple and save all bookmarks on my computer. Until my computer crashed. I recovered everything, except the Application Support folder in Windows, loosing everything. Then I shifted to using and was pretty happy with this tool my brother had introduced me to. But I fell out of habit out of that because it was not good enough to show me what I was bookmarking. For a while, I shifted completely to Pocket, then known as ReadItLater but then Instapaper pulled it away. Thus, all my bookmarks are spread all over the Internet and any one of these services threaten to die out some day, with me loosing all my data. My current solution is thus, as follows – I save reading material on Instapaper, all other multimedia on Pocket and everything, including a super set of the above, to my Google Chrome, which I have synced across multiple devices, thus giving me complete access to my entire history, bookmarks and logins. I trust Marco Arment to give us fair warning in case he feels like moving on from Instapaper some day and Google Chrome is too big to be shut down by Google any time soon, besides, I’m on Mac now and Time Machine backups are better at getting me my data back, unlike Windows.

2. Soon after I joined ADN and came up, Automattic, the company behind WordPress came out with their liveblog plugin. Traditionally, the plugin is supposed to be used for chronicling an event. But I decided that my life, live, is a good enough thing to chronicle. Thus, I decided to start live.nitinkhanna and now, I post all original thought on both ADN and live.nitinkhanna. The benefit? I own that information in a format that is transcendent beyond the current social networks I use and the backups they create. Now I don’t need to worry about exporting from ADN then writing code to extract all my posts and posting them on live.nitinkhanna, because my ideas, notes and posts are right here with me. Recently, when I was looking for a link that I had found particularly interesting, I did not go about searching my history or a search service for ADN, I knew it was somewhere on that one page that loads up on live.nitinkhanna and I found it in about 15 seconds. This gave me a unique perspective over where my data should be and in what format.

Now, coming back to the sensationalist headline I used for this post. I do not hope that will die. In fact, the opposite. The success of a service like tent teaches us that data should be readily available to us in a format that’s of our choosing and no one can take it away from us. Tent will be successful despite failures like Diaspora because tent is not assuming that it’ll change the landscape and must be funded heavily by VCs. Tent is opting to be open source and available. Its opting to be on Github so that millions can download the software and run it for themselves. Only, millions won’t. The primary implementation of tent is the tentd ruby software package. It’s not something that someone would pick up and install on a server right away. I can look up the WordPress famous 5 minute install and actually set it up on a free hosting service like ServersFree within that time frame. Tentd is still in its infancy, but it needs to move in that direction.

Not many people know that you can, in fact, install ruby based apps online for free on various services such as AppFog. I setup a data and processing intensive app called Fever on AppFog for free recently and wrote about how to do it. Next, I’m going to set up tentd there, so that I can learn and teach you all how it’s easy and free. But not many people will do that. Not enough people will opt to go for a complex ruby based server to store the details of their latest lunch or photos of their cat at play. Common people are afraid of coding. They prefer hosted services like Facebook where they just have to log in and start ranting about the latest change in the service instead of owning up and paying for the right to own their data and control the features of these services. Most companies don’t even think once before opting for a managed WordPress installation where they don’t have to worry about uptime or themes or plugins. They can concentrate on customer engagement and pay the bill at the end of the month.

Tentd or some new avatar of the tent ‘protocol’ needs to come down to at least the hated but familiar world of PHP-MySQL so that more people (bloggers) will experiment with it. They need to write a 15 minute famous install because really, all a person wants is the system to be up and running as soon as possible so that they can tell their friends about today’s sunset. They need to find a way to make life easier for the pseudo-programmer, who knows how to click the install button but cares not whether the application is PHP or blasphemous .NET as long as it’s working and it’s free to run.

What can we learn from all the above? Life in the own-your-social-data land isn’t easy. People who strive to do so look for the perfect way, tweak it well and stick to what they have, even if it’s just a Facebook account where they know they can just click download if they want to exit the network some day. I assure you, they won’t. So if tent wants to make as big a dent as WordPress did, they need to start thinking about easy. Tent can be like Tumblr to people – the option of posting an image, a video, a link, a quick note or a long post, all rolled into one. The issue is that it must be just as easy for people to set up too.


  1. Yes.

    I came across this article while trying to discern if Tent had gotten any easier to work with in the last year.

    Tent needs to integrate with wordpress, or at least live along side it. My wordpress installation needs to be able to host my social stream and display the social streams of the people I follow. (And more people. all the people.)

    • @andrew_roach:disqus I believe that we’re looking at amazing alternative solutions for WP to be more mobile-social focused. Two awesome projects I’m looking forward to meeting are and While Pressgram is focused on photo sharing, camera filters and owning all your content, and is nearly out in the iOS app store, PostcardSocial is in Alpha right now and is looking to break the BuddyPress monopoly over WP-as-a-Social-Service. I believe these two should suffice for our needs right now. If you want to know more about these, Pressgram is and the PostcardSocial dev is on ADN ->

      I hope this helps.

      • Very helpful. Thanks.

        I’m investigating these two projects, and trying to figure out if they can integrate with the project I am working on.

          • I’m a small time developer with a bit of a music addiction. I’m working on a thing called Analog Revolution.

            (Quoted from the about us page of
            “Analog Revolution is an independent record store, located in Hiram, Georgia. We stock the traditional record store fare: new and vintage vinyl records, turntables, amps, speakers, and digital hi-fi gear.

            We also have a decidedly nontraditional side, with a penchant for DIY and hand made goods. We press records, we print books and magazines, and we are all about our community.”

            We’re doing all manner of interesting technical/artistic things (pressing vinyl records in my basement, releasing albums on NES cartridges (to be played back in an actual NES), designing/building custom speakers… there’s a lot in the works.)

            We’re still pretty early along in everything (our first single and our first issue of the magazine are both set to launch next month.)

            One of our long term goals is to be able to provide some deep community integration. The ability for us to be able to interact with our customers, bands, and writers, and for them to be able to interact with one another, without the reliance on a centralized third party (and without the conversation and interaction being limited to AR.) I see these platforms as a potential realization of that goal.

            As I said, it’s a long term goal, but it’s one that I am excited for.

            • If you’re in a hurry, BuddyPress would suffice, though I’ve heard there are some better plugins for Joomla/Drupal for social. If you’re willing to wait, PostcardSocial shouldn’t be that far out and if you’re in the Beta, you can definitely help steer the platform towards something workable. How about you get in touch with Kyle Newsome? Need an ADN account? I have invites…

              • I’ve explored buddy press in the past and I’ve found it to be a bit too closed/old/fuddyduddy for what I want. I’m willing to watch and wait on postcardSocial (while exploring the social scene.)

                I’ve been working on some simple plugins to cross post content between tumblr/twitter/facebook and our website, but I’m more concerned with the community than I am with the network.

                Hurry is the exact opposite of what I’m in on the social front. At the moment, I’m devoting all of my energy to the magazine and the records (which is why social is on my mind again. Everyone needs a hobby, right?)

                I have an ADN account, but I’ve never used it much. Kyle is the developer of Postcard social?

                • Yeah, BuddyPress isn’t exactly pristine, so it’s ripe to be innovated out of the scene. Yes, Kyle is the dev for PostcardSocial, it’d be worth your time to talk to him.

                  Excellent differentiation between community and network!

                  I use to spread my word, but I prefer using the liveblog plugin on and a hack script that posts to ADN and twitter, so the network part is kinda covered.

                  As for the community , I can’t recommend anything that you can own right now, so there’s always a wait. On the other hand, ADN is a great community, specially for projects like which you should totally check out… The tools being built around it make it feel much more homey than any other social platform I’m on right now…

                  • I’m not familiar with, but I appreciate the suggestion. I loved your liveblog suggestion, did you write the hack to cross post yourself, or is it a community thing?

                    ADN seems interesting to me, but I have had a hard time getting engaged in the community. I’ll Give the project a look.


                    • About dlvrit, sure… I like that they’ve got a simple service and all… You’ll see when you explore it…

                      I wrote the hack for the liveblog myself. There’s not much community, just the devs and a few others around the project. I liked doing that, was fun… I did submit it to them on GitHub, so lets see where this goes…

                      You’ll need time for ADN, that’s for sure. The conversations there are a much better quality… Cheers!

                      And thanks for all the talk… I don’t get to use my own blog for conversations that much…

                    • I have found myself sitting strongly in the anti-comments crowd for a while, but this has been pleasant enough to make me consider disqus comments on AR.

                      Thanks for all the help.

                    • Ah, Disqus… Well, it’s been a funny ride. I usually kill comments on old or esoteric posts, keeping them active on tech posts because those invite the most purview… Something to consider when you’re thinking of comments.


                    • I was digging in to this topic again today, as I had some down time, and I came across this: which is in use on

                      Have you looked in to it much? The instance in use on boingboing seems to work very well. It’s not quite social, or at least it’s not the stream part of social, but it does make strides toward solving the community problem. (I’d still like it to communicate with other software in other places around the net, but it’s a start.)

                    • Andrew, I have seen Discourse and felt it was more related to discussions than to social streams. Didn’t know it was being used at boingboing. That’s interesting! I’ve been a lurker for long there, maybe I should start participating…

                    • It is far more related to discussion than social streams, but the two are interrelated issues (at least I feel like they are.)

                      Half or more of my social media activity is discussion. Finding a service to replicate the creation and consumption of disparate social streams would be great, but it wouldn’t be useful for the general public without a way to also replicate the conversations, the discussion, that makes up the “social” part of social media.

                      Current social media has some problems, and raises a few questions. I’m not sure that Discourse is the answer, but whatever the answer ends up being it will be as much or more about sharing a social stream and viewing a social stream as it is about discussing the contents of those streams.

                      (Some existing social sites handle the integration of this discussion better than others. Facebook/Twitter/ADN have integrated discussion in the stream quite well, but Tumblr, Instagram, and Vine have struggled to find a way to allow communication to exist along side the stream. Instagram and Vine have internal comments, which work fairly well (but they also have facebook/twitter/tumblr comments, which are not integrated in to one feed.)

                      Tumblr has asks/FanMail/Replies/submissions and Disqus comments. Each of these has a discrete and not terribly obvious purpose and only one of them, replies, is directly integrated in the stream. (and there is no way to reply to replies. Some community conventions have poped up but there isn’t a standardization, and there is nothing official.)

                      To my mind the solution would be a combination of a new (group of) social streams, an integrated RSS-like social reader, and some kind of discrete conversational tool (that ties together content from all of these disperate social streams and keeps the conversations grouped together.)

                      But I don’t have a clue what that would look like. )

                      I have, by the way, greatly enjoyed this conversation. Thanks.

                    • I started using pressgram today, It’s great. When you get it running be sure to share your username.

Comments are closed.


  • Back in 2012, I wrote a post called Conversations as a future of blogging. Well, I say I wrote, but actually I must have had a conversation on this up-and-coming platform called with a few people I invited to it from twitter. Using their tools, I embedded the conversation to my blog on the link above. I thought the embed would last forever, because a) where is branch going to go, and b) WordPress usually gracefully downgrades embeds, right?
    Nope. died three years after launch. They gave us a period of time to request backups of our conversations. I remember doing that, but I never received one in my email. Perhaps they expected me to come back to their site to download the files? I asked all the other people involved in the conversation and none of them cared to request a backup of the copy. This goes back to my posts here about the futility of exporting your data from online services, even though in this case, a full backup was exactly what I needed to recover my blog post.
    I was further wrong in that WordPress does no such thing with embeds. In the case of officially supported embeds, I’ve seen the system do this once before and I thought that was standard behavior, but in the case of link embeds, there’s no clear way for it to be possible.
    Recently, I introduced a random post finder to my blog. With it, I’ve been discovering a lot of great and terrible posts I’ve written over time. It’s my way of getting closer to my blog.
    But it has also left me reeling from all the broken links and embeds that I trusted to work forever. The embed, images and links I’ve linked to, PDF files I thought would never go away. Heck, even Facebook CDN stuff has disappeared and that company doesn’t let go of any data!
    Recently, Automattic introduced inline GIFs from giphy through Jetpack. The model they’re following is pretty neat – they shipped the Gutenberg editor within WordPress 5, and have been extending it using Jetpack with blocks that allow various kinds of content, including GIFs. It shows the scope that Gutenberg has in the future.
    Coming back to embeds, Giphy, the company Automattic is leaning on, came into existence in 2013, and I suspect will be out the door before its 10 year mark. Such is the way of life on the Internet. All of these are fads and fads can raise millions, but they eventually all die. Automattic will simply pull out the block from Jetpack and replace it with something else, but we users will be left with broken links and missing context on our blogs.
    When the block was introduced some time ago, I played with it and added some GIFs to a blog post. It’s a lot of fun to express ourselves visually. But if is any indication, embeds come back to bite us later on.
    Therefore, I’m getting off embeds. I’d rather download the GIF and upload it to my media. I’d rather take a screenshot of a webpage than to iframe it and hope it sticks around a few years from now. Jetpack already has a massive CDN operation behind them, so you’re never really serving your content directly from your site if they can help it. So there’s no need to worry about storage and bandwidth issues.
    As I go through my site, rediscovering old posts, I’ll keep coming across these embeds. Whenever I have context, I’ll try to replace it with relevant information. But, as in the case of, I will just put a note that explains what happened there, some general thoughts on the topic, and move on. Once bitten by embeds, twice shy now.

  • Every once in a while, I come across a book management and listing tool. This is a broad category – it covers lists of the books you’ve read/want to read, your book notes, a social network inbuilt, and perhaps even the ability to buy books through them. Sometimes this is in the format of an app, and sometimes it’s a web service. Never mind that I actively seek these out (hey, everyone should have a past time), I always come out exasperated.
    Why? Well, do you really want to build your entire book library all over again? I’m on the low-end of a prolific reader spectrum, and I’ve got about 260 books in my lists; that’s over a hundred books I’ve marked as read, and over one fifty that I want to. Most people have a lot more books than that in their lists, and almost all of them just hope in the back of their heads that Amazon doesn’t ever decide to kill Goodreads. Amazon has already been cozying up Kindle and Goodreads – you can post your Kindle reads, reviews, and notes directly to Goodreads through the Kindle apps. What’s to say that in a few years time they don’t decide that they’re done collecting our data through Goodreads and can shut the service down?
    Oh, but don’t worry, you can export all your Goodreads data!
    Really? Thanks! What do I do with it once I’ve exported it?
    See, this is the problem. This is why I keep looking for alternatives. But every time I come across one, I immediately realize the blind spot they aren’t addressing. If you’re an app/service, what you need to jump-start your platform is data. The ‘elegant’ way of doing this is to ‘ask’ the user for it. I put that in quotes because it’s more mandatory than just a small ‘ask’. If I come to a service, spend some time poking around, and realize I need to input all of my books all over again, that’s an immediate turn off. Services like Goodreads aren’t like conferences, where you can slap on a name tag and wander around till you find someone interesting to talk to. They’re more like parties, where if you don’t know anyone, you’ll just end up bored and.
    So, this is what I ask of you if you’re making a service to compete with Goodreads – ask the user to export their data in an ugly .csv format and import the entire file to your service. Then you’ve got the entire library the user has curated on your rival service since the dawn of time without lifting a finger. You don’t even have to have this as the front and center of your UX. Get your user onboarded, get them talking, and then somewhere along the way, gently tell them you’ve got this amazing import feature that’ll help them quickly ramp up. If they care about books, they’ll do it. Those are the serious users of your platform anyways.
    But nowhere have I seen this happen. I’ve recently come across a few apps – Litsy (by LibraryThing), Reading List (which seems to allow CSV imports, but needs them to be in its own format, instead of the Goodreads format; you’re this close folks!), BookBuddy (again, imports only its own data, god knows why) and some web services which I’ve already forgotten about, none of which seem to understand this basic concept of stealing from the enemy.
    But what am I saying? I wrote all the way back in 2012 about how useless exporting data from Internet behemoths is. Nothing has changed in the last seven years. Till today, companies and apps come and go, without realizing that using prior data is a jump-start, not poisoned fruit.
    Indie services actually get this. If you install the Goodreads plugin on Calibre, it lets you quickly import your data so your library is complete. Similarly, if you use the WordPress Book List plugin, there’s a way to import your Goodreads data. Because people who care about data, understand reuse of data. That tells me that if you’re not reusing my data, you’re not building a platform for me.
    So good luck competing with Goodreads. Unless you can get my data from them and reuse it, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

  • Nitin Khanna's Blog – It is 1984. September 5, 2013

    […] loser in this? The end users who lose their data when the app or service shuts down. As I’ve said before, there’s no point in that glorious “Export Data” option that most platforms are […]

  • Big Brother is watching. This is the ominous note that strikes me whenever I think about George Orwell’s amazing book. It makes sense in a senseless world. We are aware of our governments watching us. But I’m not going to talk about intrusive governments. I’m going to talk about something else. Ever since I joined ADN, I’ve been part of a growing debate over privacy concerns regarding Facebook and developer concerns over a now well-locked down Twitter API. I’ve read about Facebook’s new Graph Search, I’ve read about Twitter’s fight with Instagram and I’ve read about Dunbar’s number. But today, when I saw a link about Twitter being the fastest growing global social platform, is when I realized where all of this is going.
    Many months ago, I read an interesting article on Quartz about how Facebook is looking to Africa for its next Billion users. The method is simple – provide Facebook access for free via SMS. In this classic move, people get addicted to the free social network and Facebook gets marketable user data on a Billion more. This despite the fact that we’ve well established that Facebook isn’t what it’s all pegged to be – a way to connect with people. Then I saw this new post about Twitter today and I realized where this is all going. Those of you who’ve read 1984 will know that in the book there are three main countries, each too large to be defeated by the other two, even if they try to combine forces, which never really happens because of ever-changing alliances. All this while, the common people of each State are fed misinformation and trained to accept it as fact. This is an Oligarchical system that cannot be broken. There is a perpetual war and all available resources are concentrated towards it, sacrificed from availability to common man with the hope that it’ll help in the war effort. But the most important facet? Everyone is watched.
    Sounds like anything you know? Let me draw the parallels – Facebook and Twitter are the two giants right now. The search goes on for the third. Yet, this is an Oligarchy. No government can claim that either of these networks are big enough to have a monopoly and must be broken down. Efforts to do so bear statements that each member of these networks is there by choice and is free to discontinue use of the service at any point in time and to join another service. Thus, these networks, leave for involuntary decay, are not going anywhere. Often, whenever the privacy issue resurfaces on Facebook, various rumors and false messages are circulated. The latest of them was when swathes of my friends posted on their walls that since Facebook is a public company, they are declaring that their personal information is not to be used by any shareholders of the company. This was a major farce and lulled people into believing that doing so would save their privacy. What they should have done was to go and vote in the Facebook Governance Vote. This was the last farce in Facebook’s claim that they are “for the users”. Facebook claimed that only a small percentage of users voted (600,000 out of a Billion users voted) and that this was no longer an effective means of deciding on issues. The solution? Facebook shut down the voting system. Twitter is not far behind. The once organically growing network did not ask anyone’s opinions before dictatorially locking down the API, shutting down what they could in the Instagram app (twitter removed the ability to search for twitter friends in Instagram) and forcing most heavy users back to their official apps, so that they could push advertisements. Finally, it comes to the arsenal. Facebook bought Instagram and shut down its twitter embeds, shutdown the API soon after buying them out, bought out Glancee, Gowalla and others. Twitter bought Posterous, TweetDeck, Summify, BackType and others to supposedly improve their services, move into new space, acquire more users or for analytics. This is all done so that the end users doesn’t meander from the base platform and more people are attracted to them. But who’s the loser in this? The end users who lose their data when the app or service shuts down. As I’ve said before, there’s no point in that glorious “Export Data” option that most platforms are totting nowadays because you have nowhere to put that data. Barely any platform tots an “Import data from other social network” and even then, most of the metadata is lost and most users are not good enough at programming to make their own import tools. Even if you do export your data, they keep a copy. So your online persona, everything you’ve done so far, is still theirs.
    Oh, and everyone is watched and revolutionaries are squashed. Twitter owns a copy of your tweets. Facebook owns your posts and everyone’s data is stored, analysed, collated and sold. You get ads based on your latest tweet, your latest picture and your latest purchase. There’s no escaping that. Unless, of course, you have AdBlock Pro installed in your browser. Then, at least, you don’t have to see these insane violations of your privacy. What about the revolutionaries? Well, one of the best examples is Dalton Caldwell who started out building a platform with and API that developers could build apps and services off of. He wanted to seriously build for Facebook but seeing that his ideas competed with the Facebook App Center, he was forced into a zero-sum game. He could either put out his company and product or get out of the ecosystem. He did the latter and went on to build which is teeming with developers and aiming just to serve its users, who pay for the service.
    No one knows who the third State of social networking is. Apple and Google have often tried and failed miserably in building out social platforms (Ping, Game Center/Jaiku, Latitude, Wave, Buzz, Google+). WordPress and Tumblr are too attached to the blogging platform concept to change radically into massive social networks (which is a good thing). Some standalone products bought by other companies survive, (Skype by MS, YouTube by Google, Instagram by Facebook) but not because they are inherently social but because they are of value in some other way. Amazon is nowhere near a social network (again, so glad for that). is still a fledgling as compared to these massive networks. Most small social apps and services, specially those funded by VCs have two destinies – either not gain enough traction and get shut down or gain bare minimum traction and look to get bought by one of the big guys.
    Why does all of this matter? It matters because we spend too much of our lives online. We, the end users, don’t log out of Facebook before going to shop on Amazon and we tweet about everything from our morning coffee to our political leaning. We put all that effort into building our online lives and when the product shuts down or the company changes hands, we just go with the flow to the next social network instead of demanding an answer (which we can’t because, hey, the service was free!). It matters because we’re citizens of these online States that are at continual war. A war in which they will buy every small company that users show interest in, will use your data more aggressively and blatantly when their bottom line needs to be fed and will not be afraid to release more tools for their advertisers than for their users, simply because their true customer is the former. It matters because this trend of over-sharing our lives is not going away because we’ve come to accept it as who we are. Our offline identities, earlier so different from our online ones are taking the shape of the latter. It matters because once the third big social network is formed, there will be no where on the Internet that will be free. There will be no website not tracked, no login not stored, no purchase not analysed. But we don’t need that last big network to get to that. We are already in 1984 and Big Brother is watching.