This weekend’s worrying outage of FeedWrangler, my RSS feed aggregator of choice, is a stunning example of the benefits and disadvantages of the internet. Up to twenty years ago running a service for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands required big infrastructure, many workers and fees to match. Now, as David Smith (and Marco Arment[¹] of Instapaper before him) has proved, one man and one server, possibly running from home, can create a new service and take on the world.
This is both a good and a bad thing. Good in that it creates opportunities that did not previously happen without a great deal of capital; bad in that it raises expectations of thousands who come to rely on the service and who do not realise the true nature of the operation.
The moral of this little story is that we should never assume depth and permanence in a service just because it is good and does the job better than any other. We should learn to understand potential risk and it is in our own hands to take precations (such as, in this case, backing up our data locally).
For all I know, Google is run by one very talented geek with a good hand for doodling out of a server in his garage at Mountain View. On the other hand, from little acorns, or garages, sometimes grow big things and this is the most important lesson we can learn. The Internet has empowered the masses.
I wish David Smith well, I love the FeedWrangler service and I hope it will go from strength to strength.
[¹] For the record, Marco sold Instapaper to Betaworks earlier this year and it is now run by a bigger organisation.