Internet Metaphors - No, It Really Isn't a Safe Space



November 12, 2007

I was talking to one of my clients the other day and he wanted to know if his website was like a car where you can put it in a garage for six months & know that you can come back in six months and just run it as you would the last time you started it up. I played with this metaphor a bit. We've talked about doing a car-free example as well in the past, but for the moment I'll work with this one.

First, I want to differentiate the automobile from the skateboard. The skateboard is the old school HTML website that the web was founded on. It might be something that that was built with impressive applications like DreamWeaver or wacky little ones like FrontPage, but either way when you upload it to the server it is pretty limited in what you can do with it. You can do some pretty neat tricks on it by yourself if you spend the time, but it's really hard to get a bunch of people all doing tricks on the same skateboard. A modern website has a very powerful engine and can easily seat very large communities of users, editors & visitors.

Note: The following was contributed by a client and summarizes costs quite well (and is way shorter than what I wrote): Walk: free but a bit exhausting Bike: oil chain, air in tires and maybe batteries for light and depends on weather Take your car: oil gas, insurance, car wash, undercoating, brakes, rad fluid, transmission, air filter, plate sticker, maintenance ... Use a transport truck: professional driver oil, gas, insurance, brakes, rad fluid, transmission, tires, depreciation schedule ... and a maintenance crew.

I've got other articles where I've compared these, but with a skateboard the greatest risk you have is that it can get stolen or broken.

So you've just bought a nice new car and have driven it around for a few weeks so you're comfortable with how it performs for you. There are no scratches on it yet, but there was a near collision when you were filling it up for gas the first time. You did notice a strange noise after the first week, but took it back to the shop and they fixed it up under warranty.

Now you're heading out of the country for a few months and aren't going to be able to be watching it daily like you usually do when you are commuting in to work. However, you don't take the time to properly secure your car, and put it up on the blocks, but rather you just park it on the street in front of your house like you usually do.

The Internet is not a safe place. It is a corrosive, ever changing environment that has thousands of thieves, villains & delinquents around the globe looking to take your car out for a joyride or slash your tires. Now this can happen any time you leave your site unattended, but the longer you leave it unsupervised the greater the risk becomes.

The software that powers your site ages quite quickly. Security vulnerabilities are constantly being discovered in all software and they do require that people perform semi-regular upgrades to see that they can't be exploited. If you were in town you might have heard the news that it is now trivial to break into your car using a ball point pen. If you had set up an arrangement with your garage to support your car for a few years you may have gotten a letter informing you of this that you'll receive when you come home.

The standards for running a modern website also change quite quickly. Performance standards increase and it's no longer acceptable to run a car that emits so much sulfur dioxide.

This is a pretty shaky metaphor, but the point is that today websites need to be monitored more closely, upgraded regularly, and that yesterday's attitudes about the web really don't apply today (and it is unclear that they were really all that valid yesterday). OpenConcept does offer support and maintenance agreements for your web server and web applications. We specialize in Drupal and can provide reasonable rates to do what is possible to keep your site operating effectively.

If you have any thoughts to extend this metaphor, please post a comment.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.