TextDrive, R.I.P.

TextDrive was—well, in their own words:

TextDrive is a hosting company run by and for people who love publishing on the web. From shared hosting to fully managed dedicated servers (and everything in between), our reasonably priced hosting plans represent what we consider to be the very best tools for working with data, managing email and serving web pages.

TextDrive was started in 2004 by Dean Allen, the creator of Textile (a “humane web text generator” similar in style to Markdown) and, later, Textpattern, the closest thing to a beautiful CMS that I’ve ever seen. He bootstrapped TextDrive in a pretty remarkable way: rather than taking venture capital money, he sold “lifetime hosting” contracts, at first for $200 and then for $400, in limited availability blocks. These guaranteed—in theory—that you’d stay on the best shared hosting plan they offered in perpetuity.

TextDrive merged with another company called Joyent in 2006. Joyent had a sort of “intranet in a box” package for small business but no hosting; TextDrive had hosting but no business applications. Perfect match. Except nobody wanted Joyent’s applications, so they focused just on hosting—and not on TextDrive’s customer base. They relentlessly pushed Joyent up the value chain, going after bigger and bigger customers, always making sure they were highly buzzword-compliant. Joyent today advertises itself as “high-performance cloud infrastructure for today’s mobile and web applications” (their front page uses the word cloud, give or take, three thousand times).

So it’s something of a wonder they’ve kept some old creaky shared hosting boxes around just for the lifetime hosting deal. Joyent doesn’t sell the product that was the replacement for that original hosting service. They seem to shift their focus every two to three years: the plans change, the services provided change, the target customers change. Whatever infrastructure Silicon Valley startups are all talking about in 2015 is pretty much guaranteed to be Joyent’s prime focus then.

But lifetime no more, Ken McKinney reports; as he puts it, “apparently by ‘lifetime’ they meant ‘until we get tired of supporting them.’” I can see why they want to get rid of those remaining old hosts. Yet rather than migrate the remaining diehards to low-end SmartMachines (their equivalent to Linodes) and keeping the free-forever deal going, they’re only offering a year longer for free. A deal that starts in 2004–2006 and runs through 2013 is a deal for seven to nine years. By Joyent’s definition, I have owned two or three lifetime automobiles.

I was one of TextDrive’s “lifetime” customers, but moved to a Linode last year. Joyent hadn’t put any love into their shared hosting for years before that; the service had the same rough edges in 2011 that it had in 2007, and the web configuration panel was so slow one suspected punch cards were involved somewhere. Interactions with staff nearly always had a faint whiff of BOFH about them. Dean Allen left Joyent years ago and has, from all appearances, given up computers entirely.

I should note Joyent hasn’t gone all corporate on us: they’re the main backer of Node.js. Pretty cool, huh? That’s the infrastructure Silicon Valley startups are all talking about now.

Right now. In 2012.

If I were heavily involved with Node.js, I’d be making contingency plans.

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    More info: http://news.slashdot.org/story/12/08/17/1734250/joyent-drops-lifetime-account-holders...
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