Breaking Eggs And Making Omelettes

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Practical Cloud

June 10th, 2009 by Multimedia Mike

Who in their right mind would ever want to store their working documents somewhere, out there, “in the cloud”, i.e., on someone else’s servers? I openly wondered this a few weeks ago and have wondered about it ever since the idea was first proposed many years ago.

It turns out that the answer is… me.

Here’s how it happened: I contribute to a video game database named MobyGames. A long time ago, I started creating a series of plain ASCII files to help me track which games aren’t in the database yet. Other people wanted to submit new lists and help me maintain the existing lists. For the last 6 months, I have been occasionally brainstorming and researching how to create a very simple, database-backed, collaborative web application.

Yesterday, I thought of a better solution: A Google spreadsheet. My, that was easy. It pretty much does everything I was hoping my collaborative web app would do and it required zero coding on my part.

People often suggested that I set up a wiki in order to manage this type of data. I generally consider a wiki to be the poor man’s content management system (CMS) — little more than a giant, distributed, collaborative whiteboard (ironically, before I set up the MultimediaWiki on top of MediaWiki, I had again spent a long time brainstorming my own custom database-backed web app for the same purpose). I wanted a little more structure imposed on this data which is exactly what the spreadsheet can provide. A proper database would be even better but I’m willing to compromise for the sake of just having something useful with minimal effort on my part.

Still, I was hoping that writing a simple web app in some kind of existing, open source framework would be a great exercise for making a more complex web app out of FATE. My occasional study of web frameworks during the past 6 months has taught me that that’s something I genuinely don’t wish to mess with.

Posted in FATE Server | 10 Comments »

10 Responses

  1. SvdB Says:

    You do realize that everything you submit to MobyGames becomes their property — you don’t just give them a license to use it — and that they could at any time start charging for your use of the site?

    That kind of thing personally rather puts me off from contributing large amounts to sites like this.

  2. Multimedia Mike Says:

    Oh yeah, I see those license terms every time I submit something. I regard it the same way I do any click-through EULA.

  3. SvdB Says:

    Unlike most EULA conditions, being unable to access your own contributions unless you pay for it, will be hard to ignore.
    It wouldn’t be the first time that something like that happens.

    I’m not suggesting that you stop submitting; you are apparently aware of the risk, and it’s your risk to take. But as one of the top submitters, they may actually take your concerns seriously (if you were to have any).

  4. Multimedia Mike Says:

    It’s a good thing that I still have all of my submissions carefully catalogued on my local machine.

  5. SvdB Says:

    They’re not yours anymore. :P

  6. Jim Leonard Says:

    @SvdB: I won’t try to change your mind, but I wanted to say that MobyGames was founded eleven years ago (before wikipedia existed) and in that entire time we have never once thought about charging to use the site. We’re gamers just like you, and love games and freedom of information just as much as you do.

  7. SvdB Says:

    @Jim Leonard: How about making that explicit somewhere on your site then? A promise not to restrict access to any of the material (at least for personal use)? Instead, what we see in the FAQ is “Q: Is there a fee for using MobyGames? A: Not currently. […]”

    And why require that contributors give away all of their rights on their submissions (even including moral rights, which btw is unenforceable in the EU)? Isn’t an irrevocable license to use in any way enough? While some of your content could in theory become “less exclusive”, some more liberal terms may in fact bring in new content.

    And if you were to go with an Open license, even more content would become instantly available (from Wikipedia, strategy guides, etc). I understand that you would like to keep control over the direction of the site, but even if someone were to fork the site, Mobygames would still be considered the “real thing” as you have the community. Only if you are planning on screwing over the community, would you have anything to lose. And even then you’d have to mess up in a pretty big way, as the required investment in the infrastructure would be a major obstacle to any would-be forker.

    Or you could take the middle road: still require contributors to give you all the rights that you need (non-exclusively is good enough), and make the content available under a non-commercial-use-only Creative Commons license (or equivalent).
    You would not be able to benefit from the Open content which is already available elsewhere, but at least it gives contributors the guarantee that the content will remain available for everyone, even if you were to stop or sell the site at some point. And it still allows you to make money from licensing the data (although I doubt that that happens very often anyhow).

    I personally think that there is a lot of value of Mobygames as a “historical public resource” (as you say in your FAQ), but it can never be that if the access is guarded by a single entity keeping it as proprietary.

  8. Mans Says:

    How is MobyGames taking ownership of submissions any worse that the FSF doing the same? Projects like GCC do not accept code without copyright transferred to them in writing.

  9. SvdB Says:

    I don’t like what the FSF is doing there either. But at least they give you a license in return to do with your own contributions as you see fit. And they license the complete work to the whole world under a Free license. And they wouldn’t even dare to ask for your “moral rights”.
    So what you lose on the whole is very little, and the fact that you get a lot of rights on the whole work tends to make people more willing to accept that sacrifice.

  10. Reimar Says:

    While it’s a bit off-topic I’d like to point out that under German law exclusive licenses given without authors being appropriately compensated are not valid (non-exclusive licenses like all OpenSource projects need are a different thing).
    So, funnily, these “EULA”s if they are valid might mean those companies have no license for some of the content at all. Funny isn’t it?