I am at a crossroads with my neighborhood association’s electronic presence.
Currently it consists of:
- A simple static HTML site hosted through my 1and1.com Beginner shared hosting plan, the same where this blog is hosted.
- Five different Google Groups: announcements, discuss (everyone can contribute), mom’s club, recipe club, and association leadership.
I have an opportunity to use my own server to host all these features and some more. At first glance, this seems appealing, but it is so cut-and-dried:
|Feature||Shared Hosting or Google Groups||Ubuntu server|
|What I have to maintain||Web applications at 1and1.com and the five Google Groups.||Web applications plus:
It all runs as a Hyper-V virtual machine on a Windows 2008 server that I don’t have to maintain.
|Technical prowess of maintainer||Generally expert maintenance.||I am well experienced and degreed as IT staff and can work my way around Linux systems pretty well, but I am not a Linux expert. I will have to trust Ubuntu’s and its supported packages’ default configurations and heavily rely on the aptitude package manager.I only have academic knowledge of advanced security methods like chroot.|
|Support quality||1and1 can be flaky, but with enough piddling with support, the problem will be solved. Google has no support to speak of, but their stuff usually just works.|
|Security||Tight security commensurate with shared hosting.|
|Error handling||Difficult since I cannot see the Apache logs.||Since I have full control over the server, I can control my own Apache logs.|
|Flexibility||Limited to what 1and1 or Google Groups will allow me to do. That being said, I still have tremendous flexibility within their packages.||Full control, but in some cases, like with Mailman, the best available software is primitive and feature-poor (see below).|
|Control over data||Web hosts occasionally terminate hosting for arbitrary reasons, although likelihood is probably minimal given the uncontroversial content. Furthermore, there are avenues of recourse since I am a paying customer.Google Groups is a wild card. We are not paying, and their standards for what constitutes a spammer is arbitrary. If too many complaints gets lodged against any of my 5 groups, they could be deleted. I guess as long as I regularly download copies of their respective membership lists, I have an “out”?||Full ownership (if backups regularly happen).|
|Hardware redundancy||Reasonable. I have only encountered a few brief outages with 1and1.||Zero, although server owner plans to sell some services he will provide on the Windows 2008 master machine, so he has incentive to keep it working.|
|Data storage limit||10GB currently, but a 120GB plan is just $1 more per month.||Currently 34GB. Additional space may be trickier to add and could more closely parallel actual cost of equipment (versus $1 per month).|
|Outages||Both 1and1 and Google Groups have had minimal outages. Not sure if either would get past “three nines,” but that is plenty for my purposes.||Outages and duration thereof could be more likely given lack of redundancy and overbooked and only mildly competent support staff (me).|
|Passing the torch (I won’t be system admin forever!)||Easier since I can turn over Google Groups management to someone else and could theoretically send all stuff hosted at 1and1 to someone else for hosting at his own shared account.||More difficult because, again, I will be the only support staff. I can act in a server admin role, though.|
|Server speed||1and1’s speeds usually acceptable. They used to drag a lot but they are getting progressively better.||Very fast.|
|Ability to support upcoming camera monitoring project||Will be a challenge with 1and1 due to how there is only 1 FTP username/password per customer account.||Fully customizable.|
|General email list functionality||Pretty good with Google Groups for announce-only or run of the mill lists. Some users have complained of not receiving emails, but nobody has been able to substantiate problems, so these may not be valid gripes.||Mailman appears to be the best option, and it’s simultaneously primitive and too option-rich.For example, it’s not possible to set up an announce-only list. Yes, you can change some configuration options to emulate one, but you still have to set each new user’s moderate flag.Mailman’s user interface sucks! Give me Lyris any day!
Majordomo is not an option. I will not run a program that hasn’t been developed in 8 years.
Phplist may be an option, but that is yet another program to support! And it’s not supported directly by the Ubuntu project.
|Emergency SMS alert list functionality||Google Groups probably isn’t right for this. There’s no way to turn off the footer, so even a blank message will exceed the 160 byte SMS message boundary.||Mailman may be an option (albeit with the above difficulties concerning announce-only lists), but phplist may also work. But that would be yet another stinking program to install!|
|Backup||Regular.||Probably sporadic and not automated.|
|Time commitment||Baseline.||Baseline plus time to maintain all components and support system. Could be significant if package upgrades increase commitment. However, if packages are “set and forget”, then commitment can be trivial.|
The argument gets even more abstract.
What’s the best way to ensure I can pass the torch to someone else? To not even use my own software. That means the correct option is “none of the above.”
There is already a service called neighborhoodlink.com. Some adjacent neighborhoods use this company. For example, Little Forest Hills. Why not use this? Sure, it’s kind of ugly. Sure, it’s feature poor, and it looks kludgy. But will it “get the information out”, do it for the least possible effort, and increase continuity? Yes, yes, and yes!
This is a tough decision.