How We Cancel-Proofed Our Online Start-Up By Leaving The Cloud

How We Cancel-Proofed Our Online Start-Up By Leaving The Cloud

Each time we eliminate a data vendor like Amazon Web Services, we eliminate a potential 'cancel' moment that could paralyze our site.
Matt Knoedler and Nathan Carlson
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Big Tech corporations worked in concert this past January to deplatform Parler, a fast-growing social network friendly to conservatives. Parler’s vendors, such as Amazon Web Services, bowed to influential ideological forces and weaponized their Terms of Service, basing their actions on the expectation that Parler could not moderate content to AWS’s satisfaction on a timely basis (a subjective standard impossible for any company of any size to meet).

When AWS enforced their evolving “content moderation” policies on Parler, with maximum consequences, the entire tech industry realized they could do it to anyone. Watching AWS and partners’ arbitrary enforcement against specifically and only Parler, while ignoring the many other offenders they host, highlighted the vulnerabilities any conservative company reliant upon the “cloud” faces.

CaucusRoom.com is a social network designed to help conservatives gather, encourage and engage locally. We are a small but growing player among conservative platforms that see a need, and a business opportunity. Operating on the “Cancel Cloud” posed a liability to our company legally, financially, and technically. Now unshackled from Big Tech’s chains, CaucusRoom is better off in every respect.

Weathering the Cloud

Tech startups use cloud platforms because they offer cost-effective, incremental, and instantly scalable access to hosting, infrastructure, data storage, and a host of other key services.  However, these platforms and hosting providers tend to breed ecosystems of tightly integrated sub-vendors and service-boosters, which can severely disincentivize a company from operating outside of the ecosystem, colloquially known as a “walled garden” or “vendor lock-in.”  In addition to the constellation of services it already offers, AWS owes much of its market dominance to its well-established network of cloud platforms and providers.

At CaucusRoom, not only did we subscribe to some AWS services, but nearly every other platform we subscribed to in turn extended AWS’s services to host our website and core services, run our infrastructure, and store our data. These services include container orchestration, managed databases, caching systems, static content storage, load balancers, to name a few. The myriad contracts multiplied our vulnerability to a cancel moment, as each sub-vendor must adhere to AWS’s terms in addition to their own terms.

When AWS deplatformed Parler, all of AWS’s parasitic sub-vendors booted Parler as well. Imagine being booted off of a Mac when all of your programs are made for Mac, and you can’t find any other computer designed to run your programs.

Moving to a Data Center

Fortunately for CaucusRoom, our tech stack was still small and nimble enough to maneuver off the cloud on our own terms. Within days of the Parler deplatforming, we received about a dozen calls from conservative-friendly data centers and tech vendors. We easily found a data center with owners anxious to help companies like ours. The customer service is fantastic. Every person we work with is someone we’ve personally met— can you imagine saying that about a Big Tech company?

The move took about a month of preparation, testing, and transitioning. Backend infrastructure management is a different engineering discipline than the front-facing website seen by our users, but fortunately, our engineers spoke the language. If needed, our data center hosts also offer a team ready to personally help make the transition, and our monthly fee includes a few hours of their engineering time whenever needed. Now we are using the hardware we want, directly, and without a gaggle of woke gatekeepers.

CaucusRoom is now faster off of the cloud. We can move data around more easily to speed up queries. We can balance traffic in ways that reduce bottlenecks. Colocation of the core services for the site significantly increases responsiveness and eliminates the need for many third-party cloud services.

But what about the cost? The total monthly cost is just a few hundred dollars more per month (about 10 percent). It’s a bargain given the engineering time saved, and the assurance offered to our investors and users.

Fewer Vendors Means More Freedom

By moving off of the cloud, we reduced our total number of online “hosting” vendors by 80 percent, while increasing our selection of possible data solutions. Each time we eliminate a data vendor, we eliminate a potential “cancel” moment that could paralyze our site.

If we do find ourselves in need of a move, shifting quickly to a new data center becomes much easier — it would take minutes, instead of weeks, to untangle our data contracts and sign new ones. The same goes for the engineering required.

As a startup, eliminating potential risk is critical to raising investment. It’s also important to reassure potential customers — in our case, those customers include political campaigns and conservative causes looking for a new home away from Facebook. Conservative digital campaign directors know they are not safe from cancellation on Facebook or Twitter, and they need confidence that any new platform they use cannot be arbitrarily wiped off the internet.

Goodbye, Big Tech. We’re Better Without You!

In the chaotic world of politics, as in business, it’s important to focus on what you can control. After Parler’s deplatforming, anyone with a website may control less than he previously thought. We encourage you to take an inventory of your website’s tech stack. How many of your vendors, and their terms, are subservient to a Big Tech master?

Beware of “vendor lock-in” and keep your stack nimble. Get a few bids for services from conservative-friendly data centers. Most will bend over backward to help you cancel the cloud, and even help with any engineering needed to make the move. Your costs won’t go up much, but if they do make sure and tell your investors and supporters you’re hosted on a freedom-loving data center. They will likely double-down, reassured that you’ve reduced your risks.

In just a few weeks after moving off the Cancel Cloud, CaucusRoom added new investors and landed a major national network of conservative activists. Our product improved, our risks decreased, and our future capabilities expanded.

Matt Knoedler is the Co-Founder and CEO of CaucusRoom.com. Nathan Carlson is the company’s Lead Engineer.

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