Julian Assange, the 39 year old Australian journalist, publisher and Internet activist who’s been making headlines with his WikiLeaks project, was disconnected from the Internet last week after Amazon decided to pull the plug on his whistleblower website. Whether you believe Amazon made the right decision or bowed to critics, there are web hosting lessons that we can all take away from this experience.
1. Your hosting provider is not obligated to get in the middle of your battles
The WikiLeaks domain was a ground breaking website from the day it went online. With everyone from National news correspondents to government officials to bloggers giving WikiLeaks airtime and publicity, Amazon was forced to defend their actions to host this website on a daily basis.
Lesson: Your web hosting company is never obligated to get in the middle of your battles, legal or otherwise. If you run a highly controversial website that is having a negative impact on your web hosting company, your website can be shutdown without notice at any time.
Pro tip: If you plan to run such a site, it’s best to consult with your web hosting company in advance to help determine your safest web hosting solutions.
2. You must follow the Terms of Service
According to Amazon, web hosting for WikiLeaks was discontinued because it began to affect their network and other paid hosting customers, not to mention that defending the highly trafficked website from hackers was taking up considerable network resources and company time. Amazon is well within their legal rights to make this decision.
Lesson: Each web hosting company has a legally binding contract with you known as a Terms of Service. When you sign up for a web hosting plan, you agree to follow those terms to the letter or risk having your website shutdown.
Pro tip: Consuming too many system resources or company time is a violation of every web hosting company’s Terms of Service. Always read the Terms of Service contract for every web hosting company you employ so that you understand what your responsibilities as a webmaster will be.
3. Backup your website
When a website is shutdown with little or no notice, as was the case with WikiLeaks, you don’t have the opportunity to make a current copy of that site. That means you could lose valuable information, making it difficult to get back online in a hurry.
Lesson: You are responsible for maintaining a current backup of your website, not your hosting company. A cursory glance of any Terms of Service contract will show you that, even if your hosting company promises to backup your data, they are not responsible for those archives in any way.
Pro tip: Backup your website frequently and store those files across multiple mediums.
4. Have a backup plan for worst case scenarios
WikiLeaks was able to move to a Swedish server almost immediately after Amazon took their domain offline.
Lesson: Even if you’re thrilled with your current host, it’s good to have a backup plan that will enable you to get back online should you ever face disconnection or dissatisfaction with your web hosting company.
Pro tip: Read web hosting reviews and keep a running list of web hosting companies that will be able to get your website back online in a hurry if need be.
Running a much talked about website like WikiLeaks comes with risks. It’s important that you, as a webmaster, plan ahead to minimize or alleviate those risks so that your website will not only get online, but stay online.