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SoapBlox Burnout Points to Vulnerability in Left's Infrastructure

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, January 7 2009

Some of the most popular state, local, and general-interest blogs in the progressive blogosphere were brought low this morning, when the lone developer behind the hosted community-blogging service SoapBlox threw in the towel. Well-regarded sites like Pam's House Blend, Blue Jersey, Michigan Liberal, Swing State Project, and MN Progressive Project found earlier today that they couldn't access either the public-facing front ends of the site or their sites' content-management backend. As of this afternoon, the sites are (mostly) back up, but that hasn't eased fears that a core part of the left's online infrastructure isn't all that sustainable.

SoapBlox became a building block of the progressive blogosphere, especially amongst state-level group blogs, by offering all the same powerful tools that blogging platforms like Scoop offer but at a fraction of the price or effort. Scoop, which powers the blog giant Daily Kos, can be difficult to deploy and maintain, and can cost in the thousands of dollars. A hosted alternative to Scoop, SoapBlox replicates all the weaponry of big-name blogs at a bargain price that runs in the neighborhood of $10 or $15 a month. But that low price and ease of use comes at a cost. SoapBlox has been the part-time project of one man, and he's burnt out. Earlier today, Paul Preston, a.k.a., "pacified," posted a note on SoapBlox.net calling an end to the service, as Politico's Ben Smith reports:

All these hackers messing with our stuff, and we here at SoapBlox have no clue what to do. We don't have enough knowledge, time, money, or care to fix it. So I hope the Hackers are happy. If you want the data from your blog, we will get it. But we are not going to try and restore anything. Consider this the "We're Out of Business" post. [Formatting condensed to save space. - NS]

Preston later walked back from the brink a bit, replacing his "Out of Business" post with a new one titled "SoapBlox is a Phoenix?":

I am nothing but a dramatic person. I am sorry for that. SoapBlox needs help. From all of you. How do we salvage this. How do we keep this going? When you create something that becomes larger than yourself. I apologize for being so dramatic. Again, I have a knack for that.

I spoke to a blogger behind one of the community-sites affected by the black out. SoapBlox has been such a one-person operation, said the blogger, that if problems popped up, Preston sometimes had to come home from his regular job to attend to it. The initial reaction to Preston's move by bloggers dependent on SoapBlox had been one of anger, but now there's talk about how to turn the service into a sustainable platform. There has been outreach made in the past: BlogPAC, founded by Chris Bowers and Matt Stoller, kicked in money to SoapBlox last summer to head off just the sort of attacks causing problems today:

Almost all of the more than 40 local blogs in the network operate on SoapBlox, and at BlogPac we would be remiss if we did not work to make sure that these local blogs are safe from malicious, online server attacks. We need to keep emerging, local progressive communities online, and that means making sure that SoapBlox is not only operational, but that it has rock solid defenses.

BlogPAC has also been paying the SoapBlox fees for blogs in its 50 State Blog Network, though other sites haven't been paying their way, it seems; Preston had complained at the end of December that some half of his customers weren't paying their bills on time. Options now for SoapBlox include spinning off an unhosted open source component, or wrapping the platform into the services offered by one of the bigger progressive tech firms like Blue State Digital, EchoDitto, or Advomatic.