The costs and troubles that come through actively maintaining an Internet server have never been easy things to deal with, but come June of 2000, Keenspace was created despite the risks. In those days, the ad market was enough to support such an endeavour without killing the people behind it. Of course, a FREE hosting service for webcomics with a plethora of perks proved irresistible to cartoonist wannabes.
Keenspace was quickly flooded with every comic imaginable from here to New Zealand. While the bandwidth it consumed was usually insignificant compared to that of host-mother Keenspot itself, the sheer size of the beast, and the number of accounts in existence, made the whole system somewhat unwieldy for the technicians and the struggling server alike.
Finally, after a few years of near-catastrophes, random downtimes, and minor setbacks, critical mass was reached in January of 2003, and a mushroom cloud of webcomic hosting chaos inevitably ensued…
The Keenspace hard drive melted down. Literally.
Chief technical officer Nate Stone instituted a webcomic exodus, doing his best to move every possible comic account – along with all of their respective files – to another hard drive before it was too late. Unfortunately for a gaggle of poor sods, nothing could be done as the old hard drive kicked the bucket after only six thousand of 7K accounts had successfully made the trip to the New Server Promised Land.
The accounts that were lost have been recreated, albeit without the comics they once contained. And the rebuilding HAS begun, for many. But somewhere along the line, at Keenspace’s homepage, a button was discreetly removed – the "submit" button for new artists looking for an account to call their own.
At this point, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Keenspace’s days may be numbered, which is bad news for your average ‘Space cartoonist. The two or three techies behind Keenspace can hardly handle the workload they already have, yet alone MORE people to deal with. And it’s not as if that server is free, either. Each new comic on the ‘Space just means more money Keenspot has to spend – because they certainly aren’t getting any funding from Nameless Keenspacer #5034.
In the past, before its server seemed to be on the brink of death every waking moment of the day, Keenspace was a fantastic tool/jumping off point for new cartoonists. As Not Gonna Take It‘s Meredith "Kiwi" Gran tells it, "Keenspace is the reason I do a webcomic in the first place. […] Keenspace offered me not only the opportunity, but the very thought." Everyday Stuff‘s Dave Flodine says that "Within the first month [of being on Keenspace] I noticed a huge surgence of readers. […] it sure made what i have fun doing a lot easier…. aside from all the crashes and downtime, of course."
That pretty much sums up Keenspace in a few sentences – it’s always been a near-Godsend to cartoonists, but it’s also been riddled with crashes and downtime.
Both Kiwi and Flodine felt the heat of the massive meltdown in January, too. She found her entire site wiped from existence, while his site still had a front page but little else. In regards to her site’s momentary demise, Kiwi says, "it sucks – but these things happen. I’ll stick with ‘Space so long as they don’t gut me and steal my organs… thus killing me… And even if [Keenspace itself] imploded, I would rock forevermore." Flodine agrees with Kiwi, saying that if Keenspace died, "I would find another way to keep my comic going… hopefully not Geocities though. I’d prefer to pay for something." Something like Keenprime, perhaps? Interestingly enough, Flodine had already signed up for KeenPrime and just was waiting for his account be activated when the ‘Space server came crashing down.
With people ready, willing, and able to seek alternatives – even alternatives that cost money – I think Keenspot is come to a turning point. There’s more than one legitimate reason for canning Keenspace in the near future.
As already mentioned, there’s KeenPrime, a Keenspot-sponsored hosting service that actually costs money. Despite some rough goings in the beginning, Prime works fairly well at this point, though there are still some serious bugs that need to be worked out. With a ‘limited’ number of accounts due to the fact that people have to actually pay for their server space, and thus a tiny slice of bandwidth being consumed, KeenPrime could be argued as ideal from a business and technical perspective. Well, ideal for the bolt-tighteners and the bean-counters at Keenspot, anyway. The few tech guys with Keenspot would have far fewer people to deal with, thus providing better support, and the business-savvy of Keen would find themselves with a least a little bit of help in keeping their servers online each month thanks to the payments.
Of course, KeenPrime isn’t all wine and roses. While the new service is constantly being worked at, major problems have sprung up here and there – such as comics not updating automatically, the occasional random downtime, or pageview logs being non-existent. But once tweaked to perfection, Prime may effectively eliminate the need for Keenspace.
When push comes to shove, Keenspot can pull the plug on Keenspace whenever they want, as it doesn’t exactly help the company as a whole aside from being a breeding ground for potential new talent. Still, canning the Space might be somewhat ill-advised until they first pillage all the quality off of it. Once the ‘Spot just goes ahead and pulls strips like Sexy Losers and Boy Meets Boy away from Keenspace and onto Keenspot, there’s very little reason for the ‘Spot to keep Keenspace alive. And with up to twenty promotions to Keenspot supposedly waiting in the wings, that’s very quickly on its way to becoming fact instead of theory.
Oh sure, it’d be great to keep giving every comic on the planet a home, but it’s becoming largely infeasible at this point. The costs in money, time, and effort in order to keep the Space alive seem to be adding up to no longer being worth it. Kept alive almost entirely by ad-banners, the Space – while keeping itself afloat for the time being – is only getting harder to fund as the market for banner advertising drops even further into the toilet.
If Keenspace vanishes into the shadows of obscurity one night in the future, where could artists go for hosting? As mentioned before, KeenPrime is built specifically for webcomics by webcartoonists themselves. At ten dollars a month for its most basic service, it’s not a bad deal at all. If you’re looking to invest a little bit more, there’s always Comics2U. It looks to cost more than double that of Prime, while sharing most of the same features, but I have little doubt that Comics2U may be slightly more stable. Aside from service created specifically for hosting comics, there’s always the option of setting up your own server or paying for space on someone else’s. The downside to the non-webcomics-oriented server space, of course, is that you tend to lose perks like auto-updating systems. Still, it’s an alternative.
In the end, though, is Keenspace’s future even in question? Most definitely. Will it bite the big one? That’s still uncertain. But I would dare to say Keenspot will be less inclined to keep it alive when they can just charge people to use KeenPrime instead. And I’d say that if you really love your webcomic, you’ll find a way to keep it online no matter what, even if Keenspace dies. In any case, I’d watch Keenspace in the next few months very carefully, because the next few months will certainly be very telling, in this artist’s humble opinion.
Of course, rest assured that if Keenspace does go up in some kind of nuclear holocaust, webcomics will still survive – if only as a race of angry mutant comics with me as the Omega Man.