Skip to main content

No "Space" To Call Your Own?

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.

In "Space," no one can hear you scream

Townie's picture

I'm a former 'Spacer (Though my site only lasted 3 days on 'Space) and, if Keenspace does keel over, I forsee webcomics basically just going back to what they were before Keen. Most artists just got some space, usually a Geocities or some other freebie, and loaded their stuff through that. Keen advertised itself off as a freebie for something exclusive: webcomics. The average Joe said, "Hey, I was gonna make a webpage... why not a comic?" That's why people who never even knew webcomics existed before started drawing them. I'm sure most of us just think of them as blogs with pictures, but I digress...

Most free providers don't offer much, but it's enough to serve the purpose of handing out space. Keen messed up by handing out something they had to sort through themselves on a continual basis. If they could just give people an FTP and let them run updating their sites themselves, they probably wouldn't have a hassle.

But if you're paying for space, for goodness sake, don't go with a "webcomic exclusive" server. The fine print on many of the startup comic hosting sites say you aren't allowed to upload anything besides comics, making any sounds, videos, or other multimedia forbidden. Not to mention the prices are outrageous. I've seen regular hosts charge anywhere from 3 bucks a month to well over 20. Find a dependable server that charges a low fee (I pay about 48 bucks anually, and they threw in the domain name for free with the space) and host the strip yourself. Autokeen Lite looks to be a much better solution than a strictly comics host. Plus you don't have to wait for the downtime or missed updates due to other comics on the same server.

If I could get Autokeen Lite to work on my site (Which it should but hasn't yet) I'd be happy. Most people use PHP nowadays, too. I'd say high-priced comic-only servers are trying to reach a niche that isn't big enough yet, especially with plenty of free hosts still floating about.

- Ben

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

From your article:
"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."

I disagree. The bad feeling killing 'Space would engender would be really damaging - bad blood is something you really want to avoid when your model is free comics that are ad-driven. Most 'spacers avidly read webcomics, including Keenspot. A boycott of Keenspot, whether an organized boycott or just thousands of individuals just deciding 'to hell with keen' - would hurt Keenspot immeasurably.

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

John Troutman's picture

I agree with both of you. With Boxy, killing Keenspace WOULD be really bad PR. I agree 100% with that, although I didn't mention it in the article. But I agree with Mr. Anonymous too - if handled diplomatically (ie. "Dudes, we can't afford to keep this server online...") I don't think many people would fault them for it.

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

Chris Crosby's picture

If I had a million dollars, I would bet a million dollars that Keenspace will be around for as long as Keenspot is. (Which is obviously FOREVER.)

And I would bet $20 that the server will eventually work reasonably well.

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

John Troutman's picture

Well, here's hopin', Chris! It's not like I *want* Keenspace to implode. ^^

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

Chris Crosby's picture

It implodes DAILY! Keenspace is very much like Old Faithful that way.

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

Or like a 17 year old male with a "Girls Gone Wild" video collection.

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

The thing not mentioned in the article is the name recognition behind the various Keen sites. My own comic strip, online for almost two years, doesn't get the exposure I would have expected by now. Why? Because of the thousands of other comics out there. Although I'm a member of two different groups -- one a webcomics portal and one that's an underpromoted collective of comic creators -- neither group has the name recognition of your Keenspot or your Modern Tales. Keenspace, just being aligned with Keenspot, does (or at least comes closer than anything I've seen). Both 'space and 'spot work as comic portals -- a lot of comics are hosted there, and people start to realize that there's a heck of a lot more at those two sites than the three or four comics they regularly read.

One thing I was thinking of was mirroring my work at Keenspace, but I didn't get in before the meltdown. Exposure, even in a crowded arena as 'space is better than no exposure at all. (Plus, with a Keenspace hosted/mirrored comic, my work could be added to things like the "Keen University" dropdown navigation and similar Keenielists.) Simply being a member of Keenspace means more readers.

Currently, I'm trying to get people to come to my site the only way I know how -- word of mouth. If Keenspace vanishes, it's not just hosting that's lost, it's the chance for exposure that's gone.

Re: In "Space," no one can hear you scream

The thing that I don't understand is why Keen doesn't offer a simple grouping service for those that are willing to host their own comic. It's not that hard to set up a DNS cname redirect that would bounce BobsComic.keenspace.com to www.bobscomic.com. Likewise they could even host ads, link boxes, forums and all the other goodness they do now with little impact on the disk space.

I'm also willing to bet that a number of folks doing home-schooled comics like that would even be able to help out others trying to establish themselves.

Keen has set themselves up as a brand, a portal for webcomics. There's no need for them to do it all themselves.

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

With all due respect to Boxjam, I really don't see a mass reader boycott of Keenspot in the cards.

The value of "goodwill" only goes so far. When FOX went after X-FILES fan sites, the viewership of the series was scarcely dented. Readers ultimately care about being entertained, not about the business policies of the entertainers. Disney is as aggressive in its way as Microsoft, but I loved TOY STORY, didn't you?

A more serious possible consequence is that of Keenspot's relationship with its "core strips." Some of THOSE guys might indeed care enough to leave if they see their fellows treated shabbily.

Even they wouldn't complain too much, though, if the death of Keenspace were handled diplomatically... i.e., "Sorry, guys, but the next few months of Keenspace will be the last few months. Please consider Keenprime or these other low -cost hosting alternatives..."

Re: No "Space" To Call Your Own? by John Troutman

Putting your comic URL in your signature would help a little :)