One of the fascinating things on the Internet is how a few dedicated people can create free, or mostly free, resources that become an important part of infrastructure for companies around the world. Blocklists are one of the prime examples of this phenomenon. Almost all of the widely used blocklists started out as a resource provided by a single person, generally using recovered hardware on donated bandwidth. There is a consistent time commitment, but no more than any other hobby.
As the list gains in popularity, the resource commitment increases. Hardware purchases and upgrades need to be made, bandwidth bills increase, more and more time must be spent dealing both with people using the list and people affected by listings. Truly popular lists may have to invest in ticketing systems and diagnostic infrastructure. Websites need to be maintained. The list may now be part of the infrastructure at far flung corporations or ISPs. People affected by the listings may be demanding immediate responses. The hobby is now the equivalent a job and people who aren’t paying the maintainer rely on that “hobby” for their own networks.
Once a list is successful, then maintainer needs to expand infrastructure, build up redundancy and have defenses against various attacks. This is the point where they start talking to volunteers to manage some of the extra work. Typically they find individuals or corporations willing to donate bandwidth and rack space.
Successful lists rely on volunteers or paid staff to handle listings and delistings as well as the databases, websites and DNS servers required to host a public service. None of this is unusual, many of the people maintaining lists are strong proponents of the open source software and use that to model the blocklist services as well. However, it’s always a good thing to remember that some of the people maintaining blocklists are doing this not for any personal profit, but as a way to contribute to the community on the Internet.
One thing I didn’t mention above, but deserves to be recognized is that the maintainer needs to be someone with people skills and the ability to handle conflict. This is true for internal conflict, among the volunteers or the service providers as well as external conflict with people affected by the blocklist. There is a lot of conflict around blocklists and it’s critically important that the maintainer, or their designated representative, be able to handle angry people in emotionally charged situations.
Why did this come up today? One of the top blocklists, SORBS announced over the weekend (at least here on the west coast of the US) that without someone stepping up to donate bandwidth and space that SORBS would be shut down in July. Other bloggers have commented on this. In case anyone was unclear on the commitment it takes to maintain a space, Michelle mentions on her shutdown post SORBS needs a full 42U of rack space for the hardware and has commented on spam-l that bandwidth costs are estimated by her current host to be 200K a month.
Given the time and resource constraints it is unlikely that SORBS users will see uninterrupted service. It is possible that the data will be moved and hosted elsewhere, however, current SORBS users may want to stop querying the lists now and wait for a resolution to be announced.