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After 20 years, furry website FurNation shuts down

Edited by mwalimu as of Tue 12 Jan 2016 - 09:28
Your rating: None Average: 3.7 (16 votes)

On December 10th, 2015 FurNation announced that it will be closing its website after a string of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and staff's family, health, and career problems. The announcement marks the end of one of the original furry social networks.

It is a good time to reflect on what FurNation was, and what this loss means for the future of the fandom.

Furry in an unFurry Time

Before there was Fur Affinity, Inkbunny, e621, or any of the other plethora of choices for furries to consume furry content, a handful of original websites were bold enough to step forth into an unsuspecting and sometimes hostile Internet. These furry sites were typically found through the darkest regions of the web. They were usually discovered on less than savory website lists formerly known as "web rings" such as the now defunct Portal of Evil, until robust search engines made content rings irrelevant.

We Walk Among You It's in that environment where the iconic symbol of FurNation came to be. The foreboding and secret society-like paw gripping a planet seemed to come out of the wildest dystopian imaginations of a world controlled by a secret society. This was reflective of the fact that back in those times furry communities were very much like secret societies. You had to dive into by going out of your way to look for, and most times they were only spoken of in soft whispers.

As time moved on from the late 1990s to the mid 2010s, the fandom found itself transforming from a secret and unknown demographic to that of a more mainstream acceptance. It's hard to argue this point when so many anthropomorphic movies are slated to satiate the furry demographic next year. In this changing environment, where social media and furry have evolved, the user base for FurNation over the course of many years dwindled. A decade ago most furries on the web knew what FurNation was, but like the VCL and other of the earlier havens, more people today look back in fond remembrance than choosing to use it as an active hub. If they know what it is at all.

The Tough Decision

Despite the dwindle in population, in 2015 there was still a core user base that called the site home. According to the Alexa site ranking statistics, the active community could be comparable to that of Flayrah's. After suffering a string of DDoS attacks, similar to that which have occured against many furry sites in recent years, a public offer was put up by FurTraxx owner Dark Xander via a press release on Flayrah to provide equipment and financial assistance.

However, the technological attack was only the surface issue. Offline the community leader was dealing with more personal issues with failing health both within immediate family and themselves. In the end the decision was to put FurNation to rest. In "SYSTEM"'s announcement they describe that they had lost their job because of this string of health issues. These kind of issues would not be resolved through offerings of technology and waiving of hosting fees.

The Future of Our Web

What happens to websites like FurNation are of great concern and are reflective of a changing paradigm of the information web. While demands for sustained net neutrality are typically levied at ISPs to not throttle content for their own purposes, we often tend to ignore the type of throttling that occurs based not on the whims of corporations, but those carried out by individuals through DDoS attacks.

Such threats of attack have taken smaller furry sites down, while making the larger ones require more resources to run. It has made our web evolve a very strange form of Social IT Darwinism, where the ones with the money and/or IT smarts survive, while those without them will perish, or be forced to ally with those that have them.

It is my worry that this problem is not isolated to just our fandom. For as long as we have individuals who wish to control the sites and content on the web for everyone, they will use whatever tools and means they have to make the web their web and not a neutral one. In order to prevent these kind of things we need to remind those that promote the use of such tools about the thing that binds the users of the web together, and how their use of these tools go against everything an open web stands for. In essence, when using such tools, what makes the DDoS promoter better than a throttling ISP?

That aside, furries are if anything technologically savvy. In this increasingly hostile web, as a community, we will find ways to prevent damages from such attacks. Certainly, others will reach out to those in need in response to these situations, as was attempted in this case. The resolve of the fandom to share our works and creativity will not be shaken. As "SYSTEM" said in his FurNation announcment, "FurNation was one of the first furry based sites on the web, but it will not be the last."

UPDATE (1/12/16): FurNation may be coming back after all. Sometime in the past few days, the website was updated with the following:

We are raising funds to bring back the FurNation server and hosted website system. The base amount needed for hosting is $350 a month. Our total goal for 1 year of hosting is $5000 (this includes an overhead of $800 for any additions/taxes or other costs we may need over the year. Anything left over will carry into the following year).

Our goal is to sustain the website with user donations (at cost, no profit) and to continue the service into the future.

The update includes links to a Twitter feed and a GoFundMe campaign.


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the end of an era

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I don't think IT skills matter against a DDoS. A Distributed Denial of Service is like a virtual sit-in, where people send so much traffic to your building, that no legitimate customers can get through. Even if you are fast enough at telling who's a legitimate customer and clearing the extra traffic, if the attackers are persistent enough they can block the roads to your building as well, and no feats of engineering can remove the relentless traffic.

Having a wider road (more bandwidth) helps, but that costs money. You can ask to set up checkpoints farther away from your building (drop connections on an upstream network), but that requires the cooperation of whoever owns that stretch of road. And because the malicious traffic comes from everywhere (remember, Distributed Denial of Service), often from compromised and infected machines, there's not many ways you can tell who's a legitimate customer.

(Some people just decide to ban networks on which there are many compromised machines and not many legitimate visitors, like China :< It's disappointing because I grew up there.)

Disclaimer: I'm a programmer, not a network engineer.

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That said, with cloud computing, it's now easier and cheaper than ever to rent extra servers on-demand to respond to the extra traffic, and release them when you don't need them. This is where IT skills start to shine.

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It's true, you can do a lot with the cloud; but as GTA V reminds us, it isn't always as solid or private as you might hope. In addition, few fandom administrators have experience with dynamic loads of the kind served by AWS and their ilk. You can't just "scale out" most serious websites - there's more to it than that.

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There is actually a number of things you can do to defend against a DDoS Attack, whether its a DoS from a single source, or even if its a true DDoS from random or forged sources. FurrTrax, and even Flayrah employ some of these techniques. It involves masking the true IPs of your source(origin) servers, which depending on software isnt always easy. And utilizing either an extensive load balancing system, or using a service like cloudflare, or googles beta project, Project Shield, in combination with proper configuration on the webserver, We at FurrTrax defeated a 350ish megabit DDoS and stayed online with only minor slowness.

If you ever need some pointers feel free to contact me, im a network engineer with 21 Certifications.

Owner of Furry Social Network

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Other past parts of the FurNation empire to remember and be thankful for include FurNation Magazine (and its publisher FurPlanet, which thrived under new ownership); as well as FurNation Worlds, which for a time was a hub of furry activity on Second Life - indeed, three FurNation-branded residential (and thus, self-funding) regions remain online.

The web has changed, and some do wish to break sites… but this is a decision to close. At the risk of repeating myself, if you can't imagine things going on without you, they probably won't – even if that requires you to take steps to ensure it.

There are many options out there, and hopefully FurNation's former denizens can find ones which appeal to them.

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The hidden cost of that, though, is that there is a hidden cost. You say "rent servers" as if it's a silver bullet, but when Dragoneer and FA had a particularly nasty DDOS attack, it ran up $2000 in charges that he was responsible for. Cloudflare and other services can to a degree mitigate DDOSs, as well as programming to allow sites to drop into a "war-footing" to minimize the damage, but if a site is receiving or sending traffic, the meter is running.

There are really two solutions to this problem, and both of them approach it at different angles.

The first involves pay-for-use or subscription services to allow site owners the monetary resources to upgrade their site, deal with issues such as this, and maintain support without going into the massive debt that many of us saw SYSTEM go into. This process of decline for Furnation was not a momentary thing. This was a site that existed before the cheap resourcing we saw now. Before VPSs and software stacks that are built to do social. It's likely there was so much debt owed that the machines themselves were collateral for a bit. We didn't support it then, and now the person who did support it is tired, clearly burnt out, and has nothing left to give.

Our first take-away from this should be the knowledge that these sites ARE NEVER FREE. Someone is always paying for them, and given SYSTEM's comment on his page, you might as well append the "Someone is always paying for them" with the phrase "with their life."

The second solution involves the fluidity of paywalls, locked up proprietary systems, held data, inability to transfer data, and general closed source mentality. The thoughts that go into all these competitor sites in furry seems to be "what can I offer that no one else can", and thus, the sites and the data and their users stay locked up. It's only when the site goes under that we all flail around, wondering what could have been done, ignoring that creating little fiefdoms in the fandom where things are locked up can lead to no other solution. Of _COURSE_ the data on Furnation is gone, it was behind and controlled by one person. It's at his whim to release it, and he can't even keep the lights on. He can't even keep his own lights on, which he definitely should first. The data this fandom generates has NO future closed up behind closed, proprietary services. None.

So the second takeaway is, we need to be using more fluid, open source solutions for our community. FA will fail. So will Weasyl. So will Inkbunny. So will Google and Facebook and Twitter. There is nothing that says these sites will (or have to) stay around forever. What we need as a community is to embrace open-ness, instead of setting up private fiefdoms for the Lords of the fandom to rule over the data. We need to have open source solutions that allow us to survive sites like this one going down.

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I say "rent servers" to make a point that it's still the money (well, resources in general) that matters, the technical skills is secondary when it comes to defending against DDoS, unlike what's implied in the article.

I agree that we should have more data portability. Not necessarily Free(Libre)/Open Source software, but Open data formats. Google and Twitter both provide services based on proprietary software; but both offer exports of user data in non-opaque formats.

However, both Google and Twitter's business model involves selling advertising (and thus, users' attention); this makes them tailor the services to advertisers' needs, frequently to the user's detriment.

The author of the webcomic Schlock Mercenary, Howard Tayler, recently posted on his blog that he would gladly pay to have Twitter stop doing its shenanigans to his timeline. So I think having a subscription-based service is a very good way to ensure that the website continue to serve its users. However, many in the furry fandom are minors or students, and are unwilling or unable to contribute financially, especially when free(gratis) alternatives are available.

(I also think advertisement can be useful, in that it helps discovery of business and service offerings; but only if it serves the user, and there are other ways to promote goods and services in the fandom. Doing that will probably involves re-thinking everything we know about online advertisement. Hey, one can dream...)

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It's definitely saddening to see a general closedness mentality when it comes to furry community sites. "What can I offer that no one else can". The phrase seems to be more at home at venture capital pitches, where "proprietary technology" and "gross margin" are your measure of success, than in a fandom known for its openness, tolerance, and hospitality.

I'd like to offer the argument while there's much commerce, the furry fandom is also a gift economy in many parts. You see it at the artist drawing gift arts to others; you see it at the fursuiter who practice their choreography every night, just for two minutes of spotlight; you see it at people quietly at their keyboards, building FLOSS software for the fandom; you see it at people who voluntarily give up their chance to have fun for the weekend, and stay up over night as con security, without any remuneration; you see it at the photographer, the storyteller, and so many, many more people... Even when there's commerce, the result is often shared so that everyone can enjoy it.

So it's saddening to see FA deciding to need "survey-wall" unregistered users. It's saddening to see Ferrox, a project to re-make Fur Affinity under a Free(Libre)/Open-Source license, got disbanded. (I still have a copy of the repository on my backup drive, if anyone wants it.) It's saddening to see that Weasyl and Inkbunny, due to their use of ReCaptcha in the sign-up process, can't accept anyone in China, because there's no way Chinese furries can prove they're not a robot. (Okay, that one's really the Chinese government's fault.)

It really isn't necessary for survivablity of furry social networks, but Free Software empowers it users, and Open Source proves there's a better way of making software than behind closed doors. Not only does it agree with the fandom's values, it's also practically better. This is why we, the furry fandom, should embrace F/LOSS.

The good news is: while still proprietary software, both Weasyl and Inkbunny has a more open mindset, and offer APIs that allow other people to build software that work with the websites. (FA used to have language against such, but it's now more reasonable too.) Also kudos to GreenReaper, as both Flayrah and WikiFur are running on Free(Libre)/Open Source software.

The GNU project is also building MediaGoblin, a Free (don't call it Open Source, the Free Software Foundation doesn't like it :P ) web application to share media, although setup is a bit involved.

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Open source is nice to have, but the real issue is another you touched on – data portability. Few want their data to disappear, but they also don't want it spread among the four winds. Especially the secret PMs with their Sonadow RPs.

The issue of closed content will be far tougher to crack than that of closed source or site funding. If you're not part of the organization, it doesn't matter what software you have. You can set up a Linux/PostgreSQL/PHP/nginx stack, but that doesn't mean we can replicate our database to you. We can only provide what our members choose to make available.

If I had a heart attack today, Inkbunny, Flayrah and WikiFur would likely endure – not because they do or don't run on open source, but because our staff have access and can handle things. Of the three, only WikiFur could legally be mirrored, though Flayrah is now largely open-content as well. Inkbunny is full of content which can never be duplicated without permission from the copyright-holders.

Finding a sustainable way to fund a service helps a lot, not least because few are willing or able to share both the burden of administration and a hefty chunk of the server bill. There are several viable options, especially now that costs have come down.

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Im glad to see you touch on the point of privacy, people have called us out for having a closed source approach, but we allow external linking of images, hyperlinks, and such with no limitations, because if someone wants to link people off we believe its their freedom of speech right. Tho obviously we do delete things if there derrogatory or hatefull etc. But we dont share members data because we hold members privacy in higher regard.

if someone wants to take there data and such from our site and take it elsewhere, they are welcome, and able to, but only manually as that guarantees it was their will to do it.

To add to the open source arguement, our system is 95% written in PHP, and if i were to cease to exist, any moderately skilled PHP writer could make it work, the trickiest part would be the CDNs, but those can just be turned off untill they were figured out as there an optional component. And all of our code is noted in the source files. We choose not to release the source because of security concerns. But if i ever decided I no longer wanted to manage FurrTrax, i would give the site to someone else to run, but i would first delete the sensitive user data before handing it off. IPs, Messages, Chat Data, and other meta data would be scrubbed, leaving only the accounts and their one way encrypted passwords so they could login if they continued use. But i dont see that ever happenning.

Owner of Furry Social Network

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The hidden cost of that, though, is that there is a hidden cost. You say "rent servers" as if it's a silver bullet, but when Dragoneer and FA had a particularly nasty DDOS attack, it ran up $2000 in charges that he was responsible for. Cloudflare and other services can to a degree mitigate DDOSs, as well as programming to allow sites to drop into a "war-footing" to minimize the damage, but if a site is receiving or sending traffic, the meter is running.

The more I look at the history and timing of things, the more I believe the DDoS attacks on FurAffinity were a big part in the IMVU deal that we learned of early this year.

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Just crazy question here but what is the feasibility of creating a peer-to-peer distributed furry site? Most poeple probably now have high-speed, unlimited connections. Is it possible to spread a site amongst all the users, with redundancies, and would that be protected against DDOS attacks?

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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There's a few peer-to-peer hosting solutions, but it's not really practical for a heavy database-driven site with large images, privately-available files, etc.

For a start, most people still don't have the upstream bandwidth to serve material fast. They might be halfway around the world - how do you know who to connect to? What happens if someone turns off their computer - does your website just die for everyone nearby? What about when someone posts a new file - how does it get to everyone else? What happens if you reply to a comment which someone else deleted, but your server doesn't know yet? Etc.

Most issues can theoretically be solved, or at least ameliorated through methods such as sharding, global locking, etc. There's reams on Wikipedia. But it is an order of magnitude more complicated than developing and running a fan site, which is already surprisingly complex if you're developing it yourself (in part because you already have to deal with multiple users accessing the site at once).

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In some respects that's what Usenet was, and its FurryNet derivative, albeit mainly text-based (anyone remember the binaries groups?) and on a much smaller scale. It would probably be possible to apply some of the principles of BitTorrent to architect such a distributed service, but it would still need several trackers or control servers which would be vulnerable, and lag-time for updates to be distributed would be an issue.

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There would have to be a central aggregation point, or database where all the data was handled, if any of the social functions were to be used in a peer to peer social site. it would be enormously complex to build, and potentially just as easy to break if the aggregation point was discovered.

Owner of Furry Social Network

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FN was going down the toilet either way.

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Apparently, it came back up, then shut down again earlier this month. (Can't keep a good site up?)

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One big reason the cyber attacks was they were banning people left and right. They pissed off a lot of folks. Power got to their heads if someone was being annoying just ignore them do not just ban them and making them feel unwelcome. It was great before, when it was the massive art gallery and not just a FaceBook wanabe.

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So I wasn't here for a long time. I heard about the attack and that the site was closed. Is it forever ? I hope no.

Sorry for my english I am french.

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Oh I see it was closed in february...

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Necro, but I wanted to chip in my 2-cents.

I first joined in 2008, left it around 2012. There was a lot of scandal, lying, and backstabbing. Yeah, power definitely got to their heads; I should know, I was a mod. After it stopped being a webhosting/art-gallery site and went to a more social media-esque website, the community became more toxic and less knitted. All of the old members moved on elsewhere, I don't know why I stuck around. Hope I guess, that it'd be like the good ol' days.

I have to say though, I'm glad it's down and hope it doesn't come back up unless the original owners have nothing more to do with it. Regardless of how old the site was, you can't change the reputation that it built for itself towards the end.

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