Protecting Your Data When Web 2.0 Sites Fail
So… hard to miss this subject, but Robert Scoble was banned from Facebook a few days ago, and is still reeling from the implications.
The sad truth is being banned from a Web 2.0 site happens more often than one would think. I recently read a long post from Tamar Weinberg about Digg’s silent banning policy with terrible customer service to boot.
Many have handed over personal and critical information to Web 2.0 sites. It’s more than just user created content – it’s a fair chunk of our lives. Without access to that data – you feel as if one of your limbs has been cut off.
Last night I lost access to Google. That really sucked. I’ve become overly reliant on GMail, Google Blog Search, Google Reader, Google Docs, Google Analytics, and just plain Google, Google, and Google (did I mention Google?). I felt like the Internet had become useless and resorted to MSN because I couldn’t think of another search engine (sorry Yahoo!). It turned out I just had to restart my computer, but still – life sucked for a short time.
When we hand part of our life to any company, we can easily become crippled – if they decide to play hardball, if they decide to get greedy with their content, or if they become inaccessible or go out of business.
One solution is to run your own site. But even that’s not a complete solution. WinExtra has been down for nearly a day due to hosting problems, and David Airey had his domain name stolen (he got it back). I’ve also had website issues. Instead of handing your life over to Facebook it’s now in the hands of a hosting company.
So ultimately, the answer seems to be backups and diversification:
- Consider the data I’m sharing. If it’s sensitive information or stuff I can’t live without – it doesn’t go on the Internet.
- Share stuff that’s trivial and that I don’t care about losing (all my Diggs, Mixxes, Twitters, and Facebook stuff is non-essential).
- Only put essential information on sites that provide a way to get data out. I’ve done this for my blog and the Google Apps are pretty good about this, too. I still have a desktop mail client downloading all my GMail.
- Make backups of important online data and backup your local machine.
- Ironically, “distributed social networking” might be an answer, too. By signing up for several social networks and updating them all periodically, if one goes down there’s always another as a backup.
- If a Web 2.0 social service doesn’t provide an easy way to get the data out, I’ll only use it for trivial, non essential information.
Standard computer advice is to back up often in the event of a hard drive failure. Standard financial advice is to diversify your investments for the same reason. I think that advice holds for social networking and online applications as well.
Web 2.0 has got to start making user data portable, and Scoble is the canary in the coal mine.