Relying on the cloud: Bad idea

Published July 7, 2011

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Relying too much on third-party services for your core online needs is a bad idea.

In other words, if instead of having a Web site (which can be hosted anywhere), your online world is centered on Facebook/Google+/MySpace/whatever, you’re running a huge risk.

First off, of course, any of these services might go away or simply fade out (think AOL or MySpace). If your online world was centered there and the crowd moves elsewhere, you have to get packing.

More importantly, though, is that you don’t have control of your stuff. Facebook, for example, is known to block private e-mails you send based on the content. (That’s right — if you say the wrong things, your mail might not go through.)

There’s been a recent outcry over Google deleting or suspending Google+ accounts. The terms of service clearly forbid the use of pseudonyms, and now people using them are being kicked out. (Somehow, they seem surprised.)

But in some cases, apparently, they’re losing more than just access to Google+. As “Thomas Monopoly” wrote in an open letter to Google, his Google (not just Google+) account was “turned off.”

“I would like to bring to your attention how much damage your carelessness has done,” he said.

I had spent roughly four months slowly consolidating my entire online presence, email accounts, banking info, student records, etc., into that one Google account, having determined it to be reliable.

That means in terms of information, approximately 7 years of correspondence, over 4,800 photographs and videos, my Google Voice messages, over 500 articles saved to my Google Reader account for scholarship purposes (a side-note: when I closed my original Reader account to consolidate everything in my one reliable account bearing my name I re-saved several hundred of the articles myself, by hand, one by one to this new account. The one you have closed and from which I have now lost all of the articles.)

I have lost all of my bookmarks, having used Google bookmarks. […] I have also lost over 200 contacts. Many of which I do not have backups of. I have also lost access to my Docs account with shared documents and backups of inventory files. I have also lost my Calendar access. With this I have lost not only my own personal calendar of doctor’s appointments, meetings, and various other dates, but I have also lost collaborative calendars […] None of the calendars were backed up either.

(Paragraph breaks added for readability.)

Scary stuff. The cloud is useful, sure, but certainly not as your primary online existence. If my hosting provider decides I have violated its terms of service (or simply goes out of business), I can move my Web site to any of hundreds of alternatives. Not so if (like Thomas) I had used a service like Blogger.

My calendar is in Thunderbird, on my computer(s), as well as Google Calendar. If Google cuts me off, I move it somewhere else.

And so on.

You cannot rely on any proprietary service. You cannot put your entire online or digital life in the hands of one company or service. That’s just asking for trouble.

So yeah, have a Facebook page and Google+ account, and whatever else is hot at the moment. But those are spokes, and you’d better be sure you have full control of the hub.

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