By Harry McCracken | Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 7:22 pm
Venture capitalists telling the startups they invest in that the good times are over. Big companies hunkering down. Layoffs, layoffs everywhere. You’d have to be a wild-eyed optimist not to come to the conclusion that a lot of cool consumer Web services aren’t going to close their doors before the economy turns around.
And you’d have to love living dangerously not to gird yourself for the possibility of some of the services you depend on going away. After the jump, ten tips to help you and your data survive disaster with as few headaches as possible…
What’s worse than signing up for a service that eventually runs into trouble and closes up shop? Signing up for one that’s already headed for the deadpool. Such as AOL’s Xdrive, which is still signing up new customers even though it’s getting ready to shut down by the end of 2008. It never hurts to Google a company you’re thinking about to see if there are reports of its imminent death–or just check out a site like TechCrunch for worrisome scuttlebutt.
MediaMax (formerly Streamload) had been around for a decade and billed itself as “The World’s Largest Online Media Center.” Earlier this year it decided to discontinue its free storage service and convert users over to a for-pay service called TheLinkup. It notified users via e-mail that it would delete their accounts unless they paid up. Except some of them said they never got the message. And it took the company months to transfer paying customers’ files to TheLinkup. Not counting the data that it simply lost altogether. Right before it went out of business and took its remaining customers’ data with it. The folks who got out of this with the fewest headaches? Those who never assumed that their stuff was 100% safe with MediaMax–or any service–in the first place, and therefore kept backups of anything they’d be heartbroken to lose.
Logic might seem to suggest that it’s safer to use services from great big companies than from shaky little startups that might run out of money and time. I’m not so sure. Yahoo has shuttered services. So has Google. And Microsoft. And now AOL. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use ‘em. Just remember that what Pogo’s friend Porkypine said about life also applies to Web services: They ain’t nohow permanent. No matter who’s behind them.
Google’s GrandCentral promises you one phone number for life. Gizmo5 says you’ll never pay for text messages again. ShortURL.com says its subdomain service is free for life. Whaddaya want to bet that most of the people who sign up for any or all of these services will be alive decades after all of them have gone away? When Web companies talks about something being good for life, they doesn’t mean your life–it means the life of the service in question. And even then, some services backpedal on the promises they make when they’re no longer convenient.
On the Web, there’s almost no such thing as a truly unique idea. Usually, in fact, any reasonably useful notion serves as the basis of a bunch of sites that are surprisingly similar to each other. Which is why it’s not a tragedy that that AOL is axing Xdrive–we still have IDrive. And Box.net. And Windows Live SkyDrive. And LiveDrive. And a whole bunch of others I’m not remembering right now.
When flight attendants instruct you to locate the exit nearest you–just in case–they’re doing you a favor. Do the equivalent with your data: Check out a service’s exporting features before you need them. You want one that makes it reasonably easy to download everything you’ve got stored there, in a format that other services can understand.
With Web services, the only thing worse than bad news is bad news you don’t know about. If a service tries to notify you that you’ve got 30 days to download your data, you want to know about it–so make sure that the e-mail addresses registered with services you use are ones you actually check regularly. (Or have access to at all–I’m still discovering services that I signed up for with the e-mail address I had at my former employer.)
Just in case your “junk message” file includes any urgent communications from a service you depend on.
Can a Web company that falls on hard times sell off your personal info to the highest bidder? Does it make any promises whatsoever about what it’ll do with your stuff? Read those terms of service–they’re there for a reason. And they’re far more likely to leave you raising your eyebrows than to calm you down.
Even if the Web goes through some tough times, it’ll be full of good stuff that’s free for the taking…or worth paying for. If a service muddles through the coming downturn and emerges intact, it’s a good sign that it’ll be around for the long turn. So be careful out there…but have fun.
Got any more tips? Horror stories? Lessons from site shutdowns you’ve survived?