Return of the Blog

Gigaom recently published an article that highlights an important point. A point that has been resonating through my head since Lift 07:

In this incredible sea of data that surround us, what happens to my data when a service like Twitter or Flickr or FriendFeed is sold to another company.

Gigaom writes:

The cynical me believes that it’s foolish for any of us to expect that Web 2.0 companies be in the business of providing services for charity. They are, after all, for-profit entities and when opportunity arises, everyone looks out for themselves. That’s just the way of the world.

I really like Flickr, Twitter and I recently started using Friendfeed more actively. Mainly ‘cos I can search thru my Twitter content more easily.

But… what happens when these services are discontinued?

It is my data. I am the owner. As the owner I want:

  1. To be able to download a backup copy when I want to
  2. Close, shut down and delete all of my data whenever I want to
  3. Control who sees which data, where and when

These are my minimum requirements for online, interactive web applications. Sound easy and straightforward.

End of topic. Well, not quite.

Many web applications – and I’m kind of shying away from the omnipresent social media / social network term here – don’t offer an easy Export/Backup all of my data/Batch Download function.

Flickr Batch Download
Consider Flickr, by all measures one of the more established and mature tools. If you click Get Help this dropdown menu displays:

Flickr Help Topics

It doesn’t list an item how to download photos. titles, descriptions and comments or create a backup of photos and comments using a batch downloader or similar.

The tools page only lists applications to upload files.

Flickr Tools to upload and share

Apparently, the export feature is being discussed in the Help forums. I know that there are lots of threads, discussing download tools for Flickr, ‘cos I was worried about my data at Flickr. Yes, every dedicated photographer has a backup system in place for their photos.

There are some third party tools like Downloadr (I haven’t tested this yet).

Here’s an example how to create a backup of your Twiitter content using Dave Winer’s OPML tool:

How To: Backup And Search All Your Friends’ Tweets In Google Reader

But, my point is: the effort is on the users’ side. And I know many users forget or ignore this. Luckily, the RSS format offers a number of options.

One way street
Signing up and uploading is made as easy as possible. I have years of data at Flickr and I really like the application. So far the benefits outweigh the downsides by far. I like sharing my photos at Flickr. But since I signed up, Flickr was purchased by Yahoo and now Yahoo is partnering with Microsoft. Who knows what will happen in the next 1-3 years? A good web application should offer a batch export/download function.

My advice if you’re signing up for a web application:

  • Be aware of the fact that most web apps are one way streets. They are in the data business. They want your data to display on their website for business reasons.
  • Read the terms and conditions carefully.
  • Find out how you can export or download your data beforehand.
  • Find out how you can close and delete your account.
  • Be prepared to spend time and resources to learn the web application that you are using. Learn the advantages as well the disadvantages of the web application. It is important that you acquire web skills.
  • A good web application should offer a batch export/download function. If it isn’t available, ask for it. Remember: It’s your data.
  • Build your own blog. Get involved in building your own website. Your blog is your mothership. Consider services such as Twitter and Friendfeed as fast and zippy spaceship shuttles that bring visitors to your mothership. Rather than feeding Facebook and co., you will experience a learning curve that will benefit you in many other areas.
  • Develop your research skills. We need independent, ad-free blogs more than ever.

Remember the continuous bootstrap curve.

Gigaom writes:

But somewhere between my cynicism and people’s Utopian desires lies a happy place. It’s called the blog.

Your Opinion…
What are your thoughts on this? How are you backing up your Flickr and Twitter and Facebook and Friendfeed and Google data? Do you care what happens to your data? What precautions are you taking?