The problem with Software as a Service is you don’t own it.
Let me back up and tell you a story about a social network I created. Two big-time development bloggers, Jeff and Scott, were writing posts back and forth about how what colors they liked in their text editors and what fonts they used.
I’m not kidding, this is important in a job where most of what you do is sip coffee and type. I’ve certainly killed some time messing about with how I color my source code.
Jeff is a big idea generator. He posted the idea of a Pimp my Ride for text editing. He said
What we really need is for some enterprising coder to create a “Hot or Not” site for IDE color schemes, where we can post screenshots and downloadable *.settings files for our preferred IDE color and font schemes.
I was a young man of that sort, so I whipped one up in 8 minutes. Exactly 8 minutes. I used Ning, the first “social network in a box”. Back in those days they gave you full access to everything and they had tons of cool ways to structure your site. You could upload a settings file and a screenshot, give it some descriptions and share it with other folks. The site hummed along without much work from me, folks added settings every once in a while and all was good.
Ning promised that you could export your site if you wanted to migrate away, but that feature never got released. This became important because Ning eventually had to deal with some nasty types who were using the platform to perform dastardly deeds, hacks that served pernicious purposes. 2 They reacted by rolling back features, locking things down and circling the wagons. Eventually they moved things to a new, incompatible system and shut down http://idehotornot.ning.com. I never got an email about it.
Recently, one of the users emailed me to let me know it was down. After a month of emails with the Ning support group, they revealed the final solution they could give me:
After investigating the situation, our engineers were unable to extract the data from idehotornot.ning.com. As we were unable to retrieve the content, and the application would be staying down indefinitely, we went ahead and removed it so that you could create a brand new Ning Network in it’s place. It looks like we didn’t clearly convey this to you before removing the application and I apologize. This was an oversight by us which we should have checked,
Regardless, idehotornot.ning.com is now free. If you need help with any part of creating a Ning Network, setting it up or getting it running, please don’t hesitate to ask.
They’ve lost all the content that people put in there. They’ve lost all the pictures, descriptions, and files. But hey, no problem because you can just go ahead and rebuild that for them.
People put their time and energy in there and it disappeared. Yes, it was a free service, but no, that doesn’t excuse it. Say I offer to hold your wallet for you while you swim. When you get out of the pool some of the pictures are missing. Is it ok that I wasn’t charging you to hold your wallet?
The important bit
This is the fundamental problem with software as a service – you don’t own it, you don’t control it, and there’s no recourse to the providers like Ning. It’s why I like to have my own cloud. Cloud computing, software in the cloud, these terms are names for the same basic idea. Digital Sharecropping. You’ll get the resources you need for little or no money and you can produce value there for you and yours, but you never own it, you can’t take it somewhere else, and you have very little bargaining power for changes. This is why Facebook is so troubling. Most of my friends aren’t nerds, and they don’t know how to work a feed reader 3 or set up a blog for free. That’s all they are really using Facebook for – reading the things their friends wrote and writing things to their friends. It’s true. The technology to do all of this is simple and easy. But Facebook centralized it and went viral with it. That’s where my network of friends hang out. My worry is, what happens to all of that content when Facebook changes its terms and decides to wall off part of it or charge for it or turn my comments to my friends into advertisements for products I don’t endorse? What happens when Myspace turns that iMeem “Vampire Weekend” music playlist you made into an ad for Beyonce ringtones 4 ?
There is a solution
When possible, work with cloud services that give you an escape route. They have to give you ownership of your data, a way to get your data out, and you have to use that method to back up your data on a regular basis. 5 Don’t be a chump.
- The Autonomo.us project has a great list of alternatives that either AGPL or CC or something you can use. Check out this guide to replacing what you are using now with services that keep you free. (back)
- Maybe. Now it looks like they might have just wanted to ditch a company called Widget Labs (back)
- But you should definitely be using a feed reader. Do this. Here’s the simplest overview ever.
- Where’s your hipster credibility now, buddy‽ (back)
- See these footnotes (back)