Yahoo is in trouble. That’s not news as it’s been going on for several years now, but it seems to be spiraling out of control even more. This week they announced a 4% reduction in their global workforce. Along with that they have announced the elimination of several popular services, including the social bookmarking site, Del.icio.us.
I have a Del.icio.us account, and have been using it for several years. The Firefox plugin made it easy to bookmark and tag websites, so I had a couple hundred bookmarks in my account. This morning I exported all of those so I could import them into either Google Bookmarks or Diigo.
Of course, this makes me very nervous about another Yahoo company – Flickr. I’ve got nearly 12,000 images on Flickr. If the service should close I won’t lose those images. I keep the originals at home, and I also order an annual backup to DVD. However, it would be a tremendous loss. Every place where I’ve linked to one of my photos would be broken, including the thousands of blog posts on this website. Even if I did transfer to a different hosting service, the amount of time and effort required to fix all of those broken links would make the job nearly impossible. More than that, though, I would also lose all of the organization and comments I’ve gotten on my photos over the years, and the rich social environment that I’ve built up.
Fortunately, it doesn’t look like Flickr’s going anywhere anytime soon. It’s one of Yahoo’s most popular (and probably most profitable) properties. Yet these problems with Yahoo do point out problems with relying on computing in the cloud too much. Services upon which one relies could be discontinued at almost any time. A back-up plan is a must. That’s one of the reasons I always get backup DVDs of my Flickr photos.
Google is in better shape than Yahoo, but they are not immune. Right now they have a pilot program in the works where participants receive a laptop with Chrome OS, and do all of their computing on cloud applications. This is all well and good, but you have to be constantly connected in order for it to work. Would this mean that you couldn’t get to your work if you were someplace where Wifi or a 3G signal weren’t available, say, in an airplane? Also, what if Google just up and decided it could not longer support these services. Does this mean that the laptop would become a brick?
Yeah, but Google wouldn’t do that, would they? Actually, they already have on at least one occasion. I used to rely on Google Notebook to do research both for this website and for other projects I had underway. It was a fantastic tool, especially with the Firefox plugin. I could clip bits from web pages and save to my notebooks, and could even publish those notebooks. Google phased this out in favor of SearchWiki, which itself was replaced by Google Stars. None of these subsequent services really replaced the functionality of Notebook, and its loss was a blow.
It doesn’t have to be the elimination of a service to cause grief. It could also be changes in terms of service, or even just an update to the service that changes it substantially in a way that makes it less usable. Several services (such as Ning) have gone from free to paid services when advertising revenue hasn’t done the trick. Unless you’re willing to shell out, then you may be left out.
This probably makes me sound like I think cloud computing is a bad idea. Not at all! I use my little netbook all the time to access Google Documents and lots of other online applications. I think they are great! You don’t have to maintain/upgrade software all the time, and your documents are available on any computer just about anywhere, including mobile devices. You just have to be aware of the drawbacks, and willing make plans for when/if these services should ever become unavailable.