Data doomsday, or the datapocalypse

A blogger named Jason Scott, among other online writers and discussion groups, has been talking about a new problem--over-hyped Web services and Web sites that have failed financially and are shutting down without giving users of those services or sites an adequate opportunity to make copies of blogs, pictures, and other materials posted to those sites. It is likely to be a growing problem as the economy slumps and many poorly thought out "Web 2.0" business plans fail. Scott talks about the need for a "digital bill of rights," but given much larger economic and business issues, this is not something that is likely to get much attention from legislators.

As I have said for a long time, this is a buyer beware situation. "Free" services still have to pay their own bills, and if their business model is not working, they will pull the plug on the services. Yes, they should give users some notice, but if they are out of money, it's impractical to expect them to magically find the funds to keep their servers online for a year (or some other period of time) while users of the free service get around to making backups.

Users of free services need to recognize that you get what you pay for. If you keep all your photos on Flickr without making any backups, and Flickr shuts down, you have little recourse because you paid nothing to Flickr--so what do they owe you?

Hard drives are cheap, and every household should have two inexpensive external hard drives where you keep copies of all important materials and documents, including any items you have posted on "free" online sites. And it is also wise to use an online backup service for some things, but skip the "free" backup services and pay a few dollars a month for a fee-based service; because they are actually collecting fees from their customers, those companies have a more predictable revenue stream and the payment of even a small fees gives customers some legal recourse for poor (or no) service.

The collapse of free services is likely to continue for some time, as online advertising is slowing down. The sites most affected are the "free" services that rely not on customer fees but the much more fickle ad revenue. Buyer beware.

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