Monday, May 20, 2013

How To Protect Yourself From Online Services Shutting Down

by Nancy Messieh

Google’s unfortunate decision to shut down its RSS reader service, Google Reader, is an important reminder of just how unreliable the cloud can be. When using free online services, and in some cases even some paid ones, you can never be too sure what is going to happen to your content, and whether or not the service will be available a year from now.
Apps and services are bought, companies develop their strategy, and a lot of times, that means moving away from the one service or feature that you love the most. Google Reader’s popularity, and a pretty vociferous outcry following Google’s decision to pull the plug, has done little to convince the tech giant to go back on its decision, forcing people to look for alternatives. And Google is certainly not alone. Blogging platformPosterous similarly announced its shutdown last February, having been acquired by Twitter, and gave users two months to look for alternatives.
The old saying goes, if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, has never rung more true than at these times when a company decides it no longer needs you, or has been acquired by a bigger outfit. Here are a few ways you can at least prepare yourself for the inevitable.

Only Choose Services That Provide a Backup Feature

This is the golden rule of protecting yourself from an ultimate shutdown. Always choose services that provide a backup feature. Better yet, if you can, choose a service that allows you to backup your data to a common format that will likely be compatible with other services such as XML or CSV files. This way you can be sure your content can easily end up somewhere else.
If you can also backup your content from the service to a readable format on your computer, that’s always great too. Either way, if a free cloud-based service doesn’t give its users the basic courtesy of exporting their own content, it’s difficult to trust them with your data.

Perform Regular Backups

Now that you know the service can provide you with backups, to stay on the safe side, perform regular backups, even if there’s been no talk from the service itself of an impending shutdown. With the finicky and unreliable of the Internet, you simply never know what could happen, so you might as well run a backup at least once a month, particularly if you’re extremely active on that service.
Do you tend to be forgetful when it comes to backups? Set up a reminder on your calendar, phone or computer.

Always Keep An Eye Out For Alternatives

While you might love the service you’re using, it’s always good to keep an eye out for alternatives. You never know when you might have to make the switch, and rather than scramble to find an alternative that you might end up not liking, always be aware of the competition and their features so if you need to make a quick switch, you can do so while well informed of what to expect.

Monitor Social Media Accounts Or Blogs For Announcements

The chances are that if a site or service is shutting down, they’ll send you an email telling you as much, and doing so at least a few months in advance to give you a chance to find an alternative. At least that is what they should give you the courtesy of doing. Just in case you’ve got filters set up in your email inbox, or you just happen to not check your email too often, it might also be a good idea to monitor any available Twitter, Facebook or Google+ accounts, or alternatively an official blog, where you can expect to find announcements.
This way you’ll always know about any worrying downtime, will get a better sense of how often the service is affected by glitches, or in the worst case scenario, when it is shutting down.

Find Out More About The Developers

If possible, try to find out more about the developers behind the app or service. Do they have a track record for launching services and abandoning them or shutting them down? It’s always good to know who you’re dealing with, and knowing a developer or company’s history can be a great way to get a bit of peace of mind.
Crunchbase is a great resource for finding out everything you need to know about the companies you’re trusting with your data.

Choose Services With Offline Features

Services like Evernote offer you offline or desktop access to your content. Even Google, awful track record aside, provides Google Drive which you can access using a desktop app. Choosing services that come with desktop features or automatic sync are a great way to not have to worry about the very first rule – remembering to backup your content – since it’s all automated for you anyway.

Choose a Paid Service

If you’re really worried about losing access to your content, a paid service is another route to consider. With the Posterous shutdown,Posthaven came to the forefront as a viable alternative, promising it would never shut down, but offering users the service at the cost of $5 a month.

Stay Off The Cloud

At the end of the day, if you’re really worried about your content, there’s no better tip than staying off the cloud. The minute you choose to use a third party cloud-based service, you’re putting your trust in someone else’s hands and that’s something you simply have to come to terms with.
We certainly don’t recommend staying off the cloud – there’s a lot of convenience and handy features that come with cloud-based services, but if you really want to protect yourself – as the old adage goes – nothing beats abstinence.
Do you have any tips on protect yourself from a service shutdown? Let us know in the comments.


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