Wow. A great article by Mike Elgan on the impermanence of the web and the cloud was a treat to read and an eye opener to anyone who forgets that all things go through cycles of maturity (See The Wikipedia Exodus Is the Least of Our Worries). Mike correctly notes that we are all relying more heavily than ever on someone else to edit our information, or to host our stuff, or to even support our fun and entertainment – on the web, or through the cloud. He surmises – what if some or all of them were to go away? We would be in a world of hurt. And he is right – for a while.
Where Mike leaves off, I feel compelled to comment. Certainly, we are at greater risk of losing something we come to value when it is out of our control. But there are two things that Mike did not mention which leave me less concerned (Oh, and I had never heard of this Debbie Downer person but I ain’t inviting her to the next investors club meeting).
1 – The Ecosystem: Who is to say that when a cloud provider goes out of business that they don’t have assets to sell? If something is important enough to draw a lot of eyes or attention then somebody is usually willing to step in and to buy up whatever assets are left to capture those eyes for another purpose. So, providers may disappear, but content might not. Who is to say that a site we relied on won’t morph into something different while we move on to other sites? Many of the forums I have used over the years have morphed or changed membership or even content. I just keep following where the interesting noise is. Who is to say that our stuff stored in the cloud is not valuable to a number of potential suitors? Buyouts happen all the time in the physical storage word, why not in the cloud world? Imagine the brand-value of “Wikipedia”!
Sure, some providers will disappear with all our stuff or will lose it to bad processes (e.g. T-Mobile Sidekick) or something but those types will either correct their failures or be weeded out over a short time; and, the ones that remain will become much more reliable. That is the way of the market and business ecosystems. (Oh, and remember that the T-mobile failure was a process failure, not a cloud failure but we have to live with the results).
2 – Regulation: The dreaded R word. We hate it but we must acknowledge that some Cloud services or Web 2 sites may grow to a point where they become subject to regulation or government support. Perhaps not the Wikipedia of today but I suggest we are not far off from an online crowdsourced information utility that gets either industry or government regulation. If it becomes important to the masses and important to government, it will get regulated.
Don’t mistake my position. Mike has pointed out some practical realities of the Web 2 and cloud movements. He will undoubtedly be right and we should be cautious (especially about the backups). But let’s not forget that this stuff is still in its infancy. It is not a mirror of what happens with technology. It is a mirror of what happens in the real world – which has dealt with service-orientation for thousands of years. The mechanisms are out there. All we are waiting for is the cloud to catch up on how to use them and to discover new ways to reduce the risk.
In the mean time, back it up yourself, find a broker to protect you, or don’t use the cloud – not many other choices. I think the rewards will be well worth the risks and the inevitable failures.