The Pitfalls of Cloud Computing

by Maskil on 23 Oct 2009

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Cloud Computing, Cloud Services, Web Services, Web 2.0. Each has its own definition, overlapping with the others to a greater or lesser extent. What it means to the man on the street (or on his or her laptop or mobile), though, is that we’re increasing trusting our valuable (to us, at least) information to a service somewhere out there on the Internet.

For some, this could mean just a webmail account with Gmail or Hotmail and profiles with Facebook and Flickr. For Web Workers (e.g. bloggers and freelancers) it could mean a whole lot more (accounting records, archives, contacts, work in progress, etc.).

Sometimes we get a none too gentle reminder about the risks of Cloud Computing.

To put things in very simplistic terms, the risks are two:

  • Risk of inaccessibility. (You don’t have access to your data.)
  • Risk of inappropriate accessibility. (The wrong people have access to your data.)

Either of these risks could be the result of human error or a hardware or software failure at the service provider. Data shops are usually pretty good at handling such outages, however. It’s far more likely that problems will result from your Web 2.0 service having a nasty brush with Economy 1.0.

I’m really generalising, but Web 2.0 start-ups have tended to rely on quickly gaining a critical mass of users or traffic, then figuring out how to monetise that base before venture capital funding runs out. When this bet doesn’t pan out, it could result in products being cut, or the venture folding completely.

Let’s look at half a dozen examples that I’m aware of, or that have impacted me directly in the recent past:


I used this “set and forget” service to back up my legacy Blogger blogs. After migrating to WordPress at the end of June, I thought I’d use the same tool as a “belt and braces” backup for Maskil. When I tried to access the site, however, it wouldn’t load. I haven’t seen any announcements or blog posts in this regard, but I assume that it’s history. The vendor (Techrigy Inc.) has been acquired by Alterian, but there’s not even a mention of BlogBackupOnline on the Techrigy site. One report indicates that the domain itself is up for sale!


FriendFeed is (or was) an amazing product, with any number of uses. I was using it as my lifestream or digital stream. With its recent acquisition by Facebook, however, a huge question mark hangs over its future. It appears that the entire development team has already been moved across to Facebook. Perhaps this will have a happy ending;  FriendFeed’s fans don’t seem to think so.

Google Notebook

A really nifty way of saving your web clippings. While this amazing product still exists, no further development is being done on it. So, while its die-hard fans can still make use of it for now, the writing is on the wall. I’m guessing it will be taken down during the course of 2010.


A unique social bookmarking product that also cached a copy of the page whose link you saved. Invaluable for those sites where articles or posts are archived behind a registration or subscription mechanism over time. It was bought out by Diigo, who provided a mechanism to migrate to their service, but this was only for the links, not the page images. In my case, the migration resulted in the loss of many categories/labels, and possibly links as well.


I’ve had lots to say about this one. Essentially, Plaxo cannibalised their free service my moving the essential Plaxo Toolbar for Outlook to their premium offering. Without the Outlook connector, Plaxo has no value to me, and I’m not willing to pay USD60 a year for the premium version.


Quite possibly the best lifestreaming product out there. I started using it initially to back up and search my Twitter Tweets. I’d just begun to explore its potential as a lifestreaming platform when the axe fell.

So, here’s the scorecard. Not a pretty picture at all!

BlogBackupOnline Fate unknown, vendor bought out
FriendFeed Bought out by FB, future uncertain
Furl Bought out, incomplete migration
Google Notebook Large vendor, product cut
Plaxo Change to product/terms of service
Storytlr “they simply lost interest”

While there’s not much we can do to lessen our dependence on Cloud Computing (without losing the advantages as well) here’s a few things we can do to minimise or mitigate the risks:

  • Do some basic due diligence before committing your data or workflow to a Cloud Service (although, looking at this list, it would probably not have made a difference).
  • Find ways to backup your data, either from the Cloud Service to a local device or to another service (but see BlogBackupOnline above)
  • Stay portable. Try not to become too reliant on any particular service. Give some thought as to how you would migrate your information or processes to another service or vendor in need.
  • Look out for signals. Sign up for Google Alerts or something similar regarding the products you depend on, so you’re aware of impending changes that could affect the service.
  • Bitch like hell if there’s talk of a service being cut. Maybe, just maybe, the vendors are not aware of how much users rely on their service (or how passionately they feel about it).
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