Another day, another bunch of people seeing their content vanish without warning.
According to the BBC, when blogging site Blogetery suddenly disappeared – taken offline after the FBI warned their hosting service about alleged Al Qaeda-linked material posted there – it took with it the posts written by more than 70,000 bloggers.
Make that 70,000 really unhappy bloggers.
They join the users of iPBFree.com, whose users found the forums the site used to host were gone as of last week.
In both cases, explanations were sparse, and didn’t (perhaps couldn’t) offer too much useful or comforting information – and there’s no idea when more information will be forthcoming.
This hardly the first time an online service has closed its doors with little or no warning. Business models come and go; venture capitalists run out of patience; entrepreneurs run out of steam and interest… and sites go offline.
How can you keep your content safe – or relatively safe – in case the service you’re relying on takes a dive? Here are several options. You may not want to do all of them… but the more you can do, the greater your peace of mind.
- Before you commit to a platform, look for export/backup features. How easy will it be to make regular backups? How quickly can you do it if a shutdown is imminent?
- Look for services that can export your data to an open format, such as XML or a comma-separated text file, so you have a choice of other platforms to turn to if the worst happens.
- Look for thoroughness. Metadata like tags, dates and descriptions may be even more important then the original files. And comments and friend lists can be just as key.
- Look for stability. It’s great to try out startups and edgy innovators. But if you’re going to commit a lot of time and energy to your content and community, you’ll want to see a solid track record… and enough backing to know these folks will still be around in a few years. (Not that big, established players are above shutting a service down; but when they do, they know their brand equity is on the line, and are motivated to minimize the disruption to users.)
- Back up regularly. You’re doing regular backups of your hard drives, right? (Right?) You’ll want to start doing the same thing to your online content as well, and save those backups somewhere safe.
- Subscribe to the site’s blog or “What’s new” feed, and check it regularly. This is part of your early-warning system. And when things go bad, there may be very little notice that you need to get your data off the site.
- Make a separate, full backup at the first sign of trouble. Online hiccups? Big layoffs? Takeover or sale rumours? Get a copy of your data somewhere safe.
- Build your new home before you need it. At the very least, you should have an idea of where you’ll take your content if the service you rely on goes dark. But if you want people to be able to find you, create a bare-bones presence on that site now – if only to reserve your name (so your flaky-dead-service.com/yourname audience can find you at shiny-new-service.com/yourname). Test it so you’ll know how to restore your content quickly and reliably.
- Calculate the tradeoff. This isn’t a trivial amount of work; you need to weigh the effort against the cost of losing all of that content. If we’re just talking about a few fun, ephemeral posts, you may not be worried at all. But if you’re sinking a lot of effort into an online presence – and asking your friends, supporters, customers or users to do the same – then the time you put into backing up may be the best investment you’ve ever made.