Google is discontinuing Google Reader, a service I, and many others, have been using to follow large amounts of RSS feeds. It got "spring cleaned", as it's isn't a core part of their online business. Fair enough, though a major pain for me.
Also, Google just announced Google Keep, an online note-taking and keeping service. This is not part of their core business either, and was preceded by Google Notebook, which was much the same thing but discontinued about a year ago. In my mind it's not a matter of if Keep will disappear, but when. Just Like Google Notebook or Google Reader — Or, for that matter, Apple Me; all cloud companies do this.
I rely on Gmail Tasks, but that overlaps quite a bit with Keep. And it has not seen any
updates or attention in a long time. Google Sites, which I use for a landing page, is similarly semi-abandoned, so both seem destined for the trash heap shortly. If you rely on
Tasks or Sites directly or for syncing apps you probably need to look into
alternatives very soon.
A specialized online service like Evernote will
not cancel their main product of course, so they may seem safer. But they can go bankrupt; they can get bought
up and disappeared (Evernote for Windows phones only?); and they can change
direction, turning their app into something you don't need and don't
want. With online-based systems we have no control.
We have no control. When it's online, when it's in the cloud, all decisions are out of our hands. Fair enough, you might say; it's these companies that foot the bill. True, but that doesn't change the basic fact that you can't rely on online services for anything that is really important. And especially so if it will be important for years to come.
I'm not thinking about games or social media or things like that. We can lose our G+, Twitter or Facebook accounts without losing anything very important. But would you want to keep your financial records or email love letters from your wife with an online service that might not be around next year? If you deposit hard-won experimental data to an online repository — or make use of data stored there — can you really trust you can access it in twenty years?
I'm also becoming afraid of the trend towards computers or software that can only be used online. Google Chrome is the prime example — I would never rely on it for anything of importance as you can't know any of the tools are available a few years from now — but Apple and Microsoft is rapidly moving in the same direction.
I realize that I'm more exposed to this problem than I like. Some online things like Google+ or file sharing are either just fun diversions or generic and easy to replace. But this Blogger blog or my Flickr account would be very painful to lose. It would be a lot of work to move somewhere else, and I'd lose all the links and regular visitors. Gmail would also be painful, but it's more or less the public junk drawer of my online life, so abandoning it would probably turn out as a blessing in disguise.
So, what to do? From now on I will make a point of using mainly offline tools when I can. Desktop notes rather than online, for instance, and choose applications that sync in a generic or standardized way, rather than rely on a single company's service.
For things that must be online, I think that perhaps a server of my own might not be a bad idea. A debian server image with my own domain name can be hosted anywhere; could even keep it at home, though we'd have to change our ISP for that. I could have a photo gallery and a mirror of my blog there, along with a calendar, RSS reader, home page and file synchronization. With my own domain name, I could replace most of Gmail with my own address, and leave Gmail for public-facing junk. I wouldn't replace this blog or other online things so much as keep a live back-up just in case.
Has anybody set up something like that? I want to regain control over my digital live; I'm not sure of the best way to do so.