google notebook’s demise and the dangers of living in the cloud

Google NotebookI think the the cloud (aka the “internet”) offers some of the very best opportunities for data storage and sharing. In fact, I think it represents the future of technology, beyond traditional computing. Cablevision’s legally-challenged network DVR is a great example of this.

But there is tremendous risk in committing to the cloud, as the re-trenching Google has recently demonstrated its the withdrawal of support for its its Notebook service. Notebook was a brilliant tool for collecting information, organizing it, and sharing it with others. As with most Google services, it was 100% cloud-based, so all of the data you collected and shared was stored on the internet and accessible anywhere via a web browser.

That’s incredibly convenient, but therein lies the rub: any data that’s been collected into Google Notebook is now at risk of being lost irretrievably. Google isn’t cancelling the service outright, but if the Notebook environment breaks in a future update of web browser technology, that’ll be it, all users’ Notebook data will be gone forever.

Notebook is a minor service in Google’s arsenal, so the impact from a public relations perspective is quite minimal. But imagine if Google has selected its internet-based office suite, Docs, for cancellation, or even Gmail? Notebook’s death watch is a result of the current economic climate, to which Google is clearly not immune; if things get worse, no doubt other Google services will suffer the same fate as Notebook and tremendous amounts of valuable user data will be at risk of loss.

This is true of any fully cloud-based computing environment. Data that’s stored in the cloud and accessible only via a proprietary application interface is at tremendous risk of permanently being lost. In fact, that data’s existence is fully dependent on the health of the company that owns the web-based application environment.

Imagine, for a moment, if WordPerfect had not been a desktop technology, but a cloud-based application environment. It’s painful enough to former users of this once-great word processor that their documents are now barely more than cute icons; but at least they’re accessible. If WordPerfect had been in the cloud, like Google Docs, those documents would just be gone.

For cloud computing to become feasible from a data security perspective, there needs to be developed and established a standard method of storage and retrieval that exists apart from the application interface. If this were in place, then even if Google’s Notebook service evaporated all together, a user would still be able to access, download, and transfer their data to another environment.

But even a structured storage standard doesn’t guarantee security. Cloud-based data storage is a very complex matter, dependent on a vast array of globally disparate servers and networks. The Canadian government guarantees bank deposits through the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation. Perhaps a similar regulatory body needs to be established the similarly protect, if not the integrity of cloud data, at least its value?

For the time being I only use cloud services that offer a desktop component in the form of a local application and synchronized data storage environment. The excellent Evernote is the perfect example of such a solution. In this case, if Evernote ever collapses as a company and the cloud component evaporates, at least my data is also stored locally.

I’d recommend you do that same.

2 thoughts on “google notebook’s demise and the dangers of living in the cloud

  1. If Gmail and Docs went under I would be hooped. They are the applications I use for 100% of my non-work related stuff.

    Guess I’m putting a lot of trust in the big G, but my next computer will be a netbook, so I want to run 100% of my apps online.

  2. A few years ago I ran most of my business through the cloud (email, calendar, invoicing, time tracking, project management and a few others) but now I either host the applications on a private server or they are desktop-based. There’s huge risk in hosting, ugh, “mission critical” applications elsewhere for free – no matter how great the experience, the company has far less responsibility to keep their service running for the long term.

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