Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Ride Into the Sunset

...I got a note today about the waning days of Google Wave. After I'd read and considered it, I realized that what I was looking at is the Very Right Way to sunset a product or service. Once again I'm struck by how, against all odds, Google continues to behave in the marketplace the way I'd ask a corporation to act. I wrote about Google Wave earlier here, first when I was introduced to it and impressed by what might be possible, and later when the announcement came that the service would be retired.

Today I received a letter from Google that told me what to expect, and what my options might be. I was impressed with the informative nature of the communication, and an open exhibition of concern for my experience as a consumer. The truth is that I never paid Google a penny for Wave, but they relate to me as a customer. There is another corporation in this Valley to whom I have given plenty of money and I still find myself treated there as an adversary, a mark, or an annoyance whose purchase in the past holds no weight today. ("What have you bought from me lately?")

What was exceptional about this Sunset Notice is that it not only told me exactly when the shutdown date would be (60 and 180 days in advance) but it also told me where I could find open source alternatives that might serve my needs as someone who's come to appreciate what Wave can offer.

Take a look:

If you would like to continue using Wave, there are a number of open source projects, including Apache Wave. There is also an open source project called Walkaround that includes an experimental feature that lets you import all your Waves from Google. This feature will also work until the Wave service is turned off on April 30, 2012.

I've been involved in the emerging software game since the days when we thought spreadsheets were pretty darn spiffy, and I have to say this is not the usual approach to turning out the lights on a service.

But there's a more important thing, and I've spoken here about it before. It's the matter of how easy (or difficult) a company makes it to take your stuff and move on.

Earlier in my career, I took home a nice consulting fee to help a client retrieve its information from a Microsoft service and put it on another platform. It required the creation of some fancy scripts and a lot of hand curation to get the stuff out because no means had been devised to allow my client free access to its own data. It had been easy enough for this client to put the information into the system, but there was no means to download/retrieve the information in a fundamentally whole fashion. (Well of course! Because who at Microsoft could ever dream that you'd want to use anyone else's service?)

Today the issues are more with Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and their peers.  How many of those give you a clean method for retrieving all of your data?

Certainly Google leads that pack in terms of making my data available to me in a form that I can use. To me, that's the main feature that a cloud computing company needs to offer. It's cool if you make it easy for me to get data into the system. I just insist that I have a way to retrieve it and remove it when I wish to do so.

Using the service to retrieve my data from G+ it took me about 4 minutes (including time to search for the right page, and time to expand the resulting zip file archive so I could see into it).  In contrast, the download process for Facebook was easy to initiate, but rather than deliver the goods in real-time for download, FB will be processing my request offline and send me an email when it's time to download.  Since I began it, I've had time to read a number of emails and do a little bit of other research, and still no archive... I'm sure it will be fine and that I'll find it useful.  We shall see.

In contrast even to that, Twitter posts that I've made more than 90 days in the past are not available to me from Twitter. I did have some luck with Tweetdoc, and a search for "Twitter archive download" yields some ideas although many of them are dated from between 2007 and 2009. So your mileage may vary.

I've said it before and I'll close with this observation one more time. One of the most critical factors in choosing a cloud company is their willingness to make it possible for you to get your data back.

I might have lied a little when I said that I had not paid Google. (Actually, I said that I'd never given them a penny, and that is accurate.) I am fully aware that having me put my information into their system in the first place is what Google is accepting as payment. I've certainly done that.

But I have to say that I have certainly been paid back in full with the services and benefits that the Mountain View corporation has given me. Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Plaxo, and LinkedIn are all trafficking on the data I provide to them. Are they delivering equivalent value to me in the marketplace? Look for yourself and see your own answer to that question.

And by the way, I've finished writing this article, proofread it, done more research in the meantime, and I still have not heard back from Facebook about my archive there. I'll update here if it ever comes through.