I’ve been using Apple’s iDisk syncing service for – I can’t believe this – about ten years now. When I signed up, iDisk was part of the company’s iTools service, which was subsequently revamped and given the goofy name MobileMe. The transition to MobileMe was a little hair-raising, as there were moments when my iDisk seemed to flicker out of existence. Since I was using the service to sync critical documents between my computers, seeing the iDisk folder disappear caused, to say the least, a little panic. But Apple, after much bad press, worked out the kinks. iDisk since then has worked fine, and I’ve grown ever more dependent on it. Now, as Apple replaces MobileMe with iCloud, iDisk is about to get tossed onto the great junk pile of abandoned software. And I have to go through the nuisance of finding a replacement. Apple is also discontinuing its (fairly crappy) iWeb service, which I’ve been using to publish theshallowsbook.com. So there’s another pain in the ass I’m going to have to deal with.
The cloud is great in many ways, but it’s also fickle. Look at all the cloud services that Google has shut down: Google Health, Wave, Friend Connect, Buzz, Aardvark, Notebook, Sidewiki, Subscribed Links, Desktop, Jaiku, and so on (all the way back to that would-be eBay killer Google Base). None of them were particularly successful – you can certainly see why Larry Page decided to flush them down the famous Googleplex toilet – but given the scale of the net, even services and apps that don’t achieve a critical market mass may have a whole lot of users. Discontinued products and services are nothing new, of course, but what is new with the coming of the cloud is the discontinuation of services to which people have entrusted a lot of personal or otherwise important data – and in many cases devoted a lot of time to creating and organizing that data. As businesses ratchet up their use of cloud services, they’re going to struggle with similar problems, sometimes on a much greater scale.
I don’t see any way around this – it’s the price we pay for the convenience of centralized apps and databases – but it’s worth keeping in mind that in the cloud we’re all guinea pigs, and that means we’re all dispensable. Caveat cloudster.