Monday, December 20, 2010...9:00 am

Looking for a Delicious replacement? Here’s why you should never trust cloud computing

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In the wake of the shock news (if you’re a web geek) that social bookmarking site Delicious is being earmarked for closure by Yahoo, a grieving Paul Bradshaw calls for suggestions for a service to take its place.

He says:

Delicious is possibly the most useful tool I use as a journalist, academic and writer. Not just because of the way it makes it possible for me to share, store and retrieve information very easily – but because of the network of other users doing just the same whose overlapping fields of information I can share.

So where should he, and all the other dedicated Delicious bookmarkers, store their warehouses of tagged URLs?

Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog is collating responses from users and has even prepared a handy spreadsheet to compare services (So far, Pinboard.in, Publish2 and Diigo are leading the field). But this ignores the key flaw in the whole project of moving our data online.

Have a look at a 2006 list of social bookmarking sites. How many of them are actually still going four years later?

The list includes 54 different social bookmarking type sites (of varying kinds – only a few of which are really like Delicious). Going through them now at the end of 2010, just 27 are still functional in more or less the way they set out to be (with one having stopped and started again and which now boasts all of 1,000 users).

Social bookmarking sites 2006

As I know how much my readers love their pie charts, here’s a visual guide. To save you the calculation, that’s a 50% attrition rate of web services. In four years.

Yes – many of those flaky start-ups were doomed to failure (and several were aimed at foreign markets, so you wouldn’t have used them anyway). But Delicious (or del.icio.us) was a flaky start-up once. One of the attractions of Delicious, apart from some of its features, was that it came to be owned by Yahoo – a giant web player that you thought you could rely on.

But the truth is there is no such thing as reliability online. These services last as long as the company thinks they’re worth supporting – or until the company fails or is taken over by a company that isn’t interested.

The fact that they’re mostly free probably doesn’t help – there’s no real financial incentive to support a service once it goes out of fashion. But even if they did charge money, there’s no guarantee the customer base will be able to support it in the long term. In fact, given the draw of free services, paid services start with a big handicap – even if the free rivals don’t stay the course.

Most of the recent criticism of cloud computing (getting your digital services and software online and keeping your data there) has been to do with security. A former National Security Agency director has said he doesn’t trust the cloud, and an awful lot of everyday users seem to agree with him. Other reasons include reliability – cloud services, even those run by the mighty Google, are down more than you’d like. Nancy Nally on GigaOM has a useful round-up of reasons not to trust the Cloud here.

But, really, the key problem with cloud computing is you need to be able to rely on the company providing it to stick around. And which online/computing companies have done that for more than a decade? More to the point, which ones have done it and maintained a specific web service continually?

You only have to look at personal blogs and web sites. If you started off with your own personal web site back in the mid 1990s, you might have been on the GeoCities network. If so, you would have lost your site in 2009, when then-owner Yahoo shut it down (can you see a trend here?).

Aside from the risk that your blogging site might be shut down by the Feds, there is a good chance that a web provider will pull the plug on your content.

It doesn’t matter who it is – Vox.com bloggers might have been unsurprised at the news that the company would shut its doors, but Google video fans must have been a bit put out that it would stop allowing new uploads to their video channel. As for Bebo users – well, it’s still going, but the writing is probably on the wall. (Though not, I guess, on the Wall.)

And of course the biggest problem faced by Delicious fans is that the site offers some great tools to tag and share bookmarks. Just downloading a backup of the links you’ve saved, or exporting to another social bookmarking site, is only part of the battle. What you want is another service that offers the same functionality. Which doesn’t exist.

Hooked on cloud computing? Save yourself the heartache. Keep your digital bookmarks where they’re supposed to be – in a browser. (Just make sure you back them up. Online and off.)

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