Living Outside The Box Born-Again Techo-Geek Renaissance Man

2Apr/130

Lessons Learned From Google Reader

You may have seen Youtube's prank about shutting down on April Fool's day. If you're one of the users of Google Reader, you probably have heard that they're really planning on pulling Reader down soon. Yup, they just decided one day that it wasn't worth the effort to work on it... much less keep it going for the thousands upon thousands of users who rely on it (but they can afford to hire actors to pull an April Fools' prank...) and thus we have people scrambling to find alternative ways to get the same things done.

As I got thinking about this (disclaimer: I had just started using Reader about a week before its demise was announced) a single thought popped into my mind:

What's to stop them from pulling any of their other services for real? Or any other web service provider, for that matter?

As an answer to Evernote, Google has come out with a service called Google Keep. Organizational gurus will tell you that to get the most out of these services, you have to use them for everything. But what happens when the service gets pulled for lack of users? This is the risk we take as users of free internet services, and even paid subscribers aren't immune to companies going under.

We can glean a couple of (Easter-themed) bits of wisdom from this.

1. Don't Put Your Eggs In Too many Baskets

If you're using more than two or three services to do essentially the same thing, consider narrowing it down to the best two. Things like Blogs, RSS readers, Cloud storage, notes, email, social networking, and so forth. If you're a professional who uses the internet for interaction, it is much better to have one really well done outlet than splattering your presence everywhere but never really doing a good job of it. As tempting as it might seem to spam every social network out there, don't do it! If your content is well done and updated regularly, word will get around.

Take, for instance, Endomondo. I'm a fan of the service, and I use it regularly, but they don't monitor their presence on Google+ at all. It's pretty obvious they joined Google+ as an afterthought, because they never reply to questions, and just repost from Facebook. Very discouraging to see people on G+ commenting "Please add G+ support!" on every single thing Endomondo posts, with no response.

When in doubt, remember the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch: "Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three!" Anything more than that, and you risk spreading yourself too thin.

2. Don't put all your eggs in one basket

On the flip side, if you use a single service to store and track everything you do (Evernote is made for this, just saying...) then if it one day goes under, you've lost everything. Going paperless? Great idea, but you better have a local backup of everything as well. Cloud storage for your music collection? Great, but if Google or iTunes decides they don't like you, you've lost hundreds of dollars of content.

I understand the appeal of an all-in-one solution, but when you do this, you're at the mercy of that one source. If you think "That could never happen to me," you'd be wrong, as were thousands of Posterous users, among others. All it would take is for Microsoft to buy out Evernote, then kill it (or worse, hack it apart and assimilate it) to push their own OneNote software. And don't think that's never happened before, either.

3. Be Prepared For an Egg Shortage

I'm not suggesting that the Internet will disappear one day soon, but you may be put in a position where you don't have access to it (or have limited access). Then what? If you've invested all of your knowledge into online storage services, you become organizationally crippled. We see the same kind of thing with people who rely heavily on anything... after a while, you can't function without it. As an IT guy, I know all too well how easy it is for technology to fail you when you need it most.

In the end, all these online tools are just that: tools. They were never meant to be used to replace everything in your life, and you still have to know how to remember and accomplish things without the internet.  Learn to use them to increase efficiency, but never consider them a replacement for your brain.

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

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