Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In fear of the great Google Shutdown train: What could be next?

Google has been in a frenzy of 'cleanup' activity over the last few months. It is beginning to make me feel positively uncomfortable.

Google's latest blog post announces the shutdown of a number of services that are not doing well, notably Google Wave and Knol.

I think it is the latter that alarms me the most. They point out that the proposed replacement for Knol is WordPress based. Yet they have their own Blogger service (which you are using right now to read this) that competes against WordPress. Does that mean that the writing will be on the wall some time in the future for Blogger? It certainly makes me think about moving this blog elsewhere.

In addition to Blogger, I am heavily invested in Google Code for the Umple project. Will Google Code be on the chopping block too at some point? After all, like Blogger it is a service that Google provides on a largely public-service basis. Google is already shutting down 'Code search' with no announced replacement, and has severely limited the usability of Google Groups, as I have previously commented.

I think that if I had read all these announcements a year ago when I was first starting blogging and open-source development, I would likely have chosen different platforms. I imagine many people just setting out to use such online services will think the same thing. I chose Google because it is a large company with a reputation for stability, innovation and beneficence. Two of my factors in choosing Blogger and Google Code over WordPress and GitHub were the integration with Google accounts and Google search. However long-term stability trumps all. Using Google services puts me at the mercy of Google Shutdown.

I will persist with Google for now, hoping their 'Do no evil' mantra wins out in the end. However, I am continuing to take steps to protect myself. These include making all links to the Umple project go through the domain, so I can relocate them if I had to, and regularly backing up my subversion repository and blog. I will be looking into mirroring my blog on a domain and server I have full control over.

I also hereby ask Google:

  • To make formal 10-year service guarantees for its services in which people invest huge amounts of personal time, like Google Code, Blogger and  Google Groups.
  • To extend these guarantees each year, so any potential shutdown would always be 10 years out
  • To publish usage statistics trends of its services so we can be confident that we are using services that are not dwindling in numbers of users.
  • To keep data in shut-down services visible in a read-only manner without limit  (e.g. keeping Knol URLs active for reading indefinitely, so links that point to them never go stale). There would be very little cost in doing this.

I think that unless Google does this, more and more people will migrate away, and fewer and fewer new users will adopt these services, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophesy of shutdown due to low usage.

And lest people think I am being unfair to Google, or risking having Google push me personally off its services for criticizing it, I have been just as critical of Apple, and have not even ventured near Microsoft's online services since they have historically been too closed. Google is still an excellent online service provider for blogging, open-source code hosting, and mailing lists, and is still probably a lower risk than smaller companies regarding potential shutdown. But overall, I now do not consider it a low risk in this regard.

Also in defense of Google, they do make their announcements in a reasonably friendly way and try to suggest alternatives. I do wish in their announcements they would tell us the number of users they estimate to be affected (both content providers and readers).

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