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Digital River - Talk to the Experts

Consumers Need to Start Thinking Like IT Pros

By Sidney Hill
Feb 2, 2011 5:00 AM PT

I was all set to turn my life over to Google when I started hearing rumors that Yahoo was planning to shut down Delicious.

Consumers Need to Start Thinking Like IT Pros

I realize that sentence might require some explanation, so give me a minute to sort it out for you.

First, you might be wondering what I mean by turning my life over to Google. I wasn't about to build a Google shrine and start chanting daily devotions in front of it. I simply had decided to adopt Gmail as my primary email service and start creating and storing work documents on the Google Docs platform.

Now, you might want to know how Yahoo's intentions regarding Delicious, its bookmark-sharing service, could possibly impact my thinking about whether to adopt Google applications.

The rumors of a Delicious shutdown made me think about a major risk that comes with placing all of our information in the cloud: the possibility that the cloud service we choose might someday disappear.

Yahoo Might Sell Delicious

That thought hit me as I read the read the comment sections of numerous articles about the impending demise of Delicious. Numerous loyal Delicious users were lamenting this potential development, with many of them noting that this was the only Yahoo service they found worth using.

Once the rumors started swirling, Yahoo posted a blog in which it admitted to having determined there was no longer a "strategic fit" for Delicious within Yahoo, but also said it was not shutting down the service.

"We're actively thinking about the future of Delicious and we believe there is a home outside the company that would make more sense for the service and our users," the Yahoo blog read. "We're in the process of exploring a variety of options and talking to companies right now. And we'll share our plans with you as soon as we can."

I think that means they're looking for someone to buy Delicious, and they'll let us all know when they've struck a deal.

That statement may appease the worried Delicious users, at least for the moment, but it doesn't resolve the bigger question related to the cloud computing model. Again, that question is: What happens to our data if our cloud service provider goes away?

Time to Think About Vendor Viability

I doubt that most users of consumer-focused cloud services ever ask that question, but they should. As we move closer to a cloud-dominated computing world, individual consumers may have to start mimicking corporate IT departments when it comes to choosing potential service providers.

Corporate IT professionals typically use a checklist to rate vendors' potential for meeting their most critical needs. "Vendor viability" is the term often placed on these checklists to grade the potential that the application or service the company is considering will be around for the long term. It's also a term consumers might want to add to their vocabulary in the cloud-based age.

Yahoo offers a prime example of why consumers need to start thinking about vendor viability, and it's not just because of the Delicious situation. While Yahoo is seeking a buyer for Delicious, it's also trying to devise a business strategy that will stave off its own extinction.

If Yahoo were to go out of business -- which at this point is a distinct possibility -- all those people who still use its email service would be left in the lurch. Changing email providers can be a hassle, particularly if you have a large number of contacts. You have to save the address information for all those contacts, and be sure to inform them of your new address. You may or may not be able to save messages that are on the old provider's server.

Now, consider how you'd respond if all the documents, photos and other files that currently reside on your personal computers were instead housed on a server in the cloud -- and you suddenly had to find a new cloud provider.

The Cloud Still Offers Many Advantages

I won't even go into the catastrophic conditions cloud users would be facing if the entire Internet infrastructure crashed. At that point, they certainly would have bigger problems than trying to recover email messages.

None of this is to suggest that consumer shouldn't adopt the cloud model. It offers too many advantages to pass up.

My own thoughts turned to the cloud after I got my first Android phone and was forced to create a gmail account in order to funnel mail from my current provider to the phone. It occurred me that the combination of gmail and Google Docs could give me the completely mobile office that I've long been seeking.

Instead of carrying a laptop or a thumb drive to ensure that I always have the documents I need at my disposal, I could save everything on the Google platform, and all I would need is an Internet connection to do business as if I were at my desk, regardless of my actual location.

The Benefits of Portability

In addition to mobility, portability is another advantage to running your life on the cloud. Say you rely on your cable TV company for email service and you move to a new city with a different cable provider. You're forced to get a new email address. That's not the case with a cloud-based email service; it travels with you.

As I said, after weighing these advantages, I was poised to make the switch. Then I heard the rumors about Yahoo possibly shuttering Delicious, and it made me pause to think about the concept of vendor viability.

In going through my own vendor selection checklist, I decided that no vendor currently offering consumer-focused cloud-based services is more viable than Google. So, I'll probably go ahead and make the switch -- as soon as I find the time to notify all my contacts that I have new email address.


TechNewsWorld columnist Sidney Hill has been writing about business and technology trends for more than two decades. In addition to his work as a freelance journalist, he operates an independent marketing communications consulting firm. You can connect with Hill through his website.


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