Opinion: someone else’s resources aren’t my resources

The cloud is someone else’s computer. Free apps are someone else’s resources.

I relearnt a lesson this morning: never rely on something that someone else owns. We do research at Threet, so we have a set of shared datastores, some paid for, some using free apps. One of these was our shared list of academic references, with our labels and notes on each paper.

The app hosting this deleted our library last month. We lost years of work. This happened to a lot of other people and groups too — the move wasn’t well signalled, and it looks for now like these groups and their contents are gone forever.

One reaction to this was “well, did you back it up somewhere”? This is a fair point. We’ve become lazy about using someone else’s computer, someone else’s resources, and expecting that to persist. We might keep backups on our home computers, but do we all backup the apps we’ve become used to using? Do we expect that even if our content is removed online, it’ll still be available somewhere on our local computers? Many of us don’t think about any of those things until an event like Mendeley’s group removals happens.

This is also part of the other problem: we sell our privacy and data in return for these free resources. So it’s Sunday. We’re still in a pandemic. If you’re bored, a good activity might be to start logging the free resources on other people’s computers you’re using, and start asking 1) do you need to do that, 2) how to back up that data, and 3) what your disaster plan is if that app suddenly cuts you off. My personal lists include:

  • Shared repositories — codebases, documents, presentations, libraries,
  • Social media sites — I don’t have backup connections to a lot of people
  • Document stores — I have paid-for versions, but I also know the (much earlier) pain of recreating a failed Dropbox store.

My next step is to go through my applications folder, and start noting what exactly I have in there that’s relying on someone else’s resources.

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