Beware of little fluffy clouds

A cautionary tale

A little while ago I talked about a lovely piece of software called Write! It was available for PC and Mac, and had some wonderful features for writers such as customisable word counts, goals, publishing to eBook and WordPerfect blogs, and plenty more, yet all within a minimalist, distraction-free framework. It was, for a while, exactly what I had been looking for. But almost from day one there was one feature that had the little alarm bells jittering. They integrated their own cloud storage solution into the software. Yes, you could choose to work solely off your own hard drive but by using their cloud storage you unlocked other benefits that seemed hard to ignore. And it was fast and reliable compared to other solutions such as OneDrive and DropBox. Of course, this was probably because they were a new company and didn’t have that many users; I wonder how scalable their system was had Write! really taken off.

When I talked recently about software for blogging I mentioned how Write! had initially been updated once or twice a month but suddenly there had been no updates in more than six months. Well, now it has disappeared altogether. The website generates “not found” errors in your browser. The app itself still works but declares that it cannot connect to the cloud. You can still use it to work on your local disk but there will be no more updates. More seriously, any work you may have had stored in their cloud is gone. You have no way to retrieve it. I think I have local copies of everything that was stored there but I’m not 100% certain of that. But I shudder to think of the implications had some of my work been stored there and nowhere else.

So what has happened to Write!? I have no idea. They have simply vanished off the face of the earth, without warning. It seems obvious that in this highly competitive digital world they have struggled to match their ambition with financial security; they weren’t able to make their app pay. That is understandable; it happens to a lot of software companies. What concerns me is that they must have seen it coming and they did not do the right thing: inform their loyal customers. It would only have taken one email, just to say sorry but they would be closing down and to make sure you downloaded all your work locally from their servers. It was almost as if bailiffs stormed their office and pulled the plug. Maybe they did; we may never know. But there is a cautionary tale here – be very careful about relying on cloud storage to hold your precious data. Yes, you should be safe with the big guys. Apple, Microsoft, Google and DropBox are all big enough that they aren’t going to disappear into the shadows one night. It is the little guys you need to be wary of. Anyone that offers their own, unique, cloud solution. It may sound tempting and they will no doubt try to push the benefits on to you but you really need to stop and think about it. Where will this company be in a year? Five years? Ten? Is it really worth taking a risk with your precious work on what amounts to nothing more than a promise? It may be a blog site, or a photo site like Flickr, or whatever – one day you could wake up to find it has gone, and taken you with it.

My advice is this: however much you hate the giants, swallow your pride and stick with them. I use OneDrive, DropBox and iCloud and I trust them all even though I’m not particularly enamoured with the companies behind them. But more than that, BACK UP! Regularly. Get yourself a couple of external hard drives and make sure you keep copies of everything that is important to you. If you have a Mac, use Time Machine. On a PC you can use something like SyncBack to schedule regular backups of your data. If my house burnt down I would be relieved to think that my data was safely stored out there in the cloud but it works both ways; if the cloud evaporated I want to know I have my data safely stored in my house. External drives are cheap and small enough that you can take them with you wherever you go. Don’t take a chance with your precious data. Cover all your bases. It may seem a chore having to faff around with all this copying and backing up, especially if you have never lost any work and believe that technology is safe but over the years I have lost data on several occasions and it is hard to convey just how sickening it feels when you realise you have lost something and there is no backup. Don’t play Russian roulette with your data.