Clouds - Fluffy, but not Particularly Permanent

Today the URL shortener tr.im announced their demise. In a short statement on their website, they explain:

tr.im is now in the process of discontinuing service, effective immediately. Statistics can no longer be considered reliable, or reliably available going forward. However, all tr.im links will continue to redirect, and will do so until at least December 31, 2009. Your tweets with tr.im URLs in them will not be affected.

We regret that it came to this, but all of our efforts to avoid it failed. No business we approached wanted to purchase tr.im for even a minor amount.

There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening -- users won't pay for it -- and we just can't justify further development since Twitter has all but annointed bit.ly the market winner. There is simply no point for us to continue operating tr.im, and pay for its upkeep.

We apologize for the disruption and inconvenience this may cause you.

Since the unexpected death of Ma.gnolia earlier in the year, in a technical failure which resulted in the complete loss of all users data, I've watched the rise in web applications with a mixture of excitement and unease. Excitement because the web platform is obviously the future, but unease because of our increasing reliance on the often unreliable cloud to store our valuable data.

When our data is on our own computers, the onus is on us to look after it, to back it up, to ensure it's security. But, barring our own incompetence or global thermonuclear war, we can be pretty confident that it is safe. With the rise of cloud-computing and web apps, we are handing over this responsibility to many companies, each of which we are trusting with the competency to look after our data, as well as the business savvy to stay solvent. And often we are expecting this level of service for free.

A typical business model for a lot of tech start-ups is to build an audience and then find a way of monetizing it. Tr.im have shown us that this model is not infallible, and when it fails our data disappears as collateral damage. Every time we use web applications, we are making a small investment in that company — an investment of time, but an investment none the less.

And while services like S3 have made it easier for web applications to maintain backups, there is always the risk of data loss. How many of the new web services provide guarantees over data. The standard policy seems to be 'you get what you pay for'.

Without a way to make local backups of web-service data (a service which is now offered by other bookmarking sites such as delicious), the information we put into the cloud is not safe. I wonder how many sites will have to fail before more people realise.

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