Yesterday, Twitter shut down Tweetdeck for the iPhone and Android and, at the same time, ended support for Facebook in the app, ending its ability to read and post to user Facebook accounts (Note: As of this writing, my Facebook columns are still working on Tweetdeck).
However, this wasn’t the first time Tweetdeck made a major change that sent users scrambling for alternatives. In December of 2011, months after its purchase of the app, Twitter recoded the application entirely, renaming it “Tweetdeck by Twitter”, and stripped out many of the apps most popular features, including LinkedIn and Foursquare support.
Though the app was able to battle back some and win over some of the people who left it, there are many, even today, who still pine for the original Tweetdeck over any other version.
But this isn’t the first time in recent memory that important Web applications have been shuttered or drastically changed. In March, Google announced that its popular Google Reader service would be shutting down July 1st and, in April, Posterous announced it was closing in a mere 30 days.
These are just a few quick examples of a problem everyone who works online faces. The tools you love and use every day could he a case of “Here today, gone tomorrow,” and there isn’t much that you can do about it. Companies go out of business, crashes happen and unprofitable products get cut, it’s part of life online.
Still, it’s obvious that you need to be able to continue working and that creates a new set of problems, how do you continue working after after your tools have been taken away from you?
The answer is a combination of proper planning and, more importantly, building your own toolset.
Changing Tools Mid Strike
The Internet is probably the first time in human history that a person can have their tools taken away so permanently, so easily. Though carpenters might have a hammer break or lose their screwdriver, they could trivially find and purchase a very similar tool and continue on.
With the Internet, not only can your tools break and disappear, but they can do so for factors outside of your control and with no possibility of finding a perfect, or in some cases near-perfect, replacement. Even worse, these changes can happen with little to no warning, sending scrambling to find an alternative and, in some cases, direct your visitors to your new home.
This can make building a presence online feel like you’re trying to construct a house on quicksand, constantly being forced to change, shift and pivot as the ground disappears out from under you.
So how do you improve the stability of your online experience and ensure smooth transitions when necessary? Here are a few tips to help keep you on firm footing, no matter which services are closing down.
Finding Solid Ground
If you want to find solid ground online, you have to be prepared to make it yourself. Building your house on someone else’s foundation is risking having everything disappear from underneath you. If you want a stable presence on line, you have to take responsibility for it yourself.
On that note, here are a few good suggestions that can help you stay sane even as the world around you keeps shifting.
- Get Your Own Domain: The first step to having a stable online presence is having a reliable address. A domain is fairly cheap, about $10 per year, and is yours as long as you keep paying for it. Even if the service you’re using closes, you can just point that domain elsewhere and keep going.
- Self Host What You Can: Hosting, especially for smaller projects, is also fairly cheap and simple. Plus, what’s on your server, you control and will remain active until you decide to leave (or stop paying). Even if WordPress.com vanishes tomorrow (highly unlikely), your WordPress installation on your server will remain valid, keeping you online.
- Avoid Unproven Services: Online it’s tempting to jump on the latest fad or trend, but a service that’s here today can be gone tomorrow. Stick with proven providers that have a large history, a stable user base and seem to be doing well financially. As Google Reader shows, this isn’t guaranteed protection, but it greatly reduces the risk.
- Backup, Backup, Backup: Backups are always important but they are doubly so with Web services. Disasters strikes, companies close and data is lost. Don’t let yours be lost forever. Backup your content regularly so you can quickly port it elsewhere.
- Always Be Looking at Alternatives: If you use a service and depend upon it, always be looking for alternatives and experimenting with them. Not only might you learn about something that’s even better, but you’ll know the lay of the land and be able to move on quickly should something happen to the tool you trust.
If you can do these things, while you won’t be completely immune to the bigger shifts that can happen online, there won’t be many disasters that you can’t recover from quickly.
If you want a stable presence on the Web, the responsibility is on you. If you try to build a house on someone else’s foundation, you could find that the ground is sinking beneath you. You have to carve our your plot of the Web and make a stable home for yourself.
While this requires extra time, effort and money to set up and run, it’s likely energy well spent. After all, the effort it takes to make a good home for your Web presence is significantly less than the energy it takes to move and readjust it after you’ve had your foundation kicked out from underneath you.
So whether you are hunting for a blogging platform, tools to help you use social media or ways to discover new content, be mindful of the grim realities of such online tools. Try to do as much as you can under your own roof and, when you can’t, stick with third parties that are reliable and stable.
But even then, always be prepared for surprises. You never know when Google may shutter another project you’re using or a major company make an unexpected change.