David Chartier of Finer Things on Tech on getting data back out of web services
Making matters worse, most modern service features and architecture are often so fundamentally different, or just plain anticompetitive and unregulated, that normal consumers generally cannot move their data from one service to another. Try importing your Twitter archive into Facebook some time, and remember when Steve Jobs infamously claimed Apple would release FaceTime as an open, documented standard?
This is a huge problem that no one really cares about because the right situation hasn’t yet reared its ugly head. Facebook has been the dominant place for people to post pictures and other types of statuses, although Twitter and Instagram are gaining steam. The problem will manifesst itself when the “next thing” comes and people want to move from once place to another. Are they going to try and migrate 100s (or thousands) of pictures from Facebook to that new thing? The problem is that the average person hasn’t really fully moved themselves in a way that warrants taking content with them. At the same time a major service used by the masses hasn’t yet shut down.
More and more people seem to migrating towards doing 90% of their personal computing on their phones. When they run out of space they just delete pictures because they have them uploaded to Facebook or Instagram. But getting all their photos back out of there and moved to somewhere else might not be an easy task. Do people believe so much in the concept that “everything lives forever on the internet?” That is true in some sense. But jut because stuff stays out there does not mean that will be easy to find or access.
That is why I am a huge proponent of owning your own data. Whenever possible keep your stuff on a server or site or self-hosted service that you know no one can just pull the rug out from under you. Keep it in a format that can be exported or backed up so that the files can always be saved somewhere else. Because this entire concept is so new, it’s likely that a lot of people are going to learn the hard way what all this means. All those boxes of pictures from your childhood maybe seem like annoying clutter now, but at least those can be moved from one house to another. It seems very likely that a generation of people will lose some of these memories because they are on their 200th difference social network and things are scattered everywhere.