August 10, 2011, 10:18 AM — More and more, we rely on Web services as a matter of course. The key word is rely: We assume that the data we upload to, say, a photo-hosting account or blog service today will still be there tomorrow. In large part, that's because we assume the services themselves will still be there tomorrow.
But over the past few years, we've seen plenty of examples of sites that are here today and all-too-gone tomorrow -- for example, Friendster (which dumped user data for a redesign in May) and GeoCities (which shut down in 2009).
In other words, nothing lasts forever. The Web services that we entrust with our data can -- and do -- vanish. And when that happens, you need to have a plan. In the following pages, I'll take a look at some cases where user data was lost or endangered, how the companies (and their users) handled the situation, and what you can do to keep your own information safe.
Don't let this happen to you
Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of services that have shut down, changed hands or simply lost their data.
MySpace. The slow death and muddled rebirth of MySpace -- once a fiercely popular social network, overshadowed by the rise of Facebook -- raised a lot of questions about what would happen to existing users' data and whether or not there would be an easy way to bulk-export any of that information.
MySpace did set up what has been described as a "data-portability initiative" back in 2008. But this seemed not so much for the sake of exporting data from MySpace as allowing consistently reused contact information to be automatically filled in across sites. Worse, the terms of service for MySpace developers explicitly forbids creating applications designed to export user data to another service. That hasn't stopped people from creating scrape tools for MySpace such as Make Data Make Sense's blog-export utility.