Blogging and Web-hosting services. With blogging and free websites now throwaway commodity offerings, it's not surprising when these services bite the dust. GeoCities, an artifact of the Web's earliest commercial days, was widely lamented when its plug was pulled in 2009. Yahoo did little on its own to preserve the sites, but there were third-party efforts to save the contents of Geocities. Also, Windows Live Spaces was shut down in March 2011, ai which time users were given the option to migrate to WordPress. And as of May 24 this year, Yahoo's MyBlogLog was also canned; there are, however, tutorials on how to migrate your data from it.
Lala.com. For the users of Lala.com, the problem was a little more complex. The short-lived online music service, which allowed users to cheaply purchase streaming access to music, was bought out by Apple in December 2009. Users who had existing credit with the service were allowed to transfer those credits to iTunes, but any purchased streams were gone for good. No provision existed for, say, allowing legal MP3 downloads of the purchased streams. (Blame the thicket of restrictive licensing agreements that automatically spring up around any online media service and the fact that music isn't really "purchased" online but merely licensed.)
The fate of Lala brings up an interesting question. Given how many media services are offering "rental" rather than "purchase" models for their offerings, at what point will people feel an entitlement to that data as theirs? And given the voracity with which companies can gobble each other up, how willing should people be to pay money for access to something that could dry up overnight?
These are not questions that have set answers, since they deal with conceptual changes in the nature of the services people consume, and are heavily affected by the reputation of the company in question. For example, few people expect Amazon to go out of business anytime soon, so there's not the same hesitancy about buying books on the Kindle as there would be about streaming music from a fresh young startup.
Look for these features
If you're currently deciding whether to use a specific Web service, it helps to know how it will handle your data and if it can provide you with ways to rescue your data or move the information offsite. There are several things to look for.