Own Your Data

A number of months ago at a Public Relations Society luncheon on social media I had a discussion with a New York City-based arts organization regarding the social media arm of their current marketing program. Only a few days earlier this organization launched their first blog using the Tumblr platform. When asked what I thought of the platform, I sung its praises – easy to use, great searchability, simple and high quality media integration, domain name mapping, etc.

Those around me could tell I was holding back a little bit and prodded me a bit for the “But…”

“You don’t own your content when using a third party site like Tumblr.”

Of course from an intellectual property and copyright perspective you, of course, still own it. What you lose is control over your data. Since the original .com boom services have been known to close up shop (sometimes overnight, because of a lack of funding or interest), or have control, access or privacy problems. Even the big guys like Facebook and Microsoft can fall prey to these kinds of issues.

The response from the group was well reasoned and expected, “I’m sure they keep backup copies of the data from their posts on their own systems if they have to restart elsewhere.” The representative nodded in agreement. While this is a great plan (and one every organization should put into place), it doesn’t solve the real problem.

When using a free service like Tumblr, or even a freemium one that primarily serves non-paying accounts, accountability becomes difficult if there are any service hiccups.

Need proof? Try to find a customer service phone number for GMail (the Contacting Support page is here. On the other hand, if you’re paying to use Business Google Apps for your domain and mail services (which is a paid product) there’s a 24/7 emergency hotline.

For mission critical projects or the foundation of your programs, do you really want to rely on a service that has no revenue stream from their primary business? Or do you want to know that someone is accountable? The greatest loss to Tumblr if they lose your business is losing a user. The loss to a paid service is a loss to part of their revenue stream in addition to the loss of a user. Which service type do you think has greater motivation to keep you?

Then of course, Tumblr did go down. For over a day. Tumblr’s not the only platform that would be susceptible to that kind of outage. The same could have happened to a blog hosted on WordPress.com, Blogger.com, etc. But a self-hosted blog using any one of a number of platforms would remove at least one possible link in the chain between a blog and its visitors. And as we know a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Do you know where your weakest link is? Can you eliminate it? What is it worth to you in (dollars, cents and time) to keep greater control of your content?

Image courtesy Torkild Retvedt