Trust in the Internet god, but…

The definition of “essential” is essentially transitory.

When I was growing up in a medium-sized city in India, ours was one of the few homes with a personal telephone connection. Neighbours used to come and receive urgent phone calls in our house. Sometimes we would receive messages to pass them on to people. Neither of this was always pleasant because invariably the phone did ring just as we sat down to dinner. But somehow not many thought of the phone as essential.

Now all of us have mobile phones. Telling somebody our minute by minute progress, as we stand in the vestibule on a crowded train, is now essential, I suppose, as is filling every moment of our time with activity and productivity. Ubiquitous access to the web and all our work files, photos and the like are also deemed essential now.

So what do we do? We back-up everything. Online. On a server owned by someone else, who gives us a login and a password to access our own stuff, but we believe it is to keep our stuff safe from prying eyes.

Besides the presumption of web access, the real “essential” here is trust. The kind of trust one places in a bank before one hands over all of one’s jewellery to them in a safe-box. This was a common practice in India, during my childhood, although I couldn’t say what happens nowadays even as Indians continue to have amongst them a few Fort Knoxes worth of gold.

What happens when that trust is broken? When the company goes bust overnight? When they suddenly ask you to sign up with changed terms and conditions, and a fee, holding your files and photos to ransom in the meanwhile, as Poonam found out? Or when their service is poor, their sense of responsibility abysmal and you find that despite paying up in the beta, you cannot retrieve your own files and photo, as Jason found out?

The essential truth here is that the web cannot be ubiquitous until trustworthiness of web service providers is ubiquitous.

And until such a miracle happens, please trust in the Internet god, but please also take backups on a portable, removable hard disk that you have in your possession.

Related reading:

Putting Things Off – the laid back productivity blog

How to procrastinate

Do you have a backup?

Learning from the woes of third world web workers

11 thoughts on “Trust in the Internet god, but…

  1. That’s a sad thing to happen.. but as you’d have noticed when Yahoo! Photos changed to Filckr, they had asked us to move our photos to the new site.. warning us, otherwise it would be lost.
    Trust, as you say, is very important.. but how do you know whom to trust has no easy answer when everyday you have a new dot-com company popping up.

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  2. This is a nice post. I might add to that a corollary. Not only do things become “essential”, but if we refuse to accept the new definition of “essential”, we become accused of bad manners.

    I recall when I was going to lose my job. I cut off my phone service because I didn’t it was important. My family got angry at me as if I was doing something to hurt them. They refused to believe that this was a correct response. They believed I was lying about how much money I had.

    When mobile phones first came out, people demanded that I buy one so that they could contact me easier. Basically, instead of buying products because I needed them or because they would make me happier, instead, I was pressured to buy something so that I could satisfy the needs of my friends. Again, if I had the money, I’d love to pay out money each month for what I see as an electronic leash.

    The same things goes with a car. Don’t have one. And television? Not only is it rude to admit that you don’t have one, but it is obligatory to watch everything so that if people mentioned it you know what they are talking about.

    Basically, advertisers have it so good that people will shun their friends and family if they don’t follow their every dictate.

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  3. I agree with u..take data back up on DVD…dont trust internet so much. As for banks in India..recently some did go bankrupt and lots of people lost their money…People should not trust any bank that comes up…go for only nationalised banks.

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  4. the most basic aspect of our economy – currency – is based on trust. in fact trust is the basis of most transactions. You won’t undertake a transaction with some one you distrust….:)

    i would agree with Reema, take a backup on something you own. DVD, external drives, paper πŸ™‚ don’t just trust online stuff.

    even for something as basic as my gmail account, i have a hard disk back up – there is no guarantee that when they get out of their beta stage they won’t start charging per MB !

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  5. Its always good to take a backup at two places. Even the Hard drive can get corrupted, so its a good practice to burn a few dvds. I always do that with all my photos. They are my true possessions and it would kill me if I lose them. πŸ™‚

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  6. Like Harini says: “in fact trust is the basis of most transactions”! Each time I use cruise control at 70 mph on the freeway, I trust that the engineers, machinists and labor at Volkswagen did a thorough job!

    Good point you raise about not trusting something in “the cloud” – trust might be a major deterrent to the widespread adoption of cloud computing, especially in the enterprise world.

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  7. @ Poonam: Thanks for your note. I am not berating anything, just saying that there is a web equivalent (for those who are the ‘believing’ kind) of “trust in God but lock your car”. πŸ™‚

    That the problem is so widespread does not surprise me.

    @ Sandeep R: You make a valid point about dot-com firms sprouting everywhere. In the last 14 years of using the web for commercial and personal purposes, I would not be unhappy to try anything but it will take me a lot to entrust something valuable to something totally new or untested.

    @ Rambler: Sandeep R answers your question. Caveat emptor applies like in everything else in life.

    @ Leroy Glinchy: Thanks for your note.

    I see your point but I also think the adoption of the web is way beyond being driven by social pressures. In that respect, we are making the choice to remain always-on knowing what it takes away from us and trading it in for what it gives us.

    @ Reema: There are several better ways of taking back-up than DVDs.

    I would however not stretch the analogy to banks. Banks are far more closely regulated than small, web start-ups are. Their capital adequacy is closely monitored by the regulators. The burden of reporting on banks is also far higher. Accordingly consumer protection, whether it is a private bank that fails or a nationalised bank that goes belly up. is also provided for, within limits.

    @ Harini: That is a good point, of course.

    By the way, Gmail has long been out of beta… unless I am missing something in your note.

    @ Nova: In a multi-component system, reliability would suffer depending on how the components are arranged relative to the others. So the odds of early failure can go up or down. I have a feeling this is becoming a complicated technical point but if we see life as a web of inter-connected things, we can see their dependencies. That would help us build redundancies so there is no single point of failure.. makes sense?

    @ Amit: Redundancy rears its head again, and I agree.

    @ Mohit: Enterprise computing indeed will pay close attention to the “trust” issue if cloud computing is to take off, so to speak.

    Although I am not sure how one might build redundancy in the car scenario that you mention… Some failures could be pretty final in their impact. No?

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