Over 5 years ago I wrote here on The Hot Iron about controlling your own destiny or controlling as much of it as possible. If you read (or re-read) the article, I was looking at this topic mostly from the point-of-view of working with external technology vendors and what happens when one doesn’t live up to expectations or even shuts down.
Fast-forward to 2014, and my lens on this topic has changed dramatically. Where then I was talking about control you had over external entities, now I am thinking of my needs and my information and if I even need external entities at all.
As time goes by businesses online come and go, or in some cases specific services from those businesses. From GeoCities to Posterous to Nokia Ovi to you name it, one day something you are using is gone the next, and hopefully you don’t lose tangible assets – e.g. data, photos, documents, etc. – in the process. Granted losing sleep, your temper or clumps of hair are collateral damage of this type of situation.
Add to this the overall uncertainty of technology and business, not to mention the ever-changing terms of services from vendors that may change to your disadvantage, or truly not knowing what is “behind the curtain” with a service or who or what has access to it, you may end up in a situation fast where you need to quickly change course.
So what do you do? Where every situation is unique, I’d like to share the path I am taking these days when it comes to online services.
Tell me what you want, what you really, really want
In short, that whole “goals” thing again! Having a goal, purpose, mission statement or random scribbles on a napkin can help guide you through the choices you make, In addition to the goal, think about other controllable factors, such as budget, timeline and how much time you have to invest initially as well as on-going. These factors can also influence your decision, no matter the goal.
Once you have gone through the goals and review process, and have made choice, pat yourself on the back, then plan for what happens if you have to make another change. As this change could occur next week or in the next decade, you don’t need a detailed, point-by-point plan, but you do need some information, such as contact, license, login and how you are using or customized the service. From there, determine how and to what extent you can extract data or information from the vendor or service, both for a final move or on a regular basis for off-site storage.
The Path of a Service Change
A couple of years back, after my several times a day ritual of reading what was new in the world in my RSS reader, Google Reader, I started to think about how I was reading, not what, and if there was a better way.
Google Reader, for those who don’t know, “was” a free RSS feed aggregator and reader from the search giant. It was a very popular service, but one that was slow to innovate. Despite this, I had over 200 RSS feeds subscribed to thru Google Reader, and it was my primary source for news and information, both on the world around me as well as technology, sports, and other topics of interest.
What I realized was quite simple – Google, or anyone who had access to the data stored in the Google Reader service, knows everything I read. Everything.
The more I thought about this, the more my decision became clear. There must be another way for me to aggregate and read RSS feeds where I have control of my destiny – the software, the service and most importantly the information. As I searched I found a variety of hosted services and software I could run myself. After some analysis and a personal recommendation from my good friend John Morrison, I went with Fever and have never looked back.
Fever is a self-hosted RSS reader developed by Shaun Inman. For just 1 person running the entire operation, Fever is a quality product. It is a paid license and is probably the best US$30 I have ever spent. With Fever I could get the same features I got from Google Reader, with a much more stylish Web interface, including a mobile-optimized experience for the iPhone’s Safari browser. It has a “hot” topic feature that I have never used and really can’t talk to, for the main functionality has suited me perfectly.
My migration from Google Reader to Fever meant installing the latter on a Web hosting service I use, then migrating the feeds from Reader to Fever. This step, though very straightforward, requires some knowledge of how a Web site with a database is setup and configured. For migrating the feeds, I could have automated the process and extracted all feeds and uploaded them into Fever. However I chose a manual process as I had not really taken a close look at all of the feeds I was subscribed to, and as a result I culled the collection by about 50 feeds, many which were no longer feeding any content at all.
In mid-2013, Google shut down its Reader service, causing an uproar from many, but not from me. By that point, I had been off of Reader for over a year. Google gave a long lead time to switch to any other service, which is now always the case. That being said, having control of the service means you own the information as well as how you access it.
As new methods, products and service become available, it is important to spend some time evaluating services. Reading and research alone are not enough, a stalking with friends and colleagues also help expose you to options as well as first-hand accounts of their utility.
Where in the past I have used services like Google Reader, Basecamp, Blogger and Google Calendar, today I am using Fever, ActiveCollab, ExpressionEngine and ownCloud respectively. I plan to talk more about some of these services in the future. But this is my list now, and it is subject to change without much advanced notice!
Have you yourself changes services or rolled your own, or is it something you don’t see yourself doing at all? I welcome your thoughts and questions in the comments of this post.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
Technology • Strategize • Web Development • (2) Comments • Permalink
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