Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Importance of Backups

Backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup, backup.

Everyone says to backup one's data reguarly, but how many people actually do?  Besides, buying an extra hard drive, installing it, and setting up a system for regular backups- this can easily become a non-trivial task, especially for non-technically-minded folks.  There are a few one-stop-shop solutions, that offer some kind of do-it-all box to cover your backup needs, but these do tend to be expensive.  Apple's Time Capsule does try to bridge all these gaps, but no idea how it fares in the non-Mac world, though.

My friend Kevin pointed out a great solution called Mozy that provides network-based backups.  Basically you create an account, download a piece of software (for Mac or Windows), choose what you'd like to backup, and then your files are uploaded (encrypted) to a backup server using the Power of the Internet.  I just started using it and it seems pretty great so far.  Network-based backups just make so much sense to me, and from Mozy's business-case perspective, I would think it makes sense for them too, when considering the relative cheapness of hard drive space and bandwidth for the operations involved.

The free version offers 2GB of backup space, which is just barely enough for me, but I manage to offload the space a little considering that I have my photos backed up on Picasa Web Albums already, and I'm electing not to backup my mp3 collection for time being.  The pay version ($4.95/month) offers unlimited backup space.  Also, if you use my referral link to signup, we each get an additional 256MB.  Woohoo!  Signup here!

As it turns out, I know a couple of the folks who work for the company that bought Mozy, so I'm hoping that they'll alert me before Mozy starts snooping around in my backup data, and make millions taking my avant-garde atonal jazz charts and converting them into Top-40 hits.

Mozy (with referral code)

Why Twitter is doomed to failure, or what Facebook has to do to kill Twitter

So, added to my list of things that I believe are doomed to failure is Twitter.  Why?  It seems that all Twitter amounts to is a very limited featureset that is easily superceded by the featureset of other social-networking sites.  As far as I'm concerned, Twitter is essentially Facebook status updates with minor additional features.  And I'm guessing those additional features will be coming to Facebook soon, in a much more complete/all-encompassing fashion to boot.  Sooner still if Facebook wants to curb Twitter's growth.  Here's what Facebook needs to do to match Twitter:

  • Subscribing to Non-Friend Content: Provide the ability to "subscribe to"/follow people's status updates without being their friends.  People can elect to make their status updates "public" or "subscribable" to their non-friends in order to make this happen.  This is already possible with public videos and public notes, so this isn't much of a stretch.
  • Commenting on Non-Friend Content: Provide the ability for people to comment on public status updates.  Again, already possible with videos and notes, so not difficult.
  • More Control on Updates: Provide the ability to more finely control what friend updates one receives, and how one receives them, in particular with regard to cellphone integration.  I don't use Facebook Mobile (mainly due to the absolutely ridiculously exorbitant data rates up here in Canada) so I'm not sure how much control one has, but I would assume one does not have the option to receive a text message (or equivalent) for every friends' status update, currently.
Now, here's the additional features Facebook needs to kill Twitter, and other websites, entirely, or at least to aggressively compete against them:
  • Generic Publishing: Provide the ability for people to mark any content as public and "subscribable".  For example, a film-maker could make their status updates, notes, and videos public and "subscribable", thus competing with, respectively, Twitter, Blogger, and YouTube.
  • Generic Subscribing: Within Facebook, one only gets notifications on updates for items that one has been explicitly marked as participating in- this could be via a tag, a comment, and so forth.  This shouldn't be necessary, however.  If someone posts a really neat photo that I know will inspire a lot of comments (and I want to read the comments), I should have the option to subscribe to said photo whenever updates are posted to it, and thus opt-in to receive comments, etc on it.
  • Content Labeling: Provide the ability for people to mark their content with GMail-esque labels, and then set privacy settings, such as subscribability, on that.  This is slightly different from friend lists but perhaps the two could be merged.
  • Facebook Connect 2-Way Communication: Facebook Connect allows external websites to report a user's activities as Facebook newsfeed items.  In order to become more seamless, the reverse should occur as well.  Actions on Facebook should also be reflected on external sites.  Currently, for example, one can import blog entries into Facebook as notes.  When users within Facebook comment on the imported notes, those comments are not exported back to the source blog- but they could be, keeping one conversation thread across multiple reading interfaces.  Taking this a step further, why not have my Facebook-uploaded videos also appear on YouTube?
Now, to be fair, I don't actually have a Twitter account, so I may be missing out on some key features here, or mis-representing the featureset.  Still, I can't imagine that there is all that much more that would be hard to reproduce on the Facebook side.

Some of these features could perhaps be introduced via Facebook Pages, so that people could maintain a private account and a public persona as two separate entities, but I think the bulk of these features would be desired by general Facebook account holders.

So anyway, that's it!  Twitter, your time is up.