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Computing Thoughts
Google Groups Data To Be Destroyed!
by Bruce Eckel
October 20, 2010
Summary
I'm not sure what's worse here: the fact that some of my data is going to go away, or the fact that I found this out almost by accident. Someone is going to get burned by this.

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I find Google Groups to be very useful; it solves an important problem. I rely on it and I don't assume that it's going to go away like, say, the great social experiment of Google Wave (conclusion: if a product isn't pretty obvious to the users in a short time, they'll probably never get it). So I was quite disturbed when I went to create a page within a group, and I came across this rather mildly-headlined Notice About Pages and Files.

Read it; it's short. Notice the last line of the third paragraph: "In February 2011, we will turn off the pages and files features, and you will no longer be able to access that content." In journalism, this is called "burying the lead," which means, "putting the most important line of the piece down in the article where a lot of people won't notice it.

"No longer able to access that content" means, to the average user "your data is gone." I used the word "destroyed" in the headline to emphasize that; to compensate for how buried Google has made this. Because, yes, I don't use pages and files very often, so I could have easily discovered this after February 2011, and I suspect there are significant numbers of people who will discover it too late, the way Google is playing this one.

Of course, you can save your data if you (1) find out about its impending doom and (2) move it to Google Docs or Google Sites. Both of these require action on your part, and if you don't act your data will quietly become unavailable (same as "destroyed").

This is disturbing on several levels, the most important one being trust. The Internet has shown us that the primary factor in business is trust: can I trust you and how much? Google has been mostly about free services so they understood how important it is to build that trust to the point where you say, "Google, sure, they'll always take good care of me," which means you never hesitate to "buy into" what they do. The more you can trust, the easier it is for you to make a buying decision (consider other trustworthy companies; I never worry about buying things at Costco, for example. I don't feel quite as good about Amazon, but I still trust them a lot).

Obviously the people who invested in Wave might feel a little burned, but it was clear from the start that it was an experiment that most people weren't figuring out. But it never occurred to me that Groups might be in jeopardy. Someone at Google might rush to say "oh, no, Groups will stay around" but how do I know that? Once you decide that some of my data is OK to destroy, where does it stop?.

My trust has been shaken. And the way this has been done is terrible: quietly announce that data will be destroyed and hope that people will notice? They should have sent a loud message to at least all the managers of groups: DANGER! WARNING! We are going to destroy your data!

I completely appreciate the need to regularly refocus and trim your product line. Doing so is smart and shows promise for Google. But don't be lazy about it. If you don't want to maintain pages and files within Groups and you think people should move their data to other products, write a few scripts and make the move happen automatically. Don't quietly destroy data! There will be at least a few people who wake up after February 2011 and realize with deep shock that something they trusted would always be there is suddenly gone. Google, of all companies, should know how valuable that trust is, how vocal people are on the web when their trust has been violated, and how difficult it is to regain that trust once you've broken it.

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About the Blogger

Bruce Eckel (www.BruceEckel.com) provides development assistance in Python with user interfaces in Flex. He is the author of Thinking in Java (Prentice-Hall, 1998, 2nd Edition, 2000, 3rd Edition, 2003, 4th Edition, 2005), the Hands-On Java Seminar CD ROM (available on the Web site), Thinking in C++ (PH 1995; 2nd edition 2000, Volume 2 with Chuck Allison, 2003), C++ Inside & Out (Osborne/McGraw-Hill 1993), among others. He's given hundreds of presentations throughout the world, published over 150 articles in numerous magazines, was a founding member of the ANSI/ISO C++ committee and speaks regularly at conferences.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2010 Bruce Eckel. All rights reserved.

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