Kat French

Kat French

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like a lot of free web services are either moving to a fully-paid Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, or they’re shutting down entirely. 

Jott, one of my favorite free productivity tools, announced last month that they were shutting down the free version of their service.  Values of n, which created “sticky notes that think” service Stikkit and its slightly kitschier evolution, Sandy, folded up shop altogether in December.  Ditto Pownce.

Of course, this isn’t terribly surprising–in fact, it was pretty much inevitable.  So why am I talking about it now? 

In the last few weeks, I’ve been migrating Feedburner accounts to Google.  Like lots of folks, it’s not been an entirely positive experience.  In fact, at one point, I was so frustrated with trying to get a fairly basic service to start working properly again, I started looking for alternatives. 

I have clients to report to, and repeatedly telling them “Sorry, I posted on the support forum, as have several other folks on the same issue, and there hasn’t been any response from Google,”  just doesn’t cut it.

Fortunately, we worked out the issue on our own, but the experience has left me concerned.  We’ve got some talented developers here at Doe-Anderson who were willing to drop what they were working on to help me troubleshoot and fix the problem. 

But here’s the deal: I had to ask a developer to drop what he was working on to help me troubleshoot and fix the problem.   That’s a problem. 

Michael Martine over at Remarkablogger has been ranting along similar lines lately.   

I know that there are some great web services out there that folks who work on the web rely upon.  In fact, we’re getting to work with a very cool SaaS provider on an upcoming project (that I can’t talk about here yet), and I couldn’t be happier about it.  I also just discovered Evernote, and I’m already in love with it. 

On the one hand, you’ve got smaller startups like Jott and Values of N, who have a great service that may or may not survive the current economic crunch.  Pownce was a paid service with a big name in tech backing it (Digg’s Kevin Rose), and still didn’t survive. 

On the other hand, you’ve got Google, who should have the resources to ensure even their free services are properly supported–but often don’t. 

So what’s an internet marketing geek to do?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, but here are a few of mine.

First, if you’ve got the option to control the source code for your mission-critical software, take it.   If Google or another SaaS provider drops the ball, wigs out, or goes under, there’s diddly squat you can do about it.  If you are or have access to a solid programmer, you can at least roll up your sleeves and deal with it if there’s a problem.

That said, if the best software is one you don’t control source for, be willing to pony up and pay for it.  We’ve been in love with quirky innovation for the past few years–it’s time to give some love to reliability, too.   To badly paraphrase Seth Godin, for some tools and services, it may be a good time to lean towards not annoying  as opposed to lovable. 

Lastly, wherever possible, double up.  If you provide web analytics reporting to clients or other constituencies, I would highly recommend installing at least one alternative to Google Analytics.  Preferably one that pulls data from your web server’s log files, rather than using a javascript include.  (Warning: installing multiple javascript-based analytics programs can cause problems). 

So what do you think?  What’s your contingency plan if a mission-critical vendor, software, or service fails?  Have you had to use the contingency plan in the last few months (or create one on the fly)?

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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  • http://tech0x20.com Thomas Powell

    I was severely burned by a round of Blogspot automated spammer purging. I was writing a simple blog, hosted by Blogspot, to track my progress toward a certain running goal. I created a decent amount of content which linked back to my running logs. Somehow, I was locked out of my site for several weeks–with no access to my own content, under suspicion of being a spam blog. It took multiple tries through several channels with Google to get my blog released.

    That was the nail in the coffin for Blogspot hosted blogs for me. For a time, I continued to use Blogger for FTP-based blogs, but service outages and lack of functionality finally got to me.

    There was enough pain for me in a completely non-critical application that I can't fathom SaaS without a contingency and a stringent SLA for the SaaS application.

    • KatFrench

      You make an awesome point about the SLA.

      For a blogging platform, I'm a true blue self-hosted WordPress girl. The community provides such excellent support for novice users that I think even if Matt and the gang were to retire to Tahiti, shut down Automattic and never fire up a computer again, WordPress would live on for ages regardless.

      Even Typepad, which from what I hear is miles above Blogspot in terms of service, has it's horror stories.

  • http://www.respond.com Ranjana

    Hi,

    Contingency plans are absolutely essential. There should be a back and in my case I do have another webanalytics reporting tool that I can fall back upon.

    And it is actually good to have another source of information as that not only adds value to what we already know but also works as a comparative tool.

    • KatFrench

      Absolutely. It gives clients a greater sense of confidence when you can provide two different sources of data.

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