My Take: Local vs. Web Based Information

I’m a control freak. This means that I like having my stuff in my possession. It also means that this new wave… this new push to put everything on “web-based” apps on someone else’s servers… makes me a little nervous.

On the flip side, having a hard drive crash makes me a LOT nervous. Redundant drives with full backups help — but they don’t prevent that horrible sinking feeling and the quick, rabbit like thoughts of “what files have I touched since the last full backup?!?!?” when a hard drive burps.

Web based data eliminates that. It also eliminates the need for data storage expenditures (which cost me almost as much as my computers do each year). It eliminates all the cords strewn from the UPS (uninterrupted power supply) hogging the leg-room under my desk and those snaking across my desk to plug into the powered USB hub behind my monitor. Want to know a secret? Wires make me crazy. I hate them.

I’ve seen with the iPhone how the web-apps can be pretty nice indeed — so long as I have a connection to the Internet. All is lost when the edge network isn’t available.

Web-apps also eliminate the need for program installation (and reinstallation when you buy a new computer or do a complete re-gen on an old computer) and it would also prevent the cross-operating system incompatibilities I’m experiencing now as I make the transition to Linux. It lowers the operating cost for computers because it takes less powerful computers to run the higher-end apps when all the “heavy lifting” is being done server-side. There are fewer “software upgrade” costs and you are always running the latest version (even if the previous version was better, I should add).

It makes sense to have someone else take care of my stuff. It means I worry less, have more fun, do less work…

Or does it?

Maybe, like the old quote about those willing to give up freedom (read control) and privacy to gain security end up with neither.

I don’t want someone else to have access to all my “stuff” — even if that means I have to maintain it all myself. I know there must be some happy medium between what I do online and what I store offline. I’m trying to find that “sweet spot” but I’m having real battles with it.

I love Google Docs and its look-alikes — they offer a great concept. But would I do mission critical, sensitive client work on it? Nope.

I also like Basecamp. It’s a great online tool. I use it with a partner to outline our next steps in a joint venture. Do I feel comfortable having all our stuff online? Not really. It’s convenient. It’s nice to know that both of us can gain access to this information at any time from any location. And, yes, I’ve read the privacy policy.

Can I be frank? Although I recommend that all my clients have a privacy policy — and only speak the truth in it, I still don’t really trust privacy policies on websites. I’ve written dozens of them and I’m a skeptic. I know they are only as good as those people who write them and those responsible for insuring the company follows them. There are too many variables there.

Yes, I enjoy the ability to do my banking online, but I’ve not quite managed to get comfortable with doing my books online. I have the urge to simplify my books — it’s more of a compulsion, less of an urge actually. I hate QuickBooks — online or offline. Despise it. I want to investigate FreshBooks online. It looks great, but I just can’t bring myself to do that yet. It seems too much like walking down the street in a sheer nightie — yeah, I may be covered, but how much effort would it really take to see all my “stuff” if you were really looking?

As I make the changes in my business model that are currently underway, I may become a bit more comfortable with the online world. I may have to. There may be no option soon.

I love the Internet. I love working online. My computer is (usually) my best ally and coolest tool in my business and creative endeavours. But my sense of individuality is threatened when I consider the ways my data can be taken, shared, hi-jacked, damaged, destroyed or lost.

Maybe the solution is to harbor less data and I am “cleaning up” my data files and my extra redundancies and old versions as I sweep through the new business data system I’m building. Maybe the solution is to share more freely and worry less. Perhaps I should follow the herd toward a web-based world — and I may eventually do that — but right now, I’m still sitting here with crossed arms shaking my head no.

Web apps have their place. I know this. And I don’t really have a problem with the apps being web-based. I have a problem with the data being there too.

I know that the best solution for mobility and for the non-tech users in the world is a web-based application mecca. I know that the hard drive space on the mobile devices can go way down when web-side data storage is implemented. I get it.

I’m just not sure I want it yet.

In a perfect world, the web-based apps would have a local computer-based backup app that would let you read and manipulate all the data files created in the web applications. (Having all my stuff in OneNote during this switch over to Linux has turned me against “proprietary formats” forever.) The data would be stored locally — or at least backed up to a local drive (fully encrypted from the web application of course).

That way, your information would never be held hostage, or held in a format that you can’t read or append. And I wouldn’t have this “sinking” feeling whenever I consider letting my critical data get out of my sight.

I guess I’m just not a trusting person. (*shrug*) So be it.