Google. Where’s Our Doc?

A few days ago, there were several of us on Twitter discussing the possibilities for a new open journal. Twitter is often not great for deep conversations, so following the success of the Ning Alternatives document, I thought I would tweet out a public, real-time Google Doc so people could write and share characteristics of a model, open (academic) journal.

The creation of the document moved quickly, and within minutes, we had several pages of information that helped to outline possibilities and partnerships that would help make this open journal a reality. Off the top of my head, collaborators included (I think): Jon Becker, GNA Garcia, Ira Socol, Jeremy Brueck, Tom Fullerton, George Veletsianos, Cole Camplese & Rob Wall (if you were involved, please let me know). Cole actually took a photo from his iPad while he edited from Twitterfic (see below).

Editing Document with the iPad

But then, all of a sudden, we could no longer access the document. The document now produces the following error:

Google Docs Error
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

So, I am writing this for a couple of reasons. First, we want this document back, and I’m hoping that someone at Google Docs will actually respond and help us recover it. There does not seem to be a straightforward way of getting Google’s attention, and thus, no easy way to resolve this problem. Second, I am using this as an example as a possible pitfall of depending on cloud computing. What if this was your dissertation? An important grant proposal? That book you’ve been working on? Or a document with some of your most important memories? While in this case, the issue happened so quickly that we didn’t really get a chance to take alternative measures – I hope this prompts you to keep a back up. The cloud can’t be trusted.

In any case, please forward this message along, and hopefully it gets the attention of a Google engineer that can actually do something about this, or get us some answers.

Thanks!

Update: As of May 4, 2010, the document is now working. Thanks everyone who passed this one. On May 3, the issue reached the Product Manager of Google Docs, and the team attacked the problem almost immediately. I received an apology, status reports, and finally, a detailed report of what had happened and how it had been fixed for the future. Overall, I am very satisfied with response I received from Google.

Ning Alternatives, Collaboration, & Self Hosting

Ning announced today that it plans to “phase out its free service“. What this means for the educators who use Ning for free (or even pay for some services) is uncertain at the moment although it was stated that a detailed plan of the new services will be released within two weeks.

Right after the announcement, Twitter was buzzing with people wondering about viable build-your-own-network alternatives. A few services were mentioned and retweeted, but I felt that something more proactive should be done. Seeing that Google Docs has gone real-time, I thought it would be great to collaboratively build a document with Ning alternatives, including examples and comments on services other have tried. I created a new Google Document and tweeted a call for collaboration.

Twitter / Alec Couros: OK, with all of this talk ...
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Within minutes, we had several pages of options for both hosted and self-hosted social networking services. Six hours later (the time at which I write this), there have already been hundreds of collaborators/viewers and hundreds of edits. There is now a good list of alternatives for those that would like to migrate to or use another service. As well, those involved were able to see first-hand the power of real-time collaboration. From my perspective, this process was truly awesome!

I have noticed that Ning’s announcement has made some people angry which has caused others to temper concerns until more is known. No matter what the outcome, or the options within Ning’s new pricing plan, there is a more important issue here. I do not see a future where there are more free (of charge) services available. It is more likely, at least for the short term, that more Web 2.0 companies will focus on premium services. For the many teachers who have benefited from the wealth of free services available over the last few years, this ‘less free’ reality becomes difficult, especially when schools are increasingly budget-conscious.

This is why the F/OSS movement becomes important (again). With all of the free services that have been available, fewer educators have likely felt that the time and expertise needed to install, maintain and host open source software is worth the trouble. However, with this impending shift, I do believe that this is the time for schools & educators to (re)consider and (re)discover the importance of F/OSS and self-hosted software.

Update: Sylvia Curry made a screencast of the “Ning Alternatives” document being edited in the first few minutes. This process really was quite incredible.