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Social Bookmarking site Ma.gnolia experienced a disastrous database corruption which has brought the site down. On February 17, Ma.gnolia owner Larry Halff announced that the data could not be recovered. He answered some interesting questions about Ma.gnolia and cloud computing services in general in this interview. It is long, but I really think the video is worth watching.

Citizen Garden Episode 11: Whither Ma.gnolia? from Larry Halff on Vimeo.

I appreciate Mr. Halff’s candor. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here. The first of which is entities on the web might not be what they seem.

On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog. It is easy and tempting to project an image of being an being a greater entity than a company really is. I got started with working with the web in collaboration with an Australian tie-dyer who was obsessed with keeping the world from knowing that his apparel firm was a three person drop ship operation consisting of him, my wife, and me. It made me uncomfortable then and skeptical now. As pointed out in the interview, there are probably countless other web services that are as small and as shaky as Ma.gnolia.

This leads to the inevitable conclusion that our data in these cloud Social Networking Apps may be considerably more vulnerable than we can imagine. We need ways to backup our important data housed by these services. I have found some leads in this area and I am actively pursuing them. I hope to report some possible solutions in the near future.

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A few clouds darkened on the Internet late last week. According to Cnet, Pageflakes and Revver abruptly went off line Thursday followed by Magnolia on Friday. PageFlakes is an ajax widget based personal portal and Revver is a video sharing site. Both are owned by Liveuniverse. Magnolia is a social bookmarking site.

On Friday, Liveuniverse claimed that the outage was due to a server migration and that they would be back online within a few hours. A few hours turned into several days with Pageflakes finally returning to service on Monday morning. Liveuniverse’s story is difficult to believe. First, if one is anticipating a server migration, then one should warn users ahead of time, or at least publish some sort of explanation while it is down. Liveuniverse did none of that.

Magnolia offered the explanation that they had experienced a severe database failure, and it would be some time before they were back up and that they were unsure how much would be recovered.

Clearly, both sites are on the ropes. Liveuniverse’s mistakes are outlined in Phil Bradley’s blog. A series of outages has users fleeing Pageflakes. Magnolia clearly did not have an adequate backup plan in place something essential to any cloud computing platform.

This gets back to the point of one of my earlier blog posts on cloud solutions. You cannot rely upon them with your content as has been clearly demonstrated by recent events.

What can you do? The first thing I would do as a Pageflakes user is get your stuff off this site while you still have a chance. I guess you could recreate your portal be placing your widgets, links, and feeds to another site such as iGoogle or NetVibes, but who is to say they may not abruptly pull up stakes?

I have another suggestion—do it yourself. Spring for cheap webhosting that does backups. It costs little, is easy to do, puts you in control. Portaneo, a French firm offers Posh, a free open source ajax based web portal. As a Magnolia replacement, consider Pligg a social boomarking platform, again free and open source.

For schools, these failures coupled with privacy issues should be enough to convince educators of the folly of free cloud computing solutions. Low cost, easy to deploy solutions are out there. They are not absolutely free, but neither are the clouds. The cost is the risk of content and loss of privacy.

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