Rodney’s Rules of Digital Order (or “Wait, I was using that!”)

A few years ago, I got a call from one of our online students who was having difficulty viewing videos embedded in her online course.  I field these types of calls frequently and have a series of steps I follow to troubleshoot the issue.  I asked her what error she was receiving, what browser she was using, what content she was trying to access, etc. While I had her on the phone, I accessed the course to see if I could replicate the issue.  She was right.  The video wouldn’t play.  Heck, the video appeared to be gone altogether!  Worse yet, the same fate seemed to have befallen all the other videos in the course.  Where could they be???

To abbreviate a lengthy tale,  it turns out that the website which was hosting these videos was shutting down (bad).  The instructor didn’t have copies of the videos (worse). The website used proprietary file formats to encode and play the videos and the video files couldn’t be converted to a different file format even if i could download them (worst possible scenario).  Poof!  All of this instructor’s work was lost.  Gone.  Vanished. 

The morals of the story are simple, and this tale (combined with a little event I shall describe later) have led to the development of what shall heretofore be known as The Digital Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Web-Based Resources, or Rodney’s Rules of (Digital) Order.  (Please, don’t take my feeble attempts at humor too seriously, but do be mindful of the rules.  They could save you untold amounts of mental anguish.)

  1. Always have a Plan B.
  2. Always maintain local backups of any files you create for the web.
  3. Never create materials on the web which cannot be downloaded and edited locally. (Yes, sometimes this means you can’t use the coolest toys, but it also means you don’t lose your work when the coolest toy loses funding.)
  4. Never ever ever ever ever rely too heavily on any single web-based service or site.

That’s it.  Most folks are fully aware of these things and on any given day will have no trouble complying with any of these rules.  However, it can be easy and tempting to disregard any one of these rules for the sake of getting things done “just this once” or “as an interim solution.” Do so at your own peril.  You have been warned.

My Name is Rodney – I’m a Googleholic

So what’s this little event which inspired the actual development of “official” rules?   Thank Google. 

The “Don’t Be Evil” Empire has infiltrated every corner of our digital lives with a vast array of spectacular services and products.  On a daily basis, I use the Android operating system, Google Search (duh), Gmail, Google Webmaster Tools,  Google Chrome, Picasa, Google Docs / Google Drive, Google Groups, Google+, iGoogle, and Google Reader.  

I suppose you can already see where this is heading…  

Sometime in the summer of 2012, Google announced the closing of iGoogle on November 1, 2013.  For those of you who don’t know, iGoogle is Google’s version of the start page.  It’s flexible, customizable, and provides a nice home page for all my browsers (at home and in the office).  It’s my one-stop shop for weather, sports scores, news, Gmail, etc.  But I can accept this.  It happens.  I can find another start page and configure it will all my wonderful widget and such and be on my merry way.  I’ve explored a number of options and have narrowed it down to using NetVibes (if I’m feeling all Web 2.0), My Yahoo! (if I’m feeling nostalgic) or hard-coding a my own start page and hosting it on one of my domains (if I’m feeling practical).   Problem solved.

But what about Google Reader?  The news dropped last week that Google Reader will cease to exist on July 1, 2013.  This is a lot bigger than a start page.  I’m an RSS junkie and get the bulk of my news from my RSS feeds.  Sure, I could get with the 21st century and get all my news from Twitter or Facebook, but I need something more than either of those services can provide.  I need a web-based service because I don’t want to have to find software that will work on all the platforms I use and then install it all the machines and devices I use.  NetVibes has a pretty cool RSS reader, and it’s got a familiar feel.  But I’m not so sure.  I’m considering setting up an IFTTT recipe to send my feeds to Pocket, but I’m still not so sure.  

And my blues aren’t the point.

The point is that I’ve fallen into a trap.  I’m now in direct violation of Rule #4 (Never ever ever ever ever rely too heavily on any single web-based service or site) and I need to de-Googlify my life. I have to stop relying on them to provide the quick and easy one-stop fixes to the problems I face, because it’s apparent that my reliance on Google products has become an issue.  So now, instead of looking for a catch-all solution, I need to build a toolbelt of specific services and tools rather than taking the easy route and turning to Google for the solutions.

I’ve got some ideas, and I’ll chronicle my progress here…

(…to be continued…)

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