This morning someone sent me a shortened URL. You might recall one of my more useful posts, How To Embiggen A Shortened URL, and guess that I don’t like to gormlessly stumble into such things without first checking for nasty surprises.

The surprise I found was not the typical spammer or malware problem you’re likely to read about on Krebs On Security. The surprise was that Google is pulling the plug on the goo.gl shortening service.

From a note at the top of https://goo.gl

You will be able to view your analytics data and download your short link information in csv format for up to one year, until March 30, 2019, when we will discontinue goo.gl.

This is a good opportunity to remind yourself that URL shorteners are probably a bad idea. Remember my recent posts on DNS, the whole point of which is to unshorten your host’s address from a compact 32 bits to something bigger and human readable… and now we want to immediately shrink them to something smaller and not human readable? Sounds like a flawed design, doesn’t it? In the zenith of URL shortener popularity, a common coding interview question was to outline a design for such a system — my answer was always prefaced with "Don’t go there, it’s a bad idea." It seems that Google is finally starting to see things the same way.

This post isn’t about URL shorteners, however. This post is about the unpleasant surprises which may be in store for you if you imagine that the cloud services you depend on are eternal.

I must give a special thanks to Google Reader, a service I used heavily for years, for curing me of the illusion that my favorite cloud services were not going to pull the rug out from under me. I’m currently getting emails from Google Plus telling me they’re pulling the plug on that social media site too. Hey don’t worry, I learned my lesson at Orkut!

For some reason, this list doesn’t specifically mention one of the most disturbing casualties of Google’s sewer pipe, Google Code. People trusted this service to keep important software safe. Just like they trusted freshmeat.net and SourceForge prior to that.

This is obviously not just a Google problem. How confident do you think I am that today’s popular universally trusted "eternal" source code repository won’t be sold to a predatory company with disturbing conflicts of interest? Oh hang on, that’s already happened. But you get the idea.

Did anyone notice the recent MySpace debacle? Wherein all music uploaded to the service between 2003 and 2015 has been… lost. Forever. Whoopsie! Of course many are delighting in this since MySpace degenerated into a bit of a cringey joke, but I’m sure there are some amateur musicians who aren’t too happy to have entrusted their work to this service.

The Yahoo! fiasco! is another example of an internet titan brought low. And history is full of giant tech companies that seem permanent and eternal. Until they are gone. DEC, Data General, Wang Labs, Geocities, Sun, Silicon Graphics, AltaVista, Netscape, Palm, Compaq, Kodak, Radio Shack, National Semiconductor…

For most people, using cloud services is more reliable than doing it themselves, but a better strategy for everybody, if possible, is to do both.

UPDATE 2019-03-23

I have just been tipped off about how CrashPlan.com pulled the plug on a lot of people’s cloudy backups. No data was lost, but still that’s unnerving. What’s interesting in that case is that they transitioned to only serving the enterprise market (where it’s easy to fool all the people all the time). What’s remarkable is that, one, anyone would still trust them and, two, this was not even a free service. Paying customers were just told that finding a new backup solution was a hassle they were going to have like it or not. So don’t think money can completely cure this problem.

UPDATE 2019-04-06

Facebook has just cut me off! I wrote a new post about their stupidity.