GoogleIf there is one thing that writing about technology has taught me, it’s that things change, fast. People lament the publishing  ‘power’ of Amazon and they forget that before Amazon, Fictionwise was the e-book destination. Remember Hotmail? Not the leader now, are they? Remember Netscape? Also gone.

Things change, fast. And here is my latest example.

A week ago, I spent probably 80 percent of my online time on Google products. I used Google Drive to store documents and work on them at home and at school. I used Gmail and Google Calendar for both contacts and scheduling, YouTube for video watching, Google Reader for RSS feeds and Google Sites for a few special projects I’m working on. And I loved it. I loved that I could access all my stuff, from any device, from any computer. I loved that Google kept it all organized and available for me.

Until one day … they didn’t. The first chink was Google Reader—killed for lack of ‘growth’ or something. I’ve been using it still, since I heard the news—I want to see what solutions my friends find and let them beta-test out the kinks for me since I still have time to change over. But this is definitely a significant chunk of my online time.

And then, today, I stopped being able to access Google Sites. I can still get into Gmail and Calendar and all my other Google stuff. But the ‘sites’ isn’t working. First, it told me that my account had been ‘compromised’ and I could restore it all by changing my password. I did that—including waiting for a code to be sent to my phone via text message and putting that in when prompted—and then, when I tried accessing the sites again, I got a pop-up saying my account had been ‘disabled’ for a terms of service violation. So I went and read the terms of service. Didn’t see anything in there that would explain why my account went ‘poof.’ I’ve emailed support, and am still waiting to hear from them. But one of these sites represented the work I’ve been doing on a work project I have spent literally hours plugging away at. I am sick at the thought that it might be lost.

It is a new stress the digital age has brought upon us, the service outage. It is a unique feeling of anxiety to know that information you badly want to access is RIGHT THERE … but you just can’t get to it. And the worst part is, there is nothing I can do about this. Eventually, Google will probably restore my account—at least long enough for me to go in and retrieve my stuff for offline use. But the cavalier manner in which they can just take it away troubles me.

I know it’s a free service they’re providing, but it’s also my information and my hard work that is being tangled up in it. I’d rather pay and be able to fix the problem right away. I’d rather pay and get proper support when I need it—a phone number I can call, a step I can take, or at least some way to verify what the problem is so that I can fix it and get my site working again. I’m sitting here with time on my hands, ready to spend it on my pet project, and I can’t access my stuff. I can’t even get on in a read-only mode to download it off their blasted server so I can work off my own hard drive. Unacceptable.

So, lesson learned: This is not the way to work on a big project where I need to organize lots of information in different but related areas. When I do get my site back again, I’ll be downloading it into a Word document—I suppose I’ll stick it in Google Drive so I can work on it from multiple locations, but at least Drive lets me download it into a file for offline use.

When I am ready to share what I’ve done, I suppose I’ll convert it into an EPUB file and make it available as a book download. Because Google clearly doesn’t want me using a website to share information!

So, that’s today’s tale of woe. I can’t do my work, I don’t know why, and there isn’t anything I can do about it except stew and be irritable. Welcome to the wonders of the cloud!


  1. Okay, that sucks. I’ve not used Google Sites, but I definitely won’t be starting now.

    All I use of Google products is Gmail and Calendar. Well, and an Android tablet. 😉 I’m hoping Google won’t feel a need to take those from me. I never got into Google Drive. Dropbox and Box work well enough for me. At least my cloud services are diversified, which hopefully means I won’t lose anything. Or at least very much.

  2. @Juli:

    The problem is that these services are ubiquitous and you often don’t realise that you are using them.

    What do you use for search?

    A further problem is that often these services are presented very professionally, but are probably utterly chaotic behind the scenes.

  3. Steve Wozniak warns about cloud services last year, and of course, no one takes him seriously. He has a valid point, you don’t control anything the minute you start working off the cloud or use it for main backup. Then there is the internet security issue that will never go away. Tech companies like to advertise cloud service as the next revolution that allows you to access your files from anywhere…the irony is most of us don’t fly around the world every other day. There is no need for access from anywhere!

  4. @rjh, true, I do use Google for searching. Good point

    @Ben, actually not true. No, I don’t fly around the world, but I do a lot of my work on the go, meeting with clients in Panera, Starbucks and the like. Cloud services are vital to my work because I use a desktop at home but a tablet on the road. Could I manage without cloud services? Probably, but it would be much less efficient.

  5. @Ben:

    Access from anywhere is a problem that anybody who has moved away from the single PC in the office/den paradigm immediately faces; any one who accesses email from more than one device; anyone who uses more than one web browser; anyone who uses a PC at home and at the office.

    It has zero to do with flying around the world, or even leaving the house.

  6. I’ve been using Google Sites (GS) for years on a huge project, the archiving of all my published academic work for three decades plus the traffic from related listserve activity with peers. I’ve seen GS go dead before. I has been close to two years since the last time.

    Some months ago I noticed a temporary improvement. Typical response time for page refresh using my GS account is something like 10 seconds — an eternity for a “normal” web page refresh. That has been my experience for years. Not long ago, it changed from ten to two seconds. It lasted almost two entire days.

    Then it went back to “normal.”

    I figure that’s because it is free.

    I live with it because it is free, and better than anything like it that I’m aware of.

    My two cents.

  7. I had a similar epiphany yesterday: I needed to pick up a package from UPS and only had my Blackberry on me. Try using maps from a BB – you CAN’T.

    I kept being redirected to a site for their mobile apps. In the end, I was so frustrated I wanted to throw my phone out the car window, then I remembered that there used to be other sites before Google Maps. Mapquest luckily is still around, and though it was a horrible browsing experience, at least I managed to figure out how to get to the UPS service center.

    It made me realize how dependent I am on everything Google – I ‘ve been using Google Search from day one when everybody was still using Lycos and Yahoo, and Google mail since it was invitation only. I never bothered finding alternatives for their products, because they have always been the best in their class.

  8. Update: And just as mysteriously, with no reply or word from Google, it’s working again. I experimented with other ways to organize my stuff and a web site still seems easiest, but I found a free app called ‘Site Sucker’ which allowed me to download a complete off-line backup in case something else happens 🙂

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