Writing Your Own Gmail

Brian has a question:

Tr.im closed it’s doors for a few days and this caused all sorts of ballyhoo because (it seemed at the time) all those links would soon point to diddly squat. Daring Fireball says, “and people ask me why I wrote my own URL shortener for DF’s Twitter account.” Have you written your own Gmail, Facebook, Flickr, etc.? Please help me to see the difference between a url shortening service and any other thing on the web on which you have data.

Okey doke! But first: Brian’s post does highlight the fact that people who get all upset because the service they’ve been getting for free goes away (and they probably never considered whether they were putting their data at risk) — well, those people made a mistake. And bellowing into the innerwebs about how mad you are just ends up making you look like someone who thinks his mistakes are someone else’s fault. It makes you look like the guy in this picture. It’s not a good way to be, and it’s worth pointing such folly out when it might help others to remember to RTF(TOS).

OK, so: I collect my status updates from Facebook, and I already have copies of the pictures and video I post there. That about covers it for Facebook. Likewise, I have copies of all of my stuff on Flickr. So let’s talk about Gmail.

For one thing, whatever company is behind Tr.im is not Google. Yes, I’m sure. I don’t think that Google is endowed with magical powers, but I do think that its Gmail team is well past its shaky startup phase. When the end comes for Gmail, we’ll probably see it coming.

More importantly, creating your own URL shortener is easy if you know a little PHP and MySQL. And if you don’t, there are packages for WordPress, Drupal and god knows what other platforms that do it for you. And hosting your own email solution is hard — both in terms of not having Gmail’s awesome user interface, and in terms of having to do your own software setup, updates and maintenance.

So for Tr.im, we’re talking about safeguarding yourself (at little cost) against the failure or devastating whim of an individual or small company (a not at all unlikely occurrence). For Gmail, we’re talking about safeguarding yourself (at significantly greater cost) against the failure or devastating whim of one of Google’s signature products (which is really unlikely to happen in less time than it would take me to get my mail moved somewheres else).

To go to silly extremes in the name of making a point (a specialty):

I take my briefcase out of the car at night, because it looks like a laptop bag, and I want to take what steps I can to avoid break-ins. I do not refine my own unleaded gasoline to safeguard myself against the possibility that major oil companies stop making it. If someone asked me whether I felt silly for taking the laptop precaution when I don’t take the home-refinery precaution, I would say: “No. No I do not.”

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