Last year I wrote a short ebook for O’Reilly called Your Life in Webapps. It covered some basics about the shape of webapps and how feasible it was for people to switch completely to a webapp lifestyle.
My conclusion at the time was that though it was technically feasible, it was not necessarily advisable.
One of the key problems with use of webapps is trust. By way of a widely-used example, placing all your email in the hands of the Gmail team means that you place trust in them, and their hardware, not to lose it all. You have to trust that your email won’t disappear, that Gmail won’t be down just when you need it, that using a browser-based service is secure enough to keep your secrets secret.
For many users, the strength of the Google brand is enough to reassure them that the company will take good care of their stuff. Plenty of others, while admiring of Google’s technology and business practice, just can’t bring themselves to trust it that much and for the long-term (I count myself among that group right now). And other folks just hate Google.
With all this in mind, I read PC World’s Living with Google apps - at Google article with great interest. It describes how Google staff make use of Gmail, Documents, Calendar and so on to organize themselves and their work. The message is very clear: “We trust these webapps, so you can too.” The company isn’t just using its own products, it is making it known that it does so.
My problem remains the long-term. I might trust Google (or any other provider of webapp services) now, but can I continue to trust them? Will they still be offering the same level of service in five years? Ten? Twenty-five? Will the same people be in charge, and will they have the same commitment to customer service? Business is business, and companies can get sold to anyone.
The people offering to look after my email now have pledged to stick to the motto “Don’t Be Evil”, and generally I’m prepared to accept them at their word. But I don’t know who their successors will be in years to come, and I can’t be sure that those successors will command the same degree of trust.