Faith in the Cloud – when it all goes wrong…

Storm Clouds (photo by Flickr user Kuzeytac)
Storm Clouds (photo by Flickr user Kuzeytac)

Following up on a previous blog post regarding putting faith in cloud based services comes the bombshell that popular UK based postcode search API supplier website Earnest Marples has been closed down via a Cease and Desist order from the Royal Mail. The previous post mused about what would happen if/when a service that was relied on by other services stopped and this is a prime example. Following this announcement the public service, non profit websites PlanningAlerts.com and the Straight Choice, as well as a number of others, are no longer functioning. But this has had a bigger impact still – TwitterPlan, developed by Stuart Harrison of Lichfield DC, and the Planning RSS feed and map for City of Lincoln Council are no longer available (okay, so it turns out that they do work, however their future rests in the balance of whether PlanningAlerts.com can keep running or not…) as they relied on PlanningAlerts which, in turn, relied on Earnest Marples. You get the picture.

I’m sure there are many more casualties in this but the big question is; who’s at fault? The immediate finger of blame will be pointed at the Royal Mail, being the big bad corporation behind this; there is a strong argument that postcode information is public data and, therefore, should be publically available. Earnest Marples was doing the honourable (and daring) thing in doing this; making this data usable by non profit organisations who want to provide a service that is simply not possible with this locked down data model. My personal opinion is that this data SHOULD be open and usable however the reality is that, legally, Royal Mail owns the data and has the right to charge for it and, yes, what Earnest Marples was doing was technically against the law.

So we’re now back to the question of “Should we put our faith in the clouds?”. If this is anything to go by then relying on cloud based services is a risky business indeed – sure they little to nothing to implement but once the rug gets pulled out, it’s back to the drawing board, having to invest time into fixing any broken links and damage that may have been done to services that have been put in place on the back of this. But, as people expect more of this kind of service on the web, maybe the big corporations who own this kind of data need to think long and hard about their “business model”; being seen as the bad guy is not good for your corporate image…

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