Don't Buy Your Data a One-way Ticket

Anders Thoresson
Apr 25, 2013 · 3 min read

What do you do when evaluating a new web service or an app for your smartphone? Check that the photo filters look fancy? That you easily can connect with your friends? That the UI is gorgeous?


But the possibility of exporting your data should you one day want to: Is that something you also think about?

If the data you enter into the database have any long lasting value, you should add that question to the checklist. As the very first item.


Let me answer with another question.

Of the software and services you used five years ago, how many do you still have on your phone?

Not so many. Five years ago you weren't even using a smartphone.

And what about the data you enter into your iPhone or Android today: Is it more or less compared to 2008?

More, right?

One example of why this matters: On the iTunes Store, there are a lot of apps for parents who want to track their children's early years. The mothers and fathers enter their babies' weight and length, take a snapshot, write down a memory. Fun in the present, but the reason they do it is probably to have a memory of their little ones when they have turned teenagers.

But, given how fast technology moves today, what is the probability that an iPhone app available today is still around in 2023? Not very high.

So, without the export option on the checklist, the risk is that parents choose an app in which their memories are stuck.

I made that mistake myself, when I started to write a diary on my phone. I don't remember the name of the app I decided to use, but after a while it struck me that there was no way to export my thoughts and ramblings.

Today, I'm using Dayone instead. It is a beautiful piece of software. But most importantly, what I write I can export. When I can't or don't want to use Dayone anymore, I can take my data out of the app. Either as a plain text Markdown document or as a PDF with all my photos included. The chances that I can import what I've already written into my new diary of choice might be small, but at least the memories aren't lost with the evolution of technology.

But this isn't just an issue with the private memories I want to keep. It's also something I think about in my daily work as a reporter. I do a lot of research online and use my digital devices for notetaking as well. For this, it's extremely important that I don't use apps or services that lock my data up.

This means I prefer durability over a good UX and clever features. My notes are in plain text files on my Dropbox account, accessible from whatever device I'm using at the moment. More importantly, they’re likely to be accessible from at least one of the devices I will use in the future. And should Dropbox disappear, I can take my local backup and put the files on the storage solution that is the flavor of the year.

If you can't take your data out, think twice before you start bringing it in.

If you can't buy your data a return ticket, make another choice.

    Anders Thoresson

    Written by

    Freelance reporter covering science and technology.

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