[FoRK] Who Ya Gonna Call? App Busters!

paul paul at remsset.com
Fri Jul 17 16:10:14 PDT 2009



And without the comments,

After this week’s Google/Microsoft column appeared in the New York 
Times, I got a message from an old friend, Rohit Khare, that sparked 
some thinking about our vulnerability as individuals when our data is 
held in the cloud — somebody else’s cloud.  How do we save it, get it 
back, destroy it? Given the recent case of Facebook hanging-on to old 
user data essentially forever, this is not just a theoretical concern.

“’Cancellation on a whim’ is a key insight,” wrote Rohit.  “After all, 
with desktop software you at least had the right to keep using what you 
wanted, as long as you kept the old hardware/software/OS running — I 
know of mission-critical custom apps still running on Win98!”

“SaaS (Software as a Service) for businesses may have SOME rights, but 
consumer services leave you completely out in the cold, and are 
unavailable afterwards at ANY price.”

Well Rohit, whom I met when he was an undergraduate at CalTech, who 
later earned a PhD from UC Irvine, and has worked for both the World 
Wide Web Consortium and some startups, ought to know, but I find myself 
wondering if, in fact, we really ARE out of luck when our SaaS vendor 
packs it in?

Say your favorite web-based application is suddenly unavailable because 
the group that wrote it has disbanded, are you truly SOL, those 
embarrassing pictures of your old girlfriends gone forever?  Today I’d 
say “yes,” unless you’ve made a heroic effort to save the data in some 
database or file system that is unlikely to be compatible with the 
original application. No vendor I am familiar with has created an 
end-of-life (EOL) migration tool, though they certainly could.  What we 
need is an API and I am here to propose one.

If web- and cloud-based application software is here to stay (it is) 
then there will inevitably be backup and EOL issues as platforms and 
companies die or are acquired.  The best way to handle this in my view 
is for the Internet Archive to propose an Application Programming 
Interface to handle data migration and preservation issues for obsolete 
web applications and services.

I think there is nothing Brewster Kahle, the Archive’s founder, would 
like better than to preserve for posterity such code and associated data.

Imagine a social network app that would continue to work after death, at 
least to the extent that members could retrieve (or destroy) their own 

The problem with this idea, of course, is that this also creates a very 
attractive interface for hackers and thugs.  But I have an answer to 
that, too.  What we need is the digital equivalent of one of those 
envelopes characters sometimes leave in books and movies — an envelope 
inevitably labeled “to be opened in the event of my death.”

Participating organizations would store compressed and encrypted 
versions of their data with the Internet Archive, where they would be 
held in an inactive state but updated frequently.  Then, in the event of 
that outfit’s death, the digital envelope would be opened, revealing a 
decryption key and enough application code to get a vanilla version of 
the original net app up and running.  It would, as archives are intended 
to do, preserve the final state of the application as well as its final 

This is going to be a big problem in the future .  I suggest we think 
about it now.

Meanwhile, back to Rohit, whose new company is called Ångströ.  Two 
obscure punctuation marks in a single name tell me this is a company to 
spelled with. Ångströ apparently creates real time notifications when 
specific data changes in social network applications, creating a kind of 
cross-platform news feed about you or anyone else you happen to be 
stalking.  Cool.

Everything Rohit is involved with is interesting.  His threaded 
discussion group, Friends of Rohit Khare (FoRK) has been around for more 
than a decade and has long offered some of the most interesting (and 
funniest) examinations of technology news on the Net.  It is now an 
age-restricted group on Yahoo.

Rohit does everything his own way.  When he was still an undergraduate I 
employed Rohit and his business partner Adam Rifkin as consultants, 
bringing them to Japan to make a presentation to a major client.  The 
trip was L.A. to Tokyo and back but Rohit and Adam parsed the United 
Airlines routes until they found a way to get to Tokyo for the same 
money by going around the world FIRST CLASS, earning quadruple frequent 
flier miles in the process.  The boys arrived on schedule though 
lubricated the entire way with Johnny Walker Blue Label.

We dried them out a bit and their presentation was boffo.


Johnny Walker Blue?  I've seen Red and Black...



    Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

More information about the FoRK mailing list