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The MomsLikeMe.com Debacle and the Need For the Open Internet And To Control Your Content

Momslikeme

A ton of online communities of moms are dying this week. After three years, the "MomsLikeMe.com" websites are shutting down on Friday. From the FAQ:

All of the MomsLikeMe sites will permanently shut down on Friday, October 14, 2011. At that time, everything that currently appears on the site, locally or nationally, will no longer be accessible.

Why? The standard lame corporate-speak:

The market has evolved substantially since we launched three years ago and there are many new and different ways for people to connect and engage. We feel we can better serve this community through the many new and exciting digital initiatives we will be developing and rolling out in the future.

The reality is that the site is entirely owned by Gannett (publishers of USA Today and many other newspapers and sites) and for whatever reasons they have decided that it no longer makes sense to operate this site. Perhaps they weren't seeing enough ad revenue. Perhaps it wasn't hitting whatever "metrics" they wanted to hit.

Regardless, it is shutting down - permanently - in 2 days. Finished. Over. Done. Gone.

And you can see in the comments to the blog post announcing the shutdown the collective "WTF?" of all the moms who had participated in the site. (Note, of course, that you can only see these comments until Friday, at which point they will be gone, too.)

We've seen this movie before. Remember back in April 2010 when Ning shuttered all its free communities? Or in September 2010 when the Vox blogging service shut its doors?

This is not a new story...

People invest hours and hours of time in a service operated by a company.
Company decides to shut down service... or goes bankrupt... or gets acquired.
People lose the community and/or the content they created.

At least Vox provided a way to export your content and Ning provided an upgrade path (for a fee).

Gannett says the site is dead... and THEY OWN ALL YOUR CONTENT. Again from the FAQ:

Can I take posts or other data posted on MomsLikeMe and use if for other purposes (e.g., post it on a blog, elsewhere on the web or publish it in a book)?

As outlined in the Terms of Service, the information that has been posted on MomsLikeMe is the property of Gannett.

Translation: You lose. We own it all.

Of course, just to rub salt in the wounds, the FAQ answer right below that is:

Can Gannett take posts or other data posted on MomsLikeMe and use it for other purposes (e.g., post it on a blog, elsewhere on the web or publish it in a book)?

Yes, as outlined in the Terms of Service, Gannett has the legal rights to re-use public information posted on the site for other purposes.

Translation: You lose. We own it all.

Unfortunately, the good folks who invested their time in the communities of the MomsLikeMe.com sites are learning a harsh lesson in the realities of the NOT-Open Internet. When companies control the platforms and services - and don't provide a way to export or move your content/data - you are entirely in their control. And if they decide to shut the service down...

... you lose.

The same issue can be said of Facebook (which itself has an insanely onerous Terms of Service), Twitter and so many other services. Google+ is also that way... but right from the start they have provided ways for you to get your data out of the service should you want to do so.

This is why we need to be concerned about issues around the "openness" of the Internet and about "data portability". If we choose to host our content - or a "community" - on a particular service:

  • Who owns the content?
  • Can you move the content if necessary?

We need to be looking at ways to ensure that we are in control of our own content and our own destiny... and not the companies and organizations that may run the services we use.

It's too bad Gannett couldn't have done more to help all these folks who have invested so much time to move their content elsewhere... that would have been the charitable and "right" thing to do.

Alas, they did not... and the moms who invested all their time lose...


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