I must say – I feel privileged to have learned a lesson today.
At this year’s Catalyst conference, I saw Jonathan Schwartz speak at the Sun hospitality suite. Jonathan’s vision of the future is that one day, systems he deems as “uninteresting” such as e-mail systems, ERP systems, and such will be outsourced to Web 2.0 darling companies, who will host these boring but necessary functions, so that companies can focus on the sexy stuff.
The exact logistics of such a strategy were left to everyone’s imagination, although what was implied was that such a strategy would result in fewer servers being maintained, and fewer IT staff to do the maintaining. In other words, a CxO’s wildest dream.
Risk & Liability involved with such a strategy were not discussed.
Now – as it turns out, I happen to be a student of Mr. Schwartz’s methodology, on a very small scale. As someone who did not wish to pay for or maintain a server from which to publish my personal blog, I contracted with a Web 2.0 darling company called wordpress.com to host my blog alongside hundreds of thousands of others. It is and was a steal of a deal — they maintain the machines & the software, and I get to blog for free!
Today, however, I feel that I may have encountered the fly in Mr. Schwartz’s enthusiastic ointment. As you may have seen from my last blog entry, I was the subject of some syndication feed shenanigans this afternoon. Apparently so were a lot of other people.
During the course of administering their many separate hosted accounts, the wordpress.com staff installed software that mixed RSS feeds up for some unknown number of blog accounts, resulting in content from one persons’ blog being published under the name of someone else.
I can’t help but wonder – did somebody get my content? Was it a swap, or an off-by-one? I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.
How about a quick post-mortem cost assessment based on the following factors:
- Probability of loss of reputation due to my identity being associated with someone else’s content or vice versa.
- Probability of loss of income or other tangible asset due to either my identity being associated with someone else’s content or vice versa.
In my case, there was little cost. A few people might have come to erroneous conclusions about my personal life – but for the most part, my reputation and income stream were not affected. Additionally, it is technically possible that a bunch of strangers saw my content and assumed it belonged to someone else. Heh, more power to them if they were able to make sense of it.
But. What if this wasn’t my personal blog affected. What if this was, instead, my corporate ERP system affected? Or my corporate Email system? What happens when a hosting company mixes up the account identifiers of two different companies’ finanical accounts? What could the possible cost be, in both reputation and income, of your company’s confidential data being temporarily disclosed to another company’s users? Or of your company’s identity being temporarily associated with somebody else’s confidential data?
Can’t happen you say? Surely those kinds of hosting companies would be more careful? Yeah. You keep on believing that. It will be impossible until the day it happens. Then it will be irreversible.
Here be dragons. Mark my words.