Sharecropping is a system of
agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share
of the crops produced on the land. The sharecroppers didn't own the land they lived and
worked on, and in most cases didn't own the equipment they worked with. They received
their wage and nothing more, with no real opportunity to advance.
Most of today's popular services are a modern-day equivalent to sharecropping with
data. Users are allowed to use the service at little or no cost, but often have limited
ownership of their own contributions, are subject to the policies and terms of service
for the site, and almost never have control of how their content is accessed
(specifically, the URL for the content uses a domain name owned by the service).
- What happens when the service decides that your content violates their community
guidelines? (Blogger and Tumblr are both changing their policies surrounding adult
- Or that your chosen name doesn't meet their name policies? (Facebook and Google+
have so-called "real name" or "common name" policies that have caused problems for
users with non-traditional names)
- Or what happens when a large company decides they really want your chosen
username, and the site is willing to give it to them? (This has happened with
both Twitter and Tumblr, among others)
What happens to your data then? Many services now let your export your data in some
format, but what about the URLs? In most cases, you'll never be able to redirect those
to wherever you decide to move your data.
Despite the issues around data ownership and control, these types of services are
flourishing, and for very good reason. They work really, really well. And their user
experience is really good, particularly on mobile.