Tag Archives: Xdrive

The Ugly Backside of Online Backup

I was just showing off my new Gmail/Remember the Milk marriage, which is truly a cool tool and worth checking out, to my slightly less new wife. Her response was: but it’s online. How can I use it if I’m offline?

I slapped her about verbally, of course, because you can’t be doing with that kind of defeatist talk at Loose Wire HQ, but she’s actually right: The great Achilles Heel of online is that it’s, well, online.

A shining, and sobering example of this problem is online backup. Of all the online backup tools that looked the most serious, Omnidrive was ahead of a big pack. Until recently. This from Webware: 

We got an e-mail earlier today from a Webware reader and Omnidrive user who told us the online storage service has been out since early this morning. We sleuthed around a little and tried to get in touch with Omnidrive CEO Nik Cubrilovic, whose personal blog is also down, although we’ve heard nothing back yet. As of publishing this, the service is still down.

That’s still true. I don’t have stuff stored there, but I feel for the guys who do. The problem with asking consumers to entrust their stuff to you is that it’s about trust: Lose it and you’re lost forever.

My blog has become a minor Mecca (can you have minor Meccas?) for those disenchanged with Xdrive since it was bought by AOL, so much so that somone claiming to be Robert Blatt of AOL posted a comment yesterday trying to repair some of the damage and get people back to the service.

His comments reflect a rare honesty from AOL about the size of the problem (whenever someone corporate uses the word “challenges” you need to replace it with something very much stronger. It’s the corporate equivalent of self-flagellation and an acknowledgement of having screwed up big time):

First of all, a disclaimer, not only do I work for AOL but I am responsible for both the Xdrive and BlueString products.

With that said, over the last year we have made tremendous efforts to improve the reliability and performance of the underlying infrastructure that drives both Xdrive and BlueString. We use Keynote monitoring 24X7 to measure consumers’ ability to login, upload, and access their online assets. Over the last six months these numbers have consistently been above 99% availability. If consumers who use this blog are continuing to have problems please post so that we can understand and rectify.

With respect to customer support, we both understand and agree with the challenges that people have been having. We have recently increased our focus and our resources to address this issue. Changes like this always take a bit of time but I am confident that we will have the same kind of success that we have had in improving the product.

Finally, look for a new, easier to use interface for Xdrive during the first quarter of 2008. We are working hard to erase the boundary that currently exists for consumers between their desktop and the internet.

I’m sure Robert doesn’t need to be told that in the world of online storage it’s a case of once bitten, twice you’re far, far away and would only be lured back by the promise of vestal virgins and free Porsches. Would you ever entrust something as valuable as your backups to someone who lost them the first time around?

The rule of thumb of online backup is, sadly: Think of it as a sort of luxury. Not as something you can rely on. Because of that, I can’t imagine why someone would pay for it.

Xdrive’s New Clothes

AOL is unveiling a new media sharing and storage service, BlueString, which gets a positive write-up from Rafe Needleman at Webware. I remain more skeptical (I give it a ten minut.es write-up here.)

Rafe is reliable on this kind of thing, so I take his word for it, but I’m nervous about AOL after a post on my blog more than two years ago became a sort of crash-site for angry users of AOL’s Xdrive product, which BlueString builds on and cherrypicks from. Complaints about Xdrive have been posted as recently as last month, in which there were three, and center on:

  • not being able to log in to access data
  • not being able to reach customer support within a reasonable time
  • charging errors
  • difficulties in cancelling the service
  • allegations that AOL customer service are not technically trained in Xdrive support
  • problems uploading and downloading files

I certainly could find no telephone number on the Xdrive website, except via a Google site search, despite the website’s claims that:

At Xdrive, we pride ourselves on providing a higher level of support than you will find with any other product on the market. Our trained customer care professionals receive ongoing education about the latest changes to Xdrive’s products and services. From walking you through registration to help you use our products, we are focused on delivering exceptional customer care.

(The number, by the way, is (866) GO-XDRIVE or (703) 433-0141, but only during the U.S. day.)

I’m afraid I can’t confirm the authenticity of any of the other complaints and allegations, but I suspect that users of BlueString might be wise to bear them in mind when using the service, and not to store anything there they haven’t got backed up somewhere else.

First hands-on: AOL’s BlueString | Webware : Cool Web apps for everyone

An Advertising Conundrum

I guessed this would happen eventually: through one of the advertising aggregators I use for this blog a service I’ve been critical of has submitted an ad. Do I accept it?

Advertising aggregators provide a service to companies by letting them place banner and other web ads on participating blogs. I’ve been trying FeedBurner, for example, which puts ads on my blog and at the bottom of blog postings. They’re pretty obviously ads, since they’re all snazzy and jazzed up, and they help to defray (I love using the word ‘defray’) the costs of running the blog. Not everyone likes having to put up with ads, but we’re not running a charity here.

Anyway, Xdrive, an online storage service now owned by AOL, has just submitted an ad. I knew this might happen; I’ve seen their ad appear on other blogs using the FeedBurner service. But this blog has been something of a thorn in the side of Xdrive, ever since I started writing about some user complaints about a year ago (Google “xdrive” and a Loose Wire post appears among the first 10 results. Google “xdrive problems”  and it’s top.) And things don’t seem to have gotten any better: two readers complained only last week about the service.

My first reaction was to decline the ad, something I’ve only done once before with a service that was too unclear about what it offered to pass muster (I love saying ‘muster’ too.) Why should I allow an ad for a service that may not be up to scratch? But then cooler heads prevailed. Declining the Xdrive ad would imply I had somehow endorsed the ads I had approved to run. While I’ll try not to allow ads that appear to be questionable, I don’t think readers are going to assume that every product advertised on this blog is one I suggest they go out and buy. Or do you?

Two other issues raise their heads: Should I alert AOL that they’re running an ad on a blog that has been critical of the service that they’re advertising? Or is it their lookout? (Perhaps they know this already and are trying to redress the balance. Or they see criticism as part of the conversation.)

Another: Should I make clearer what my policy is on advertising so readers are not confused? And if so, where should I put it? And what should it say? That’s something I’m going to work on, and of course something I’d be delighted to take input on from readers. I’m sure I’m not the first blogger to face this issue. The debate about balancing the needs of advertisers with the needs of a free and objective press is not a new one, and not one that, to my knowledge, has ever been entirely resolved. Maybe bloggers can have a shot at it.

Shrines to Frustration

It’s depressing that two gripes I’ve posted, both at least a year old, continue to get comments which push both posts to the top of the search engines. My grumbles about accessing Xdrive, an online storage service bought by AOL, comes out top if you search for xdrive problems on Google. Search for cancel napster and my post about how hard it was to cancel the service comes as the next result below a couple of official Napster sites. Both posts got more comments in the last few hours.

I’m not particularly proud about this; I’ve already written a column about Napster’s poor cancellation process, and bad press doesn’t seem to bother either company. (Although maybe AOL might start changing its practice after Randall Stross’ piece in the NYT about how customer service reps are instructed to try more or less every trick before complying with customer requests to cancel their account.

Wearing my WSJ.com hat, I’ve talked to both AOL and Napster about these problems and it seems in both cases neither problem has been fixed. If they had, why would people keep posting horror stories? Somehow I doubt these two cases are exceptional. I imagine there must be hundreds of companies out there where single blog posts have become shrines to customer frustration. Fortunately in both cases readers have added useful advice in the comments so it’s not all just blowing off steam. But why aren’t big companies more proactive about these things by monitoring search results and reaching out to websites or blogs that attract this kind of traffic?

Xdrive Responds: Patience, Please

Further to several comments from readers about problems with Xdrive, the online storage service recently bought by AOL, I sought comment from their PR. Here, somewhat belatedly, is what they have to say:

Recently, Xdrive began a system upgrade designed to improve the quality and overall performance of the Xdrive experience. When complete, these upgrades will greatly improve the overall Xdrive experience which will result in unparalleled service and features. Unfortunately, during this process, some of our customers have experienced difficulty while using Xdrive’s services. Xdrive is aware of these issues and is working diligently to resolve them in a timely manner. We ask for our subscriber’s continued patience. For any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact customer support either by email at support@xdrive.com or via phone at 866-GO-Xdrive. –Jose Martinez, Xdrive Customer Support Manager.

These upgrades should be finished any day now, Xdrive says. This comment doesn’t differ hugely from their previous one of more than two months ago, but it’s at least something. One can’t help wondering, though, whether the damage is already done. Why stick with an online storage service that offers such unreliable service for nearly three months? Isn’t the whole point of online backup to be, well, a backup?

Xdrive: Not Out Of The Woods

Further to my post a couple of months back on problems at Xdrive , seems the company recently acquired by AOL isn’t out of the woods yet. Two readers posted comments in the past 24 hours: One wrote

Xdrive – one of the worst services I have had of any web-based provider. I couldn’t sign up for the automated free trial, and after leaving messages there eventually someone called back to take my credit card. Since then, I have been unable to login to the account on a number of occasions, and tech support has yet to call me back. thumbs down for xdrive!

While another, apparently unconnected user wrote:

I’ve been hosed for the past 7 days as well. Which is too bad – because the service really is cool. But ANY BACKUP company that will just STICK IT to me for 7 days… doesn’t get the point of a backup company. I’ve only been able to log in intermittently, and when I’ve done so I’ve seen that I’ve lost tons of data/files/etc. I work with software – so I know problems can happen – but they’ve gone completely over the top.

I’m going to ask AOL/Xdrive for comment on this. Last time the company talked of being “in the process of making significant upgrades to its technology infrastructure that will greatly enhance user experience”. If the comments above are anything to go by, it doesn’t sound like much of an enhanced user experience. Whether or not there are two months between the two lapses in service, backup is supposed to be backup, and you can’t have it going down.

In the meantime, does anyone have suggestions for alternatives? I’ve tried to list a few here, but there must be more.

Storage Online: The Options

A reader reminded me I promised a column on how to back up files well. I’m still working on that, but here’s a good article from Marilyn Sweet, writing in the Denver Business Journal’s Bizwomen section. Her recommendations for online storage:

The company I use and depend upon is Go Daddy at www.godaddy.com. Go Daddy will rent you one gigabyte of file storage for $9.95 a year. That’s right. It’s only $10 a year to protect all your digital photos of Uncle Harry playing the accordion at your wedding and your business mailing list. Need more space? Up to 10 gigabytes of space can be rented. Look under the “Business” tab at Go Daddy’s site for online file storage. Go Daddy has 24/7 telephone support and outstanding customer service. Priceless.

A question you might ask is, “What if Go Daddy’s servers are destroyed at the same time?” I don’t want to think about what would be happening in the world if your computer and Go Daddy’s servers in Scottsdale, Ariz., were simultaneously destroyed. I suspect that worrying about my computer files would be the least of my concerns.

Some other options: www.xdrive.com, five gigabytes for $10 a month; www.box.net, one gigabyte for $2.99 a month and five gigabytes for $8.99 a month; and www.streamload.com (thanks, Mike), 10 gigabytes for $9.95 a month.

Anyone have any other ideas?

Problems at Xdrive?

I hear from a reader that Xdrive, the online storage service recently bought by AOL, is not performing well:

Xdrive has been basically non-functional for at least the last 4 days, and a customer service email says they have no idea when their “major upgrade” will be fixed.

As I’ve recommended Xdrive in the past, I’m slightly perturbed. Certainly I’m not able to access my account at the time of writing:

Xdrive

What gives, AOL?

[Update a few hours later: I’m now able to access my account.]

Storage, The Next Frontier

I’m more and more convinced that storage and software to order it are the crucial bottlenecks and opportunities in this next stage of the Net. Not earthshattering, I know, but people are acquiring photos and music files at a faster rate than the drop in storage prices, which means somehow, some way, they’re going to have to back them up someplace that’s not their hard drive.

AOL seems to think so too, because they’ve just bought a veteran of the online storage business, Xdrive. As The Register reports:

Said Gio Hunt, a bigwig at AOL Digital Services: “The digitisation of consumer home media is skyrocketing, with consumers and AOL members increasingly looking for easier ways to protect and manage a wide variety of important data files and digital media assets.

“Xdrive will further enhance AOL’s consumer storage offerings to deliver a more safe and secure digital lifestyle for our members,” he said.

I was often frustrated by Xdrive’s software which often seemed clunky and didn’t always work well. And when Gmail came along with their free gigabyte’s worth of storage, the writing seemed to be on the wall. So there’s probably a collective sigh of relief coming from Xdrive HQ. Now it’s up to AOL to make backing up photos online — at file-sizes that make sense — a simple proposition for the average Joe.

The Online Storage Revolution?

An interesting byproduct of the Gmail all-you-can-eat online email is the fact that online storage, a service sold by the likes of Xdrive, is likely to get a lot bigger, at least in terms of how much you can store there. If you can store 1GB of your stuff on Gmail for free (and, according to some rumours, up to 1 terrabyte), why pay for a measly 100MB of online storage?

Xdrive told its customers today that in July it will increase the space available per use to 5GB, “more than 60 times the size of your current subscription!” (no press release available yet). That means 5GB for $10 a month. Expect others to follow suit, although Mercury News quotes FilesAnywhere as saying they’re sticking with a flexible pricing model that starts at $4 a month for 100 MB. Their argument is that most folk only want limited amounts of storage, and they’ll be willing to pay for it.

That may be true, although if Gmail turns out to be an easy place to park files, my guess is users will go for that. In which case for-fee online storage is not going to make much sense. And with flash drives so ubiquitous, my hunch would be folk are going to look at online storage as a place to back up large quantities of data they can’t fit on a USB keydrive, rather than a place to store small chunks.

But I could be wrong. All that is clear for now is that Gmail have made nonsense of the idea that you can’t store stuff online cheaply. Yahoo! have taken up the challenge in part, by allowing users to store up to 100MB, while Lycos Europe is offering paid up members 1GB, and British-based Planet-Tolkien.com is offering 1GB for $7 a month, but Xdrive’s decision to go for 5GB now raises the possibility that for some folk it may actually be worthwhile to keep most of one’s stuff online, and then access it as, when and where it’s needed. That may be the most dramatic outcome of all this.