Gowalla, a service that lets users announce their whereabouts, is set to close down in weeks. In October, Google canned its social network Google Buzz. The Web’s first major social network, Friendster, was overhauled in June to focus on video games.
In many cases, the data that people have entrusted to such sites exist in a cyber limbo, and users’ rights are unclear.
“People have very personal relationships with the places where they are putting their personal information,” said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a public interest group. “But your right to that data becomes more complicated with the Internet and the cloud,” the system of shared computer storage that allows users to tap into the Web on the go.
The details of a user’s rights are often embedded in long legal policies that federal regulators complain are often too confusing and seldom read.
And they are no solace to users like John Metta, 41, who has experimented with many Web sites that have come out of Silicon Valley’s booming social-media industry.
In the past year, Metta has joined Twitter, photo-sharing site Picasa, Gowalla and Google’s new social-networking service, Google+.
He’s used Gowalla to “check in” at coffee shops, bars and concerts in Portland, Ore., alerting friends who might want to join him. He’s shared pictures of his wife in front of sweeping vistas near Hood River, Ore., part of an online timeline the site created that shows where he’s been and who he’s met over the past year.
All that information will be deleted after Gowalla’s employees begin working for Facebook to create a new location service. The company said it will notify its 2 million users about how to download contact lists, photos and other information.
Metta, a 41-year-old software designer, is a bit burned out from trying to maintain all that information online. “At some point, you have to just let go and be Buddhist about it,” Metta said.
Letting go becomes harder when some of the Web’s biggest sites face uncertainty. As Eastman Kodak tries to shore up its finances, questions surround the fate of the photo albums created by its 75 million Kodak Gallery users, some analysts say.