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Jeff Pulver, co-founder of the Vonage Internet phone company and creator of the VON and 140 conferences, has an expression that you absolutely must take to heart:

“We live or die on our database.”

In the age of social networking and social media, it’s easy to get lost in the clouds. It’s easy to believe that the cloud, the network, the ethereal presence is always there, has always been there, and will always be there…

… Except when it’s not. The cloud, the meta, fails. Sometimes it’s intermittent and momentary, when the network connecting you to the cloud becomes unavailable. Sometimes it’s considerably more permanent, when a cloud provider goes out of business, when a network shuts down, or when your account is terminated with or without your consent or even awareness.

The only guarantee, the only insurance policy you have against the fallibility of the cloud, is to own your database. Own it in whatever data format you’re most comfortable with, but own it. Download the database as often as you can, as often as is necessary, to ensure your continued access to it.

One recipe is the email newsletter. Create one of value and relevance and then persuade every person over whom you have influence to sign up for it. That database is yours (even if you switch email providers) and you can take it with you no matter where you go.

Another recipe is a network provider that lets you keep your data. As of this writing, the one major provider that lets you keep your data is LinkedIn. Encourage people to network with you on any provider that lets you download the entirety of your database and take it with you. Endorse, support, and promote providers who do not hold your data hostage.

We live or die on our database. Without a database, there is only death.

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