Cloud-based Services and Communications Platforms


 Endangered large

Digital content produced, stored and accessed within commercial cloud-based services and communications platforms. This entry broadly includes services based on a costed subscription and contract business models, premium or institutional versions, and also free online utilities offered at no cost to end-users but with a business model based on gathering and reselling consumer insights.

Digital Species: Cloud

Trend in 2022:

No change No Change

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2019

Trend in 2023:

No change No Change

Previously: Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within twelve months; detailed assessment is a priority.

Significance of Loss

The loss of tools, data or services within this group would impact on people and sectors around the world.

Effort to Preserve | Inevitability

Loss seems likely: by the time tools or techniques have been developed the material will likely have been lost.


Google services such as Drive, Docs, Sheets; Microsoft services such as Sharepoint, Teams; Slack, Prezi, Yammer, DropBox.

‘Critically Endangered’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Unstable business model from service providers; abandonment of the service due to various reasons (e.g., service provider bought over or pivots to new market opportunities); lack of export functionality; unstable terms and conditions; lack of onsite copy of key media; lack of investment in infrastructure; lack of strategic plan for IT provision; confusion on IPR; conflating preservation and access.

‘Vulnerable’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Clear export and migration pathways; preservation responsibility shouldered by the service provider; Offline backup for key media; fit to preservation and records management plan; strategic roadmap for adoption.

2023 Review

This entry was added in 2021 as a merging of two separate 2019 entries, ‘Consumer Cloud-based Utilities’ and ‘Premium or Institutional Social Media’ to place emphasis on the similarities and common threats faced by services that are both ‘paid-for’ and ‘free-at-the-point-of-use’, namely similar aggravating conditions relating to increasing dependencies on the vendor’s business models and the terms and conditions imposed. The 2021 Jury also noted a trend towards increased risk in light of greater reliance on the cloud and localized disruptions to cloud services over the pandemic and wider (global) dependence on these services, especially Google Drive, for record-keeping and business workflows. The 2022 Taskforce agreed with the previous assessment, with no change to trend (agreeing that the risks remained on the same basis as presented in 2021 with no significant change towards even greater or reduced risk).

The 2023 Council agreed with the Endangered classification with the overall risks remaining on the same basis as before (no change to trend), but also noted increases in imminence and effortto preserve, recognizing that while the need for major efforts to prevent or reduce losses continues, it is now much more likely that loss of material has already occurred, and will continue to do so, by the time tools or techniques have been developed.

This entry was previously categorized under the Social Media digital species. The 2023 Council recommended adjusting this and other social media entries in light of how web-based and cloudbased business products and services have developed in recent years. This included:

  • Narrowing the scope. The scope of the entry has been narrowed to focus more specifically on the various risks associated with digital content created, stored and shared using cloud-based services, especially business-related tools or collaboration tools which are not being well preserved (e.g. Slack, Google Drive, Sharepoint). These challenges primarily relate to services using their own cloud-based format, export functionality and quality.

  • As part of this rescoping, relevant information concerning cloud-based aspects was incorporated from previous ‘Born Digital Photographs and Video Shared via Social Media Platforms’ and ‘Consumer Social Media Free at the Point of Use’, and this entry also now falls under a new ‘Cloud’ species group to more clearly differentiate between social media and cloud services–the Council adopts the view that just because a service is web-based and allows users to upload content for cloud hosting does not necessarily mean that it is ‘social’ or ‘media’. 

Additional Comments

Most platforms allow users to export their own data from them, which is helpful.

Similar to the Born Digital Photos and Video entry, significance and impact scores are high because some users exclusively create and store important content on these services but uses for these services vary greatly. Also, subscription services, such as Microsoft Teams, though far from having adequate preservation provision, will have more robust back-up and recovery governed by institutional contracts, whereas Google Drive / Google 'office' services free-at-the-point of use do not provide these mitigating measures.

Dropbox is a content hosting / storage service and does support downloading a file the same quality as the file uploaded. If any one of these platforms disappeared overnight or put new restrictions on access to user content, it would certainly make headlines, as witnessed with Flickr's change in storage limit capacity for non-paying users.

There are similarities and common threats faced by services that are both ‘paid-for’ and ‘free-atthe-point-of-use’, namely aggravating conditions relating to increasing dependencies on the vendor’s business models and the terms and conditions imposed. However, with digital materials from consumer cloud-based utilities, the business model and sustainability can only be presumed, and contracts tend to be asymmetrical in favour of the supplier. Moreover, because these services have a low barrier to entry, they may be favoured by agencies or individuals least able to respond to closure or loss. If referring to the entire platforms and risk of the entirety of data on these, the concern is that the corporation providing the service suddenly decides it is no longer of value to them. In these circumstances, materials could be removed quickly. That has happened previously and will certainly be seen again. Preservation is not a commitment that most providers make.

Existing tools could be modified to tackle some of the closed networks. Still, it is likely to require investments, perhaps related to corporate records in some cases (thinking about internal Slacks, for instance), and more education about the importance of preserving this material and not trusting the publishing platforms to host the content forever.

Case Studies or Examples:

  • The website ‘Killed by Google’ provides a list of projects and apps that Google has shut down over the years, dating back to 2006. See Killed by Google (n.d.) Available at: [accessed 24 October 2023]

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