It has become very fashionable, especially among early adopters of web technology, to put absolutely everything in the cloud. Use GMail for your email, Saasu for your invoicing and accounting, Google Docs or Zoho for text documents and spreadsheets, Flickr or Facebook for your photos, YouTube, Vimeo or Seesmic for your videos and so forth.
There are undoubtedly advantages to storing your content online. You can access it from any computer, you don’t have to worry about loss or deterioration of the physical media it is stored on and it can be quite cheap if not free.
What does “in the cloud” really mean?
But is your content really “stored in the cloud”? The metaphor implies distribution, redundancy, anonymity.
In actual fact, you have handed over your emails, documents, company records, photos, and videos to Google, Facebook, Saasu and Vimeo. These companies may or may not treat your content the way you would like them to.
Will you ever get it back?
I have digital photos going back to 1996. Thinking back to that year, almost none of the websites that were big at the time are still around. Had I entrusted all my digital memories to them, who knows what would have become of them. Sharing is only one aspect of the digitisation of our lives and in our pursuit of it we often forget the other important aspect, that of keeping.
What about privacy protection?
Surely these web-only companies with impressive privacy statements which nobody reads have measures in place to safeguard our data? Turns out even the biggest player in the market has problems with that. In early March a bug in Google Docs caused widespread unwanted sharing of documents and required users to re-enter who they wanted to share them with.
Gary Barber has concerns about trust which I find very well thought-out and hard to brush aside. Others worry about what happens to their content once they die.
There is a real accumulation of risk in a handful of big players. The GFail epidemic of late February has left millions of users without their emails, and it wasn’t the first GMail outage by a long shot. It demonstrated that even the 800 pound gorilla is far from perfect when it comes to availability.
While the introduction of Google Gears has alleviated the problem somewhat (you may not be able to send or receive email, but you can access your email history while the service is down), its introduction could be considered an admission by Google that the cloud and the browser cannot replace locally stored and processed content just yet.
As Kate Carruthers writes, it might be time to make a backup of some of that info that you’ve got floating around in the cloud.
I’m a big fan of using the cloud to share my digital life and interact with those who matter to me, but I take care to
- Keep a local copy of everything
- Do local and off-site backups
- Put on the web only what I want to share
and wait with bated breath for the semantic web and redundant storage of content in the cloud.
Finally, that Larry Ellison calls cloud computing gibberish can safely be filed under simplistic knee-jerk (emphasis on the last word), but when Richard Stallman, creator of GNU and all-round guru says that cloud computing is a trap, it might pay to sit up and listen.