on ‘the cloud’

‘Trapped Clouds’ by Chris Kovacs, used under a CC-BY license

A wise and wonderful friend emailed me to say that he was glad my posts last night did not say ‘web 2.0’, as in his wise opinion ‘web 2.0’ is a pile of hooey. On this we are in deep agreement; there is no deep substance in web 2.0 that desktop apps can’t replicate.

He said that he preferred ‘the cloud’, but that he thought it was roughly the same thing as ‘software as a service.’

I’ve spent the rest of the morning intensely bothered by the phrase ‘the cloud‘, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Now that I’ve breakfasted and am more lucid, some thoughts on why it irritates me so much:

  • the cloud’ implies that there is one, seamless pile of data into which your data goes. This could not, of course, be further from the truth- there are a pile of small clouds, most of whom have barbed-wire fences between them. When you go to the cloud, you go to a cloud, with particular rules, regulations, and behaviors, and a language which 9 out of 10 other clouds can’t speak.
  • ‘the cloud’ is white and fluffy and peaceful; the reality is that the various clouds are fighting each other to the death, and (typically) fighting you to make sure that you don’t leave their cloud once you’ve chosen it.
  • I think above all else, ‘service’ has known properties- we know it can be useful; we know it can also have catches and fine print. We have deep and useful intuitions about services. Focusing on ‘service’ brings these things to the forefront, instead of distracting people with a metaphor which brings no useful information to the table and which (as I pointed out above) can actually be substantially misleading.

I should note that part of why I picked google mail and not, say, yahoo mail, or some other solution, is that gmail is actually very good about letting you leave to other clouds. Despite being in ‘a cloud’, my mail was always available via POP and my addressbook in CSV, and now it adds IMAP and vcard. They have so much confidence in their software that they make it easy to leave, knowing you probably won’t. Still, this type of thing should be an expectation for services, not a pleasant surprise.

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