On Behalf of the Cloud

Last week the Cloud as a digital online storage service, got a black eye. I’m not here to defend or accuse anyone of anything with regard to the release of private celebrity photos. That’s not for me to say. But I am here to remind people of the fact that, despite some problems, Cloud services have been an amazing benefit for all of us who use technology at work and at home.

Perhaps there are still a few of you who aren’t clear on what ‘Cloud’ really means? Well let’s clear that up. The rest of you can take a sip of coffee during this paragraph. Wikipedia defines “Cloud Computing” as “the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over the Internet.”

To explore this definition a little further, examples of what they mean by Product might be desktop software that you install on to your computer hard drive, a USB hard-drive that you purchase to store data, or business data that you install from a CD. The Cloud can provide all three of these services over the Internet. “Other devices” I take to mean mobile phones and tablets. We pay for these Cloud services like we pay for electricity – by monthly or annual subscriptions.

A consumer of Cloud services should expect that online versions, when compared to desktop versions, of common software will be less expensive. The prices you pay for web software as opposed to desktop software should be considerably lower than what you got used to paying during the decade 2000 through 2010. I noticed this to be the case for business mapping software and for sales territory mapping software. The reasons for the reductions are many and include more streamlined software development processes and lower software distribution costs. They also include the ability to achieve huge economies of scale, for example online data storage can access millions of users through a web page transaction service replacing the need to manufacture, distribute, sell, and manage millions of physical hard drives on personal computers. Land-fills everywhere are breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Cloud services are also ubiquitous. This means they are everywhere and your access to them is not limited to your own laptop or cell phone. Typically, if you sign up for a cloud service you can log-in using any computer or device and take up using the product right where you last left it. This makes it really easy to work from home; both a good and bad situation I suppose. It also usually means the same service works for Macs and for PCs.

Cloud software updates are wicked easy to share with the user base. Because users log-in with emails, software updates take place at a low Internet usage time like 3:00 AM EST, and “Viola!” The next time users log-in they are working with updated software. For those of us who leave our machines on 24/7, connected to the same browser pages for weeks at a time, a log-out and log-in operation may be a good idea to access the latest features of Cloud based software.

Some of my favorite Cloud services, services that I use regularly, besides business mapping software and search engines, are:
www.Spotify.com – I can listen to almost any piece of music I look for. On the down side, composers and musicians don’t get paid a fair value for their services and intellectual property.
www.DropBox.com – Sharing large files across the Internet is so easy with these guys. Great for music recording processes.
www.Join.me.com – I use this service multiple times a day to share computer screens with customers. Its two-way screen sharing capabilities are easy-to-use. These screen sharing services have transformed the sales process world-wide.
www.Flickr.com – Photo storage sites like this amaze me. Want to experience a little Burning Man without the sun burn and the dust storms? Flickr search it.
www.Facebook.com – What’s to say? It’s been transformative for society. $110 Million for ALS research from videos of people pouring buckets of water on their heads. Mind boggling.
www.youtube.com – I cannot believe how often I watch videos. I bet most Americans average at least 6 videos a day. YouTube videos are especially helpful for music studies. As a kid if I wanted to hear a specific song, I’d buy the album for $8.00. Now I can watch a video of multiple artists doing it for free. That’s Cloud savings.
• Movie and TV video streaming – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and Apple TV – these are all cloud services. Dump cable and stream, saving huge dollars. We use Hulu, Netflix, Apple, and Amazon.
www.GalaxyZoo.org – Want to help further the study of galaxies? Sign up to view and organize deep space images of galaxies. How cool is that?
www.Soundcloud.com – A place to store music for sharing.
www.WhoWhatWhy.com – A picture of a guy that looks exactly like my grandfather. Freaks me out.
www.Archive.org – Rare books you can actually read on-line for free and many Grateful Dead live recordings.
www.SalesForce.com – And other on-line CRM services have transformed contact management.

Cloud computing isn’t perfect and it’s not risk free, as we all found out last week. But it is pretty cool, convenient, and saves us all money. Privacy has got to be improved and I suspect it will be. At Map Business Online where I work, we’re dedicating significant development effort to improving security for data and maps shared over the Cloud by our business mapping software clients. In the long run, copyrighted material must be better protected and better monetized. Services like Spotify and Pandora should be compensating composers and musicians with fair value for shared music files.

With the advent of Big Data analysis which leverages Cloud services, comes the reality that all of our online habits, activities and interests are compiled and organized into personal profiles. I recently found my life insurance rates increased dramatically because my Cloud stored medical records incorrectly listed me as at risk for developing type I diabetes. And then I saw this article http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-11/how-big-data-peers-inside-your-medicine-chest.html. Armed with a note from my doctor I pushed back on my insurance company who normalized my fee. Read more about the nature of this marketing, legal, and demographic probing into our lives here: http://endofanonymity.com.

For the time being, I’m content to trade the sanctity of my personal privacy for the low-cost, convenient, and instantly informative nature of Cloud computing. But I remain wary and ready to act on my own behalf. Because you never know what you might take a picture of, I guess.

MapPoint users – please consider www.MapBusinessOnline.com as a MapPoint alternative.

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About Geoffrey Ives

Geoffrey Ives lives and works in southwestern Maine. He grew up in Rockport, MA and graduated from Colby College. Located in Maine since 1986, Geoff joined DeLorme Publishing in the late 1990's and has since logged twenty-five years in the geospatial software industry. In addition to business mapping, he enjoys playing classical & jazz piano, gardening, and taking walks in the Maine mountains with his Yorkshire Terrier named Skye.
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