DigitalFriend Blog

June 2008

Is Cloud Computing simply the Electronic Self Storage Shed for a transient population?

Wed, 30 Jun 2008 23:40:08 +1000

By: gosh'at' (Steve Goschnick)

Is 'cloud computing' the answer to my cross-organisation, cross-epoch email woes, or is it simply the electronic equivalent to the 'self storage' sheds that dot the suburbs of many modern cities, catering to the transience in a population?

At the office during March I was yet-again forced to shave my email records down, as the email server arrangements were changed. My holdings were sitting at an unremarkable 1.5 Gbytes and yet it had to be cut down below 500 KBytes, before the compulsory move. My long-held personal view of ones email records is that they should record everything that I ever sent, and everything of relevance that I ever received, and it should be at my fingertips - its nothing less than an extension of my real memory. While many politicians might not value long term memory, many of the rest of us do and we wish we had more of it. However, in the last 12 years I've similarly been forced by such technical/managerial circumstances, to move or otherwise downsize the email records I have at hand, at least six times.

While the corporate crystal-ball gazers now see this as one of their predictions for the future (e.g. cited in ComputerWorld's predictions for 2008 to 2018: "six out of 10 workers will have stopped deleting documents, files, images and recordings and will keep everything as an indexed, searchable extension of their memory, for the rest of their lives"), many of us have been doing that since the year dot, and we have been faught every inch of the way (specifically regarding central email servers), by the technology and the keepers of that technology year after year. It now only interests business-oriented soothsayers because they can see good money to be made by very large international companies via Cloud Computing to faciliate such a continuium.

In the DigitalFriend, the 'Knowledge Tree' that begins with 'AAAA_Root' (then, what ever hierarchy of categories you want), was born of necessity in my case in 1997, as some of my programmer team members from back then would atest to. It is a hierarchy of personal terms under which I store my various documents, images, emails, etc. Philosophically, this structure is called a Personal Taxonomy (the interface of a Personal Ontology - has more complex relationships than simple hierarchy), which the lay-person might simply call: a personal filing system. I have the structure in my file system via the DigitalFriend's Knowledge Tree, I have it in my personal physical files, i.e. some 500+ manilla folders (note: an academic colleague once enlightened me to the fact that there are three sorts of people when it comes to tidiness in ones paper-based information: there are people who have piles of stuff, there are people who have files of stuff; then there is a third category: people who have piles of files of stuff - I'm proudly in the third category:). Its driven by a need to be on top of the things that you have an interest in, when you have an interest in many things, in the sense of being able to relocate stuff as needed.

I was in a business incubator scheme in 1996, within the campus of the Uni of Melbourne, with an office that came with broadband Internet on tap, rare at the time. When you first gain the www at your fingertips 24/7 people of 'the third kind' in the file/pile stakes like me, have a 'mind explosion' ... How could you keep tabs on all that was of interest, when there was so much of it available! and growing exponentially*?! To a analyst this sort of problem calls for a top-down approach, and the AAAA_Root-based Knowledge Tree, across my computer file systems, browser bookmarks, email server and physical file system, was the design solution.

Expect to see better automated extraction of email from the office (approaching two-way electronic osmosis), into the DigitalFriend's Knowledge Tree in a few months time... I don't want to be at the mercy of the corporate email server and its custodians again the next time that email server conditions change, with respect to my 'extended long-term memory'.

To me the Desktop remains the electronic Home, the Home Page is the public facade, the Blog an informal text-based communication channel, the Internet is the whole wide world, Web services are the points-of-service we can choose when, which, where and how much of them we want, the USB pocket-drive is electronic memory which augments real memory, while Cloud Computing is simply an array of electronic storage sheds for a transient population, or for people in transition. Paint them up however you like, but a rented shed is a shed and it is rented. While there will be an undeniable market for Cloud Computing, with respect to ones personal belongings its not the sort of place many of us would or should aspire to put our electronic stuff in, for very long at all. You only have to look as far as the corporate email server saga over a handful of years, to see how transient, restricting, inaccessible and constricting such centralised storage can be.

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