The cloud giveth and the cloud taketh away

I’ve been using Apple’s iDisk syncing service for – I can’t believe this – about ten years now. When I signed up, iDisk was part of the company’s iTools service, which was subsequently revamped and given the goofy name MobileMe. The transition to MobileMe was a little hair-raising, as there were moments when my iDisk seemed to flicker out of existence. Since I was using the service to sync critical documents between my computers, seeing the iDisk folder disappear caused, to say the least, a little panic. But Apple, after much bad press, worked out the kinks. iDisk since then has worked fine, and I’ve grown ever more dependent on it. Now, as Apple replaces MobileMe with iCloud, iDisk is about to get tossed onto the great junk pile of abandoned software. And I have to go through the nuisance of finding a replacement. Apple is also discontinuing its (fairly crappy) iWeb service, which I’ve been using to publish So there’s another pain in the ass I’m going to have to deal with.

The cloud is great in many ways, but it’s also fickle. Look at all the cloud services that Google has shut down: Google Health, Wave, Friend Connect, Buzz, Aardvark, Notebook, Sidewiki, Subscribed Links, Desktop, Jaiku, and so on (all the way back to that would-be eBay killer Google Base). None of them were particularly successful – you can certainly see why Larry Page decided to flush them down the famous Googleplex toilet – but given the scale of the net, even services and apps that don’t achieve a critical market mass may have a whole lot of users. Discontinued products and services are nothing new, of course, but what is new with the coming of the cloud is the discontinuation of services to which people have entrusted a lot of personal or otherwise important data – and in many cases devoted a lot of time to creating and organizing that data. As businesses ratchet up their use of cloud services, they’re going to struggle with similar problems, sometimes on a much greater scale.

I don’t see any way around this – it’s the price we pay for the convenience of centralized apps and databases – but it’s worth keeping in mind that in the cloud we’re all guinea pigs, and that means we’re all dispensable. Caveat cloudster.

7 thoughts on “The cloud giveth and the cloud taketh away

  1. Sam Stephens

    This is the price of dependency on any service or product that only exists at the whim of any one company. A winning point of open source that is often not considered in my experience.

    The cloud issue is a particularly interesting one. Avoiding dependency on any one provider leads to products such as Simple Cloud.

    To get around the specific issue you’ve encountered, you could consider hosting your own sync service. I haven’t investigated SparkleShare in any depth, but it’s something that showed up in my blog feeds recently.

  2. Harald Felgner

    Concerning iDisk: I agree and I’m in the complete same situation :(

    But to go even further, I wouldn’t restrict the issue to the cloud. Technology giveth and technology taketh away!

    I have never been into Super 8 or VHS, but into 35mm slides. Projectors and scanners are disappearing rapidly. Are we guinea pigs? I’m not so sure. We might be the experimenters!

  3. David Schembri

    I find Dropbox quite useful. Possibly not as neat or integrated as the iDisk, but it works, and it’s cross-platform.

  4. Sam Johnston

    Remember, if you’re not paying for it you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.

    “Free” cloud services have incentives to focus on those products that maximise eyeballs and minimise cost, and bulk storage doesn’t fit that profile.

    In the case of Apple it’s about delivering services that support sales, but again in a way that minimises cost — you’ll see that iDisk is being retired in favour of a heavily restricted blob and key-value store accessible directly by applications.

  5. Scott Wilson

    As Harald Felgner notes, this is not an issue restricted to the cloud; somewhere, I have a stack of 5 1/4 floppies sitting around with WordPerfect 4 documents on them that I am not likely to ever see inside of again. Obsolescence is a facet of technology; accelerated obsolescence came along with digital technology, and hyper-accelerated obsolescence is the version we get with networked digital technology.

    I would suggest, however, that the view that the version of this malady introduced with cloud computing is worse than its predecessors is incorrect. If you compare the situations in which Nick and I find ourselves with respect to retrieving and migrating our outdated storage services to the newer and shinier alternatives, you’ll find that he has a much easier time of it.

    Something that increasingly rapid obsolescence has focused the minds of consumers and producers alike on is the necessity of migration. So it’s a lot easier today to pop your data from one cloud service to the next than it was, even during its heyday, of taking WordPerfect 4 documents and moving them to another arbitrary format. More portable formats have been devised, and increasing numbers of providers are building in mechanisms to save and migrate your data.

    It’s not impossible for me to go back and retrieve and migrate my old files, of course, but it’s not just clicking a few buttons or dragging some files around onto a new website. It’s still annoying, but from any objective perspective, it’s an awful lot easier. This sort of challenge is diminishing, not increasing. So it’s not a price we are paying for the convenience of centralized apps and databases, it’s actually an additional benefit they offer.

  6. Eric Drouillard

    I think you’ll have a completely different experience with a service whose main business is what you’re looking for (cloud storage or web hosting, namely). Dropbox, for example, is dead simple, incredibly reliable and mitigates a lot of the problems you discuss. Its interface is so simple that it would actually be trivial (a quick drag and drop) to move all your files to a competing service.

    Competitors like Apple, Google and Microsoft, for whom storage is an expensive perk for their real profit centers, will always be incentivized toward lock-in, no matter how antithetical that is to many of the aims of storage.

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