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The cloud may be the future of computing, but that doesn't mean that users will always have sunny days ahead.
PC Magazine's John C. Dvorak is a confessed cloud skeptic, but it's hard to avoid the cloud these days and he learned the hard way that the cloud often doesn't mean a whole lot.
Dvorak was a paying customer of Drop.io, a private file-sharing service built on, yes, 'the cloud.' Late last month, Drop.io announced that it was being acquired by Facebook. Except that it really wasn't being acquired in the traditional sense. Sure, Facebook was acquiring Drop.io's assets, but the acquisition was really just a way for Facebook to get Drop.io's founder and CEO, Sam Lessin, to come to work for the world's largest social network.
That may have been good news for Lessin and Drop.io's investors, but it was bad news for users and paying customers like Dvorak. That's because Facebook has no interest in continuing the Drop.io service, and will be shuttering it in the near future. Dvorak explained the impact this will have on him:
Now here's the problem I am experiencing second-hand. The audio podcast I do with Adam Curry, the No Agenda Show (Google it), has been using Drop.io to store podcast album cover images for convenience. They will all be destroyed, as well as the accumulation of links, tips, curiosities, and other valuable information, in the next few weeks.
Looking back on the idea of using this service, I didn't fully consider the ramifications of its discontinuance despite my skepticism about cloud services in general. You know, this was just a lot of weird stuff thrown into a bin. But once it was discontinued, it was apparent what you are left with: dead links.
Here's a challenge for you. Go to an older machine you may have taken offline and dig up your favorites folder full of old bookmarks. Start clicking on those bookmarks, and see what you get. I have folders full of bookmarks to once cool sites that are all dead links now. Essentially, everything on the Web is based on some sort of cloud service. Look at the dead links. It's like a bone yard. Blame the cloud. You've basically wasted years of effort saving cool Web sites with bookmarks for no reason.
Obviously a distinction needs to be made between providers that lease out cloud infrastructure, like Amazon, and providers that offer cloud-based services, like Drop.io. The former are in the business providing pure hosting solutions while the latter are in the business of providing hosted applications.
In an interview last year, Drop.io's Lessin touted the cloud:
We're very proud of the fact that our entire company is in the cloud. The cloud is the most fundamentally huge deal in the next 10 years, at least. We have no servers, no hardware. We pay for everything by the hour.
That's great, but it didn't mean much for Drop.io's users and paying customers. Deploying your own applications to the cloud using, say, Amazon AWS, is quite different than relying on third-party cloud applications, which is what Drop.io's users and customers were doing. Now that the lights will be turned out, Drop.io users and customers won't have the functionality, but the functionality was where Drop.io users and customers received all their value from.
At the end of the day, Drop.io is a good reminder that, in many cases, the 'cloud' is little more than an overhyped buzzword, misused to create the impression that data and functionality is somehow safer, more available and in more capable hands. Perhaps it is. Until, of course, it isn't. From this perspective, it's worth considering that more individuals and companies should be looking at what the cloud really is in and how it needs to be used. Moving away from the desktop and into the cloud may very well make sense, but if your application is controlled and owned by a third party, you should never forget that the cloud you're floating on is somebody else's.
Photo credit: kevindooley via Flickr.