All Aboard for the Cloud Wars

Marketing campaigns are gearing up for the major players offering cloud services as add-ons to their core products.

Google Docs recently launched Google Cloud Connect,  a plug-in which lets  you add your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents to Google Docs and share with your colleagues. (Ars Technica reviews Cloud Connect and says it’s “not ready for primetime”)

Microsoft will be ending the beta of it’s Live Mesh service on March 31st and has announced Windows Live Mesh 2011 with the byline, “Access the stuff on your computers from almost anywhere.” It’s part of Windows Live Essentials bundle which you download and install and includes,

Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mail, Writer, Family Safety, Bing Bar, Messenger Companion, Microsoft Silverlight, and the Outlook Connector Pack (Microsoft Outlook Hotmail Connector and Microsoft Outlook Social Connector Provider for Windows Live Messenger)

There is a custom install option in case you don’t want to take all of this in one go. You can learn more at explore.live.com

Finally, Apple has just changed it’s tune. I took a screenshot of me.com yesterday and got the image you see above. It’s all about the services. Mail, Address Book, Calendar, Photos, Cloud Storage, and the Find my iPhone app. I just went back today and the site has been refreshed and the message is totally different.

Today, when you visit me.com it’s all about the hardware. The cloud is front and center and behind are the familiar outlines of the Apple brand of glass tablets and phones. If you wave your mouse over the cloud, you’re greeted with a pixie-dust effect adding some magic to an otherwise plain ol’ login page.

Could this be positioning for the launch of the rumored Media Stream service or is this just a routine update now that we’ve rolled over from February to March?

Raindrops and Private Clouds

Before Christmas I posted about the possible break-up of clouds.  For the past 5 years or so, the usual suspects such as Yahoo, and Google, and more recently Facebook and a re-vitalized AOL have been sucking up smaller collectives of socially active sites in search of rich pockets of user engagement.

Clouds are an apt metaphor because we’re reaching a time when some of these large, ad-supported clouds are getting too heavy and are starting to look for ways to offload sites which don’t monetize by either shutting them down or selling them off. Think of the threat late last year to shut down delicious.com as the first cloudburst which resulted in a shower of users taking their data fleeing that cloud in search of a new home.

FourSquare announced that they’ve added photo uploads to venues for their check-in service.  This leads me to ask, why they make me upload new photos for places I’ve been. I’ve got year’s worth GPS-encoded of photos sitting on Flickr. 4Sq can cross-reference the location and time stamp on my photos, match it up with my check-in history and get a bunch of photos for venues right away.

Why doesn’t FourSquare let me push in photos from my Flickr account? Are they worried about mis-matches? They could use a little Machine Tag foo and let me select which photos to link to a location. Most likely it’s just a pain to build a connector. Better to start over and build up your own dataset right? It’s cleaner, more current, and they avoid the legal hassles of having to partner with Yahoo, much better to own the data right?

The nagging problem about tying venue photos to images hosted on another cloud is that it opens 4Sq up to dependencies. Do they really want to rely on flickr to host their venue photos? Not only do they lose  editorial control over those photos and if a photo turns out to be offensive or violates some kind of copyright, who is at fault? FourSquare? Flickr? Yahoo? Most likely you’re going to have to cut some kind of deal which means the Biz Dev guys have to get involved. Contracts, SLAs, a big pain which limits your options in the future.

Tim O’Reilly posted a while back that the tendency of Web 2.0 companies is to monopolize their vertical to secure control and cut dependencies:

One of the points I’ve made repeatedly about Web 2.0 is that it is the design of systems that get better the more people use them, and that over time, such systems have a natural tendency towards monopoly.

If big companies get too protective of their data and the legal hassles around free exchange of data make it harder for consumers to connect their data in these clouds together, we’ll all be forced to either throw our lot into a single cloud which gives us the most complete suite of connected services (facebook or google) or risk tenuous connections in search of our own, best-of-breed solution.

Consider the alternative. Consumers hosting their own data. Check out Pogoplug, this neat little service that sticks an ethernet port into the back of a external hard drive that sits on your desk and connects directly to the Internet, turning that hard drive into your own little “private cloud.”

What if your Pogoplug held all your photos, blog posts, status updates, scrobbling history, and other lifestream detrius? You can stream it out the back and use it to feed flickr, facebook, and your other favorite caching layers where people can view it. Again, I’m not suggesting you serve up to the internet at large via this little box on your desk, that would be madness. Just have all or originals there and use your favorite social network, photo/video/link sharing service as the copy that feeds your fans. The important point is that the source, the seed for all these large clouds to which you syndicate, is under your control.

If a shiny new photo-sharing startup catches your eye you can give it a shot by forking off a feed of your photos to it’s API endpoint and get started with a collection of your own stuff on their service. No need to export from old photo-sharing site to this new one, you’ve got the raw data sitting on your “private cloud” and can start with a clean copy of your entire archive.

For further reading, there’s a healthy thread between Jeffery Zeldman, Tom Henrich, Jeff Croft, Tantek Çelik, Kevin Marks, Glenda Bautista, Andy Rutledge and others about the methods, and even necessity of hosting your own data. Tantek, for one, has put his money where his mouth is and is busy writing software and pushing this vision.

I’m building a solution, bit by bit. It’s certainly incomplete, and with rough edges (Jeffrey has pointed out plenty of the areas that need work), but iteratively improving as I find time and inspiration to work on it.

I’d rather host my data and live with such awkwardness in the open than be a sharecropper on so many beautiful social content farms.

This is what I mean by “own your data”. Your site should be the source and hub for everything you post online. This doesn’t exist yet, it’s a forward looking vision, and I and others are hard at work building it. It’s the future of the indie web.

Tantek.com, On Owning Your Data

If this kind of stuff interests you, check out IndieWebCamp in Portland this June.

Cloud Burst

Warranted or not, the great delicious.com shutdown scare of December 2010 teaches us all an important lesson about the sustainability of cloud services.

If you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.

This quote paraphrased from blue_beetle on metafilter is very apt. Companies that offer free services to their users do so in the hopes they make a return on their investment to run a service. If you’re not paying for a subscription to use a service then you’re paying with your perceived attention through advertising. Let’s ignore the fact that there are multiple ways that Yahoo could have used the delicious corpus of annotated links to increase value across their network. The fact is nothing comes for free and if the owner can’t figure out how, they are within their rights to pull the plug. We all need to be aware of this fact in the same way that we need to read the fine print on any free checking or 0% financing deal we get in the mail.
The old adage still applies. Make sure that everything you put in you can take back out. Delicious has an export feature built into their API so that if you every get twitchy, you can grab your data and take it elsewhere. I would never put my blog onto a platform, hosted or not, that wouldn’t let me pull it back out. Beware of one-way streets.

So all this moving about and looking for a new home for your stuff brings up an old debate. Should you host your own data?

In the past this was not a realistic option for most. The costs and complexity of setting up your own domain and software was far to difficult and expensive. But it’s worth revisiting. The cost of hosting your own server has come down dramatically. Maybe it’s time has come when we can push things to the edge. Stephen Hay challenges us to ask why not:

What if we flipped this all on its head? What if we hosted our own data, and provided APIs for all these webapps so that they can use our data? … So instead of having our own websites aggregate our own data from other people’s websites, we’ll let other people use the data from our own websites. Photos, meaningfully tagged, can be pulled in by Flickr via our own personal API, if you will. We provide the structured data, Flickr provides the functionality. The sharing. The social. Why not?

Imagine a world where I pay $100/year to host all my stuff (blog posts, bookmarks, status updates, photos, videos, etc) which can offset that by services paying me for access to that content. Each service can “pay” me by providing a service that plays to their strength:

  • Yahoo pays me for access to my hosted photos with the collective photo tagging and geo-location tools on flickr.
  • Google pays me for access to my blog by sending me traffic and offering ad rev share.
  • Facebook pays me for access to a feed of my posts and likes by offering a social layer of my friends.
  • Twitter pays me for access to a feed of my status updates with distribution.

For the cost of a single month’s cable TV bill I now can pick and chose which service I use and turn off and on each one at will without fear of migration. Today I “host” my money at a bank and point all my monthly bills to that bank, why can’t I do the same with my digital savings? Bundling blog software with a hosting account was a business I helped set up at Six Apart. Adding email, photos, videos, and bookmarks and putting a nice user-friendly front end onto it could be a real opportunity for an clever hosting provider.

One final thought. If each of us hosts our own data, companies would be much more likely to standardize how they integrate with our data and make it easier to mix and match datasets. It’ll be in their interest to offer the best tools for data to flow in and services to flow out. With users and data aggregating into just a handful of large players, it is not in a company’s interest to offer these tools, it’s better for them to lock users and data up to prevent loss of audience and attention used to monetize those users.

That’s a topic for the next another post (which is posted here)

Social Media Isotope

I moved my blog from a dedicated host over to Laughing Squid’s cloud service (thanks Frank and Zahaib for your help!). Some hiccups with the images coming over on the wrong directory but some delicate SQL surgery fixed that. Think of this post as a sort of Social Media isotope to make sure that what gets posted here makes it out the other end in one piece and as intended.

Oh, the image? Just want to say the move to the cloud was easier than I thought. Hopefully this post proves that it resulted in a soft landing.

Please?

A Good Host is Worth It

A couple of days ago I had one of those “uh-oh” moments when you’re not quite paying attention and do something you really shouldn’t have but don’t realize it until it’s already done. This was a doozy. My web hosting provider, Laughing Squid Web Hosting, jumped in and saved me. It’s times like these when you appreciate the value of a good hosting provider.

Best Hosting Provider Around!

For every WordPress upgrade for the past couple of years or so I have used the excellent WordPress Automatic Upgrade plug-in to handle my upgrades. Problem is, it was so good it lulled me into auto-pilot so I didn’t really pay too close attention during this most recent upgrade and certainly didn’t check to see that WPAU is no longer being supported.

After timing out during one of the steps and gettting sporatic errors afterwards, things got progressively worse until I totally botched things and was left with the dreaded white screen of death. I submitted a ticket to the Laughing Squid guys explaining what happened and attached an error log but basically said not to worry too much about it if they could just restore the files back to the way it was last week.

Instead, Frank, over at Laughing Squid central, offered to look into things for me and not only un-borked my install but also upgraded me to the latest version. Thanks Frank!

I signed up for Laughing Squid Hosting because I’m a fan of Scott Beale’s quirky blog about SF (lately NYC) culture, and have turned many people on to the Bay Area to the SquidList as a source of things cool and extraordinary. Hosting my blog with LS was my way of supporting Scott. Not only do these guys support cool and interesting art, they also run a great hosting shop.

(this post was, as all my posts, totally unsolicited and straight from the heart)

Nordics Bathed in Broadband

More pretty infographics via Focus.com’s 2009 State of the Internet report. What is it about the internets up here in the Nordics. Norway, Sweden, Finland are the top three for internet penetration (I believe that’s number of households). In terms of speed Finland is quite a bit shy of Japan and Korea but still pulls in at a respectful 22 mbps average broadband speed with Sweden next at 18.2.

State of the Internet 2009

See also: Finland has 3rd fasted internet

That’s one way to get your company’s name out there. . .

godaddy.jpg

The advertising world is buzzing with godaddy.com’s debut on the television advertising scene with their parody of the Janet Jackson wardrobe mishap from last year. Forrester’s Advertising analyst Jim Nail gives it the “Load the Cannon with Gerbils” award:

This ad confirms it: the dotcom bubble is back. An unknown internet company selling a service that 99.9% of the audience doesn’t need spends megabucks to run an ad that has nothing whatsoever to do with the aforementioned service. At least Cyberian Outpost (whose 1998 spot firing gerbils out of a cannon can be credited with much of the dotcom advertising mania) sold computer gear people were buying at the time.

So offended (and afraid of further FCC lawsuits one might add) were the grand pooh-bahs at the NFL and Fox that they pulled the second airing of the commercial that was supposed to run during the two minute warning. The jury’s still out on this but it appears that the media buzz alone surrounding the pulling of the second ad has kicked the media coverage of the ad campaign into high gear and paid off in brand awareness dollars alone.

Bob Garfield of USA Today (which ranks all the Super Bowl ads in its annual Ad Meter story) calls the ad a success,

It branded a business never before branded. It flipped the bird at the FCC and the NFL and it self-mockingly used blatant sexism to get its message across. Plus the lady had a big bosom.

So the message hit home and branded the company but will it bring godaddy.com business? Only time will tell but my guess is yes. Maybe not $2.4 million yes but the bump will be significant. Sport fans are a huge audience that is only starting to be recognized. Ask anyone at mlb.com, DirecTV, XM or Sirius. Sports fans have money to spend on technology.

You can read more about the pre-game media coverage (and view the ad) here.

Movable Type Hosting Partner page

For those of you who subscribe to this site via RSS (and for the benefit of the crawlers of the world), just letting you know that we now have a page where you can view the approved Movable Type Hosting Partners, find out more information about each one, and, if you’re a hosting company, apply to become a hosting partner.

For those of you reading this site, take a look at the big ol’ tile on the left!