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The cloud's my-mom-cleaned-my-room problem (theatlantic.com)
122 points by alexismadrigal 2190 days ago | hide | past | web | 22 comments | favorite

Great articulation of what makes so many of us uneasy about cloud computing.

While I'm not sure I agree with the anti-authoritarian reason for the outrage over cheese-moving (I think people just generally don't like change), the cognitive dissonance over saying we don't trust while acting like we do does ring true.

I wrote a bit about what I hope is the swinging pendulum between centralized and distributed computing, and where I hope this is headed in a blog post a while ago: http://blog.byjoemoon.com/post/6277876911/the-personal-cloud

The pendulum may be swinging, but I'm not sure I see it. Mobile computing isn't really different from the PC/web of the 90s. The shift is in the access pattern, not the access paradigm. Napster/Kazaa/BitTorrent is an example of the pendulum swinging. The Web was originally envisioned as an open access community, but we have yet to move it beyond the client-server (centralized) paradigm. Home servers preserve this paradigm. Many of us here run home servers because we're geeks, but that doesn't apply to most people on Facebook. Look at Diaspora: great idea (wrest control of our data from Facebook), but still the centralized (seed/server) paradigm.

Distributed computing at the level we want is still WAY too hard for the end user. The goal should be to make it as simple as using Facebook today, but retaining control in a much better way than Facebook or Google let us do now.

I agree with you, and my great hope is that there is (or will be) enough of a market opportunity for someone to exploit. The market would be for a productized distributed cloud solution that's simple to set up and maintain.

The target demographic would be people who are concerned enough about privacy, ownership of online identity, and government access to corporate cloud data to pay for a self-operated solution.

The prerequisites for this to be viable as I see it are: cheap enough hardware; cheap enough full-access pipes; enough demand; good enough UX. The first two seem fairly obviously on the right path. The third I'm not sure, and the fourth is under the control of the vendor.

[Edit: Maybe wide publicization of stuff like this: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3036157 will help with the demand? Hey, a guy can hope, right?]

From my point of view, full-access pipes are the problem. Asymmetric connections, bandwidth caps, incoming port filtering, etc are all de rigueur for large fixed line ISPs these days. This is especially true in North America. The mobile connectivity picture here is even worse.

Demand can be generated, if you do it correctly. The hardware is less of a challenge if you do the distributed computing on several layers at once. Apple has shown us the way on UI/UX, as has science fiction literature for decades now.

We'll never get completely away from client-server (especially with mobile computing), and that needs to be part of the design. But we have seen the power of peer to peer networks, and even some kind of proxy network between the p2p base and mobile clients could be done in a non-evil way.

Cheap hardware and cheap bandwidth are easy to get... in datacenters. And if you have reasonable scale you can amortize away the cost of high availability, too. The cloud isn't the problem here, it's SaaS. If you have a personal cloud server, you can not upgrade all you want.

That's an interesting angle that I don't know enough about. For example, do the laws governing SaaS data provision to law enforcement also apply to data centers? If they do, then you're giving up some privacy from the gov't for the convenience of outsourcing server management.

I guess what's interesting about your idea is that it presents control as a continuum as opposed to a binary. There are varying degrees of control/convenience possible, but most of the current options are heavily weighted away from user control.

Also, I don't think this thread is really about the cheese-moving/silent-upgrade phenomenon so much as data and identity ownership.

We're not getting away from SaaS without an underlying infrastructure for something along the lines of Software as a Peer to Peer Network. PaaS and IaaS have the potential to exhibit some of the same problems as SaaS. Look at the AWS/Wikileaks thing. There may not be privacy issues in the same way, but Daddy can still take the car keys away.

Also, bandwidth is only as good as the size of the total pipe between communicating entities. The cheap bandwidth has to go all the way to the end-user or it doesn't help too much. Think about backing up personal data. The initial upload takes forever in cloud backup systems.

I was excited about Opera Unite because it did make setting up a small webserver really easy for end users. Unfortunately slow residential upload speeds, lack of a must-have app to run on it, and Opera's small user-base mean that it didn't go anywhere.

The responses to Opera's marketing also indicated that a lot of people didn't understand what a server was. It launched about the same time as Google Wave, and both products had marketing campaigns which emphasized how easy each product made communicating with friends. As a result, many of the comments I saw on forums were people asking if the products functioned identically.

I feel that if it had launched with a peer to peer social networking application that synced messages and photos between friends, it might have been significantly more popular.

Peer to Peer social networking suffers from a massive chicken and egg problem. Something like this isn't going to be built on the backs of Facebook users seeking privacy or freedom from UI updates.

The key to solving this will be to find the killer app for always-on peer to peer home systems that won't get you in legal troubles.

Like the article's author, I'm very wary of "parental computing". This is one reason why I'm a greater fan of desktop OSs and apps over cloud apps (when a reasonably-good desktop alternative is available). If I don't like the latest "upgrade" to a desktop app, I can typically keep using my current version without being forced to upgrade. If others are similarly displeased and there are enough of us, we can sometimes get a company to recognize its misstep and make amends (e.g. Windows Vista). Unfortunately, the freedom afforded by desktops is being eroded as Windows and Mac OS become more tightly-controlled platforms, with less freedom for end users to install (or keep using) whatever software they want. (Unfortunately, I might have to seriously consider migrating to a Linux-based GUI in the near future.)

Being a laggard can be difficult at times, but for me the user interface and experience are supremely important. (Software companies' widespread ineptitude with their UI/UX "upgrades" is hard for me to stomach.)

We used to also build our own computers and amateur radio sets. Now we buy them. Are we losing anything? Probably. Have we gained anything? Probably. Does this article ask a lot of rhetorical questions? Yes.

I agree. To extend the metaphor of the article a little more, we stop worrying about our moms cleaning our rooms when we move out, buy our own furnitures and pay our own rent. The web equivalent would be setting up/coding your own cloud server and paying for the servers.

I don't think that's a realistic proposition for many. I wonder what the author think is the ideal web. Is it where everything stays static? Look at the v1 of Twitter or Facebook. They have changed dramatically since then but I believe they changed for the better.

I, too, have felt the irritation of seeing a service that worked exactly the way I liked it changed. It can be annoying but I don't see any way to escape this, aside from writing your own web apps.

In the era when users had to pay $50 and install software upgrades, these kinds of interface changes and feature additions were viewed as greedy "planned obsolescence". But now that web apps are updated seamlessly and without cost (and often with painstaking user education), developers are somehow exerting control over end-users. I guess the pundit class needs to justify their existence somehow.

>I guess the pundit class needs to justify their existence somehow.

You're blindly defending the one you like by refusing to see the larger picture.

You're conflicting two very different issues. The changes in location of control don't necessarily tie to the changes in price or upgradeability.

I use web "apps" that I pay for, some of them even require a large purchase for major-version upgrades. I use free, automatically self-updating desktop software. Free user-initiated update desktop software and everything in between.

Indeed, this occurred more slowly but just as surely back in the desktop software days. Even if you really loved Windows 3.1 or AmigaDOS 1.3, you didn't have much of a choice about upgrading eventually. The difference is you had control over exactly when it happened, and could usualy delay for years if you were stubborn. Now changes appear suddenly.

Web apps updated seamlessly without cost to the end user are great, however that doesn't mean developers aren't exerting control over end users. And whether charging $50 for feature additions and changes was greedy or not is completely irrelevant to the point.

Amazon isn't in the habit of moving my files around, or even changing their API's. It's also far from rent-free. I enjoy having "my mom" clean my room. It means I don't have to run my own IT infrastructure in a company of 4 with barely any cashflow. One click... deploy to the world's most advanced Web infrastructures (EngineYard, Heroku, Amazon, Etc) and for relatively little cost.

The original article is much more about end-user SaaS type cloud experiences than the IaaS or PaaS services you're mentioning. The nature of SaaS is that it is directly facing the end-user. IaaS or PaaS services are more B2B style and so the customer and the end-user are not the same.

The different nature of the SaaS beast doesn't mean that IaaS or PaaS systems are any less vulnerable to things going wrong (see the EBS outage earlier this year). But Iaas and PaaS providers are more vulnerable to customer loss if APIs change (due to the instantaneous breakage) than SaaS providers are if UIs change.

It's funny that you mention Amazon, as they are updating their website UI when I feel that the old one is perfectly fine, but what can I say? It is their website.

Client-server model, welcome to the 2010s. Why do we call it cloud anyway? Screw personal computers and thousands of hours wasted on removing malware, give me more powerful browsers

p.s. i had the same stereo system as the one in the picture in the 90s, sigh

I'm glad to see this here, but if you're going to submit your own stuff - even if you're a big shot writer for The Motherfucking Atlantic - I think it's not too much to ask that you engage with us in the comments. Dan Frommer, Fred Wilson, and others do it, and I think it'd be a nice social norm around here.

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