What The Cloud Is Missing – The Right Desktop Partner

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Warning! This post may be highly inflammatory to your “cloudy” vision of computing.

My partner Mihaela Lica and I discussed the cloud earlier today, and she aptly pointed out; “There is a time and a place for everything and this is particularly true of computing in the cloud.” Cloud computing has come under fire lately for several important reasons. To be coldly clinical, for most applications the cloud is far less secure, slower, and it is not conducive of stability and viability, at least not yet. I know, I am an advocate too, but it just isn’t, like it or not.

Head in the Clouds Thinking
Over the last several weeks I have beta tested any number of startups which represent what we might call “refined walled garden” approaches to social interaction. Typically, and walled garden approach has met with great criticism from proponents of cloud computing. The dogma for many in the social networking, marketing and even technology spheres has been one of liberal damnation for anything not free, or akin to a desktop application. There are many reasons for this type rationale, but promoting Web business is by far the driving force behind cloud computing hype.

New Ideas Don’t Take Us Backward
FileRide is one of the betas I tested this week. It is a social community designed to operate from the desktop, making use of all the advantages of both the cloud and a user’s PC. Steve Jobs of Apple refers to such techniques as “a combined approach” is indicated for many apps. FileRide, rather than file sharing, suggests a much more secure, and honestly, logical approach we can call – “social file interaction”. Operating from the desktop, with inherent speed and security, FileRide has many other implications as well. It is important to place new desktop innovation within a current contextual picture of the overall Internet market.

Brio Toys suggested 5 ways via FileRide UI

Brio Toys suggested 5 ways via FileRide UI

Tip of the Trend Iceberg

  • Coghead Dies – Coghead was designed for small business and now their users will have an Excel file or worse to replace an interface and an application. Imagine the time that went into creating these apps, the time it will take to extract, and the time lost. On a larger scale, such a collapse could be catastrophic. And now, other cloud solutions are clamoring to scarf up Coghead’s already bruised clientele – brilliant.
  • Gmail strands 100 million – I cannot tell you how many “cloudy” comments I got when trying to suggest the implications of this recent outage. It was the “scope” of the outage, more than the “type” of service that was important here. Imagine 100 million businesses being down for 3 hours.
  • Facebook, MySpace and sex offenders – A touchy subject for many, but for parents, perhaps the quintessential concern, their kid’s well being. All I can say on Facebook is “finally”. After the world, including me, hammered them for dragging their feet, they addressed the issue. For cloud advocates, the it boils down to this: “Is there something you hold dear that deserves the utmost privacy and security?”
  • Adobe attacks – While possible primarily due to “socialization” of a flash file from an attacker, the point here is, localized platforms are less likely to contribute than the wider social strata of the cloud. The bottom line is, if Adobe is susceptible, social networks and other cloud elements are at least contributory.

As good a definition for cloud computing as there is (via InformationWeek) also outlines my opinion of wide spread use of online resources for many applications. As Oracle CEO Larry Ellison called the business end of it – idiocy, crap, gibberish and crazy. While this is excessive in many regards, it is true that any business that put proprietary information on someone else’s service had better have some rock solid assurances.

So What’s Your Problem?
You want the world to live in the clouds where misty eyed dreams of vast riches and unlimited potential abound. More precisely, you have some vested interest in promoting other people to do as you do, or am I wrong? Any investigation of popular dogma such as Web 2.0 or cloud computing can be enlightened by simply following the money.

Ask yourself this question if you ever wonder if you have been “hyped” into a philosophy; “Who will benefit the most from this happening?” As far as SaaS or cloud computing are concerned, Google will benefit first – they coined the term. Then a whole tier of other business entities tied into the tech world, and finally – maybe- the end user.

Ford target marketed 4 more ways

Ford target marketed 4 more ways

Desktop Re-entry
I mention FileRide in particular because I noticed certain resistance to this desktop solution coming from many in my own network. All of them smart people who, by some mystical means, have become convinced that to criticize anything about cloud computing is to threaten their very existence. These same people download the StumbleUpon tool bar, allow Facebook applications to run their lives, add Firefox plug-ins like eating cotton candy. In general, once people “think” they like something, they adopt it like any of it as they would a child. Why not our old desktop app then?

FileRide (or an application like it, maybe the Flock browser even) can essentially do anything and everything all the other social applications can, except faster and safer. So why has so much negativity been heaped on top of desktop applications?

007 viewed, discussed, researched, tagged – any questions?

007 viewed, discussed, researched, tagged – any questions?

Applying Numbers
Traffic numbers have been used to usurp billions from investors these last few years. Twitter and Facebook are the best examples of money being thrown at raw traffic, but the underlying problem for most people I know, is in their marketing and advertising strategy. Anyone who uses Twitter realizes that everyone on it is selling something. No big secret right?

The problem is in the chaos and “scattergun” approach to it. What is the value of looking at a chat room with scrolling links rolling by at the speed of light? Marketing needs a better vehicle than television or Twitter for any number of reasons, but mostly because the Web is not television, but it can be better! Behaviorally targeted advertising is second only to “word of mouth” (which is the ultimate contextual medium), and platforms similar to the FileRide one provide a multitude of advantages over purely cloud driven apps. The bottom line for any social network from a user of marketing perspective – minimizing the chaos.

Castle Walls and Camelot
Now, if you want an ethereal, warm and Fuzzy feeling about the future of computing, please allow me to paint a picture for you (note – you will not see this variant on TechCrunch). Imagine the cloud correctly inhabited with relevant information and ecommerce sites designed to do what they do best, educate and sell respectively. Now, imagine social interaction done from P2P via very powerful applications on people’s desktops. Now let’s take the example of FileRide to its next logical step, with FileRide (or Flock user in a refined variant) a user can do anything any cloud application can do, but more safely and when used in combination, as cheaply.

The list of things an application like FileRide can do is virtually limitless when used in conjunction with the real cloud – the one up there where I suggested selling and educating. The immense database we call the Internet, combined with its inherent communication ability, and operated from the desktop with super powerful applications – is Camelot.

Everyone gripes about the limitations of a walled garden. There are no limitations that matter if people can go outside, but be safe and resourceful from behind huge castle walls. Many businesses can thrive in the cloud, and more will be viable in the years to come, but selling remote storage and apps on a scale as techdom has done (for all the wrong reasons) borders on idiocy. There is a better way to market, a better way to communicate, d0and a better way of thinking. Taking bait “hook-line-and-sinker” is not better for anyone.

Phil Butler
Phil Butler is theEditor at Everything PR, Argophilia Travel News,  and Senior Partner at Pamil Visions PR. He’s a widely cited authority on beta startups, search engines and public relations issues, and he has covered tech news since 2004. Phil wrote in the past for ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, Profy, SitePoint, Search Engine Journal, AltSearchEngines. Follow Phil on Twitter or send him an email at phil [at] pamil-visions [dot] com.
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  • James

    I hope you are never put in charge of anything, ever.

    • Phil Butler

      Hi James,

      Many people wish that, including me sometimes. 🙂 Then again, you may look back on this post in 18 months and say; “Yeah, that guy was a visionary!” Of course, the same sentence could be inhabited by the term “fool” rather than visionary. Thanks for reading in any event.


  • Sunny Jain

    Computer in the cloud, virtual keyboards and Ipod Touch put together seems to point to a new way of computing.

    • Phil Butler

      You are right Sunny, but where the data is stored, and how fast and stable it is, reflect on ultimate user value. As for marketing, I did an elaborate job of selling very targeted approaches. I actually have some of the methodologies under the hat, but all we need know now is that there are problems in River City…then we solve them. These marketing gurus are guruing old hat tricks on a new TV set. 🙂


  • http://kristennicole.com Kristen Nicole

    So the intangible “cloud” is what gets me. I’m not apprehensive about it but subconsciously, I think a lot of people feel the same way without even realizing it. So I like the combined approach, tbh!

    • Phil Butler

      You are so right K, and I would not argue with Jobs on anything Internet or electronics etc. What is the saying; “Never put all your eggs in one basket?” Never is a strong word not used lightly by the older generations.

      Thanks K,

  • http://www.fileride.com Patrik

    Being the main visionary behind FileRide, I would like to take the opportunity to outline the most important aspect of FileRide :

    FileRide makes it possible for people to socialize around ANY url, link or file, not only around the links and data found on the web, files on your own computer just turned social. Say your friend gives you a PDF document on a usb stick or via mail.. Does that PDF document include a global forum where you can meet and discuss with everyone else having the document on their computer? NO. Is there a service that will let you meet people having that document without having to upload it anywhere? NO… except for FileRide. FileRide makes it possible (even easy) for you to simply add any link or document from your own hard drive to your social desktop (nothing exposed or uploaded) and instantly get connected to everyone else (having FileRide) with the same document on their computer.

    You could say that every document ever created (online or offline) just got it’s own nano-community with forum, rating, chat etc. We want people to have the ability to comment on and share information about any data regardless of whether it’s publicly available or if it’s just laying around on a few peoples laptops. Of course we offer a lot of other features, but I feel this is one of the most important aspects of the service.



  • Ryan

    I think what really needs to happen for cloud computing to come around is Operating System implementation. Microsoft is moving in generally the right direction with Windows Live, but it is still lacking. Browsers just won’t cut it to handle all the potential of cloud computing. FileRide has the right idea because it is a dedicated program for cloud computing.

    • Phil Butler

      Someone finally got it, the biggest part of the picture that is. FileRide can process all this stuff very quickly, and it acts like a browser/suggestive search engine while browsing a person’s PC at the same time. It has the potential to do just about everything, but as Patrik says, the social philosophy is more correct. Some people are going to think I work for these guys, but I don’t (I would like to). It is just that a light bulb went off after I started using this for about 6 hours. It was cool to start with, build wise, and for the Sitepoint readers. And then – all the stuff I have tested and all the ideas of people sort of rushed in…then I realized software or desktop apps are not a problem, they can be used far more effectively than we ever imagined.

      In conjunction with things that the cloud is great at….super refined computing from the desktop can be immensely powerful, and many cloud applications can effectively be rendered useless. It is a fact actually. Think of a cell phone 20 years ago compared to the ones now. Better yet, think of the power of 100 million really nice quad core units doing things collectively. No one will need to have massive server bills huh? Cloud businesses can save their clients money by engaging elements on the desktops at offices and homes. Interesting conversation any way, but anyone with half a brain understands that full bore business class computing in the cloud is a misty eyed dream of the future, someone’s future reality any way.


  • http://lifelearningtoday.com Kris

    Very interesting information. When reviewing any new technology – and there is so much of it!- I ask myself -“Does this make my life easier, simpler or does it make it more complex, more difficult?”
    Included in that are any risks associated with the technology such as the risks associated with cloud computing.
    Thanks for the info!

  • http://maryannaville.blogspot.com Ma

    Just when I think I know all the answers, the questions change! ~:o) Not only that, I know better than to think; now if I only had a brain…

    We’ll git ‘er done!

  • http://gullibility.blogspot.com Reasonable Robinson

    I’m really glad that Ma put me onto your article and discussion Phil. Its one of the first conversations I’ve come across that cuts through ‘cloud hype’ and the overly idealistic ‘lets hug and share’ philosophy to get at the ‘social purpose’ of applications underpinned by some ‘social realism’

    I look at this issue through the eyes of a business professional and educator, and this means I follow in the wake of the majority of the innovative technical ideas that appear in the Web 2.0 space and then try and ‘make sense’ of them in retrospect. i.e “what does this thing I see really mean for me?”

    In marketing parlance you might regard me as an early adopter. It also means I’m more interested in what something ‘does’ rather than what it ‘is’. Don’t describe the raft of features, explain the benefits to me in plain-speak!

    What might seem obviously useful and interesting to the application creator isn’t always that transparent to others. Like any innovative process the application might take a social form that the originator didn’t expect too.

    This article and conversation has begun to make things clearer for me! The fact is any application is a solution to a perceived or actual ‘problem’. Any designs involve trade-offs too.

    So as I read the above I ponder…what precisely is the problem that the application is attempting to solve? (simple secure collaboration?) who precisely has the need for the solution? (people with information they’d like to share…but not with just anyone) what are the critical choice factors they have (not the app designers choice factors note!) e.g. I don’t care if it seems like a desktop app. What are suitable and acceptable (to target users) compromises from the ‘philosophical ideal). Does the application deliver ‘value’ in user/consumer terms?

    Whilst the content of the conversation is about ‘technology’ the meaning of the conversation is based on assumptions about ‘social’ interchange. It is somebody’s often un-declared assumptions about the social nature of The Cloud that determines their position towards the applications their use.

    It’s not called ‘social’ media and ‘social’ networking for nothing, and because this means its about people, it needs to recognised that people will have differing needs and differing values.

  • http://www.terella.no RennyBA

    Very interesting and readable post – not to mention the discussion in comments. I had the same feeling when partisipating in a debate about social media and mass collaboration in Oslo last week.

  • http://www.sueblimely.com Sueblimely

    I do not care if my applications are up in a cloud, on my server, desktop or on Mars as long as they do what I want them to do, efficiently, quickly reliably and securely.

    If new apps arrive that are classed as cloud based and they improve on what I use already I will use them. I imagine I will also be using apps in the future that I did not realize I had a need for until they turned up.

    Because of the vast range of applications classed as cloud based (from social networking to online storage to online software applications that completely replace your traditional desktop programs) it does not seem possible to make generalized statements about the concept of cloud computing. There are so many factors involved, depending on who is using the apps and for what reason. I will continue to assess applications on a case by case basis as always.

  • http://www.pamil-visions.net/ Phil Butler

    Hi Guys,

    Some great input here, thanks so much for taking your valuable time. As Sue says, “case by case” is the best way to proceed. Cloudy or not, utility is what we all need.

    I am not against cloud computing, it is just that the hype over the last 3 years has taken people into some kind of Twilight Zone of reality. Sue put it best……if you are a business, make sure the app you use gives you everything.

    As for the marketing aspects, a richer advertising model is needed obviously. I think that someone needs to make something so powerful that people don’t mind downloading it, and that there are already set ways to monetize it and use it for making money on the business end.

    Perhaps a sponsored app would work? Any ways, thanks for putting your two cents in guys, and more ideas?


  • http://www.HostedDatabase.com Dan D. Gutierrez

    By Dan D. Gutierrez
    CEO of HostedDatabase.com

    It is unfortunate to see one of our competitors hit the dust. Coghead was one of our more recent competitors.

    My firm launched the web’s first database-in-the-cloud in 1999 and nearly 10 years later, we’re still going strong. This is a time to reflect on how companies survive and how other don’t. I believe the reason my company survived the dot-com bubble burst, and the current economic malaise is that we always took a very conservative approach to running the business. We never took venture funding which would have reduced our control to run the business. We didn’t hire a lot of staff, or try to expand too quickly by depending on future revenue. We only spent what we had. That means today, we’re a thriving concern. If anything, the economic downturn has provided better business rather than less.