Do I Love or Hate Cloud Computing?

by on July 14, 2010

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Let me start off by saying that I really, really want to love cloud computing. The potential benefits especially in terms of collaboration are staggering.  However, right now I hate cloud computing.  It hasn’t been a good few weeks for me dealing with two of my favorite web apps:  HootSuite and Evernote.  Not so coincidentally, both of these apps caused me considerable pain right at the time that they said they were upgrading with great new features.  Today, Evernote is going to announce “something that will change the way you use Evernote.”  Well, I guess I got a head start on that change since Evernote Desktop will not synch with Evernote Web.  I love Evernote because of the fact that your data resides both in the cloud and locally.  However, when they don’t sync, that diminishes its effectiveness greatly.  Syncing has always been a hit and miss proposition. It has become much better lately–remember the days of trying to get your Palm to sync with your computer?  That being said, if it isn’t 99.9% reliable, then I have to question its usefulness.

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Now I’m sure I’ll survive this inconvenience, but from a tech integration point of view, this is exactly the kind of issue that really turns off educators from adopting technology in the classroom. They do not have the expertise nor the desire to troubleshoot a faulty application for hours–not when their class is staring wide-eyed at them wondering what’s next.  Sure, they could call the IT department.  In this case it would do absolutely no good at all.  As a former Director of Technology and in charge of the IT department, my team would be able to solve a great percentage of problems.  Not today–Evernote support has been responsive but unable to solve the problem.  How do you combat this problem?  What do you say to them to get them to continue to integrate technology?  From my experience, it only takes one of these instances to completely halt an educator from ever trying technology again.

When dealing with cloud computing, I must face the fact that I am not in control of my data! That is a scary prospect from someone who has been taught to protect and back up their data religiously.  I try to overcome this negative by using at least two cloud apps for my data.  For instance, bookmarking web pages goes to both Delicious and Diigo.  In addition, I use iCyte for a different kind of bookmarking. I am in no danger of losing my Evernote data–it’s still on my desktop–I’m just not in total control of it.  I also use Microsoft OneNote as a backup.  However, that’s a problem!  I’m doing twice the work!!!

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Since I’m not in control of my data, what would I do if one day Google lost all my docs? Yes, I should have had copies locally as well.  Notice again, we are talking about data in two places.  Furthermore, what if your favorite web app went out of business?  Would you lose all your Glogster data if Glogster shut down?

Ok, I admit I will still continue using the cloud for data storage and apps. I will just make very sure I have backup systems in place.  That is my real answer to educators about technology failures.  They will happen–you just have to be prepared for them!  It’s really no different than any other aspect of teaching.  We all learn early on that preparation is the number one factor for a successful classroom lesson. Have you prepared for a technology failure?

I won’t be as efficient today as I normally am with Evernote.  That’s precisely the reason I’ll keep using it–I miss it and it does make me more efficient! Back to troubleshooting!

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  • Wesley Fryer

    Jeff: Your point about web 2.0 apps needing to be reliable, and school IT departments being reticent to recommend them because of their frequent inability to support their use in situations like this, is spot on. I think, however, this highlights a couple of good things to keep in mind.

    First, I think there is a grey line somewhere when an app moves from “experimental” or “play” / tryout status to “production” status. By this I mean a person starts to RELY on that application or program for their daily productivity, and when it goes out the individual’s productivity can really go down. I’m not sure exactly how to define that grey line, but I’ve certainly found this true in my own use of web 2 tools. Maybe when you start sharing your own work professionally with others and asking others to access/use the media and information you share that defines the line? I’m not sure.

    The second issue is one you point out, which is the need for backups. I post my social bookmarks to Diigo as well and have the site cross-post to delicious for a backup, but I probably should download and backup my bookmarks periodically as well. I don’t have a backup of my Google Docs, but I am TOTALLY reliant upon them at this point. I am working with some downloaded versions of some docs this week, and that has reminded me of the need for backups. Certainly it’s not ideal to need backups, but I think with pretty much ALL our data (especially personal digital photos and videos) backups are essential.

    Last of all, flexibility is key. I love Evernote as well, and use it all the time. Still, there are some other note alternatives I can use in a pinch if something comes up and service is interrupted.

    With all web 2.0 tools, I don’t think we can take them for granted or should assume they’ll exist forever. Making periodic backups is like taking out an insurance policy, I guess.

    The ability to access and update data from any location, on multiple platforms, really is the best thing about cloud computing for me. There are drawbacks, but the access and sharing flexibility which the tools provide define them as inherently preferable and more powerful to client-side apps.

    • Jeffrey Thomas

      Wesley: You have eloquently described the cloud situation we are in right now. For someone like yourself, Web 2.0 apps will work quite nicely. You are totally aware of the situation and are taking the necessary steps to ensure data integrity and access. One of my biggest concerns is to make sure that educators are aware of this situation and that you cannot rely on support for the app as a thorough safeguard. I did get Evernote fixed but it was not their support team that solved the problem. They had suggestions that did not work but I was able to solve the problem on my own and forwarded the solution to them for their database. It is because of situations like this that I believe that educators need to become as tech-savvy as possible. We are in charge of our data and no one wants to protect more than the creator of the data.

      Thanks for your insightful comments!

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