BAD CLOUD

I’m starting to get a bit miffed with THE CLOUD.

I was on a flight, went to listen to some podcasts I subscribed to especially for time spent on trains, planes and automobiles, piped through a mini iPad bought especially for travelling, and yet none of the podcasts were available because the default setting is to stream them from the cloud.

Making various changes to my iTunes account has also resulted in my biggest commitment to Apple, my music library, first being uploaded to the cloud (iTunes Match) and then gradually disappearing from various devices. I got Genius support early on in the process, but one step after another it went wrong. Somewhere along the line I’ve overwritten the fullness of my previous library, and with it a chunk of my lock-in and goodwill with Apple.

Actually, what pissed me off the most wasn’t losing the back-catalogue of music, but losing my beloved favourites playlist, which had over 600 tracks that I’d manually rated as either 4 or 5 star. It was my go-to music resource, whether head down in some PowerPoint or post-pub kitchen-dancing at friend’s houses. The first transfer of music to the cloud and a new Macbook worked, but that tiny file of metadata was lost, and with it a slowly curated and highly personal compass that helped me find the best of my music. I would pay good money to get that playlist back. Not the tracks, just the listing.

And as I whittle down my inbox of several hundred emails flagged for reply or action, it gets to the point where the 100 or so left all contain links that point to the cloud – to Google Docs, to Soundcloud, or that need reference to my calendar (Google Apps) or just the straight good ol’ internet. I’m in an internet deadzone, thirty thousand feet above the Labrador Sea.

The cloud is great when you’re online, but it rather sucks when you’re not.

I’m not knocking the internet. I love the internet. It’s given me knowledge and connections and a job that I love. But there’s a utopian feel to how the cloud is described. It reminds me of part of Honor Harger’s utterly brilliant talk at Meaning 2013, where she talked about how the dreamy branding of the cloud belies its inherently physical nature of big ugly datacenters. A mesmirising and potent talk.

And I think what else is niggling is that some of the time that this disguises some of what is good for the vendor company than for the consumer. Like those irritating cards in hotel rooms proclaiming green credentials and asking the guest (quite rightly) not to drop towels on the floor unless they really want fresh ones, but pretending it’s all out of the good of their hearts. Why would my brand new mini iPad default to streaming podcasts? I can’t see how that benefits me.

What would help is simple. Better offline support for cloud-based platforms. Offline platforms that work intelligently and carefully deploy precious storage to maximize the chances of me being able to access what I want to. And more wifi everywhere. Good wifi, free wifi.

Then we can cherish the cloud more as we traipse around our busy lives down on the ground.

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