The scholar, their content & the cloud

After the wikileaks controversy which highlighted the dangers of placing political discourse in the cloud, we have had the news of Delicious apparently being abandoned by Yahoo. Not a good week for cloud computing. As John Naughton puts it "For years people have extolled cloud computing as the way of the future. The lesson of the last week is simple: be careful what you wish for."

Does this signal the death knell for cloud computing? Should academics abandon it altogether (before most of them have even made the shift)?

I think it's a more measured response than that. I would suggest a number of responses:

i) Use the cloud for what it's best at. If you want to share content, have it easily embedded, be part of a wider community of participants, then the cloud is the best way to go. I could put my presentations in my own database, but Slideshare offers a better option and more people will find them there. If it's eyeballs and ease of use you want, then the commercial cloud is a sensible option.

ii) Store locally, share globally. Of course, putting content online doesn't mean you surrender it altogether. One should assume that you will lose these services at some point, so a local store is your backup.

iii) Find alternatives – the point of the cloud is that there are numerous services that perform the same function. Many people are shifting their bookmarks to Diigo for instance. 

iv) Develop academic solutions – I say this with some reticence since, as with learning objects, academic projects don't have a good track record in keeping things simple. But there are services we may find useful to share between universities, such as storing research data in a specialised cloud. Paul Miller has a good post on this, as does Andy Powell. I certainly think that a universal cloud service to academia represents one way we may go, but make it good like JANET, not like [insert your own choice of difficult to use, overly complex higher education web project here]

v) Accept that they are temporary.You've had seven years of delicious use, a service you wouldn't have had if you'd waited for an institutionally hosted version to materialise. Accept it was useful for that period, and move on.

vi) Develop service level agreements – this model accepts that some cloud based solutions are viable and the institution either pays for these or guarantees a number of users in return for a service level agreement. Of course, this doesn't mean the companies can't go under or the services be removed, but it does provide a level of reassurance. It also limits the experimentation and innovation at an individual level we see with the wider ecology of free tools.

I would argue that an appropriate response is not to retrench to solely internally hosted systems, either for students or scholars for two reasons: the loss of the network effect and the positive pull effect that commercial systems have had on interface and innovation. We can lose these but need to decide if that's a price worth paying.

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