Tuesday, August 19, 2008

is everything moving into the cloud?

There's an essay entitled "The Future of the Desktop" by Nova Spivack of Twine on ReadWriteWeb. It's a pretty thoughtful opinion piece on the trend where users are moving away from desktop applications towards Web-hosted ones that run in browsers.

He mentions something that I think is vital: everyone has a sense of the personal and "mine," so there has to be some sort of place that each of us can consider to be our "home." He rightly declares that it's not going to live in any one location or on any one device. His "Webtop" paradigm is that instead of launching the browser from the desktop, one would launch the "desktop" from the browser, and that desktop is the personal location where we do our work and interact with the world.

I'm not sure that I fully buy his metaphor that we'll give up being "librarians" ("filing" and managing resources) and fully become "daytraders" (discovering, filtering, and monitoring of trends), in part because search will replace the need to "file" things.

For one, librarians _actually_ do all of the above, but I'm not going to fault him just because he doesn't know what librarians do in their jobs.

What I'm having trouble with is the notion that just because we're working in the cloud we'll stop organizing resources. The "search will replace cataloging" argument that we've heard in libraries is one that I can't buy. Search doesn't work worth a damn if there isn't some level of organization and filing, aka metadata or cataloging. How will these daytraders efficiently filter what they discover and note trends if they aren't organizing and filing? It is true that we'll be managing fewer files _locally_, but we'll be organizing even more files in the cloud. He rightly identifies that there will be more shared, social spaces, and he says that communities will "seamlessly and collectively add, organize, track, manage, discuss, distribute, and search for information of mutual interest." Maybe it's a semantic distinction, but to me that's a resource management activity, just in a much larger and more social realm.

And ah, the dream of semantic search. And the dream of the smart webtop or desktop, where context is easily understood and parsed for data coming in and being queried. I want to believe. I'm waiting.

Where I do buy into the cloud is from a standpoint of portability. Even moving between work and home on two machines, I have found myself storing and organizing more of my resources out there rather than in here. Flickr. Delicious. Bloglines. LibraryThing. Web mail. It would waste more time than I could imagine to keep my life in sync between just two locations, let alone more.

I worry about security and preservation a lot. I lost my home desktop PC drive last year. What if that drive I lost was my only copy (it wasn't) AND flickr suffered a catastrophic failure? There goes the documentation of the past three and a half years of my life. As someone whose career is centered on digitization and management and use of digital files, I have been trained through experience to think in terms of the catastrophic. And to think about rights and ownership. The cloud must become more secure, aware of identities, distributed, and replicated in its file management to assuage my concerns before I fully buy in.

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