January 14, 2009

We’re Not All Ready for the Cloud Yet

Michael Stephens has a great post describ­ing his Ten Trends & Tech­nolo­gies for 2009, and nor­mally I wouldn’t even point to it because it’s get­ting a lot of link love else­where. If by some mir­a­cle you haven’t seen it yet, go read the whole thing, but I want to expand on one par­tic­u­lar piece, cloud com­put­ing, because librar­i­ans need to also dis­cuss the flip side of the ben­e­fits that Michael describes. As he notes, Michael isn’t the first librar­ian to talk about cloud com­put­ing, but I haven’t seen as much dis­cus­sion of the poten­tial con­se­quences of it, espe­cially dur­ing the tran­si­tion we’re in right now where we can’t totally trust the cloud.

Here’s the part of Michael’s post that jumped out at me.

As reg­u­lar folks store more data and rely more and more on the cloud, librar­i­ans would be well-served to spend some time pon­der­ing what this means for ser­vices and access. As movies and music become down­loads from the great juke­box in the sky, what hap­pens to the AV depart­ment? As doc­u­ments and data find their way to the ether, how can we pro­vide a means to use them? Some impli­ca­tions from the “Cloud” post:

* Under­stand con­verged devices are every­where.
* Allow unfet­tered access to the cloud.
* Under­stand that the cloud may also be a valu­able infor­ma­tion resource.
* Uti­lize the cloud to save time and money.

That last one is impor­tant to me. Why can’t we use Google Docs with our users for pro­duc­tiv­ity instead of pay­ing for bloated soft­ware suites? Why can’t we show our users how to save to the cloud so they can access their stuff from anywhere?”

I agree with Michael’s points, but I think we have a crit­i­cal role in help­ing users with those third and fourth impli­ca­tions. One of the keys to cloud com­put­ing right now is syn­chro­niza­tion. Very few peo­ple I know com­pletely trust their data to the cloud, and they have back­ups at home or they syn­chro­nize across mul­ti­ple devices so that if one ser­vice fails, they haven’t lost everything.

The prob­lem with this approach at this stage is that early adopters know how to do this, but that’s a pretty small per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion. So while we can def­i­nitely work with patrons using Google Docs, I think the more impor­tant role for libraries right now is to teach users about these types of ser­vices, in no small part so that we can help them under­stand the poten­tial con­se­quences. Because if you teach a patron to use an online doc­u­ments site and she puts her resume there and some­thing goes wrong with it, that’s a very real data loss for that person.

So we need to teach peo­ple a few dif­fer­ent things, besides just how to use these tools.

  1. There are mul­ti­ple options
    I worry when I see librar­i­ans pro­mot­ing only Google Docs. I know Michael was using it as just one exam­ple, but I’ve seen oth­ers sing its praises with no men­tion that any­thing else even exists. Sure it’s easy to use and it works really well, but would you feel com­fort­able pro­mot­ing only Microsoft Office Live Docs to your patrons? Most librar­i­ans I know would be uncom­fort­able about doing that, because they see Microsoft as being a monop­oly inter­ested only its bot­tom line, but Google isn’t fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent. They’re actu­ally sell­ing ads with their ser­vices, and their ulti­mate moti­va­tion is rev­enue — never for­get that.
  2. How to syn­chro­nize or backup those files
    Although this will change over the next few years, a very small per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion has a smart­phone, and even fewer actu­ally use it to syn­chro­nize con­tent to the cloud. A lot of peo­ple know about and use flash dri­ves now that prices on them have dropped and stor­age size has gone up, but I’ve met enough folks who think putting some­thing on the inter­net means it’s per­ma­nent that I strongly believe we need to help teach our users this isn’t true. So if we teach how to use cloud tools, we need to teach that there can also be consequences.

    Last year I had a dis­cus­sion with Eli Neiburger dur­ing which he made the inter­est­ing point that kids today expe­ri­ence their first data loss at a much younger age than we ever did. That really made me stop and think for a minute about just how much we aren’t teach­ing our chil­dren about tech­nol­ogy, and this is an area where we can help both kids and adults, if we rec­og­nize this and incor­po­rate it into our media flu­ency role.

  3. How to think about pri­vacy in this con­text
    What does it mean to put your resume on Google Docs? I’m not sure we’ve really thought through that ques­tion. If you use Gmail (so Google is serv­ing up ads based on your mes­sages), the Google search engine (so the big G knows what you’re search­ing and is show­ing you ads based on that), your cal­en­dar is in gCal, and you use gTalk (just to name a few Google ser­vices), that means Google has assem­bled a pretty good pic­ture of you. How com­fort­able would you be if all of that data resided with Microsoft? Yahoo? The gov­ern­ment? Your ISP? Your employer? A com­pany like Fox that’s owned by Rupert Murdoch?

    This is impor­tant stuff, because these com­pa­nies change their poli­cies at the drop of a hat, and users have no say. For exam­ple, if you’re an iTunes cus­tomer who paid to upgrade your DRM-restricted music to “unre­stricted” MP3s last week, this week we found out that those “unre­stricted” and “open” files from Apple con­tain per­sonal infor­ma­tion about you. You can now be eas­ily iden­ti­fied by that file, so if it lives in the cloud and some­thing hap­pens to it (like some­one steals a copy and puts it on the open web), are you liable for that copy­right vio­la­tion? Granted, the chances of that hap­pen­ing are pretty slim, but how many users are even think­ing about this? What does it mean to have personally-identifiable infor­ma­tion embed­ded in data files and liv­ing in the cloud? We tend to think this stuff is just secure out there and that these kinds of things won’t hap­pen to us, but it’s only hind­sight that is 20/20. What if other com­pa­nies started embed­ding per­sonal infor­ma­tion about you in files — what would your recourse be? And when it’s a free ser­vice, you don’t have a con­tract or ser­vice agree­ment to fall back on when prob­lems arise.

    I don’t con­sider myself a con­spir­acy the­o­rist or even par­tic­u­larly para­noid, but this is one rea­son I don’t use Gmail very much. If you’re read­ing this, you likely already know all of this is an issue, and you have the capac­ity to make that deci­sion for your­self. But a large per­cent­age of your users prob­a­bly don’t.

Teach­ing crit­i­cal skills about the cloud will become just as essen­tial as teach­ing how to eval­u­ate a web­site, even more so as prod­ucts con­tinue the march to becom­ing ser­vices. The ease and con­ve­nience of access­ing this stuff via any com­puter, includ­ing a cell­phone, is push­ing peo­ple to do things they would never do in the “phys­i­cal” world. Imag­ine trust­ing some­one you don’t know knock­ing on your door and say­ing they’ll take good care of your pri­vate data and access to your com­puter. “Trust me.” Seriously?

I take advan­tage of some of these ser­vices, too, so I’m just as guilty, but I’ve become far less trust­ing of syn­chro­niz­ing whole fold­ers to the cloud, and I’m more care­ful about what lives there. I’ll prob­a­bly start password-protecting more files, too. It’s not a per­fect solu­tion, but I’m start­ing to think more about this stuff and won­der how I can install my own syn­chro­niza­tion ser­vice, rather than rely­ing on a third party. I’m in the minor­ity, though, and it’s time we rec­og­nize as a pro­fes­sion that when we iden­tify these types of trends, it’s not just for our own ben­e­fit. We should see this for what it is — an expan­sion of our tra­di­tional role to teach peo­ple how to use infor­ma­tion well, and we should lead, not just with good mod­els, but with help under­stand­ing and deal­ing with the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of all of this.

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9:07 am Comments (8)


  1. What about hid­den clouds? For exam­ple, my library sys­tem uses gmail, but with its own domain. Emails sent to …@wlsmail.org are going through gmail. This is invis­i­ble to patrons as all they see is wlsmail.org, so even if they were con­cerned about gmail and pri­vacy, they wouldn’t know it was an issue. We use a gmail account to track inter­li­brary loans as well.

    Comment by Liam Hegarty — January 15, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

  2. […] Jenny Levine, com­mented on Michael Stephens’ pre­dic­tions in her Shifted Librar­ian blog post, We’re Not All Ready for the Cloud Yet. She empha­sized the need to teach crit­i­cal skills about the cloud, par­tic­u­larly relat­ing to […]

    Pingback by InsideOLITA » Trend-Spotting 2009 — January 18, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  3. […] insight­ful thoughts on librar­i­ans and cloud com­put­ing from The Shifted Librar­ian from her post We’re Not All Ready for the Cloud Yet  that I thought were impor­tant to pass […]

    Pingback by Librarians and Cloud Computing…01.19.09 « The Proverbial Lone Wolf Librarian’s Weblog — January 19, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  4. […] as well as some con­cerns that librar­i­ans have with using the tech­nol­ogy in a library set­ting. The Shifted Librar­ian points out that it’s not enough for librar­i­ans to teach patrons how to use cloud resources; […]

    Pingback by » Post #1: Libraries in the cloud Kasia’s LIS 753 Class Blog — January 31, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

  5. […] Levine, J. (2009, Jan­u­ary 14). We’re not all ready for the cloud yet.  In The Shifted Librar­ian. Retrieved April 24, 2009 from http://theshiftedlibrarian.com/archives/2009/01/14/were-not-all-ready-for-the-cloud-yet.html […]

    Pingback by Privacy on Cloud Nine « Jbro098’s Blog — May 2, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  6. […] as well as some con­cerns that librar­i­ans have with using the tech­nol­ogy in a library set­ting. The Shifted Librar­ian points out that it’s not enough for librar­i­ans to teach patrons how to use cloud resources; […]

    Pingback by Libraries in the cloud | the hidden rock {dot} com — July 17, 2009 @ 10:12 pm

  7. I have many doc­u­ments stored in the cloud, but (as far as I’m aware) noth­ing with pri­vate data. I see this as a good place to store things like cal­en­dars, les­son plans, and such. Those inter­ested could access them, but to oth­ers, it would be too bor­ing to snoop through.

    Comment by Tina — November 28, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  8. Appre­ci­ate this thought­ful article!

    Comment by Juanita Hazelton — February 25, 2010 @ 12:00 am

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