Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Cloud Computing and Books

We have been blogged before about cloud computing, and thinking about it again. Partly in response to the rather extraordinary views of Richard Stallman reported in the Guardian.

"One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control," he said. "It's just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else's web server, you're defenceless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software." Cloud Computing is a Trap.

This obsession with self-sufficiency and self-reliance, veers in the direction of paranoia. You don't necessarily lose control if you outsource a service, especially if there is competition between various service providers. I am sure that there are dangers with a model of cloud computing in which only one company provides a platform for published books (that company would at the moment look like being Google) but there is really no reason why only one company should host and serve print in the cloud. Exact Editions is using a similar approach to the Google Book Search platform and other platforms are emerging (recently launched is Gale's syndication offering, Acquire Content, but there are many more publishers with that potential and several startups trying to become the YouTube for PDF files). There are lots of reasons why we may expect there to be lots of cloud-based book-type services. Amazon itself may migrate from its Kindle-delivered download system to an access-based, lending bookshop in the sky. The desired outcome here is that there should be choice, and continuing innovation. That way we are all safer and we will get better services more quickly.

Stallman shoud be worrying about competition and barriers to entry, not about the inherent collaboration and interdependence that comes from cloud computing, and indeed from the web and the internet infrastructure which is the foundation. At all these levels interdependence is a source of diversity and of strength. So it should be with books in the cloud.

3 comments:

Alain Pierrot said...

It would be more accurate to state the competing solutions with the dependencies they entail for users:
— local apps entail a dependency to the OS, hardware manufacturer chipsets, and a FAI for communication;
— cloud computing (and possibly a future webOS) entail a much larger dependency on FAIs, telcos and SAAS/cloud providers, without dispensing with manufacturer's chipsets and some kind of OS.
Hence a serious question about the pervasiness of Internet/web standards, which have, to date, proved a sound infrastructure for different players to live in, in a new landscape where toll gates can rise.

Adam Hodgkin said...

Alain: I am not sure that I follow your point. I take it that a move towards large-scale cloud-computing is happening. This will doubtless be much more complicated than anything we have seen before and in this sense there will be much more critical dependency and globalization of most activities in the knowledge economy. So it does NOT follow that these dependencies are inevitably dangerous or fragile. The internet and the web have shown us how hugley complex systems can evolve towards safe, and remarkably stable and open standards. I think this tendency for proceses and systems, hardware and databases, to be 'virtualised' in the cloud actually insulates us from some of these critical dependencies.

Anonymous said...

if the book you bought only exists
in the cloud, you've only rented it,
because you can be denied access
at any time.

and it is _not_ being "paranoid" to be
worried -- very worried -- about that.

and this nice little "experiment" with
the web hasn't proven to the contrary.

first, it hasn't stood the test of _time_.
paper-books can last 500-1000 years.

second, maybe you haven't read about
what the web is like in china, and some
other "repressive" countries.

because -- just like most of the people
in those countries probably don't know
how their access to information is being
curtailed -- maybe we're being subjected
to a similar "repression" and don't know it.

if i can only access something in the cloud,
how can i give you a copy? think about it.

-bowerbird