My internal iPod is at it again, playing a song to accompany my thoughts. This time it is a medley of two songs, both old favorites. One is "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," and the other is "Uncloudy Day." Why these two? Clouds! I have been thinking about them for a while.
In late February, I had the great pleasure of attending WebWise 2009, a conference sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Miami’s Wolfsonian Museum. This gathering of museum and library professionals took place in Washington, D.C. One of the keynote addresses was all about "the cloud," and other presenters used the term frequently. The keynote was made by Michael R. Nelson, Ph.D., visiting professor of communications, culture, and technology, Georgetown University; it had the wonderful title of The Cloud, the Crowd, and the 3-D Internet—Implications for Cultural Organizations.
Early in this speech, Nelson referenced Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, who is a driving force behind the use of this term. That is not exactly surprising since Google stands to gain a great deal if the concept catches on. Google Docs and other online applications are prime examples of programs and services that exist not on your hard drive but "out (or up) there in the cloud." Typically, they are free, fast, and usable on almost any device, from computers to smartphones. There has been a lot of hype centered on the idea of a showdown between Microsoft and Google, with Google portrayed as the plucky upstart, offering alternatives to big, bad Microsoft’s increasingly outdated offerings. Whether this is true or not, and to what degree, remains to be seen. But the idea that lots of great stuff is out there for you and me to use and share in new and different ways is undeniable.
The use of the word "cloud" to describe internet resources was not brand new for me. So what is the definition of cloud as used by Nelson, Schmidt, and others? Nelson described the cloud as the "new" internet, where you can access applications as well as information. In the cloud, you can plug in to all that the internet has to offer from your computer and also from your smartphone, PDA, or other gizmos. Thus, the internet will be your computer!
Nelson compared the cloud to electricity, saying its capability to deliver applications and services as well as information will be transformational. In the past year, I have become more and more aware of the use of the term "the cloud" as a reference to the internet, in the sense that this ephemeral realm is now the home of a multitude of applications we are growing to know, love, and find irreplaceable in our home and work lives. Now, I am acquainted enough with the term to start using it myself. It occurred to me that perhaps not all readers are similarly familiar with the usage.
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