Let’s face it, the time has finally come. The “cloud” is here and for the most part it works wonderfully, but there are strings attached, and unfortunately you have to pick sides. Okay, you don’t have to pick sides. You could just take whatever comes your way and make decisions as you go, but that would unnecessarily complicate your life. Technology is designed to do exactly the opposite. However, all technology, from the earliest stone tools to the latest gadget, requires some thought and training to be used properly.* With the ubiquity of cloud services and mobile devices (currently in the U.S., roughly half the population has smartphones, and tablets are selling like hotcakes), a plethora of options have surfaced that were not there before, run by both big guys and up-starts alike.
The cloud means a lot of things to a lot of people, so let’s clarify what I’m talking about here. By “the cloud” I mean that set of services that a “large” portion of device users engage with on a “regular” basis. In other words, the minimum set of services that a provider must offer that work well across devices, and which are well-integrated both with each other and the devices. Sound vague? Well, let’s make it concrete. Here are some “must-have” services that I think most users would agree they would like or need:
- email and messaging [Ap, F, G, M, Y]
- calendar and address book [Ap, F, G, M, Y]
- web search [G, M, Y]
- product search [Am, G, M, Y]
- news [G, M, Y]
- voice and video calling [Ap, G, M, Y]
- social networking [F, G]
- maps, directions, and local search [Ap, G, M, Y]
- photo/video/file sharing [F, G, Y]
- buy/rent and consume media (movies, books, music) [Am, Ap, G]
- document, spreadsheet & preso editing and sharing [G, M]
- backing up your files [Ap, G, M]
Those funny colored letters in brackets are shorthand for the “big six” technology companies – the heavy hitters in the world of offering internet based services to the public: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.** I’ve noted which of these companies currently has a strong offering for each of these services. While we could debate my definition of “strong offering,” it is still instructive to scan down the list to see which companies have the most comprehensive portfolio. The order looks something like: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Facebook, Amazon. This could change with time, but that’s how things stand now.***
There are other important factors aside from feature sets that revolve more around the company itself. Some I can think of include:
- someone you can trust. [Am, Ap, G, M, Y]
- someone who lets you own your data. [G, M?, Y?]
- someone who takes security and privacy seriously. [Am, Ap, F?, G, M, Y]
- someone who’ll be around for a long time. [Am, Ap, F, G, M, Y?]
- someone who has their own OS and devices. [Am, Ap, G, M]
- someone who has a good track record of things “just working.” [Am, Ap, F, G]
Personally, taking all of the above factors into consideration, I’ve decided to “go Google,” to use the marketing phrase that basically means moving all of your usage of online service applications (like word processing, email, social networking, etc.) to Google’s cloud based systems. In full disclosure, last summer I took a job at Google (and so far it’s been great), so I’ve already gone to Google, but now I’m “going Google.” Although the former did accelerate the latter, I was already leaning that way to begin with, so it likely would have happened anyway. In fact, it’s more likely that I chose to work at Google because it is the best choice in public cloud services. For me, it’s pretty much a no-brainer – Google has all of the services and all of the right company characteristics. I’m not the only one coming to these two conclusions – technology writer John Battelle has sided with Google in what he calls the “cloud commit conundrum,” and renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil has recently joined Google.
Like this angry guy, you may resist the necessity to choose an ecosystem, but the reality is that as a netizen, living in the cloud and trusting someone with your data will only become more and more inevitable over time. Just ask Bruce Sterling. As John Battelle points out, by just buying a device, you are already implicitly partially committing to one of the players. You could spread your data across providers to hedge your bets, i.e., not put all your data in one “basket.” But I would argue that you will probably end up paying for it in the long run with painful migrations or complete loss of data. Perhaps that is a price you are willing to pay to prevent one company from knowing “too much” about you.
Keep in mind you’ll also be paying another cost – lost opportunity for truly integrated and personalized services. Amazing things like swapping out devices, and having everything just work – all of your stuff, your preferences, your user model, your personal assistant, will just be there and work. As an example, I’ve drafted this article over the course of several months, seamlessly using six different devices (2 Macs, a PC, iPad, iPhone, and Nexus tablet) and Google Drive apps. If I had just been limited to using one of those devices, I’d never have finished. As a second example, after recently getting a Nexus 7 tablet, I’ve been able to experience a great new product called Google Now – a service that automatically makes relevant suggestions for you personally. When I first brought it up, it already had a suggestion on how to navigate to a restaurant I had searched for earlier that day from my iPhone – how cool is that? If I had been using a different search engine, that never would have happened.
Does this mean I’ll stop using the other 5 “big guys?” No, of course not. Not only do they provide some services I can’t get at Google (yet!), but as I’ve explained in the past, considering the business I’m in, I can’t afford to ignore the competition. But it does mean that I’ll limit my use of their services where they overlap with Google’s, which is in a lot of places.
It’s time to choose your ecosystem – what factors will you consider?
* I visualize a prehistoric parent carefully demonstrating how you never cut towards yourself with a stone implement.
** You could throw in a few others into the mix here, like AOL, eBay, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but their service portfolios are not at the same level as the others (yet!). As an aside, I am amazed that when other people make similar lists, they exclude Yahoo. Its offerings are far too broad and user base far too large to ignore, regardless of its mediocre track record. And with a new CEO at the helm, things could easily turn around for them.
*** In fact, you could look at the places where companies have gaps in this list and the next to see where they might be headed.