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Sunday, December 23, 2012

This cloud is my cloud, this cloud is your cloud

Every month, it seems like another "cloud" service makes some sort of change which affects a bunch of people, and not always for the better. The most recent one I can think of is Instagram proclaiming they were going to start doing things with your pictures for their own benefit. This prompted a great outcry by a bunch of their users, and they seem to have backed up and regrouped for now.

This is the way things are going to be as long as users continue to hand over their experiences to providers who have no reason to maintain things in a steady state. If they can change things for their own gain, it seems unreasonable to think they would ignore those gains. It doesn't even matter if it will irritate or chase off a bunch of users. If enough remain and the offset in profits outweighs whatever the now-lost users represented, it's a net win for the company.

I see no reason to believe that anything will change this pattern. If you're riding someone else's train, you can't say much if they start messing with what's in the passenger cars. The most you could hope for is to come up with your own "train" and find a way to ride on the same rails. This is where I think the notion of "private clouds" will arise.

Having your favorite cat pictures get mirrored online so that other people can share them isn't automatically a bad thing. It's just annoying when the owner of that service decides to make changes which clash with your own opinions and beliefs. I suspect that the people with the means to avoid these rug-pulling shenanigans will set up their own platforms on which to do things.

Imagine what life would be like if you had your own little Instagram, or Flickr, or Gmail, or anything else which currently is provided by someone else. It would just sit there and keep doing its thing until it broke or you decided to change it. You'd no longer be at the mercy of programmers, project managers, or CEOs who want to "be more social".

Sure, you'd have to be compatible with other people's systems in order for them to see your stuff, but that's why we have standards: TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, that sort of thing. The protocols change over time, but the general principles remain the same. It could be UUCP or Fidonet or something we haven't imagined yet, but people will find ways to connect.

It really comes down to resources. Who has the time, energy, knowledge, and patience to run their own platform? Also, who's going to write that software? Who's going to maintain it? Programmers and sysadmins don't just appear out of thin air.

Ultimately I think it will come down to a few rich people who can afford to have a "private label" platform run for them, and a few other folks with sufficient technical skills to build and run one independently. Everyone else will be reliant on the handful of companies which wind up running services in these spaces.

Build it, buy it, or give your stuff away. Is there any other choice?