Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The battle in The Cloud heats up

Project Titan:

So, Facebook has launched the reported 'Gmail Killer', Project Titan.  And, much to my surprise, I find myself liking the concept.

Like many people my communications using my Smartphone/Tablet for mobile working have started to change the way I access communications.  Using different devices to access my information and communications both at home and when mobile.   However, with separate apps for Instant Messaging (IM), Email, and SMS, all with separate accounts and not interlinked, this can become a little messy.  Facebook's solution to this issue seems on the face of it an attractive proposition.

Facebook seem to have identified and addressed this issue and have come up with a potential solution. Forming these together into one messaging system that can handle different communication methods depending on peoples changing preferences and locations.  Of course, we'll have to wait and see whether Facebook deliver on the promises but there does seem to be great potential for their product.

The bigger picture:

Whilst the Facebook launch of project Titan is the main headline today, I'll leave the in-depth comment and analysis of the pro's and con's of their new application to others.

For me, this latest development from Facebook highlights a battle that has been going on for some time  In this battle there are no bullets or bombs involved, and nobody will die as a result of it.  But as with all wars this battle it is over the control of knowledge, information, economic power and the resulting profit.  It is something that will effect all of us, and yes that includes you!

The battle that is being played out in The Cloud is a battle for our data.  The theory is that in toady's world the company that controls the most data about the most people will dominate The Cloud and make the biggest profits.  Facebook's project Titan provides a solution to people's communication issues, but in return Facebook will be able to access more data generated by their 520 million+ users.

And the aim of this?  With control of data comes the increased ability to target advertising, and with better targeted advertising comes higher advertising revenues.  This is what the battle in The Cloud is primarily concerned with.

The company that succeeds in controlling the most data about the largest number of people, will become the business that benefits and profits most from the Internet Cloud.

Facebook and Google are currently the companies in the headlines locking horns with Google's removal of Gmail contact integration with Facebook ahead of the launch of Project Titan.  However, these are not the only new giants conducting The Cloud battle.

Amazon (with AWS), Salesforce.com, Microsoft (with Windows Azure) are all big players in Cloud Computing adding applications and beefing-up their hosting infrastructures.  Indeed, Facebook themselves have recently announced a $450 million project building a new data centre (presumably to handle the increased data traffic they hope to generate with Titan).  Let's not also forget LinkedIn and Twitter with their extensive network of users and accumulation of our data.

All of these players, together with rising stars that are no doubt out there that we're yet to hear about, are battling it out to dominate (or at least be part of) the shift that is happening with the technology we use migrating to Cloud platforms.

Who will win out we're yet to see.  The smart money is on the current big players, but a few years ago who would have predicted Google eclipsing Microsoft, and now Facebook aiming to do the same to Google.  The only certainty is that the world changes and it's notoriously difficult to predict who will win out in a technology world that leaps forward every couple of years.

Our challenges to protect our data:

So should we all be concerned about who has our data and stop using The Cloud to protect our privacy?  

I don't think so, and anyway this is probably not a rational reaction to any concerns we may have.  Technology has always evolved and creates Human history.  We can't take back what people already benefit from and utilise to such good effect (but of course sometimes bad effect as well!).  Also, we can't assume that any business wishing to benefit from our data is doing so for malicious purposes, I don't believe that by and large they have blatantly set out to do so.  However, the key points for us are two-fold.

Firstly, we all need to be aware as to why companies give us free (or low cost) services on the Internet.  It's not (with a few exceptions) out of a wish to do good, or just because they enjoy what they do (but of course both of these mostly apply).  It is in most instances so they can use the data we choose to share with them to make money in some way. 

We all need to remember this point when using Internet Cloud services and realise that in exchange for the services they give us, we are in many cases paying them with access to our personal data.  How much personal data we all share in payment is the decision we need to consciously make, and not to blindly behave as if what we put into Internet services isn't going to used for other purposes than the ones we intended.

Secondly, there is a role for governments and legislation.  Although I am in no way an advocate of government's controlling what we do and what we access, we do need to recognise that governments do have a role to play. 

To-date governments have been slow to react in an effective way to a changing world for data protection.  This is perhaps not a surprise when Internet data and services (by design) don't conform to the physical borders of countries.  The old ways governments could control information don't work effectively anymore, and people in any case don't want to be controlled by them.  It is the challenge therefore for governments of the world to recognise the new world of data that we live in and to ensure that globally we are both provided freedom but are also protected from unscrupulous use of our personal data where this may occur.  How this can be done is a huge challenge but one that can't be ignored. 

The battle in The Cloud will continue and there will be more and more inventive and technologically advanced ways businesses will employ to collect and profit from our data.  The one thing that is certain is that we can't ignore this issue, it isn't something that is going away any time soon if we, or governments, ignore it.

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