Cloud bio & Pitfalls


 I’m a grad student, teaching assistant and editorial assistant in Montreal. I’ve used Gmail for many years and Google Docs to do group projects. Google Docs only works well if everyone is assertive enough to jump in and share ideas and change things.

I implemented Google spreadsheet surveys for an academic journal to create a database of reviewers, and for the moderator of a colloquium who wanted follow-up with attendees.

I implemented DropBox in a publishing environment to synchronize documents with the editor.

I’m a teaching assistant for an online course where students consume content from a website and upload assignments and make comments, and I download and mark up and grade assignments and return them.


 What I like about the cloud is anywhere access to information and not worrying about storage space or backups. I also like Software as a Service and not needing to install or maintain software locally. I like how easy it is to share access to documents and systems.

The problem is that access depends on multiple layers of complexity:

       working device locally (software, hardware, browser, free of malware)

       working connectivity locally (access to Ethernet, wifi, 3G… what if you’re in the subway/metro? What about the higher costs of 3G data plans?)

       working connectivity in between (ISP)

       working connectivity at the cloud provider

       working servers and storage systems at the cloud provider (hardware and operating systems)

       working application software at the cloud provider (applications I depend on)

       updates are completely in control of the service provider… if an update renders the software as a service non-functional for me, I am out of luck

That’s a lot more complicated than running Microsoft Word on my notebook and saving the files locally. If I backup my data on a USB key, I can access it on any computer. If I keep everything in the cloud, I’m out of luck if the cloud provider is not accessible or operating. I can use the cloud as a backup or synchronization service but I don’t have to rely on it to be productive.

When I was a kid, sometimes my father would come home early because the multi-million dollar IBM mainframe they relied on to power all of their computers had crashed. No one could do any work.

When Google changed their Google maps service, for awhile I could no longer plan trips in Montreal using the metro. I couldn’t roll back to a previous version of the software that worked… I was stuck with Google’s update. I’m also stuck with changes Google makes to its user interfaces. When Google decides to discontinue services, they are gone for good and I need to find some way of rescuing my data and transitioning it to something else.

Hmm… I noticed something else. I write all of my blog posts in MS Word and then I paste them into the blog entry panel. I’ve lost data too many times during an entry process so I guess I just don’t trust it. At least Gmail and Google Docs retains a local presence in the browser that will wait to reconnect… although I’ve had problems there as well.

Posted in: Week 08: Files in the Cloud