The Google Docs Lockout Fiasco & The Failed Promise Of The Cloud
from the this-is-not-the-cloud-we're-looking-for dept
While it wasn’t always called “the cloud” people have been talking about and predicting the future of remote computing for the past few decades (and, sure, I know that in the early days of mainframes and terminals, that’s how things worked, but I’m talking about in the modern internet era). And some argue that we’ve now finally reached the true age of the cloud. After all, tons of people can survive with most of their documents really stored in the cloud. Indeed, for many people, they have little use for much storage on their own computers (and, sure, I know some of you will get snooty and talk about how crazy that is, but the simple fact is that many people are not like you and don’t need much in the way of local storage).
But, as I’ve said before, and will say again, I think by letting companies like Google and Amazon control “the cloud” we’ve actually missed out the real possible benefit of the cloud. The version that I had always pictured separated out the storage layer from the service layer. I’ve made this point in the past concerning online cloud music services (which are now pretty obsolete due to streaming services) where I’d prefer the ability to store all of my (legal) MP3s in one spot, and then point a music playing service at those files. Instead, every cloud music service required you to upload local tracks to servers somewhere, and you’d have to do it all over again if you switched. This is obvious lock-in for those services, but it’s a pain for end users, and diminishes the possibilities for more innovative services.
The same is true in other areas as well. And I’m reminded of this due to a bug in Google Docs that hit some people earlier this week. When people went to access their docs, they were told they were locked out due to a “terms of service violation.” This turned out not to be true (Google just fucked up in a way that “incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google Docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked”). And, while this was a stupid mistake (that legitimately freaked out a bunch of people who rely on Google docs), it again highlights the problem.
Google Docs is a fantastic and useful service. But it would be a hell of a lot better if the service layer and the storage layer were separated. In the bad old days when I used Microsoft Word, I wouldn’t want that app shutting down because it thought someone wrote an “abusive” letter. Why should that even be an option in Google Docs? And why should Google run both the service and the storage part? Why can’t I store the doc somewhere else, and just point Google Docs to that storage, such that I can still get the same service, but Google has no right to deny me access to the documents I make?
Again, I understand the business logic behind this (lock-in!) and even some of the legal logic behind this (for example, in my music example, I’m sure that some would argue that a service playing from an accessible data store of (even legal) MP3s would infringe). But, out of all that, it feels like we’ve really missed out on the true promise of the cloud, in which we separate out the services from the data, and allow more and varied services to compete, without also claiming ownership and having the ability to block access to the data. This SNAFU with Google Docs only serves as another reminder of how problematic this can be.