Head in the Cloud

Readwriteweb‘s recent  addition of the “Readwrite Cloud” blog has been a real godsend for me and probably others who are faced with the task of creating products with “the cloud” in mind.  It seems like every product discussion I have, overhear, or read about these days involves a cloud component.  How can we “use the cloud” or how can we “cloud-enable” a product isn’t really how that discussion starts, though, and I think that it’s worth getting past some of the technical considerations and discuss what the cloud means really means for users and those of us who seek to please them.

Much like the now unfashionable and perhaps defunct “web 2.0″ label, “cloud computing” can mean lots of different things, but I think it is fairly simple if you look at it from the perspective of the end-user (as us Product people should always try to do). For me — in a nutshell – it boils down to a “where/how/when” question of access to data, content, or applications. Take this interesting company, for example:  http://www.zumodrive.com/.  As far as a “cloud” play for media, it can’t get any simpler, and there are lots of options for users for this kind of service. So how do they differentiate their product?  Well, its a subtle but interesting twist, pointed out here in this article on TechCrunch:

… the service includes a slightly different twist-ZumoDrive tricks the file system into thinking those cloud-stored files are local, and streams them from the cloud when you open or access them.

That might seem like a strange feature, but if you think about it, its terribly clever — users, even savvy users, aren’t yet completely used to/ and/or comfortable with the “cloud” concept, and by mimicking a boring old file-system, they bridge the gap between the users expectation and the real value of the service.  So, this got me to thinking… what’s a good short list to think about when you are developing products for the cloud?  Well, here is a short list…  I’m sure I’ll change my mind about what should be here as things progress, but this seems to me to be a good starting point.

  1. Access – This is an obvious one, but it can’t be understated.  Users will use the cloud because it gives them access across time and space (whatever device, whenever they want)
  2. Synchronization – While this is related to “Access”, there is a subtle difference.  Synchronization means that if I DO something or change any data via any interface or device, that change MUST exist across all devices and interfaces as soon as possible.
  3. Trust – This is a big one, and recently, a lot of the bad publicity Facebook has been facing is driven by this issue. Users have to trust that their data is safe and private, end of story.  Something to consider here from a product standpoint, is allowing users to back-up their data. Also, companies should make it their policy in their EULA that if they go out of business, each user will receive a back-up before the doors shutter… that would be a big one for me if I was going to do anything really important in the cloud.
  4. Openness – This is related to the Trust issue, but its slightly different in that what I rally mean is creating products that can share data with other applications and services, but also to keep the barriers to moving data entirely to another service simple and easy. Just like customer service 101 says that you are never nicer to a customer when they are leaving, the same should hold true for cloud-based services.

I recently read this quote somewhere, and unfortunately, I didn’t Evernote it (no attribution… so sorry!), but I did remember it.  I think its a good one…

Cloud Computing is not about Amazon, Its about how you reach your customers.