The Consumer Is the Hero of the Cloud


The cloud is everywhere. It’s all over Apple’s messaging, beckoning us to join their iCloud. It’s the central benefit of companies like Dropbox, which offer cloud storage. It billows up from the media. The term has become so commonplace, so accepted, that it seems like we’re all techies now.

The journey of the cloud has been remarkable. Wikipedia tells us that this computing architecture can be traced back to the 1950s, when “scientist Herb Grosch postulated that the entire world would operate on dumb terminals powered by about 15 large data centers.” There was even a book written in 1966, The Challenge of the Computer Utility” by Douglas Parkhill, about the modern-day characteristics of cloud computing. (Geek alert: The complete volume is not available in Google books, and the out-of-print edition is quite pricey.)


But the current metaphor of cloud computing actually comes from a visual description of the telephone network, first constructed in the 1990s. The cloud is one of those rare examples of technical jargon that emerged from the dork crowd and has migrated successfully to the consumer world. Which makes perfect sense. Clouds are friendly and comforting. Clouds are one of the first things that children draw, so we have deep emotional connections to them. Clouds are something we can see but not touch, and everyone understands that.

That level of conceptual accessibility has made it possible for something as potentially complicated as the abstraction of Software-as-a-Service to be embraced by non-technical consumers. The cloud is up there all the time, sort of god-like, giving us a sense of confidence that it is looking over us forever and forever.

That’s truly a remarkable belief system for millions to have adopted, especially when you consider how far along the spectrum the average person has moved. For hundreds of years we trusted paper. Then, almost overnight (in historical terms),  we came to accept that documents can exist as bits of computer code on our computers. These documents—resumes and contracts and love letters—didn’t have any physical presence till we printed them. But they were somehow there, stored safely on our hard drives. (Of course, hard drives crash, but that’s another story.)

Then, we took another great leap. We’ve come to accept the fact that our documents—along with our books and our music and our movies and our photos—aren’t even housed neatly in folders on our computers anymore, but are hovering somewhere in the stratosphere. What’s more, we don’t just accept it—we’re anxious to park more and more of our lives in a place we can’t see and don’t fully understand, even though everything in our hardwiring opposes this.  Infants cry when a parent leaves the room because they believe their source of food, security, and survival has disappeared forever—and part of our brain circuitry still contains that memory of anxiety. So the fact that we’re willing to let go and trust the cloud is a remarkable testimony to the trusted role that technology has achieved in our lives.

Conduit entered the cloud business in the earliest stages of its formation, providing our publishers with engagement solutions that enable them to stay connected to their users with relevance and excitement. Needless to say, the cloud has enabled entrepreneurs to innovate and scale their businesses with minimum hardware investment; they’ve been able to focus on, and invest in, product development as the cost of servers, data management, ecommerce, and CRM has plummeted.  Companies like Spotify, Pinterest, and Facebook wouldn’t exist otherwise.

But none of this would have been possible without the enlightened consumer—millions and millions who were able to accept the idea that the cloud is a safe repository for some of the most important parts of their lives. Of course, there’s a long arc for this. Before there was currency, we bartered objects of value. We used to be unwilling to accept currency that wasn’t backed by gold. Then we kept our paper money in the mattress, until we accepted the idea of a bank as a trusted repository. (We lost that trust in the Depression, but gradually gained it back.) So the move to virtualization has a long history, with a sudden and dramatic acceleration in recent years.

It’s easy for those of us in the technology community to take that acceleration for granted, pat ourselves on the back, and flatter our own product innovations. But none of us would be where we are without the millions of consumers who not only trust us, but are letting us lead them into the future—without fully understanding how it all works. So let’s take a moment to celebrate the gutsiness of those people who simultaneously have their feet on the ground, and their heads in the cloud. It’s not often that I hear those in our industry recognize the “user,” but it’s about time we did.