Judy Consumer's Head Is in the Clouds

Or at Least She's Starting to Look up

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Judy Consumer, in this case, a mom who does freelance sports photography, asked me the other day, "I wonder what all this talk about computing in the clouds is about? I have so much footage that I need to access and I do it today with external drives. Managing these external drives is driving me nuts."

Now, if this was an isolated comment, it probably would not have aroused my interest. But that was the third time I had heard that type of question in about two weeks. It was hard not to take notice.

So when this Judy "Photographer" Consumer asked me the question, I was thoroughly curious as to what she understood about cloud computing. So, I started to answer her question with another question. "Well, what do you know about it?" I asked. "Not much," she said, "but a friend of mine suggested it when he saw how I fussed with my storage drives. So what do you think?" At this point in the conversation, she wanted an expert technology opinion -- a role I am wholly unsuited for. But she insisted. "I bet you know a lot. What do you think?"

I searched for a way to be let the question go unanswered, feeling so unqualified to give her good advice, but finding no excuse that would not appear rude, I hesitantly answered, "Well, the basic idea is that your data is stored on someone else's server. This lets you access your information from anywhere and the information can often be better secured than may be possible on your home computer. Finally, in some cases, you may even be able to access more applications than you'd really want to store on your PC. All in all, cloud computing can give you more computing flexibility." Then I hastened to add, "But I have only begun to explore this stuff, so I really do not know much."

My answer, I had hoped, had given her enough information to be satisfied but would also clearly communicate that I could counsel her no further. But she persisted, wanting to know more. At this point, I realized she needed to come to her own conclusion and I asked her another question. "What's the biggest problem with your current arrangement?" And with that opening, a flood of issues came gushing forth that spanned the gambit from small irritants to large catastrophic data losses. She was thoroughly unhappy with how she managed her data and she really did seem to be a good candidate for cloud computing. So I then said to her: "Well, with cloud computing you could very easily store and organize your data. What do you think?"

"This sounds too good to be true", she eagerly said. "But I have one big concern. How do I trust that someone can't hack into their servers? How do I know my information is safe?"

She was right. These are critical issues to be concerned with. But buried within her question I could sense that she was already thinking about the "how" of cloud computing not the "if" of it. I suspect that over the next few months as her frustration with her current set-up grows, her willingness to trust a service with her data will increase commensurately.

What I find so fascinating about Judy Photographer's interest in cloud computing (beyond the technology, of course) is that consumers are actively willing to consider a technology platform that, heretofore, was solely a B2B play. In my mind, the increased consumer interest in cloud computing is yet another example of the new "pull" digital ecosystem that consumers are creating for themselves. Simply, the trend I see accelerating over the next few years is that more and more Judy Consumer will be relying less and less on big companies to create the architecture for her online world. Rather, she is quickly becoming confident enough to start building (a.k.a. "pulling") the online world she wants as she wants it -- from a customized iPhone experience using apps developed by "small guys" to all the different "micro" communities and news channels she can access for information.

In this new process, Judy Consumer will be creating a new digital world for herself that merges connectivity, community, computing and collaboration. One could even say her head is in the clouds about the possibilities. I know mine is.

Judy Shapiro is senior VP at Paltalk and has held senior marketing positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
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