PK’s Jaundiced futurism: A Cloudy Culture

I intended to do a post on the ‘rule of three’ which is a rhetorical device, but then  I saw this.

And I changed my mind.

The reason that media streaming companies are bullish about cloud computing, despite the outage, is really very simple. It allows them to maintain control.

There is no real need to stream films, or any other media for that matter. Smart phones, tablets, and laptops have more than enough processing power and storage to hold and playback movies, TV series, and anything else. The amount of bandwidth required to stream a movie means that there is more than enough for relatively fast downloads.  Also, streaming ‘requires’ the bandwidth to remain high for the entire duration of the film, which means broadband drop out can destroy the viewer’s experience.

Granted, films are a high-bandwidth, high processing power (and high storage as a download) medium, so you could argue that, at the moment, streaming is the best way to supply these products. But as mobile devices become more and more capable, these arguments will fade—within the next year I should think.

So let’s look at some things that really don’t need to be streamed and yet are streamed: eBooks.

There is no earthly reason why eBooks should be streamed. They are tiny files, very quickly downloaded, that take bugger all space on hard-drives or any other long-term storage medium. They take up less room than music files, picture files, program files, any other sort of file. They are simple text files. They download in seconds even on a dodgy broadband connection.

Okay, an eBook will have covers and other bells and whistles that might bloat the file a bit, but they still do not need to be streamed.

So why are they? Why sell a product to a customer that can be compromised by a simple internet outage, when there’s no need to stream the damn thing? Why sell a license to access the file to the customer rather than the actual file?

As I said, it’s about control. If they sell you the file then you own it. It is yours to do with as you will. If they sell you the license to access the file via their streaming service however, then you have to maintain your connection to the provider of that service.

Let’s say you have a library of 1,500 books, all on one provider’s service—it really doesn’t matter which one, A or A or K or B&N, or any other, this is not bashing a particular company—and these are streamed files. You open up your e-reading program, it sends a request to the cloud, the servers whirr into action, and the text appears on your screen as if by magic.

If, and only if, you have an internet connection. No internet, no access to your library. So you need to keep your ISP happy, you need to keep the streaming company happy, and you better not be in an internet ‘not’ spot where you can’t get a signal.

The company can delete a book from your library, can alter the text of a book in your library, can—if they so choose—charge you to maintain access to your library.

No wonder companies are not put off by the internet outage. No wonder they are bullish about cloud computing. It makes the perfect business model. The customer owns nothing except a right to access a file. You can take that access away any time you feel like it. So long as you have written the T&Cs properly (and they probably have, because most people don’t even read them—I don’t) you can change the pricing structure whenever your business model changes.

The cloud is an incredibly powerful tool for data-intensive processing. If you need to access some large, powerful, program when on the move, then the cloud is a great way to do it. Don’t crunch the numbers on your own device; let a massive server farm do the heavy lifting.

But the cloud is a dodgy retail tool. By accessing cloud services for entertainment needs you are giving all the power to the providers. They can cut you off, change the content, remove it from sale (and claw it back from your device) at any time. It ties you into a walled garden. It can tie you into a particular device.

And if they decide to no longer support that device, you lose access to everything unless you upgrade to the new one. They don’t need to make new devices backwards compatible to old ones, as anybody with a PS3 and PS2 will tell you.

There will be more of these outages and I say, ‘good’. People should be clamouring for the file not the license to access the file. Otherwise, culture will exist ‘in the cloud’ and the cloud doesn’t exist.

Just saying, your mileage may vary. One man’s opinion. I may be wrong. I hope I am, but I doubt it.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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