Web Apps Suck at Service

PCMag today has a nice article geared toward consumers looking to store their information in the cloud, asking cloud providers to answer eight questions that boil down to where is my data and how safe is it. Most of us already have our photos on Flickr and Picasa, and others are using cloud-based web apps such as Gmail, but I bet few of us actually know where that data is stored (question 1) or have a way to get help when things go down (question 2).

Reading the article, I realized that the underlying issue with many web apps and cloud offerings, are that some of the largest providers are not in the service industry. Microsoft (s MSFT) sells software and Yahoo (s YHOO) and Google (s goog) sell ads. But to provide cloud computing, storage or applications involves providing a service — it puts the “S” in SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. Being a service provider comes with certain expectations, such as offering limits on the amount of data one can store (question 6) and clear knowledge of what happens to data should a consumer forget to pay a bill or log on for a few months (question 8).

If I think about my utility service, I know who to call when it goes out, what happens if I don’t pay my bill, and how the utility service makes money from providing me with electricity. With web services, especially free ones, none of these things are clear. If consumers are going to rely on web apps from software, search and portal companies, they need to recognize that these services are window dressing to get them onto a site or chained to other products. Then they need to protect their data themselves.