Why consumer cloud needs a PR makeover

king cloud

If I were Google, Box.net or any other number of cloud-service providers, I’d consider investing in television advertising. References to cloud computing, or “the cloud,” are becoming more abundant on the small screen, but they’re not always informative, nor are they particularly flattering. And that’s in addition to the public relations hit the cloud is taking on just about every other front.

If I didn’t know any better, I might think the cloud is a fairly useless and highly insecure place to store my data. Worse, I might think it’s a joke.

The latest small-screen reference came last week during the newest episode of Futurama¬†on Comedy Central. Bender, a central character that happens to be a robot, killed himself, sending his soul to robot limbo. What’s robot limbo, you ask? It’s the “computational cloud.” Bender’s software was uploaded to the collective network shared by all machinery, where it’s stuck in an infinite loop. Bender becomes a ghost; his software no longer running locally, but still somewhere in this plane of existence. That explains why he can possess any other piece of machinery (e.g., a toaster), which, in the future, presumably all have Wi-Fi connections.

The show’s writers are smart, many (at least during its first run on Fox early this century) had scientific training, and they got the general premise of cloud computing correct. But characterizing the cloud as limbo for machines, while funny, isn’t exactly the best PR for cloud providers.

This after Microsoft dumbed down the discussion with its “To the cloud!” TV spots, and after Apple somewhat redefined the term among consumers with its iCloud launch. And it was after the the cloud — specifically, cloud poster child Amazon Web Services — was to blame for taking down many popular sites in April. And after the cloud figured prominently in numerous discussions about online privacy, some spurred by the FTC and civil class-action lawsuits now launched against cloud-storage provider Dropbox.

In April, GigaOM Pro’s Mike Wolf asked if cloud could become a dirty word among consumers. I think it already has become one, at least among the uninformed.

There are various ways to solve this problem. One is, as Wolf suggested, to work out a set of industry standards setting certain practices for things such as information security, privacy practices, and transparency in the face of breaches or outages. Another, or at least a complementary, option is to undertake an educational advertising campaign.

Just once, I’d like to see an ad not merely referencing some arbitrary collaboration or connectivity capability and calling it the cloud, but actually explaining how it works. I’d like to see, for example, how I can access my data anywhere, from any device, because it’s on a shared set of resources built and managed for that very purpose. I’d like to know not only that my data is synced across my devices, but how and why, and what that replication means in the event that my PC hard drive crashes. Or, in the event the cloud crashes.

I’ve suggested in the past that a cloud computing trade association would be a good idea, and now it seems even better, if only to centralize marketing efforts. I think years of discussion in IT circles has CIOs and other decision-makers fairly well-educated on cloud computing, but mainstream consumers could be a tougher nut to crack. They don’t have the luxury of educational conferences, white papers and vendor proofs of concept before purchasing. They have TV.

The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association brought us “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.” Maybe it’s time for the cloud equivalent.

Image courtesy of Flickr user akakumo.

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