Consider the Cloud

Is the Cloud an apt symbol for offsite storage and web-based tools?

The cloud — as a visual cliché — has been part of our visual vocabulary for a long time. But its meaning has evolved.

As an icon, clouds have been used to represent weather.

As a conceptual device, clouds represent a lack of clarity. Something puzzling or uncertain may be described as cloudy. This conceptual cloud is an obstacle that prevents clear understanding.

The cloud can also convey unfortunate circumstance, or a sullen mood. Someone walking around with a cloud over his head is not having a good day. Yet if you have your head in the clouds, you are in a different mood, and you are not to be taken seriously.

In 2015 the Cloud has been an accepted way of labeling offsite data storage and web-based tools. Cloud Computing has become a business sector, as companies and entrepreneurs work to exploit the earning potential of data management. The Cloud Computing concept has spawned “cloud” brands devoted to personal storage and universal data access: Apple’s iCloud™; Adobe’s Creative Cloud™; Microsoft Cloud™; Cloud Foundry™; SoundCloud™; Cloud.typography™….

There is a gold-rush-type frenzy to stake claims in Cloud brand real estate. But like the web before it, the descriptor cloud might be an unfortunate label that inadvertently illustrates the shortcomings of the concept, these brands, and their products.

The cloud as an avatar for storage or access is ill-conceived. Clouds are permeable. Because of this, clouds are notoriously unreliable storage vessels. They literally appear from thin air as they collect and condense vapor. They may just as quickly disappear, scattering material to the atmosphere. If they get too full, they burst — sharing their collected bits with the world.

As for their accessibility, clouds are mostly out of reach. Except for fog – when they impede progress and can result in failure and accidents. And when certain clouds collide, the results can be catastrophic.

Perhaps we should ask engineers to stop proposing metaphors.

Bank is a better label for these virtual bins of others’ property. But that name would no doubt make their real purpose too transparent.

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