Saturday, 15 May 2010

Grooming for cloud-computing, or simply misunderstanding Facebook?

I have been particularly interested by two recent announcements. Interested, but not necessarily desperately excited.

The first partially explains, but does not excuse, Google Books' bugger's muddle of an interface for their users' libraries which I raged against in a post last month. The second is the revelation that Microsoft's Office Web Apps, which copycats Google Docs, will apparently be made available, free, to all users of Facebook.

The first announcement concerned the coming of a Google ebooks store this summer. Yes, they are going to take on Apple and Amazon in this lucrative download market. Clearly the ebooks store will be intergrated with the main Google Books site. Nothing wrong with that. However, it does in some part explain Google Books' cack-handed redesign of their library interface to include compulsory social networking elements which I blogged about last month. Obviously Google wants to use the viral marketing potential of users (they hope ebook buyers) writing reviews and 'spreading the word' among other users/buyers. Again, nothing wrong with that - in principle. However, it does not excuse the awful botch-job they have made of the user library in anticipation of this momentous event. It still beggars belief that they can think making their five default 'shelves' undeletable and in-yer-face is any way constructive, user-friendly or displays the slightest trace of intelligence or adeptitude. I can only dream that when the ebooks store eventually goes live somebody at Google will realise that the current user libraries design needs binning. We live in hope.


The second announcement is of course Microsoft's direct attack on Google Docs with online apps of their own: Office 2010 will include "Office Web Apps". OK, fine. I am not particularly interested in who fights who for what share of the online apps market - so long as there IS a lively and developing online apps market. What does interest me is this quote from the BBC's piece on the subject:

"Crucially, Microsoft will also offer its online office suite to all users of one of the world's most popular social networking sites, Facebook."


Crucial? More like gimmicky - at least that's what first sprang to my mind. I have written many times about what Facebook is for - what users really want it for. It's really not for business, except as a benign adjunct to a much wider web presence. Social networking sites are really exactly that - exactly what the term 'social networking' implies. So do FB users really want to access, create and store Worddocs, spreadsheets and all that 'work' related stuff directly from their FB account? Somehow I expect that instead they will be slightly bemused - as they are by many of Facebook's tweaks and attempted innovations.



But hang on a minute.

Google Docs is the trail-blazing serious cloud-computing place for both business and individuals. However, it has been around a while now in internet terms, but as the BBC report states:

"Google Docs currently has a small (4%) but growing share of the [business] market."

Everybody recognises that cloud-computing is the way forward - for everbody. However, few businesses and individuals have made the switch so far. They don't really need to at the moment. Even cloud-computing evangelists like us at Glanton still have our hard drives cluttered up with MS Office, OpenOffice and all the bits and pieces of 'traditional' and fantastically wasteful home and office computing.

So what are Microsoft and Facebook playing at? It can only be grooming.

Grooming users to first realise there IS an online apps / cloud-computing universe out there; then accept it; then use it; then wonder how they ever lived without it. Office Web Apps at Facebook is not an end in itself. It is simply a (possibly) very clever way to worm their way into the consciousness of a very large user group. It may take some time to have any effect, but I believe the Facebook connection will fade in time as its job is done.

The success of this move may well start to show in the next few hardware buying cycles. If the FB user - now accepting the concept of cloud-computing - can buy a new laptop relatively cheap because it actually has fairly limited hard disk space and no bundled software packages like the traditional MS Office, but does have free access to Microsoft's new Office Web Apps - then they are going to be tempted aren't they? Or they will have learnt enough to know that they don't even need the access to MS Office Web Apps because they have already become a free Google Docs user.

When I find myself buying my next computer I am sure that is what I'll be looking for.



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