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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Online storage

Those of you who have been following this blog know about my opinion that personal computers, as we traditionally use them, are a bad idea. There’s one main reason for this: a PC isn’t the best place to store your data.

I value most of my data. I rely on a lot of it pretty much every day: my to-do list, my grocery list, my “list” of what blogs I subscribe to and which of their posts I’ve read so far, my recent email. Even an email from years ago might unexpectedly turn out to be helpful, say if I got audited on my income tax and needed to support a claim.

1. My to-do list (together with most of my other data files) gets backed up once a week. I should probably do it more often.

2. My grocery list gets backed up daily, because it primarily lives in my Treo (PalmPilot) with approximately daily synchronization to my PC.

3. My blog data is backed up by people at Google who are paid to do it. If anything goes wrong, they’ll figure out how to fix it.

4. My email gets backed up once a month.

Of those four, my favourite is the one where Google take care of things for me. (For free!)

The other aspect of valuing my data is that I want to get at it. If I’m away from my PC, that can be difficult. I could enable remote access to it, but then I’d need to leave it on all the time, and if Windows gets into trouble it’s hard to fix remotely (it can be hard enough to fix locally!). If my data is stored on some Internet-connected server, I can get at it anywhere I have Internet access. For blog-reading I use Google Reader, and when I’m sitting on the bus (or wherever) I can pull my Treo out of my pocket and catch up on my blog-reading — Google Reader knows what I have and haven’t yet read, regardless of whether I was using the PC or the Treo. It also helps that, since May, Google Reader has included a user interface specifically for mobile devices with small screens.

So: the data is stored in one place, but accessible from multiple places, with access tailored to the situation (screen size, keyboard availability, bandwidth, whatever). And the “one place” it’s stored is one where professionals will keep it safe.

“Putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t stupid if the basket sits on a cushioned floor in a high-security building in a non-coastal area with no fault lines.”
-Rohan Jayasekera, 2004

Admittedly, I am reliant on the Internet to get access to the data, and that is not 100% assured. So I’m swapping one type of risk for another. But the best of both worlds can be obtained by using either local caching (where my device keeps a copy of data I’ve recently accessed) or synchronization (where data is stored in two places, and any changes to one place are copied to the other when the two places happen to be connected). Then if I have no Internet connection I still have a lot of my data available. Local caching is implemented by Web browsers’ offline mode, and synchronization by, for instance, Omnidrive, which provides what appears to be another local hard drive that just happens to be mirrored to a server over the Internet.

I expect that most of us will find our data migrating to servers, both because we increasingly use Web-based applications such as Google Reader, which intrinsically use online storage, and because even for our locally-based applications such as Microsoft Word (for those who continue to splurge on such expensive luxuries) we’ll stop being willing to entrust our data to a single local hard drive. It may take a while, but just as buying antivirus programs became mainstream as a defensive measure so will using online storage.

And yes, if and when our Internet connection goes down we’ll curse — but we do already, because that’s where all the fun is. We will come to accept Internet dependency as a fact of life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having lost my hard drive last summer, I'm leary now of saving things on my pc and have just made the jump to Google spreadsheets for next year's household budget. Lookit me, cutting edge! :-)

Sunday, December 17, 2006 at 7:17:00 p.m. EST  
Blogger Rohan Jayasekera said...

Thanks for providing the example, Christina!

Note to all other readers: Christina was not paid for that testimonial.

Monday, December 18, 2006 at 2:26:00 p.m. EST  
Blogger mrG said...

you might enjoy a browse through my articles on Living with Webservices and the more recent articles on Hypercube Computing. I totally agree, and what's more, my mother totally agrees with you, and there's no better endorsement than that :)

Let me explain that last one because it is apropos to how real people view the communications environment. We had gone home for Christmas and I had brought my laptop so I could stay connected to work (been web2 since the 80's on that score ;) and I'm unpacking the thing and Mom says, "How does it work?"

Well ... I explain that it's just like her computer but in a small portable pack. She looks at me all confused. I explain that the lid is the monitor and the CPU box is under the keyboard and she looks at me kind of cross. "But how does it work?" says Ma.

May chimes in and explains that it is just a computer like any other but clearly Mom isn't following and isn't pleased by our answers and just decides that she's asking something we aren't going to give any simple answer to satisfy so she goes back to her newspaper.

So I pull out my Roots retractable phone cable and put one end into the wall and the other end into the laptop. Mom drops her paper and exclaimes, "Oh! That's how it works!"

You see, to Mom, the Network is the Computer, and the Computer is the Network, they are one and the same thing, invisible. A box with no means to connect to other boxes is just a box, it's not a computer, at best it's a game machine, a toy, quite useless for practical purposes.

Thus the hypercubic computing ideal, the webservices that are microprograms designed for interoperation and integration like lego, like integrated circuits, all of us computing for all of us in every direction, not just ubiquitous computing, but ubiquitous omnilateral webservices. That's the future.

Friday, December 22, 2006 at 11:20:00 a.m. EST  
Blogger Rohan Jayasekera said...

Wow. Gary (mrG), that is astounding. Your mother is way ahead of most of us.

I need to catch up with, not having been there for a while (there are now way too many blogs to keep up with; even I have one). Thanks for the comment, Gary.

Saturday, December 23, 2006 at 6:21:00 a.m. EST  
Blogger mrG said...

Not a problem; even I have trouble keeping up with my own blog, and as for following everyone else, those little dots next to entries was ok for a while, and my desktop aggregator and even bloglines were ok for a while, but it wasn't long before it was clear that neither was going to scale against the blogiverse hyperinflation. Mostly now, I'm back to old-school, waiting for the blog cogniscenti co-workers to tell me that 1 in 10 item that actually has value.

As for me Mum being among the cogniscenti, don't count on it. Or more precisely, don't be so sure that her view is ahead of the curve because I don't think it is, not among that 95% of the population who are not the preconception-laden technology inner circles the way we are. As you know from Sympatico days, 'regular' people do not "customize their experience" nor do they go fetch exotic widgets and suss out how to craft-glue them into their computing communications experience. I sent my mother an MP3, it was quietly ignored as pixel-noise, but if I send a URL to that same MP3, it's often received, and if I could send it as a self-starting, self-installing, self-controlling YouTube-like insert, you can bet she'd think it was just what the doctor ordered. This is just the logical way to use a machine: You give it one name, you expect one seamless experience -- it's my prediction that the more the online service vendors grasp that simple fact, the faster they will tap into that Dark Matter of the Internet for Everybody Else where the money is hiding ;)

Good to see you're adding your own seasoned sense to the mix in the blogdom, and I will try to follow best I can even though I'm largely out of this space business wise and interest wise, it is still encouraging to see people still working earnestly on the problems of real-human computing. God-speed to you all!

Saturday, December 23, 2006 at 9:07:00 p.m. EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the "eggs in one basket quote."

Speaking of online "baskets," check out They provide 5GB of shareable online storage. The sharing is under your control, at the folder level. The site permits upload and download in bulk (none of this file by file crap that so many online storage sites force you into). Also, files can be as large as 2GB (yes 2GB, not 2MB).

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 7:11:00 p.m. EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it all falls apart when your employer restricts access to google docs.

Monday, February 26, 2007 at 8:58:00 a.m. EST  
Blogger Rohan Jayasekera said...

Christina, has your employer decreed a no-Google-Docs policy, or actually blocked access to

Also, I’d be interested in hearing the rationale that was given. There certainly are potentially good reasons, like the security risk for confidential information, but organizations usually run much bigger security risks that they aren’t addressing properly.

Monday, February 26, 2007 at 11:00:00 a.m. EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's been no official announcement, but since Friday our internet traffic is routed through the US and now we've lost msn messenger (both the local and web versions), gmail chat, google docs, flickr, and who knows what all else. Not, thankfully, blogger.

Monday, February 26, 2007 at 11:10:00 a.m. EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, September 7, 2007 at 11:14:00 a.m. EDT  

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