Nobody Knows What "The Cloud" Is

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 30 2012 8:26 AM

Americans Think Cloud Computing Is Disrupted By Bad Weather

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A picture taken on August 26, 2012 shows dark clouds over Venice during a storm.

Photo by TIZIANA FABI/AFP/GettyImages

You've probably heard a fair amount about computing "in the cloud"—the idea that thanks to the Internet, we can store data (Dropbox, iCloud) remotely and even use applications (Siri, Google Docs, Facebook) that exist primarily on remote servers. But an exciting press release I got yesterday from Citrix about a survey conducted by Wakefield Research reveals that most people have no idea what any of this means:

The survey of more than 1,000 American adults was conducted in August 2012 by Wakefield Research and shows that while the cloud is widely used, it is still misunderstood. For example, 51 percent of respondents, including a majority of Millennials, believe stormy weather can interfere with cloud computing. Nearly one third see the cloud as a thing of the future, yet 97 percent are actually using cloud services today via online shopping, banking, social networking and file sharing. Despite this confusion, three in five (59 percent) believe the “workplace of the future” will exist entirely in the cloud, which indicates people feel it’s time to figure out the cloud or risk being left behind in their professional lives.
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What's more, 22 percent of respondents "admit that they’ve pretended to know what the cloud is or how it works."

So if you're one of them, "the cloud" isn't a thing—it's a metaphor. The idea is that you're using your computer (or phone or tablet) to access data and applications that are hosted remotely. I have no idea why this particular "cloud" metaphor was chosen, and it doesn't make a ton of sense, but it all has nothing to do with clouds or the weather.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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