What does web-based computing mean for associations?
By Ben Berkey
The cloud—content and
programs floating in the electronic ether without a central location, available
anywhere at any time. It sounds like a fluffier version of the ubiquitous network
from The Matrix. Don’t worry, the
cloud isn’t that complicated. In fact, you’re probably using it already.
Clarifying the Cloud
When Apple announced
its new iCloud service in June, chief executive Steve Jobs declared that the
desktop PC was being demoted as
cloud-based computing takes the lead in content delivery. Along those lines,
technology experts polled by Pew
Research Center predicted that most computing will be done via cloud-based
applications by 2020. But what does that mean?
The general term cloud refers to computing performed
using Internet-based resources, rather than software installed on a single PC.
The cloud encompasses programs and
apps accessed via the Web (e.g., iCloud), as well as the content management
systems (CMSs) used to support those resources.
If you’ve ever logged into Gmail or streamed a
movie on Netflix, you’re in the cloud. Social media hubs such as Facebook,
Twitter, and YouTube also fall under the cloud umbrella. For a more visual description,
Michael Sheehan and Tim Wayne of GoGrid created a brilliantly simple explanation
of cloud computing.
Cloud in Motion
Mobility is the key
goal of cloud computing—content stored in a cloud-based CMS may be retrieved on
any device at any time, creating true on-demand access. For example, iCloud will allow users to access any
song they ever purchased via iTunes on any compatible gadget. The push for more
mobility should come as no surprise to association publishers who already are
observing a rising interest in content for smart phones and other portable
In addition to making
content more available, cloud-based CMSs can save associations money, time, and
resources related to Web development. Rather than maintain network hardware and
IT departments in house, associations may opt to let services such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud and Salesforce.com do the leg work for them. For
example, the International Association
of Administrative Professionals used Drupal to save money on design and
simplify its workflow.
The deal-of-the-day website
has utilized the cloud with great success. Launched in November 2008, Groupon relied
on cloud technology to support its massive growth to a billion-dollar business
in less than three years. The logistics of it are geeky technical,
but basically, Groupon was able to focus on its website content while paying
only for the Internet resources it needed at any given time—cloud services took
care of the rest.
Keep Your Content Grounded
As cloud is just another term for Web-based,
standard strategies apply for optimizing content delivery
across multiple channels. Try to keep content flexible so it can be easily
repurposed for different outlets (e.g., phone apps, social media). Again, CMSs
such as WordPress and Drupal can make it easier to streamline updates.
Until Steve Jobs
succeeds in dethroning the PC and another dominant electronic viewing platform
emerges, cloud content will not completely replace print publications. Cloud
computing is convenient, but few members want to read a print layout crammed
onto a smart phone screen. In the meantime, publishers can use cloud-based
content delivery to spread the word about their association, as Groupon did.
Whether you use the
cloud to make your content more available or just to have easier access to your
music library, this useful technology will only increase in popularity and scope.
Content available anytime on any device—there’s nothing cloudy about that.
Ben Berkey is copy editor for the Oncology Nursing Society and a member of the Association
Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.