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Cloud in the Forecast - 6/20/2011 -

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 devices.

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 Groupon 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.


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