Click to crowd

Click to crowd

Much is made of the potential economies of scale delivered by cloud computing. CIOs need to focus on buying the crowd, not just the infrastructure.

I was at the IBM Lotusphere conference in January – a gathering of nearly 10,000 passionate Lotus fanciers in an unusually cold Florida winter. One of the major announcements at the event was – IBM’s long awaited entry into the software-as-a-service and cloud computing arenas. LotusLive will formally launch mid 2009, offering ‘as a service’ access to Lotus office productivity and collaboration software as well as a cloud computing platform where users can store and share data and documents online. LotusLive as an announcement was hardly a great innovation – in some ways it’s a year-late ‘me too’ following of Microsoft’s Software + Services strategy, Microsoft Live and Microsoft Online.

The purposeful business crowd

What is innovative about LotusLive, however, is its open ecosystems of customers and service partners. It is an example of merging web 2.0 and cloud logic to pull together a purposeful business crowd.

LotusLive aims to create an online collaboration platform for individuals and small to medium businesses, allowing users access to both ‘as-service’ office productivity and collaboration tools as well as a global network of other users. Each user is a potential customer or business partner. Fair enough, but why bother to join this particular network, and what about my other online networks – how can I leverage them?

The interesting part is IBM’s announcement of partnerships with LinkedIn, Salesforce and Skype. These services will be integrated to, for example, enable sharing and reuse of contact profiles, recording of customer contacts and ‘click to call’ functionality. Other partnerships are expected to be announced this year with leading business social computing platforms. The merging of cloud services as a delivery platform, and web 2.0 applications as integrated ‘click to collaborate’ solutions, is an important new trend. Let’s call it ‘click to crowd’.

Web 2.0 vs. Cloud

The terms ‘web 2.0’ and ‘cloud computing’ are both examples of powerful new ideas that are losing their mojo through overuse and sloppy definition. Is cloud just any service delivered over the internet, which would define all web 2.0 services as cloud?

Its useful to think back to one of the distinguishing design patterns of web 2.0 as originally identified by Tim O’Reilly. Web 2.0 applications get better with use. More users using a service more frequently and contributing more content create a better service for all users – often in serendipitous ways. Think Wikipedia, YouTube and LinkedIn. More is better.

Cloud computing, however, does not necessarily have this characteristic. I think of the cloud in its broadest sense as ‘as-much-computing-as-you-want-as-a-service’. Applications+development+hosting+storage, all or any, provided in a scalable way over the internet on a simple, on-demand, commercial basis. The Google cloud offers email, document editors and application development, hosting and storage services. The Amazon and Salesforce clouds offer application and storage services, and there are many others. Cloud delivers other-worldly scale.

Clouds, however, are still just a commodity delivery platform with limits. More users does not necessarily make the service better – indeed one is reminded of the classic Monty Python sketch of Mr Creosote and the wafer thin mint that caused him to finally explode with gluttony. Clouds will have limits.

Worse, the various cloud providers are already starting the pernicious practice of exploring ways to create ‘lock in’ – attempting to prevent customers from straying out of their particular cloud via proprietary APIs and data and the usual deep-in-the-infrastructure-and-not-discovered-until-it-is-too-late tricks. Clouds will have friction.

Clouds are, however, undeniably good, and will rapidly sound the death knell for sub-scale in-house ICT, but we need to look beyond the economy-of-scale value.

Choose the cloud for its purposeful crowd

Reminding ourselves about the roots of web 2.0 value is a good place to start. Buy the network effect not just the commodity ICT services. Think about the ecosystem of individuals and businesses – the purposeful crowd – that the cloud can deliver to your business.

This is why IBM’s LotusLive is an interesting evolution, seeking to integrate existing web 2.0 networks with the ‘as service’ office productivity and collaboration tools required to create new networks – and all in a cloud delivery platform.

Above a threshold level of technical performance and reliability, the value of cloud computing should be judged from its ability to connect your organisation to, and unleash, a purposeful crowd rather than simply to trim some fat off the ICT budget.

Sure, each cloud will have its own lock-in and friction points, but think in terms of locking in relationships and increasing friction with your customers and business partners – your crowd – rather than with your ICT infrastructure provider.

Steve Hodgkinson is research director, public sector at Ovum. Email comments to

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Tags strategycloud computingsocial networkingWeb 2.0opinionanalyst

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