I wasn’t quite sure what to think when I first heard Time magazine had named Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg its Person of the Year for 2010.
As I’ve previously confessed, I have not joined the half a billion people who are making friends and playing virtual games on Facebook. I do realize, however, that any platform that can attract that many regular users cannot be brushed off and deemed insignificant.
So after mulling it a while, I concluded that Zuckerberg is not only worthy of the title that Time bestowed on him, but also likely to be recognized in similar fashion many more times in the future. That’s because Facebook truly is having an impact on the way we use technology — and that impact ultimately will prove both far-reaching and long-lasting.
I’m not sure of all the ways in which Facebook will impact our future technology use, but I’m fairly certain that one day Zuckerberg’s creation will be credited with ushering in the true age of cloud computing.
More Cloud Exploration
Technology vendors — particularly those who operate primarily in the enterprise space — have been touting the virtues of the cloud for years. It’s a faster, cheaper way of ensuring that your organization is always running on the latest and greatest technology platforms, these vendors contend.
Generally, corporate IT professionals have been intrigued by that argument, but they’ve been reluctant to abandon in-house systems and jump fully to the cloud, largely out of fear that placing their data — which many corporations view as their most valuable asset — on outside servers is a blueprint for disaster.
The persistently slow economic recovery undoubtedly is causing more companies to at least explore the cloud option. Spending on cloud-based IT services has grown by more than 16 percent in 2010, according to research conducted by Gartner.
This pace is expected to continue at least through 2014, but many enterprises are still looking at the cloud with a certain amount of trepidation, because they don’t know the full ramifications of relinquishing full control of their systems and data, Gartner notes.
Cloud vendors are working furiously to beef up the security around their offerings in the hope of allaying potential customers’ fears. That’s a sound move on the vendors’ part, but I predict that as we get further into the Facebook and social networking age, the fear of placing even the most sensitive data on the cloud will dissipate naturally — even in corporate settings.
Technology Migrates From Home to Work
This will happen when the masses of computer users — in both the consumer and business realms — realize that whenever they post something on Facebook or any other social networking site, they are, in effect, placing data in the cloud.
The next logical step is for business users to understand that cloud vendors — who I would argue pay much greater attention to security — can protect your data at least as well as, if not better than Facebook can. Once that happens, the cloud movement will take off.
If you don’t believe Facebook can have this type of impact, answer this question: Do you know anyone who uses any of the following for business purposes?
- An iPhone or iPad
- Yahoo or AOL Instant Messaging
- Gmail or Google Docs
These were all created for use primarily by consumers. They all are now also widely used — and accepted — in corporate settings, largely because users gained an affinity for them in their personal lives and demanded the right to use them at work as well.
The Race for Cloud Supremacy
Instant messaging and the Google apps — Gmail and Google Docs — are cloud-based services, by the way. And Google hopes to attract even more users to the cloud, when it releases its completely Web-based Chrome operating system in 2011.
Even Microsoft, the reigning king of fat-client applications, is running major ad campaigns to draw users to the cloud.
At this point, the question no longer is whether users ultimately will access applications and information — in either their work or personal lives — from the cloud. The questions are these:
- How long will it be before cloud computing is the norm?
- Who will be the primary operator of the cloud?
When it comes to latter question, the race currently seems to be between Google and Facebook. Microsoft, with its large user base, has a chance to compete in this space, but it hasn’t really shown the knack for developing applications and services in areas — such as social networking and mobile computing — that will be essential for attracting customers to the cloud going forward.
Don’t Discount Facebook
Google might have the inside track, since its search engine already is the research tool of choice for most people both at work and at home, and its applications are gaining in popularity as well.
I wouldn’t count out Facebook, however. It clearly has captured the imagination of consumers, and it’s increasingly becoming a core tool for corporate marketing. It wouldn’t be a great leap for it to develop applications that would appeal to corporate users.
Even if Facebook never introduces an application, its impact in getting users to trust the cloud as a place for storing and accessing data will be felt far into the future.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, the leading seller of cloud-based CRM applications, holds a similar opinion.
In his keynote address at Dreamforce, 2010, Salesforce.com’s annual event for customers and partners, Benioff said this: “In 2010, I am asking myself, why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?”
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, it just might be.
TechNewsWorld columnist Sidney Hill has been writing about business and technology trends for more than two decades. In addition to his work as a freelance journalist, he operates an independent marketing communications consulting firm. You can connect with Hill through his website.