Life in the Cloud

DigitalCloud

As I had mentioned a little while back, having your own “digital cottage” can be a bit issue for a geek out there. After dropping my domain name and hosting, I found that keeping my “digital cottage” in order wasn’t as bad as I had thought. As more and more services are being offered online, or in the “cloud” as they say, I’ve found that it is a lot easier to setup shop in the cloud than I thought.

To some degree, most of us are already living in the cloud. Facebook alone gives you a way to share photos, links, thoughts, games, and who knows what else online with your friends. It requires nothing to be installed and you can access it through your smart phone. Even my “dumb phone”, a Pantech Jest, has an application that will allow me basic access to Facebook, if I want to pay for it. Outside of that, let’s run down the typical things that were in my “digital cottage” and see how they’ve made it to the cloud.

E-Mail:
I’ll admit e-mail was one of the items that went to the cloud early in the game. Most hosts these days offer IMAP hosting (which means your e-mail stays on the server and doesn’t download to your device). Sadly my old domain host didn’t provide that, so I had moved over to Gmail a long time ago. It would pull all my messages from my Dillie-O Digital server and give me easy access to them. No need to install Thunderbird, Outlook, Eudora, or any of those clients. It ran from my web browser. I even like Gmail’s mobile version so much that I didn’t even bother configuring the mail application on my iPod Touch, I just ran it from the web. Between GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and others, I’m sure there’s a mail service that’ll work perfect for you from the cloud.

Blog:
A little while back I had moved my blog to the WordPress platform, since I was doing more work for people using WordPress, and I wanted to become more familiar with it. Fortunately, WordPress offers a hosted platform as well (you probably already knew that) that doesn’t allow you to use plugins, but they have a large amount of widgets handy for you to use and they host it for free! I was able to do a quick export of my existing blog and import it without any problems. Just like most other cloud services out there, I can add posts directly through the site, from my iPod touch app, or even through Windows Live Writer if I’m sitting down at a computer somewhere.

If full fledged blogging isn’t your cup of tea, the whole idea of “micro blogging” is taking off as well. Services such as tumblr and posterous allow you to blog a quick blurb or photo through e-mail, website, or other options.

Files:
Yep, where would a geek be without coming down from the cloud every now and then to work on a file or a project. More importantly, my hosted WordPress account will not allow me to upload zip files, which prevents me from sharing some of my code samples with the world. Surprisingly enough, there are resources out there too. Dropbox and Windows Live SkyDrive make it easy to have online storage solution, both for public and private use. I have a public folder that I store all my code samples for others, and private folders for various projects, music, and files that I want to have access to. Both services can be accessed through the web browser or through a installable program that will auto-sync your files between work and home (amongst other places). It will also allow you to create a public photo gallery, if you already aren’t using another service like Picasa or Flickr.

Tying It Together:
The one thing that may seem a little crazy with this fractured “digital cottage” is being able to access all of it in a single place. While there isn’t “one app to rule them all” (and there shouldn’t be), there are a couple of things that do well to make everything accessible. For starters, threadsy allows me to manage my e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter stream all in one finely tuned web application. It is a beautiful web app and I highly recommend it. Another is netvibes, the “personalized dashboard.” While I use netvibes as my news reader, it also has widgets for your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and a wide variety of other items for you to manage in a single location. Lastly, there are mobile optimized sites and apps for my iPod Touch, that allow me a quick check or update on things while I’m on the road or in an area with free WiFi.

Another thing you can do is create a “splash page” for yourself that links to all of your other sites. There are several services out there, but I’ve been dabbling with about.me for a little while and it looks promising, even in beta. There’s no real frills, just link up your accounts, have a pretty screen (or create one like I did), and share away!

Big Bucks? No Whammies? Stop!
The beauty of cloud living is that all of these services are 100% free. The ads involved are relatively unobtrusive, if non-existent. All of the services have premium accounts that you can pay for, if you want to have extra storage, more features, or no ads. So far I haven’t had a need to pay for any of the premium accounts, and I like it that way, especially with times as tight as they are.

Being a geek of due diligence, I must point out that living in the cloud puts you at a bit of risk of losing all of your data. You never know when a massive database crash will hit one of these services, or a flood in an odd region will wipe cause data issues due to a power surge. All of the big players these days are mindful of these things and prepare against them, but it behooves you to make a backup of your blogs, e-mail contacts, files, etc. every now and then and burn them onto a DVD or keep them on a portable hard drive, just for safe keeping. Sometimes this is where the premium service may be worthwhile, since some services will maintain a backup for you.

Overall I am pleasantly surprised with cloud life. It took me a month or so to settle down with a variety of services and find a few other specialized ones to meet my needs, but after that it is pretty amazing, and daunting, and what cloud life can bring.

Anybody else want to take the plunge…er leap?

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