Too Many Clouds (or: Why I Don't Use Evernote)

Like pretty much everyone I know, I have moved the data that I care about into a cloud. Actually a few clouds. Mostly this has resulted in lots of goodness: multiple device access, reliability, backup, sharable. But it's also caused a problem.

Where did I put that list of frequent flier numbers? Where are those notes on running a Minecraft server? Will Spotlight help me find it, or do I need to open up a browser?

The challenge is that I need a mental index of what I've stored where (and sometimes when). That index is getting larger and more difficult to maintain. On top of that, all hell breaks loose when two clouds rub together and data is synced/reconciled between them. Witness the mess that my once-pristine address book has become.

Granted, this is a bit of a high-class problem to have. But it does cause friction and confusion, especially as more "regular people" (ie. non early-adopters) switch to cloud storage.

Here's a sampler of the clouds that I have some stake in, to some degree:

  • Dropbox
  • Google Docs
  • iCloud
  • Instapaper (only for its own app, but still)
  • (50GB free!)
  • Evernote (no longer)

(For this discussion I'm not even broaching things like relationships. Let's keep "data" simple.)

Each stack has its special wins. For Dropbox, it is elegance, always-works simplicity, and cross-platform. Google Docs' real-time collaborative editing is so awesome, it feels like science fiction whenever I use it. And so on. Either you forego those features, or you live with fragmentation.

I look suspiciously at a new application that brings its own sync and store. Is its trick so compelling to offset the complexity? Take Evernote, for example. Their iPhone amd desktop apps are super; data synchronization is quick, clean, and reliable; they have nice integration with apps and a growing ecosystem. But it's yet another cloud.

I wish this would shake out by itself, but I fear it will not. What I want is these stacks to begin to use other backends in addition to (or instead of) their own.  Instapaper on Dropbox; Evernote on iCloud.  But there are at least two big headwinds: first, the big consumer companies will always go it on their own (Google, Microsoft, Apple); second, even the small guys realize that data is sticky and what really matters, so they will hug that data as long as they can.

So in the meantime I hope for integration / consolidation, and try to keep things simple.

An interesting corollary. The consumer backup problem is becoming simpler by devolving into specific types (and sizes) of data. The free clouds big enough to house documents and high-value data. Gmail is large enough for all but the biggest email junkpiles. That leaves two classes of data: music and video libraries (big) and personal movies and photos (also big). With iTunes Match Apple has a unique take on the first set, I wonder who will have a good solution to the second?


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