Facebook's critical lesson for cloud providers

If you view users as just revenue sources, you forget all about service -- the cloud's key value

The privacy issues around Facebook are so widely covered that I'd rather not beat that dead horse here. However, there are many lessons around the Facebook debacle for the rank-and-file cloud computing providers, whose numbers are growing weekly.

The core issue is that Facebook has been focused on the data it is gathering and not the users it is serving. Facebook seems to view users as content providers and does not consider their core needs.

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Cloud providers could be making the same mistake as Facebook: viewing users as accounts that generate revenue, instead of as people and businesses that need to have their core requirements understood. I'm seeing this a bit today with some of the larger cloud computing providers focusing more on numbers than on service.

In Facebook's case, its "numbers before customers" mistake was in privacy settings, where the default was opting users into a more public profile than they would likely want -- with the unpleasant result of letting stalkers track their victim or your coworkers discovering your interest in collecting comics. Facebook has compounded that mistake with the arrogant belief that only the tech media care about their privacy problems.

In the case of the cloud providers, their mistake is about not learning how their users need to deal with security, and not making sure to be highly secure. Truth be told, cloud providers today pay lip service to security, but don't meet the core security requirements that most enterprises and governments seek. Moreover, if they ever change or break their security systems, without working with their users, they will be history -- and fast.

I suspect that some cloud computing provider will bite the security dust at some point and spin the resulting outage as a "blip" in service -- in the same misguided way Facebook doesn't admit that privacy matters to its users. Of course, it's not a "blip" if you're an enterprise depending on a cloud provider, losing a million dollars an hour during the outage.

Facebook users need to remember they can dump Facebook, no matter how popular or central it seems to be. Remember Friendster and MySpace? They too were once "indispensible." Facebook could easily find that its customers have moved onto greener, more private pastures.

Likewise, enterprises can move from cloud provider to cloud provider pretty easily. There is no need to install new hardware or software when dealing with the cloud. While there are some migrations costs, moving will be easy and cheap enough.

Cloud providers: Don't be a Facebook.

This article, "Facebook's critical lesson for cloud providers," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and follow the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.


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