Scattered Clouds

People use rge computers at a computer shop in central London, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. UK Lawyers say the mounting tally of
People use rge computers at a computer shop in central London, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. UK Lawyers say the mounting tally of those arrested and convicted of making offensive comments through social media, shows the problems of a legal system trying to regulate 21st-century communications with 20th century laws. Civil libertarians say it is a threat to free speech in an age when the internet gives everyone the power to be heard around the world. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

Over the last couple of years, we've witnessed profound changes in the creation and consumption of data, the proliferation of connected devices, and the migration of desktop applications to the cloud. As a result, people expect instant access to data from anywhere, and to be able to share and collaborate in ways many of us would have found hard to imagine just a few years ago. But, as is often the case, with freedom and options come complexity and confusion. As a result, here are a few of the common technology challenges we face today that cloud services ought to be able to solve in 2013.

Where is my stuff?!

If you're anything like me, your files, music and photos are scattered across several devices and a few different cloud services. Each of the services I use does a pretty good job of delivering on its own experience, but because they don't talk to each other, my files are scattered across the cloud. Keeping track of everything and organizing it takes time and energy that I'm not spending on my work or with friends and family. When you consider all the files that I'm sharing and collaborating on with others, things only get more complicated. Who shared what with me? Where is it? Through which service was it shared it? Am I looking at the right version? How do I keep track of feedback? I often find myself searching my email, instant and text messages trying to find the conversation or data I need. The cloud can tackle this problem.

Mobile isn't quite there yet.

Mobile devices, software and apps, aren't yet replacements for a good, old fashioned laptop. Our mobile devices are made for content consumption: we can read our email, catch up on blog posts and read the news, but try editing a document or creating anything beyond a photo or video and you'd probably much rather be using your computer. This will change and we might be seeing the beginning of the end to this problem with Microsoft's Surface Pro.

Why is collaboration so cumbersome?

Working with a small group on a set of documents remains quite unwieldy despite the number of products that attempt to meet this need. Collaborating on large projects with lots of people and a complex set of deliverables is made easier by Basecamp and the like (when formal project management is needed), but those products are often overkill for smaller projects and workgroups. I often find this to be an issue when I and a handful of colleagues put together a PowerPoint presentation for a board meeting, or collaborate on a contract negotiation. We usually try to do everything over email, which makes version control, comments and notes hard to manage.

We use email to solve too many problems

We use email for just about everything these days: quick FYIs, long rants, to-do lists, and collaboration. It's often the only tool we all have in common and it works across devices; even the mobile email experience has become seamless. I can send an email through Outlook on my PC desktop, grab my phone and pick up where I left off. It works wonderfully across devices and services (Exchange, Gmail, etc.). Why can't keeping track of your own stuff while collaborating with others -- regardless of what you're working on, where it's stored, and where you are -- be as simple?

These problems occur in organizations large and small; while we don't think about it, we all waste time and energy on the logistics of working together. It's time for cloud services to address these issues by making it easy to work across file types, platforms and devices, so that we can all save time and energy.