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Explaining the benefits of cloud services to your extended family

After spending the holidays with the extended family, a number of tech topics came up including Windows 8, tablets, and “the cloud”.  It’s always fun to have these discussions with family because I get an idea of what people across a number of generations (who generally aren’t technical) are thinking.  The general consensus with the cloud is that they just don’t get it.  They have heard about it, but they really have no idea what it is.  Specifically, we’re talking about the consumer oriented cloud services such as SkyDrive, Dropbox, iCloud, Flickr, etc.    I had mixed success in explaining it, but I did manage to show a couple of demos that got them interested.

With any holiday gathering, a lot of pictures were being taken.  Some people were using their phones.  Some using digital cameras.  People wanted to share their photos of course.  Some people went with Facebook while others needed to go sync up.  It got interesting through when I pointed out that I didn’t have to do all of that.  I have every photo I have ever taken in the last 13 years stored on my SkyDrive.  Thanks to Windows Phone, I don’t have to do a thing for new photos to show up there either.  Chances are whatever phone they use, there is a similar service available.

I set out on a mission to explain the cloud to my family and dispel some of the myths that they have heard.  When discussing this new cloud-connected way of life, I heard three general concerns / questions:

  • I don’t trust “them” with all of my stuff.
  • What if they lose my stuff?
  • What are the benefits?

Let’s take a look at each concern and I’ll share the discussions we had on each.

I don’t trust “them” with all of my stuff

This is a natural concern.  I hear it from directors and CIOs all of the time in the business world.  However, in the consumer world, it’s quite a bit different.  They aren’t dealing with things like compliance and data loss prevention.  They just want things to work.  If you look at the type of files, the average consumer stores on his or her computer, most of them are things like photos, homework, and maybe a few documents that have financial information.  I’d say very few people use the latter in reality, but I could be wrong.  So I asked, “What files do you have that you are so concerned about someone seeing?”  They really didn’t have an answer.  I asked “Do you really care if someone else sees your picture of pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving?”  They agreed, the answer is generally no.  They might have a few documents they are concerned about (i.e.: financial or real estate), but in general there is very little information that is considered sensitive.

The interesting point here is that when you start asking questions about what people do on the Internet, it turns out they are choosing more cloud services than they realize.  Every time, you upload a picture to Facebook, use Pintrest, or go and print out photos on WalMart.com, you’re effectively in the cloud.  By explaining that they are already using cloud services, the concept of using SkyDrive for storing pictures doesn’t seem so scary.

I had another interesting conversation with my mother about not trusting “them” when it comes to online ordering.  Being a baby boomer, she did successfully make the leap into services like Facebook some years ago.  However, she still had quite a bit of distrust when it comes to online ordering.  In fact, she still got catalogs in the mail and then she called the order in.  She said, she didn’t like using her credit card on the Internet.  This made me laugh.  I found it funny because more than likely the person on the other end of the phone is using the Internet in some way to enter that credit card on a secure site.  Often times this is just a flavor of the existing public facing web site.  It turns out her credit card number is more likely to be stolen by the operator on the phone or the waiter at the restaurant than it is by making an online transaction.   

What if they lose my stuff?

Surprisingly, there were a lot of concerns that if they put their documents and photos in the cloud they will get lost due to hardware failure or whatever.  Let’s look at storing photos long term.  I’ve always taken extra care of my digital photos just as you would a family photo album.  Before the cloud, I used to burn CDs regularly and store them somewhere else in case of fire.  This led me to inquire about how they store their photos today.  In this case, my mother doesn’t have a smart phone and uses a digital camera.  After she takes the photos, she connects it to her laptop via USB cable and they get stored somewhere on the laptop.  She then uploads them to WalMart.com and prints every single one of them out.  I asked “Do you think keeping your photos on your laptop is safer than in the cloud?”  The answer of course was “No, but I think I have copies and I always have the ones I have had printed”.  Her last computer recently died.  Right now, photos are scatted across WalMart.com, the new laptop, a handful of memory cards, along with the boxes and boxes of 4x6 photos.  For something like photos, I think you have to plan for the worst.  When someone loses a house due to fire or natural disaster, insurance can replace your stuff, but it can’t replace your boxes of photos.  If you find your old pictures valuable, this should scare you a bit.

With Windows 8.1, I showed how photos can be automatically synced to all of my devices.  This puts a physical copy on each device.  I can then browse them using the Photos app, directly on SkyDrive.com, and on my phone.  I think the feature that really got my family members excited though was the lock screen photo slideshow.  When my tablet showed photos I had literally just taken just a few moments ago in a slideshow, people were impressed.

What are the benefits?

To no surprise, shifting to Windows 8 was a difficult shift for the older members of my family.  However, when I showed it in action on my Surface 2, they started seeing some of the benefits.  I find even the most experienced of developers don’t really fully utilize the benefits of SkyDrive integration in Windows and Office.  I explained how I could start working on documents on my laptop and then open the same document on my Surface 2 and pick up right where I left off.  The point is your files are with you wherever you are regardless of the device you are on.

The last demonstration I gave was, I took a picture of all of them while we were sitting at the table.  I waited a few moments and then I showed it to them from my Surface 2.  Being on Microsoft devices makes this easy of course, but similar cloud functionality has been there for quite some time in the Apple world using iCloud.  Most of them have iPhones with a handful of Android devices, it’s just a matter of knowing these features are there.  Of course, I think uploading to SkyDrive is a much better experience, but the fact is they should take advantage of any service that makes archival of photos easier.  This level of cloud integration is what makes for a great consumer experience.


This “cloud thing” is really just starting to take off in the consumer space so it still may take some time before your grandma is using it.  The benefits are huge though.  With the cloud more integrated into Office 2013 and Windows 8.1, I think this is a step in the right direction.  Files will just automatically save to the cloud and users won’t have to think about it.  The simpler the experience, the greater the adoption.  Now, I don’t think for one minute, my entire family will drop what they are doing and start using the cloud.  However, I do think it got them thinking.  The next time I see some of them, I bet I will get a few more questions and some might even ask how to get started.

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More Stories By Corey Roth

Corey Roth, a SharePoint Server MVP, is an independent consultant specializing in Cloud technologies such as Azure and Office 365. He also specializes in mobile development. Corey serves as the product manager for two cloud-first mobile app platforms: BrewZap and HappenZap.

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