Psychology and cloud computing – Google Docs, DropBox, iCloud.
Posted by Matt Wall
Following Apple’s announcement of ‘iCloud‘ last week, I’ve been thinking about how the current trend towards cloud computing might have an impact on psychology students, teaching and research. Not so much about the psychology of cloud storage itself (although I definitely think there’s an interesting discussion to be had there) but more about how as psychologists we can use the cloud to make our lives easier.
If you’re a student who hasn’t got a Dropbox account yet – get thee hence and get one. You don’t want to be fiddling around with poxy little USB drives, do you? You want to be able to do a rough draft of an essay in the computer room in your department, read it over again on the bus home, and then finish it off later in your student hovel after you’ve watched Neighbours and had your dinner. Dropbox gives you oddles of storage for all your files for free, and can be synced from almost any device. Ace.
Another good one is Google documents. If you’re already a Gmail user (and you probably should be…) this is a no-brainer, just sign in with your Google account and away you go. You can upload any kind of file, and optionally choose to have your documents, presentations and spreadsheets transformed into the Google apps format. Only 1Gb of storage (for now) but that should be plenty for most purposes; you’ll have to find some other way of sharing your enormous collection of illegally-downloaded mp3s with your mates.
Of course the really interesting part of ‘the cloud’ these days is not just using it for passive storage or backup, it’s actually using it for doing, hopefully useful, ‘stuff’. Google produce a suite of free apps for higher education (promotional page here) which potentially offers real benefits to colleges and departments – if I was running a University IT department I’d seriously consider signing up to what Google’s offering – essentially instead of having to run your own servers for e-mail, data hosting, and the web, you just let Google do it for you, and it’s free. You can use Google Docs in creative ways in higher education at an individual level as well though – I came across this page which has a nice embedded presentation which describes some of the benefits that one lecturer (Mark Berg, from a college in New Joi-sey) found when he started putting course material online using Google.
Another example are any of the large number of HTML5-based apps which are now floating around. These are essentially applications which run inside your (modern) web browser, and provide a lot of the functionality of traditional desktop applications. A favourite of mine that I use quite a lot is this photo editor, which has a nice Photoshop-type interface. There are also loads of good online tools which allow you to create, upload, download, share, and generally muck about with powerpoint-type presentations; SlideRocket seems to be the most full-featured at the moment, but there are loads of others (e.g. Prezi, AuthorStream). These tools aren’t quite at the level where they could replace your desktop applications, particularly for ‘pro’ users, but they’re getting pretty damn close.
It remains to be seen exactly what Apple does with iCloud, especially given that they’ve tried this kind of thing before, with only mixed success. The fact that it’s going to be so tightly integrated into OS X and iOS 5 though probably means that they’re intent on making a serious effort to drive the user-base this time, and where Apple goes, other tech-companies tend to follow. My hunch is that this is an emerging trend that is futile to resist, and within ten years, we’re all just going to be working seamlessly between our local devices and the cloud without ever knowing or caring about the difference.