Cloud optimize

A practical argument for a Google Drive product

Kevin Purdy argues that Google should provide cloud storage, one that syncs to desktops, as the place to keep our golden file copies.

During pretty much my entire three-plus year run at Lifehacker, there was a sense, and plenty of rumors, that Google was going to offer straight-up cloud storage for all its users. Google has the servers and space, they have the millions of users with Google accounts, and their goal is to get everyone using the web more (and looking at ads). Those rumors are popping up again. So what's holding Google back?

The problem

According to an excerpt from Stephen Levy's inside look, In the Plex, the reasoning against a "Google Drive" or "GDrive" was an argument against files themselves. Files are remnants of the middle-ages of personal computing, when hard drive space was a major consideration of a system's prowess. Why not keep everything somewhere safe, a place with infinite storage, and edit that file right there?

There are practical concerns, even if they're technical and possibly temporary. For example: Microsoft's Office suite, Apple's iWork, and Google Docs don't exactly trade files fluidly between one another, especially when a document is more than just simple text. Internet access is, while improving, not quite ubiquitous in the U.S. And while Google offers fairly robust security for a free product, any web-based account can be hacked or closed down for violations, leaving your stash of important documents behind an invisible wall.

There's also the real-world example I've seen in organizing a team of volunteers to produce a conference (TEDxBuffalo). Using Google Apps as our base, and Docs as our repository for collaboration, worked fine at first. But as members became more involved with various aspects of the production, and revisions became common, it quickly became confusing as to which document was our "gold standard" for sponsor submissions, speaker profiles, checklists, production, and so on.

You can "star" items in Docs, you can create a "collection" (which is, really, just a folder) that you title "Final Definite Serious Ready to Roll Documents," but it's still quite a headache making sure everybody can see that document, that only the right people have access to it, and that you have a very good view on what has happened to it. This is, of course, partly an organizational problem, and one that comes up on any shared productivity system. Google Docs has made some progress on this front, recently implementing a "comment-only" access scheme for documents.

The pitch

But here's my pitch: keep Google Docs as the place to create, collaborate, comment, and work. Allow Gmail users to open attachments in Docs' cloud space, for quick viewing. But also give us a Google Drive, one that syncs up to desktops, as the place to keep our "Golden Copies." Not everyone will use it for that, but limiting the access space will help prevent misuse.

A 1GB or 2GB space is plenty big enough for the documents of most people and small organizations, and not so big that people will start trading full video seasons of The Wire. But with an actual file space, one that keeps different permissions than Docs, individuals and organizations can keep a stash of files that are their final products, their treasured references, their backups. Google even referenced the idea of a "Golden Copy" in a presentation to analysts.

Maybe Docs can improve its organization and design such that it's much more obvious how groups are organized, but in the meantime, Google could give us a do-anything space that serves many other Google Apps tools, too. Keep it simple, keep it safe and we'll all feel like our hard drives really are a local cache of an online life.

About

Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.

7 comments
KatherineCopas
KatherineCopas

It really comes down to a matter of what you feel is best for you, for personal use and for professional use. I use Dropbox for collaborative efforts in web design with friends, or to share documents quickly with others but would I trust it with personal and sensitive data? Probably not. I used to use GoogleDocs as a quick way to store text data as I could easily access it all no matter which computer I was at on campus, and it was tied to my g-mail account as well so that I could keep everything in one place, which was the appeal of using it. Sure the "storage" was sub par and the document formats were funky, but it was worth the extra effort at the time to not have to remember where I put my flash drive. But now that I am working in an actual job I wouldn't trust putting company information inside of GoogleDocs or anywhere outside of the company's intranet. Working in the cloud would be wonderful, but going through a free 3rd party cloud storage solution such as dropbox or even google for corporate level file sharing seems iffy at best. I would prefer to host my own cloud, or if necessary rent out cloud space via Amazon or HP if I had to, at least with a paid service I have someone to scream at if information goes missing or is corrupted and stolen. Google accounts are easy as all getout to crack, and I'm somewhat iffy of the security associated with dropbox. After all, you get what you pay for.

Kameir
Kameir

I agree with neon. Take a note out of Dropbox's book. Add it like another Google feature, that can be tied into all of google's other features. This would create the one stop storage option that starts out small, through invitations and people accepting you get a bigger slice of the pie. Google loves keeping things on an invitation level, as well as a free version with a professional version purchase option, so I think its right up their alley. Google buy Dropbox, and call it a day. ;)

billyg
billyg

your anecdote about group sharing points out the need for a version control tool like bazaar or git... built-in. As for privacy concerns voiced in a previous comment, I'm less concerned the mining aspect of handling my data as I am about leaks of my data. Because Google are inspecting data does not make them inherently more susceptible to leaks than services who promise to keep data private. Both are susceptible to leaks via attacks on key stores.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If 1 gig is enough then it seems dropbox gives just the desired fucntion; a storage space synced up to a golden copy which allows sharing between multiple user's. Granted, the issue I have with dropbox is very similar to the issue with Google: - Dropbox can access your data. It's not properly encrypted on the client side before transfer. - Dropbox can recover your password. Passwords are not properly stored in a non-reversable hash. - Dropbox stores your data under US laws which means your privacy can "legally" be invaded if you live in a country with more saine/strict privacy laws. But.. it provides a free gig of storage and it's here now so you don't need to wait for Google to develop and release a service. Note. a popular aproach is to use Dropbox to store one's Truecrypt volume file which puts data control back in the hands of the user with a proper client side encryption option.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Google's core business is advertising. We are not the customer; we are the commodity being sold. If google provides hosted storage, they will do so in the same way they provide other services; with full transparency into the user's data. Google wouldn't want to give you storage because it's a nice fuzzy warm company; it would want to give you hosted storage because it can harvest more information out of that to fluff it's own advertising assets or sell to third parties (the actual customers we, the commodity, are sold too). Now, if Google provided hosted storage only accessible by the end user in the same way that Lastpass and Jungledisk both handle only client side encrypted data? Heck yeah! In that case, Google's got the infrastructure to provide a pretty solid offering. They could even provide a method for users to give Google Apps the password to access the hosted storage. It has to be an opt-in thing though with the default being user data only accessible by the user. This "let us scan your content to help build our targetted advertising database" just won't fly.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you use cloud storage on a regular basis? Just for personal use or for business too? Do you like the idea of a Google Drive?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I believe Dropbox provides versioning for changes within the last 30 or 60 days. I'm not sure how the other hosted storage folks do it. In terms of key stores, I'll trust my passphrase and locally stored certificates long before I'll trust a third party to manage my certificates on my behalf. Google running all data through the digital proctology servers doesn't make inherently susceptible to leaks but it would clearly demonstrate that they where not employing encryption in the better way for the benefit of the end user. If there is an alternative, why would one knowingly accept a more insecurely implemented service?