From Personal Clouds to Community Clouds

The other day I installed Ubuntu on a spare laptop and was invited to join Ubuntu One in order to "discover the freedom" of my personal cloud. That makes it an official industry standard. You can get 5GB of cloud storage from Google, from Microsoft, and now from Ubuntu. Don't get me wrong, this is a wonderful thing! But let's keep our eyes on the prize. Remote drives are great. They are, however, only a small part of what the personal cloud will be.

In the last installment of this series, Goodbye Fax, Hello Personal Cloud, I sketched a vision of a personal cloud that helps me manage an [unprintable collective noun] of health care providers and insurers. In that scenario, the personal cloud isn't just a passive repository, it's an active router.

Phil Windley's Personal Cloud as Personal Assistant amplified the point:

One key sentence [in Jon's article], and one often overlooked in the personal data {store,locker} discussion, says "The hospital and the clinic can also subscribe to notifications, so when the EOB [exhaustion of benefits] token hits my cloud they know it's there and can access it." This is, to my way of thinking, an event. And it's a critical piece to making this all work. Even if there are APIs for getting to all the data, without events, it's just a pile of data. With events it comes alive, applications can animate it, and our personal cloud starts acting like a personal assistant.

For more on what Phil means by events, see an earlier installment in this series, Kynetx Pioneers the Live Web1. For Phil, and for me, almost anything qualifies as an event in this technical sense. Some examples:

These all share two things in common. First, they have digital representations. Second, their representations exhibit regular patterns that cloud-based agents can recognize and then act on. At the heart of the Kynetx system is a very general mechanism for detecting and exploiting such regularities.

Of course there's a broader meaning of events too. An event is a church supper, or a softball game, or a city council meeting. These can inhabit our personal clouds today if we inject them into cloud-based calendars like Google Calendar and Hotmail Calendar. But too often that's a tedious manual process because most community events on the web today don't have the kind of digital representations that cloud-based agents can recognize and act on.

As part of my effort to change that, I'm conducting a series of seminars in which I show churches and softball leagues and city governments and other community organizations how and why to post their public calendars not only as human-readable web pages but also as machine-readable iCalendar feeds. The next one is upcoming on September 26 in Ann Arbor. If you live in or near that city and would like to be invited, or know someone who should be, please let me know.

Personal clouds won't just be remote drives. They'll also be active routers of streams of data. And when your data is of interest to your community, your personal cloud will work with others to create a new thing: the community cloud.


1 Disclosure: Phil Windley is a longtime friend. We worked together at InfoWorld and ITConversations, and I've keynoted the Kynetx conference. I am a great admirer of his work as a founder and organizer of the Internet Identity Workshop, and we share a common vision of what the personal cloud will be.