What Writers Should Know about The Cloud

Are you in the cloud? Here’s a hint: if you can access it from anywhere, wirelessly sync across different devices, or share with another user via a web browser… then you’re in the cloud. This includes Facebook, GoogleDocs, Google-anything, Yahoo-anything, WordPress, Blogspot, Evernote, Twitter – the list goes on and on.

Convenience and “security” are key selling points for the cloud. Since quitting Facebook, I’ve had more time to learn about other web tools. I briefly signed up with Evernote, a cloud-based notetaking app that enabled me to access my notes from anywhere. I could start a note from my phone, and later on my PC I could pick up right where I left off — that easy. No saving or file transfer or anything. I could even grab links and bits of the web, attach pictures, and everything was arranged in a very user-friendly format.  It was great, but then I started wondering: where, exactly, does all that information go? When Evernote autosaves, where does it save to?

I did some research, talked with an expert, and looked at the facts. Here’s what I found out:

Cloud-based apps save data to the web server.  Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to delete (not just deactivate) a Facebook account? That’s because your Facebook page is stored on the Facebook web server indefinitely, whether you like it or not. When I type something in Evernote (or Producteev, or whatever), the app autosaves to the web server. If I have second thoughts and delete that info, I’m trusting the app to delete it from the server as well. But how would I even know? Anything you have ever sent, received, or stored on a cloud-based application most likely still exists somewhere in cyberspace, filed away on a web server.

The Cloud lacks privacy and safety. People love cloud-based apps because nothing gets lost. While this is a top selling point, it’s also a huge risk. Hackers have become increasingly sophisticated and organized, all while the rest of us grow more comfortable online and more willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves – leaving sensitive information on the web is no different from leaving your wallet and notebook on a busy train at rush hour. Maybe someone honest will find it and keep it safe. But maybe not. Anything stored in the cloud can also be subject to federal subpoena, even without your knowledge. This is fine if you write about celebrities or fashion. But what if you write investigative, hard-hitting, or politically controversial material? Should you trust the cloud with your notes, your thoughts, your location, and your sources?

While channel-surfing the other day, my husband and I finally decided on the 1993 movie “The Pelican Brief,” based on the book by John Grisham (which I’ve read several times). The premise is that a law student and a reporter work together to reveal a huge government cover-up related to the death of two Supreme Court justices. I’ve posted the trailer below. If you ever have a chance to watch the full movie, you’ll laugh at the low-tech research and reporting methods – pay phones (seen any of those lately?), library card catalog, VHS recordings, phone tapping. But even back then, investigate research and writing were risky. 

Now there is even more risk.

So here’s the bottom line: writers, tread lightly on the cloud. It’s an amazing tool for publishing and networking, but not really safe for idea harvesting, data-storage, or notekeeping.

And yes, after only two days of use, I deleted my new Evernote account. (But is it really deleted? Or still out there somewhere? The world may never know.)

9 thoughts on “What Writers Should Know about The Cloud

  1. This is a FANTASTIC post! So glad I logged into Linked In so I saw that you wrote it! I am so glad someone finally brought this up. I guess it’s not a huge deal to some, but to us writers and journalists, the idea of putting your intellectual property out there for all to find and use is so scary! I had trouble even starting my own blog for those reasons, but I have to be OK with anything I write on that blog being seen by anyone. I make sure never to put my notes or book ideas on the web anywhere. I’m sooo protective of my work, but not everyone thinks that way. As you said, we have become so comfortable and complacent, we don’t always think about the sneaky hackers lurking out there, ready to pounce. GREAT JOB! Keep it up sis!

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    1. Hey my sis, so glad you liked it! Amazing what I find out when I have more time, since quitting Facebook (and the kids being in school, LOL). I think in some ways we were safer, back a decade ago when most people were suspicious of the web. Now it seems like hardly anyone cares, but at what cost? I’m glad you are protective and intentional. There IS a way to be relatively safe online, we writers just need to work together to find it.

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  2. A good tip, re: the cloud. One hears about these new technologies and it’s important for us to share our experiences, good or bad, and in that way make technology serve us (rather than vice versa).

    Thanks for the post…

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    1. Thanks Cliff. Back when I quit Facebook, I was generally overwhelmed by the sheer number of social networking sites available to writers. I wanted to go offline entirely. But since then I’ve realized that we’re never going back to the days of hardcopy manuscripts, and to be a writer in today’s market I have to play the game. But writers need a different set of rules.

      Glad you stopped by!

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  3. Here’s my thoughts: “Let’s all write radical Christian articles on our blogs (prophetic and otherwise) and see if we will be judged worthy enough to suffer like the early disciples.”

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  4. I am glad to see that I am not the only person giving warning to those who use the cloud to save data. It has more risk than any other option and they are not something that should be taken lightly. I much rather do the hard work of saving everything to a disc or external hard drive than risk losing it all.

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    1. Hi Sarah, thanks for the comment! I spent some time over on your blog — you have quite a bit of helpful tech information there. Which do you think is better for data storage (assuming fairly small files, nothing gigantic) — disc, external hard drive, or flash drive?

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