Designing for the Cloud

I've been taking note of my experiences in working with applications running in the cloud. For me this includes applications like Gmail, Facebook, Podbean, Delicious, Blogger, Twitter, Skype, and Google Docs. Overall, I'm really impressed with the convenience of accessing them from anywhere on virtually any device and not having to worry about where my data are. With only a few exceptions, I'm also really pleased with the functionality of these in-the-cloud apps. In fact, I rather like the approach of providing only the base functionality first and then adding just the few additional capabilities over and above the base. This is in constrast to many traditional apps that are so function rich that they end up being unusable.

The challenges often cited in working with these apps can be summed up as relating to availability, speed, and design. While most of these apps have pretty good availability, there are the rare times when they're not available. In fact, availability is so good for most of these that it makes the news when one isn't. To be fair, though, these apps have better availability than the power to our homes. In other words, I've had more power outages to my home than Gmail being down. However, the smaller companies, like Podbean, don't do as well on this score.

Speed is another challenge often mentioned. However, again, I'd argue that with only the odd exception, the apps I use are pretty nimble. Of course, the speed of these apps is determined largely by the speed of your broadband connection. I haven't experienced any speed problems again other than with the apps from the smaller vendors.

That brings us to design. This is where I believe the greatest challenge is at the moment. Many of these apps have not based their designs on well-proven user interface design patterns. As a result, they are quirky and often lead to user errors. They appear to mix up website design with application design when the latter is clearly required. Functions are often hidden or included in too many places. Often a user interface element is available but then moves on the page since the full page hadn't painted yet. And, perhaps the most annoying of the design challenges - the lack of autosave. The Google apps excel in this regard. As I write this using Google's Blogger, it is regularly performing an autosave operation every three minutes. That gives me peace of mind and allows me to recover if for some reason my connection was lost or something else happened to my session. I've had horrible experiences with apps that do not autosave recently including Facebook and Podbean.

These applications are clearly the future and with enough focus from designers, these apps will continue to get better and better. I'd appreciate it if you have any experiences to share regarding these apps, please provide a comment using the capability provided. You may want to comment on Blogger's commenting design as well.