An American Editor

August 15, 2012

The Business of Editing: What Happens When the Cloud Isn’t Available?

I invest in my business. When a new version of a tool that I use becomes available, I buy it. I want to make my job easier for me and better for my clients. But the current emphasis on cloud computing worries me.

I recently received notice from Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins of the release of a new version of medical abbreviation software. I have been using this software since version 1. In previous years, I would simply order the new release and a few days later, I would receive a CD to use to install the software on my computer. Sometimes, rather than a CD, I would receive a download link. Either method worked fine because both let me install the database locally.

The new release changes the system. Now, the only thing I can do is buy a one-year online subscription. This is problematic in several ways, with the two most prominent problems being that it now becomes a yearly expense and I have to rely on both Lippincott’s servers and my Internet connection to be working correctly to access the abbreviations database.

This trend is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cloud computing. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and other megagiants of the technology world are all trying to move users of their products to the cloud. They all promise little to no downtime and, of course, more security than I have on my local computer. But all of these are unproven promises and rely on too many other factors that they do not control. What happens, for example, if Google’s servers are working just fine but my gateway-to-the-Internet provider, that is, my local ISP, is down?

I don’t know about you, but I have never been hacked and have never had a virus infection on my local computer. I am careful and make sure I use high-quality security software that I keep current. Every week, however, I read about how some megacorporation’s secure computers have been hacked.

And what about backup? I haven’t figured out how I would backup the cloud to protect myself. I would have to rely on Amazon or Microsoft or whomever having a good plan in place, one that works, and one that fulfills my needs, not the needs of the average netizen. I have multiple backup systems in play constantly, all designed to keep me running in case I let my finger hit the delete button too quickly or a hard drive gets corrupted.

Cloud computing is generally reliable. The key word is generally. As we all know, it is very easy for Internet service to be down and for servers to be down. Even Amazon’s servers haven’t been fail-proof.

As a small business, I am reluctant to place the fate of my business in the hands of cloud computing. I rely on dictionaries and word databases in my editing. I rely on being able to access my files so that I can edit them when i want to edit them. Currently, if my Internet service disappears for a few days, I may not be able to search PubMed online to make sure a citation is correct, but I can edit the substance of a manuscript with all of the tools I generally use because they are all local to my computer.

In addition, because I designed my own computer, I have removable hard drives. I can “hot swap” them as needed. What this means is that I can keep a mirror image of my entire computer at hand and if my primary drives fail for some reason, I simply pull them out and replace them with the backup drives — all done in a matter of seconds, not hours or days.

Cloud computing has another disadvantage. I have no doubt that there are many of you who are still using older versions of Microsoft Word; after all, what real improvements has Microsoft made to Word that fundamentally affect its primary function — word processing? There have been a few innovations, but nothing earth shattering that says you must upgrade from Word 2003 to Word 2010. You bought Word 2003 once and continue to use it happily. But with cloud computing, that will no longer be possible. Cloud computing means you renew your license yearly and always work with the most current version of a software program, whether you want it or not. Cloud computing is really just a way to increase a company’s profits by forcing those who don’t buy the “latest and greatest software” to buy it.

I see no advantage to the independent editor to cloud computing. The proponents of cloud computing tout how easy it is to collaborate in the cloud. OK, I admit it is easier for two (or more) people to work simultaneously on the same document via the cloud than if the document resides on their local computers. But (a) how many of us really work that way and (b) how productive would such a method be for an author and editor? In my view, I think it would add to the cost of editing and increase the difficulty significantly. Most editors I know make changes in an initial pass and then review the changes one or more times before passing the work on to the author. How disruptive to the editing process would it be for an author to see  preliminary/temporary changes or queries or editor notes to self because of the collaborative features?

I suspect that ultimately cloud computing will be a failure except for games. If I buy an ebook, I want to know (believe) that I can access it 10 years from now and the only way I can do so is by downloading it to my local computer. When I accept editorial work from a client, I want to be free to do my job, mull over the changes I have made, and send the client what I think is the best I can do, but I do not want the client to become resistive because the client was able to watch the process from the start.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to have my own style of working, not an imposed style that forces me to sit idle when I can’t access the cloud, regardless of the reason. As part of my style, I want to be able to establish safeguards for my clients’ manuscripts and I want to be able to access them as I wish. In addition, I want to be able to decide when and what tools I will buy; I do not want to be caught in the neverending leasing cycle.

I have made it a point to notify companies that are trying to force me to buy their product in the cloud that I won’t. I’ll find an alternative or do without rather than encourage further inroads into my working independence.

Is cloud computing for you?

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