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?



  1. Great post! I was asked last year to work on a book project using Google Docs, and it was a total nightmare! Everyone was making changes simultaneously, and so I never knew if I was editing the most recent version of not. Editing in the cloud is just not a viable option for me.


    Comment by tobintouch — August 15, 2012 @ 4:21 am | Reply

  2. I have ignored cloud computing since its inception, since it offers absolutely no interest or benefit to me, either personally or professionally. Your list of them only reinforces my choice.


    Comment by Carolyn — August 15, 2012 @ 5:50 am | Reply

  3. Excellent post! I agree on every point. While I share files with clients via services like DropBox or post photos to Flickr etc., I have everything saved locally — usually in several places (backup drives, own server etc.).

    One other thing about the cloud you didn’t mention. Cloud computing has a very ‘first world’ point of view — it assumes an ‘always on, always reliable, always fast’ internet connection. That may be fine for those who create this stuff and try to sell it to the masses, but even in a ‘first world’ country like Australia (where I live), you only need to step a few kilometres out of a major city’s centre and you are in a world of flaky, unreliable, variable speed connections. Move to a regional area and you are limited in the speeds you can get (max. 8 Mbps download, 1 Mbps upload), no matter how much you’re prepared to pay for better speed/service. Or even further out, you have to rely on very expensive and even more flaky and slow 3G telephone or satellite services.

    Cloud computing puts the trust into the hands of people I don’t necessarily trust — or don’t know enough to trust. I’d much rather be in control of my own data and be responsible for my own backups and purchasing/upgrading my own software. I’ll use software to automate that process, but it will be on *my* equipment, in *my* location and will only rely on electricity being available, not the internet.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post!



    Comment by Rhonda — August 15, 2012 @ 6:04 am | Reply

  4. Cloud computing is not for me either. I have dictionary software that I love, which is now no longer available as standalone software. I dread the day that I upgrade my operating system and have to “subscribe.”

    Not only that. There are times when I don’t have Internet access. What then?


    Comment by Vicki — August 15, 2012 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

  5. Everything you say about the cloud is true.

    But it is also true of the electricity grid, without which you can’t run your computer. Yet few of us generate our own electricity. We know we can occasionally experience power cuts that will disrupt our work, and when they do, people will immediately set to work to restore service.

    And it is also true of the road, rail, and air systems, which we rely on to deliver food, and paper, and computers, and diesel to run our generators. Yet few of us grow our own food, make our own paper, manufacture our own electronics, or brew our own bio-diesel. We know that transportation systems can be disrupted, possibly stranding us for a while, and when this happens, people will immediately set to work to restore service.

    The Internet is now part of the infrastructure of our lives. Like every other piece of infrastructure, it is not perfectly reliable and not perfectly safe, but it provides efficiencies that are economically irresistible, and if it breaks down, people will immediately set to work to restore service.

    You can, of course, choose to be an electronic survivalist. But most of us will be going to the cloud. It may never be perfect, but for most people, it is good enough.


    Comment by Mark Baker — August 15, 2012 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

    • That maybe true for the US, but I am often i(and for weeks at a time) In areas where I have no access to the Internet, which includes just outside my own home. Cloud computing for me is actually a backward step. I’m sure that I am not alone. Or at least not in this part of the world and many others.


      Comment by Vicki — August 16, 2012 @ 7:53 am | Reply

  6. I hope the people that this affects personally are making their comments known to Google, Microsoft, and whomever……. Sometimes what one person thinks is forward thinking is quite the contrary.


    Comment by Life in the 50's and beyond... — August 16, 2012 @ 3:01 pm | Reply

  7. This is very helpful, Rich. I’ve been thinking that cloud computing was essentially a storage service; I didn’t realize it was intended as an alternative to direct access to resources. Ick!


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — August 16, 2012 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

  8. I read a review recently that said the new Windows 8 will be cloud based, and that saving to the cloud will be the default. In other words, Ctrl-S will save to the cloud, but if you want to save to your hard drive, you have to “save as” each time. Also, autosaved versions will save to the cloud. I will NEVER depend on the cloud for access to my work. I can’t imagine anything more frustrating than to not be able to access my work for whatever reason. Being able to take my work on the road when I travel is part of what puts the “free” in “freelance,” and I don’t always have access to the Internet in some of the more remote spots I like to travel to. Add to this security risks to both the files and the author’s intellectual property . . . *shudder.* No thank you.


    Comment by Patti Bower — August 20, 2012 @ 10:55 am | Reply

  9. I concur and will do the same. Thank you for the heads-up.


    Comment by Christine Hunt — August 20, 2012 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  10. […] In any event, those of us who are dependant on Microsoft Office for our editing need to be cautious about deciding which tablet, if any, to buy, if the tablet is going to be used regularly in our business as a laptop and/or desktop replacement. It appears that Office 2013 will not be available for the iPad; instead iPad users will have to use Office for the Web, which raises other worries for me (see The Business of Editing: What Happens When the Cloud Isn’t Available?). […]


    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Beware Office for Windows RT « An American Editor — September 26, 2012 @ 4:02 am | Reply

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