The Percloud proposal, 2017 edition

Preface

A percloud (permanent/personal cloud) is my own vision of a “REALLY usable, all-in-one alternative to Facebook, Gmail, Flickr, Dropbox…”.

I made the first percloud proposal in 2013. Very soon, however, I “froze it”, for lack of time and resources, and did not do any real work about it, for reasons I have explained in detail elsewhere. Then, at the beginning of 2017, several things happened, including but not limited to:

What I mean with the last bullet is that, thanks to projects like Sandstorm, Cloudron and several others, building what I call a “percloud” should, indeed, be easier than in 2013. “Easier” does not mean “easy” though, and I have realized several things.

First, integrating and polishing the several software components, until they are actually usable by non-geeks is still nothing one could do on his spare time (not me for sure, anyway). Second, personal clouds will be easily adopted by non-geeks ONLY if they are offered as a managed service: this means there must be web hosting providers that offer really turn-key perclouds.

Third, a real pilot/field trial of the percloud is needed. Because on one hand, we need many, ordinary Internet users to use the package, and tell us geeks if it works for them or not. On the other, we need to give wen hosting providers some real world usage data of these personal clouds, so they can figure out how much it would cost to offer them as a service.

Taken together, all these things have lead me to put together the proposal below.

Important: as I said, I’m already discussing similar cloud platforms with several groups. But I do not see this proposal in competition with the others. This is all Free as in Freedom software, and the more is shared and reused, the better! Much of what is proposed below may be directly reused in those projects, or similar ones, if not co-developed together.

Now, please look at the proposal, share it as much as you can, give feedback and, since this page may be updated often in the next weeks, follow me on Twitter to know when that happens. THANKS!

Percloud proposal, 2017 edition

Percloud definition and features

Purpose: personal, permanent, basic, online web presence and communication, that does replace {facebook+gmail+dropbox} today. Very little or nothing more. The target user is the average user of facebook, gmail, instagram, dropbox, google drive and similar services, who seldom, if ever, visits the rest of the Web. The goal is to make it possible to these people to get outside today’s walled gardens, as soon as possible. Once that happens, it will be much easier to move the same people to more advanced platforms. Advanced users for which this service is too little/too limited still need something like this for all their own non-geek contacts, if they want their communications to stay private.

Services offered

(regardless of which software implements them…)

ONLY the very basic ones, that everybody would surely need, e.g.:

email, blogging, calendar and address book, basic social networking, online bookmarks, save web pages to read them later, online file storage (personal files, pictures galleries).

common essential features of all services

Possible base software platform:

Note on interface integration and “real time interactivity”

The several components of a personal cloud as proposed here would share user authentication, and communicate with each other, as smoothly as possible. However, they cannot have a completely homogeneous look and feel as, say, the several features of a Facebook account. Such an integration is simply outside the scope of this proposal, because the only (but crucial) purpose of the percloud is to test and offer something actually usable, as soon as possible: see the “we need it SOON” part of this post, which is even valid now than it was in 2014, to know why.

As far as “real time interactivity” goes, the percloud must offer federation, that is let “friends” who own different perclouds see what each other has published, comment it, get notification, chat, and so on. However, percloud-based social networking does not even try to achieve the same numbers and levels of interactions and notifications of Facebook or similar platforms. This is a feature, not a bug. Facebook bombards people with real time notifications (“Jim tagged you”, 3 years ago you posted this”…) because it exists to… make people stay as much as possible inside Facebook. A percloud, instead, exists to let you interact with your contacts when you need or feel like it. It does not need to be so invasive and stressful.

Looking for sponsors

The contacts and discussions I had at the beginning of 2017 convinced me that a percloud available as soon as possible may still have a lot of value. The same activities also showed me that it should be done quite differently than what I imagined 4 years ago.

In order to build a percloud and test it “in the field”, together with the cloudron developers, it is necessary to have sponsors for: * adding the missing parts * integrating and documenting everything * CRUCIAL: deploy and manage a “large” scale field test/pilot in which e.g. 1000 people are given one percloud for free, for 12 months, in exchange of giving feedback on usability, etc… and allowing basic monitoring of percloud usage (e.g. number of posts and visitors per month, etc). Without this, i.e. without knowing for sure how the actual target users react to the percloud, we cannot make it succeed

As far as hosting goes, the test perclouds may be hosted on lightsail or similar platforms. But it would be great if community-oriented hosting or connectivity providers like guifi.net or mayfirst.org wanted to participate. If you know of any organization or group of organizations who may be interested in sponsoring such an activity, please let me know.

Final, shameless plug

If you just want to know something more about free software and standards for personal clouds, and share what you learn with others… one way to do it may be to ask for new editions of these courses of the Free Technology Academy (FTA) (Full Disclaimer: I’d be the tutor of those courses, and am a Board Member of the FTA parent organization, the Free Knowledge Institute.