What the Cloud Means For HCI

Tessa Lau of IBM's Almaden Research Center

The CTO roundtable on cloud computing article in a past issue of CACM made me start thinking about what cloud computing really means for HCI and how people will interact with information in the future.

The first generation of cloud was all about getting publically-accessible information up on the internet and building applications that leverage that information. Google is a great example of how a company could provide value based on indexing and searching that information. Moreover, they continue to innovate in this space, pushing the boundaries of what can be done once people have adopted web search as the primary means for finding public information online.

For example, Megan Smith's keynote at Grace Hopper 2009 described how Google can detect flu outbreaks before the US's Center for Disease Control can, because instead of monitoring cold medicine sales at pharmacies, they can track people searching for flu symptoms online. The prevalence of web search enables the construction of new applications that were not possible before web search became ubiquitous.

The last generation of cloud computing was about bringing public information online. The next generation of cloud computing will bring personal information online. Instead of storing personal photographs in a shoebox, or contacts in a little black book, or files on one's disconnected PC, all these personal artifacts are moving online. The next step will be to migrate the entire desktop to the cloud.

Once all this personal information becomes web-accessible, the next wave of computing applications will emerge that leverages instant access to this information. How will people interact with information when all their personal information is as easy to access as web pages are today? What new interaction paradigms will emerge once everyone's view of the internet includes not just publically-accessible web pages, but searchable repositories of their own information? What new forms of interaction are needed to help people make sense of massive amounts of data, when everyone sees a different subset of that data?

I blogged about this a few months ago when I talked about a smarter web, which could track everything you did on the web and let you reuse that information to help you in the future. What if all of that smarter web data were now collected on the cloud, where it could be accessed instantaneously, from any device, using any interaction modality? I predict that the next "killer app" for cloud will be a personalized cloud. And it will enable a new generation of applications that we can barely imagine today.

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