The Cloud – Connecting People, Not Computers

Many articles describe how the cloud connects computers and the amazing technological possibilities this offers, with phrases like computing power, processing, and data storage – not to mention terms like IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. The point, however, should not be that the cloud connects computers; in fact, its main strength is connecting people and making their social connections less dependent of technology.

Social connectedness is the feeling of belonging to a social network. This can refer to the warm feeling of knowing you have more than 300 Facebook friends, but also having that relative you can always call, even in the middle of the night. Some important aspects of social connectedness are a shared understanding of the relationship, awareness of each other’s character and interests, and the sharing of experiences. These can be supported or strengthened by social awareness (SA) systems.

Examples of SA systems 

Online social networks, of course, play an important part in social awareness nowadays. Users can tag people in photos, share links, and send instant messages. And you don’t always have to engage in deep conversation with your friends to feel connected –sometimes it’s enough to “like” someone’s photo to acknowledge your friendship.

Reducing the necessary interaction in a relationship to a simple nudge is also applied in so-called ambient technology products, but in a completely different way. These are objects that unobtrusively improve social connectedness, by making people aware of the activities of loved ones who are not always around. More than direct communication, they aim to give a sense of presence and acknowledgement, so users feel less lonely.

The role of the cloud in future SA systems

While social networking websites offer many different ways for interaction but require an understanding of modern technology, ambient technology products work much more intuitively but have limited functionalities. Cloud hosting can provide a platform that combines the best of both: intuitive interaction that does not require the latest computer system. A platform like this can be accessed through any sort of computer, because all system requirements are provided by the cloud, from processing power to data storage. All content, applications, and software are saved on and run from the network, so all the user needs is a reliable internet connection.

By taking the responsibility for correctly working hardware and recently updated software away from the user, people who are inexperienced with, or not interested in, modern technology can be reached. Developers can create seemingly simple products that respond to intuitive interactions, but actually run on state-of-the-art technology.

The new SA systems will react to diverse sensory input, and use the cloud’s computing power and information database to interpret the context of use and respond correspondingly. Maybe it will find in your calendar that you haven’t seen your best friend in a while, and notify you that you should ring them soon. But it could also sense that you’re looking at an old photo of a long lost friend, and just let them know that you’re thinking of them.