Yesterday, George Siemens wrote about the dangers of the cloud . This sparked an interesting discussion on Twitter between George , Pat Parslow, and Alec Couros about cloud risks, the similarities between OER’s and FLOSS, etc.  In raising the question, I think something that didn’t get addressed as well as it might have been is, “If one ought beware the cloud, what ought one do instead?”

The rush to the cloud isn’t just because it’s new and shiny. As people become more and more mobile, it gives us access (almost) anywhere and disaster security (how many of us really have the offsite backups we all know we should have?) It’s that anywhere access that I think draws people into cloud computing.  So is there a way to provide that in a more open way?  Yes there is, but I hope you’re brave.

<hyperbole-gentle sarcasm>

Instead of Blogger or, set up a wordpress installation on your own server.  Stop using twitter and instead set up Laconica . EyeOS instead of Google Docs, stay out of Second Life so you can set up an OpenSim grid, and so forth.  After watching D’arcy Norman and Jim Groom go back and forth troubleshooting WordPress, I think you should be prepared to spend a few hours setting up and troubleshooting.

By the way, if you use a hosted server, you’re then prisoner to the whim of your hosting provider, so you really need to get a symmetrical broadband connection at your house and host the boxes  yourself. Don’t forget the second installation at your in-law’s for offsite backup.

</hyperbole-gentle sarcasm>

Let me be clear that I am quite the fan of free software (yes, I am speaking RMSese here). I had a debian server running until a power outage while I was out of town seriously clobbered it , and I would probably try what I just described had I a server or two to play with. For the vast majority of people who are not serious geeks, such an approach is not even on the radar screen. When assessing the real risk, is the likelihood of google/twitter/etc. doing something nefarious greater than the likelihood of your single hard drive crashing and consigning your data to oblivion?  Before the Amazon remote Orwell Kindle deletion , I would have said “no” without hesitation.  Maybe the Amazon mess tells us that the risk of cloud provider bad behavior is greater than we thought.

So, what should a non-techie end user of cloud apps do to protect themselves from the dangers of the cloud?