This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Fuzzy on the Cloud

A new survey reveals how little the person in the street actually understands about the cloud.

Americans wouldn't know the cloud if it rained on them.

That's the upshot of a new survey probing average citizens' understanding of what the cloud is and what it might portend for the economy. (Download detailed results here.)

Perhaps you already have a spot of difficulty explaining to acquaintances or in-laws what it is you do all day. Most people can't write a computer program, but at least they have some sort of picture of what a computer programmer does. But mix in the element of the cloud, and the average person's comprehension drops through the floorboards.

The survey kicked off by asking: "When you hear 'the cloud,' what is the first word or phrase that comes to mind?" Now, it's hard to judge the answers the researchers received without knowing exactly what came before: Did the respondents know it was a survey about cloud computing? Did they even know the context involved computers at all? In the event, the plurality response, offered by 29 percent of those surveyed, had something to do with either an actual cloud, the sky, or something related to weather. Only 16 percent replied with anything in the neighborhood of "it's a computer network to store, access, and share data from Internet-connected devices."

Just over one-half of respondents said they believe that rainy weather interferes with cloud computing.

When asked whether they used the cloud in their daily life, 54 percent said no. Yet upon detailed questioning about whether these people banked online, stored photos, music, or videos online, used social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, or played online games, it emerged that 95 percent of the nay-sayers indeed do use the cloud every day.

Over one in five people (22 percent) admitted that they have pretended to know what the cloud is when they really don't. A third of those respondents admitted to faking it while at work, while 17 percent of them said they have bluffed about their cloud understanding on a first date.

After being clued in a bit about what the cloud actually is, 68 percent said they could see economic benefits coming out of it. Lower costs, small business growth, and greater consumer engagement were some of the benefits cited, each of them by more than 30 percent of respondents.

Millennials (26 percent) are more likely than Boomers (19 percent) to believe that the cloud might generate jobs.

When asked what other benefits they could envision from the cloud, a plurality -- 40 percent -- cited the ability to access work information from home in their birthday suit. The runner-up answer, at 35 percent, was sharing information with people they’d rather not interact with in person.

The moral of the story: it is up to all of us who are in the middle of this revolution to educate our friends, neighbors, relatives, and anybody else who will listen about what the cloud is and what it means for our future together.

The survey was conducted August 2-7 by Wakefield Research and was sponsored by Citrix. A representative sample of 1,006 US citizens, aged 18 and older, took an online survey after responding to an emailed invitation.

Got any stories about trying to explain the cloud to civilians? Please share in the comments below.