Back in the 1990s pundits speaking of the “information super-highway” liked to contrast its interactive nature with TV, emphasizing how much better of we were going to be because the new medium works two ways. TV was old-school, making us passive recipients of content expressive powers limited to choosing one pre-packaged experienced over the other. On the Internet everybody was going to be a participant, creating content.
The prediction proved correct to some extent, as evidence by the popularity of user-supplied content in Web 2.0 whether it takes the form of rambling blogs, blurry photographs names DSC001 on Flickr and more recently the fifteen-minutes-of-fame video on YouTube. But in this world contributing to the proliferation of content noise out there still requires help from another well-financed entity: the blogging site, photo-sharing website etc.
For the most part users are not running their own servers at home. There is technology available for this, often open-source/free and to varying degrees usable by novice end-users. But there are good reasons for using a professional hosting service: it benefits from economy of scales, ease of management and gives users a host of features– including 24/7 reliability, backups etc.– that would be difficult to implement at home. For one-to-many sharing where the user is publishing “public” content intended for large number of people to access, it makes sense to upload it to a central distribution point. For private content, it is not as clear-cut. If your tax returns are stored on a home PC and the goal is to work on them from a different location, a direct connection to the machine would be the straight-forward solution. The popular GoToMyPC app is one of the commercial solutions that has emerged in response to the demand. In principle the file access scenario has an equivalent hosted solution, where you can upload your files to a service in the cloud such as Windows Live Drive. But it’s easy to craft scenarios where that is not true: if the home PC had an expensive application such as PhotoShop installed locally, the only way to use that software is remote-access. Similarly the disruptive technology in SlingBox which streams cable/TV/DVR content over the Internet requires direct connectivity, in this case to the appliance and using it as server hosted at home. Last year Maxtor debuted the Fusion, a new external drive with networking support and built-in capability for sharing files over the Internet using links in email messages.
This is where the triad of OS developers, networking equipment vendors and ISP business models conspire to make life very difficult for consumers.