About That Virgin-Google Collaboration
by Tony Kontzer
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Virgin America's and Google's joint plans to promote cloud computing through what they were touting as the world's first online scavenger hunt.
I'm here to report that the Day in the Cloud contest was held Wednesday, June 24, and yours truly did his best to at least make a showing. Well, if you count having to rush through all the questions in about 10 minutes making a showing.
It was actually a smart little exercise, with thousands of hopeful scavengers, many aboard Virgin America flights, spending an hour to see how many brain-teasers they could tackle. What they found was an impossibly random and detailed procession of questions asking them to match a lab animal to a type of maze, or identify the movie in which an obscure quote appeared, or determine the connection between a set of apparently disconnected items.
That may not sound like a scavenger hunt, but this is where the cloud computing plug comes into play: You see, the answers to all of the questions could be retrieved using one of several Google Apps made available to players. Those apps--Gmail, Picasa, Google Docs, or even the company's flagship search engine--all run on Google's cloud, the one powered by a fleet of the world's most advanced data centers . That means they're available to anyone on a Web-connected device, and can be used to store data in Google's cloud rather than on the user's PC hard drive.
Under optimum circumstances, the contest would have demonstrated the power and scale of cloud computing. Unfortunately, my sense is that the message was lost amid the chaos of the game. For one thing, given only an hour to solve a series of some 40 problems, most players no doubt found it challenging to figure out which app was the right one to use, get oriented in that app if they hadn't used it before, manipulate it effectively to find the answers, and leave enough time to finish the game.
And some of those who were on target with their answers apparently were undermined by the game application itself. As one player posted on the Day in the Cloud web site, "the failure of the challenge app (automatically submitting all of my rounds before I answer any questions) just soiled my faith in Google." Not exactly the way to sell a bunch of techies on the power of the cloud.
That said, the promotion appears to have been a success in some respects. I'm not sure what kind of audience Virgin America and Google had in mind, but there were more than 700 members registered on the Web site, implying a total audience several times that size, and a steady stream of comments had been posted in the contest's aftermath, most of them expressing enthusiasm over the experience.
Whether the effort results in Virgin America collecting more in-flight Wi-Fi access fees or more people using Google Apps remains to be seen. If nothing else, Day in the Cloud got a small cross-section of American using, and dialoguing about, cloud computing. But as for any potential impact on business adoption of cloud computing, if any IT executives were swayed by the experience to re-direct their IT strategies down the cloud path, I'll eat my laptop.