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Social media to be cloud growth catalyst

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Chris Morris takes a look at how cloud computing has been a primary instigator and enabler of rapid growth of social media startups.

The cloud sector has certainly grown significantly since we first heard about this once obscure technology. But from its humble beginnings where the average person wondered how this apparently unimaginable technology would work, the cloud has now pretty much established itself as a mainstream technology. Many people are now beginning to use the cloud on a pretty regular basis, and thus we now see numerous major corporations vying for supremacy.

One area where the cloud has already begun to make serious inroads into the everyday consciousness of the general public is with regard to social media. It is perhaps appropriate that the cloud has had such a significant influence on this modish form of communication, and no-one can doubt the extent of that influence.

Amazon Web Services, the IaaS cloud leader of course, has been the power behind the rise of Instagram from a small start-up with just thirteen employees to one of the world’s biggest websites, recipient of a billion dollar buyout from Facebook. The cloud has also been involved in the rise of Pinterest, which has grown exponentially from 50,000 users to 17 million in a mere nine months; a feat that would have been nigh on impossible without the existence of the cloud. Then of course there’s Facebook’s WhatsApp with 450 million ‘active’ users – also built in the cloud.

The latest flavour of the month in the social media market is also benefiting from the cloud. Snapchat has already turned down a $4 billion bid from Google according to popular rumours (and previously a $3 billion offer from Facebook), and with the site currently gaining a huge amount of cachet among the general public, this is just the latest success story in the social media sphere which is cloud-powered.

The brains behind Snapchat have spoken about how tapping into the new technology offered a fantastic opportunity for them, and one which was perfect for them when they were starting out with very little cash. Cloud computing enables a business to scale upwards very rapidly without making a massive investment in infrastructure beforehand, meaning that start-ups can rapidly gain value and prominence and not be hamstrung by intimidating costs. By reducing the need for funding in the early stages of an enterprise, the cloud saves entrepreneurs a considerable amount of time, and also gives more potential for businesses to experiment rather than feeling constrained by practical considerations.

The aforementioned Snapchat was a classic example of this. When it was launched in September, 2011, the people behind the social media site had no idea of its apparent potential, although obviously they had high hopes for it. But the early days of the site gave little indication of the huge success ahead of it. In January, 2012, Snapchat had a mere 3,000 users each month. It is even conceivable that the owners could have knocked the whole idea on the head there and then if they had expensive overheads to contend with. Instead, efficiency savings bought them a little breathing space, and the site has since taken off massively.

Start-ups can rapidly gain value and prominence and not be hamstrung by intimidating costs.

Cloud computing has been taken up by many established companies, but it has also meant that the cost of starting a technology company is lower than it has ever been previously. With the cloud still in its relative infancy, it seems certain that the cloud will have a profound impact that the technology will have on business and tech sites in the future.

Analysts believe that the next generation of cloud services will move beyond the admittedly useful scalability of existing cloud provisions and enable start-ups to acquire building blocks of the products themselves. This will mean that entrepreneurship will become an even more broadly available proposition; the cloud is truly a democratising technology in this respect.

When we see open APIs and platforms-as-a-service then it will be possible for technology sites to create products and services even more quickly. This will impact upon every conceivable area of business, but one can expect social media to be high on the list.