The New Cloud Atlas is a global effort to map each data place that makes up the cloud in an open and accountable way. We have set out to find and map each warehouse data centre, each internet exchange, each connecting cable and switch. Anything of any physical significance in the operation of the cloud should be observed is some way, and recorded for everyone to see and use.
The first appearance of the internet cloud was in network diagrams. The cloud symbol was used to stand in for complexity. The cloud embodied something of the way that the internet functions. The internet was designed to be 'end-to-end', so computers are meant to be able to connect to each other without interference as the message passes through a network of interconnections. Only the end points are meant to matter. The clouds here represent 'something in the middle that is too complex to draw here', a kind of neutral space through which information passes. It is an act of simplification, but it also contains an implicit statement that 'the cloud will look after itself' that this thing is going to carry on being there.
Beclouding is deliberately making something more confusing, in order to obfuscate or conceal its meaning. The use of the cloud has shifted in digital systems. The idea that 'this is too complicated to think about' has been moved front and centre and converted into a business model, shedding its innocence along the way. Through a sleight of hand, the cloud sometimes appears as a platform, and sometimes a material. This narrative rests on the idea that the services are to be trusted, and they can take care of themselves on your behalf. We trust them with our emails and our childhood photographs and our meeting plans and whatever else we use the cloud for. In this new definition of the cloud, there is a statement that 'this is too complex to deconstruct or critique'. You shouldn't try to look in to the cloud and see what's there. It's made up of vapour, and it's not to be interrogated. Better to simply observe it from a distance and admire it at sunset.
Once the domain of national governments, information infrastructure is increasingly constructed, operated, and maintained by major multinational corporations. These corporations, which include Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, have a similar vested interest in maintaining control over of the flow of goods and information once exercised by national governments, but a reach at once more extensive and less transparent.
A curious gathering of prominent meteorologists and government delegates took place in Vienna, Austria during the Fall of 1873. The first International Meteorological Congress sought to lay the groundwork for an international network of observatories, equipment, and standards to gather and share meteorological data. In addition to its important role in the predicting the weather, the vision is a surprisingly early call for infrastructural globalism and worldwide collaboration:
"If there be any branch of science in which work on a uniform system can be especially useful and advantageous, that branch is the inquiry into laws of weather, which, from its very nature, can only be prosecuted with a hope of success by means of very extensive observations embracing large areas, in fact, we might almost say, extending over the whole surface of the globe”
from the 1873 report from the first International Meteorological Conference.
The Permanent Committee of the first International Meterological Congress published the International Cloud Atlas in 1896, in keeping with its global information gathering ambitions. The book enabled cloud weather observatories around the world to share consistent observations of the clouds and observe weather systems whose scale stretched over national boundaries. The publication of the International Cloud Atlas represented a move beyond national concerns and boundaries to an international perspective.
After the initiatives of the first International Meterological Congress, meteorologists began to realise that even with their network of observatories they did not have enough granularity to record some weather phenomena accurately. What was needed was many more observations across a large area. Vilhelm Bjerknes is said to have persuaded fishermen and other people living along the coast of Norway to help by showing them a newspaper photo in which each dot of the print represented one person’s observations, and the image become visible from the dots. Similarly the way to build a new cloud atlas, to truly capture the cloud, is to make it a crowd sourced project.
We use OpenStreetMap and therefore the Open Data Commons Open Database Licence (ODbL) to ensure that the work of mapping the global cloud infrastructure is kept openly accessible. If you want to use the New Cloud Atlas data, you can build on the resources of the vibrant OpenStreetMap community (© OpenStreetMap contributors). Changes made to the OSM datbase gets parsed and imported into the New Cloud Atlas at 15 minute intervals.
You can contribute to the New Cloud Atlas by using our customised OSM editor.