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Inside the shadowy underground of 'anything, anywhere' cloud-based printing

Melissa Riofrio | Feb. 13, 2013
Cloud-connected printers are everywhere, but how hard is it to collect your paperwork? We went to a private school and Twitter's corporate office to find out.

The doctor's printer is not in

The outside temperature was a crisp 57 degrees, but in the Presidio National Park, the sun was bright, and the red roofs of the historic buildings glowed against the clear blue sky and masses of trees.

On a weekend, I would have been sitting in the sun, ideally with a dog or two as well as some human friends. On this day, I was trying to print. Following one of the directories, I made my way to a row of cute Civil War-era cottages, one of which housed a psychotherapy office.

The front door was unlocked. The foyer was empty, except for a slender console table, an ancient, hissing radiator, and framed artwork on the walls.

I walked down a long hallway, past therapist offices complete with nameplates, closed doors, and deathly quiet--save for the white-noise machines strategically placed to muffle conversation.

I checked the waiting room and a kitchen, and stopped short of the stairs. I saw no printers, and no one was present. If my print job was here, I had no idea where. The white noise was getting to me, though, so I left.

The library took my money and gave me a print

The main branch of the San Francisco Public Library is open and bright inside, and it was very busy on this Monday around lunchtime. I had sent my job to a specific printer on the third floor. A couple of helpful staff members pointed me in the right direction.

I had to buy a prepaid card to print or copy; the minimum amount you can load is $1. Directions posted next to the printer detailed how to do everything, including cloud printing. I inserted my card and entered a user ID and password on the control panel. The machine whirred and hummed, and then it printed. My first successful print job--but the library still has 40 cents of my money on this card.

Twitter doesn't share its printers

Marijuana smoke wafting from a scruffy group of, er, Civic Center denizens offered another type of cloud experience as I walked the short distance from the library to Twitter's headquarters. It's a hulking Art Deco building that used to house furniture wholesalers.

I had used one of my app directories to send a job to a printer here, but I couldn't get anywhere near my printed output. I had to produce photo ID at the lobby security desk, and when I couldn't identify a specific person I wanted to visit, I was politely dismissed.

A Twitter contact later confirmed that the company once had "a non-firewalled printer for guests to use if they needed to print something while they were meeting at Twitter." Said the employee: "Later we discontinued it, so it was news to learn that Twitter is listed as a 'public' location. It's not, nor was it ever, for anyone but an authorized guest with reason to be here in the first place."


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