Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

I’m back, baby

So I’ve decided to re-birth my blog. After having my head down on my business and various interests of late, I’ve not had a lot of time for social networking or voicing my views on the world. However, I’ve found myself attracted to Google Plus and as my company hopefully shifts into an expansion phase, it’s probably a good idea for me to get myself out and about on the wider world web a bit.

 

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Wave interface across all Google apps

My last post suggested that Google really needed to integrate its Wave technology across all of its product line. I suggested it might be too tough a goal for Google given the dramatic re-building of its apps that it would require.

However, maybe, this is exactly what Google is doing. Engadget today published screenshots that show the Google Wave interface being adopted in both GMail and Google News.

If these aren’t fakes, it does suggest that Wave could become the centrepiece around its entire App strategy, as I suggested it needed to do. That would be game-changing.

Filed under: Google,

Google Wave desperately needs integration

So, I’ve been trying to get my teeth stuck into Google Wave, but as most people I know have also discovered, it’s not altogether easy given its a collaboration platform and you need other people to collaborate with before you can start collaborating.

So maybe it’s just a matter of waiting till Google opens the release up beyond the limited preview stage and anyone can land themselves an invite. Except, I don’t think that’s the issue. After getting my account, I invited the rest of my team on and we all now have Google Wave accounts. Yet, it hasn’ t been used after the first day we set about testing it.

What Google Wave desperately needs is integration with the tools we’re already using. Now, given how much Google has targeted developers with this release, I think Google understand that, but I don’t think they should be relying on external developers to deliver this integration. Indeed, they really need to lead the way and show how all of their stable of products can integrate with Wave.

The problem is Google Wave isn’t really new – it’s really just a very cool mashup of tools we have already like email, IM, shared workspaces, etc. So the first reaction I got from my team was ‘I don’t see what’s wrong with just using Docs’ or ‘Why is this better than IM’.

So the first challenge Google has to meet with Wave is on a feature-by-feature basis it has to be better than the stand-along parts, which it’s  not. For example, as a writing platform it’s not as strong as Google Docs. So its a tough expectation for me to my writers to stop writing in Docs and start using Wave.

Likewise, you can’t send a wave to anyone, so it’s not like people are going to give up their email for Wave and even if there was an email bridge, it would take Google a long time to make Wave as email equivalent to GMail as email. Likewise, as an instant communication platform its not as strong as GTalk, MSN, or any of the other flavours of IM. There’s something missing when you send someone an instant message-style like question and you can’t be sure they’re ever going to see it.

I really love the concept of Wave. However, I can’t help but think that Google hasn’t done this the right way. It’s essentially been developed as a skunk works project, away from the rest of the company, when I’d argue it needed to be built as a company-wide architecture play.

So for instance, if every Google Doc created was also a wave, instantly all of those Docs users would instantly be waving. If Blogger’s editing engine also created a wave, you’d immediately empower a significant portion of the blogosphere to be publishing Waves. When I reply to someone in a Wave, it should also alert that person via GTalk/Jabber. And of course, I should be able to create and participate in Wave via GMail.

For Wave to work, it needs a certain level of adoption and it won’t get that as a stand-alone product. If however, every user of Google products were waving without even knowing it, I do think there would be a real possibility it could displace email over time. I’d assume the kind of strategy I’m talking about would probably require a fundamental re-writing of all of its applications, which is likely not going to happen at this stage of the game for Google. Imagine, however, if Google has this architecture in mind five years when it embarked on its apps strategy.

As it stands, I’m sure there will be hooks and integration at some level throughout its product suite and throughout the broader web application ecosystem. However, until it can get a level of adoption so that a developer can see value in adding support for Wave, it is going to struggle to be anything other than an island. At this stage, it’s looking a likely candidate to take over Friendfeed’s crown as the coolest web app that nobody uses. I hope not, because conceptually, it is brilliant. But just perhaps it’s such a big idea, that it really does requires an all or nothing bet that Google can’t really make given where its apps platform is at. Who’d have thought Google would be having legacy app issues at this stage of its life cycle?

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Will Shared Folders open up the way for GDrive?

All Google Docs users today will be proclaiming Hallelejuah with news that Google has finally launched Shared Folders in Google Docs.

It has puzzled me for the last two years why cloud vendors have had so much trouble launching a Shared Folder feature. Google admits it was the most requested feature from users buts its taken them years to get this update live.

Zoho users have also been crying out for this feature for years. They look to have launched a work-around feature, but still don’t have true Shared Folders.

And I’ve been dying for Sugar Sync to offer a true Shared Folder feature – the company launched a half-baked version of Shared Folders whereby you could share a web folder but not via sync. Again, from all the comments and forums I’ve read on their blog, it seems to be one of the most requested features.

I have no idea why architecturally shared folders has proven so challenge, but now that Google has this feature it will surely push any one competing in this space to race this functionality out. Being able to share a folder is just so important because its the way people know how to work – its how they collaborate on LAN servers.

I actually wonder if getting this feature right has been what has been delaying Google’s long anticipated GDrive. We know this product is being developed but it remains stubbornly behind Google doors. I can actually understand Google not wanting to launch GDrive without that sharing functionality – it really is that important. Oh, and Google have also improved the uploading feature so multiple files can be uploaded – another must-have requirement I’d suggest for GDrive.

To me, it looks like Google now has all the technology pieces in place to launch GDrive.

It has syncing, which it does via Picasa.
It has off-line storage, uploading etc in Google DOcs.
It now has shared folders and multiple uploads
It has architectures in place now to manage productivity docs, images, and videos via Docs, Picasa and YouTube

Surely, GDrive can’t be too far away now.

Filed under: Google, Online Applications

Disney pops BubbleShare

One of the vagaries of cloud computing is that when you choose to host your pictures, files, and so forth with an organisaton you never know where that company is going to end up in the future, and subsequently what the future holds for your files.

Take BubbleShare, one of the earlier Web 2.0 photo sharing sites. Today BubbleShare announced it was shutting down and that you have until November 15 to download your albums or they’re gone.

BubbleShare was acquired in 2007 by fellow Canadian company Kaboose for $2.25 million. Kaboose was then acquired by Disney Online in April this year. But if you thought having all your photos under the Disney umbrella meant they were in safe-keeping then think again. By now, Disney would have completed a review of the Kaboose assets and it seems its first point of order is to shut BubbleShare.

If I’d been entrusting my photos to BubbleShare over the last five years or so, I’d be pretty peeved with Disney right now.

Filed under: Web 2.0

Windows 7 rocks

About a year ago, I bought the missus a low-end Lenovo laptop so I could reclaim my own. However, from day one she hated it, complaining that it was slow and that she kept getting strange, annoying pop-ups.

There were two reasons for this. The first was that Lenovo likes to add value with a whole bunch of additional software that runs on top of the operating system. And the second was that the operating system was Vista. Put these two things together and the machine was just a dog. The better half struggled with it for a while, but basically gave up on it despite the fact that I switched off as much of the Lenovo software as I could.

However, with the onset of winter and the unwilligness to want to head down to the bottom level of our house where it’s much colder, the laptop was brought out again this week. Then we had all sorts of trouble getting it to connect to the network (which I finally solved by resetting the router and rebooting the computer). I’d had enough. So I decided I’d try Windows 7 on the basis that even if it destroyed the laptop, it would only be mildly more useless than it was at the present.

So did the upgrade last night and from the moment it booted up, Windows 7 has been a joy. The laptop is humming along nicely and the wife loves the new look OS and I think I’ve been able to clean up the desktop and simplify how she gets to her major apps. So well done, Microsoft. I’m now dying to get all on our machines on Windows 7 so I can finally get them all networked, which has been a problem forever in our household since I introduced Vista machines into the network mix.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, ,

I’m claiming the scoop on TechCrunch

Back in February I wrote:

TechCrunch looks certain to dump Federated Media as its ad partner with the growing media organisation now investing in a direct sales force.

Michael Arrington has previously questioned their relationship with Federated Media, complaining about both the margins Federated were taking and also the fact that TechCrunch was effectively holding up other lesser blogs. Then today, I noticed that on the Crunch Board, TechCrunch is advertising for not one, but two sales directors.

Today, TechCrunch announced that their relationship with Federated Media was over.

Federated Media has been our advertising partner since December 2005. The first checks they sent us allowed TechCrunch to become something more than a guy sitting in a spare bedroom talking about startups to a small audience. Revenue from Federated Media let me hire our first few writers and helped accelerate our growth to the point where we are today.

We’ve had our very vocal dustups with Federated Media over the years, but the fact is that we owe FM a lot, and I’m somewhat sad to announce today that our relationship with them is coming to an end (see Federated’s announcement here). We’ll no longer be working with them on ad sales. We’ve long sold many of our ads directly, and as of now we’ll be taking control of 100% of TechCrunch network ad inventory.

While I’m on the subject of my older posts and subscriptions, I noted yesterday the success that Pandora was having selling music via iPhones

More than three yearsa ago I posted this:  “If I had to put my testicles on the chopping block and successfully pick one acquisition that’s going to take place in the next 12 months or lose my marbles, I’d without hesitation point Cupertino way and predict that Apple will buy Pandora.”

It still hasn’t happened obviously but I still think its just about the most perfect fit on any two tech companies on the globe. I think perhaps the fact that Pandora has had legal issues.

Finally, I was wrong that Google would launch its Web Drive in the first quarter. It’s coming folks, it’s just a matter of when.

 

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Will Video kill the Internet?

If I tell you video is big, you’re going to be like ‘No shit, Sherlock?’, right?

Yeh, but the problem is video is getting TOO big. Let me give you an example, I’m on a 25Gb cap with my ISP.

For the benefit of my US readers, in Australia all of our Internet plans are capped. You choose your speed and your download limit and you pay accordingly. It’s been a constant source of frustration for Australians who look enviously at US customers on ‘all you can eat deals’. Australian ISPs aren’t really in a position to offer uncapped plans because in the end we have international carriage fees that all ISPs must pay for.

It wasn’t long ago that I was on a 3Gb plan. I would very ocasionally going over my download limits, but most months 3Gb was pretty good. I don’t torrent. When I moved to the 25Gb plan I’m on, I remember saying to my wife tha we didn’t have to worry about our Internet useage anymore, because 25Gb was effectively unlimited Internet anyway.

This month, I’ve cracked my cap just over half way through the month.

Why? Well, my five year old son is mostly to blame. He loves You Tube. On Sunday, he spent a decent portion of the day watching cartoons on YouTube. And in the process he sucked up 3Gb of bandwidth. In one day, he used as much bandwidth as what used to be my comfortable monthly cap three or four years ago.

So I got capped. So you know what I did tonight. With my family away, I stayed back at the office so I could watch a replay of the Parramatta Eels football match I didn’t get to watch on TV last weekend. (OK, OK, I’m busted. I watch a lot of video myself – mostly news and sport. And on top of the video I download a fair number of podcasts and such forth to my iPhone these days).

So today, I moved up to a 60Gb plan. 60GB! Surely, I’ll never get near that. Well, I don’t think it will take long.  I have 3 boys. I can’t imagine what kind of bandwidth I’d be knocking up if say my youngest was five! And this is really at a time when video is still at a relatively immature stage. The football match I watched tonight was grainy and only just passable to watch in full screen mode.

So maybe I take back what I was saying last week about Australia’s National Broadband Network. We need a lot more bandwidth. Still, a lot of the points I made in that article stand, particularly for non-US countries. International carriage will always be a bottleneck. Someone is always going to have to pay for those big submarine cable. But you get the feeling judging by the move by US ISPs wanting to introduce caps that for once, bandwidth advances have not kept pace with content production. We have all of the technology, we even have the necessary speeds but it seems those great big major Internet arteries are finally getting clogged.

It would seem likely we’re approaching a point where every household will be demanding not just tens of gigabytes but hundreds. Will today’s internet infrastructure and business models stand up? It’s not looking good. And if that is the case, are there the technological advances just waiting around the corner to come to our rescue. Let’s hope so, because you get the feeling that this Internet thingy is just getting cooking.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

To stack my SaaS or not?

So, I’m finally biting the bullet and am going to get serious about CRM. I’ve trialled just about everything there is out there in the CRM SaaS realm and in the end nothing has ever quite worked out for me. I did give Highrise a shot, for a while, but struggled to get staff to adopt it and for me, it just didn’t have strong enough lead management or campaign capabilities to really assist us in automating our sales or marketing processes.

Our biggest issue is our own MediaConnect platform has strong contact management capabilities, tasks, etc. and all our contacts are already in that system. One day, I’ll get around to building my own dream, integrated sales module directly into our platform but we have many more pressing development projects right now. Still, I don’t particularly want to run yet another database of contacts as that would make three with MediaConnect, SaaSu (our accounting solution) and then our CRM database.

But it’s something I’ve decided we’re just going to have to bite the bullet and do. So I’ve been out reviewing and trialling CRM solutions and have basically come down to three – Salesforce, ZohoCRM and Pipeline Deals.

I really like Pipeline Deals and if I was making a decision in isolation, it would probably be my choice. Looks great, reasonable pricing and I like the workflow-focus.

However, as I said, I really don’t want to create another silo of information and processes.

So I come down to Zoho and Salesforce.

Really, I should choose Salesforce. Given we use Google Apps and SaaSu both of which have connectors to Salesforce, we’d start to have a bit of a SaaS stack with rudimentary integration between our productivity apps, accounting and CRM. With Salesforce and Google both having a bit of a SaaS ecosystem around them it does make it appealing to go that route. However, I look at the different versions of Salesforce and I find myself really wanting some of the functionality beyond the Team edition, which is where I want my spend to be right now.

ZohoCRM offers more functionality and importantly you can try out with 3 users for no cost. If I manage to get it adopted, I’m pretty sure I would need to upgrade to at least the Professional edition and probably the Enterprise Edition to make use of mass emails and automated responses, which brings Salesforce Team Edition back into the equation on a cost basis. But then I just don’t think the Team edition is going to give me everything I need from Salesforce and its pricing rises dramatically to beyond what I want to be spending beyond that entry-level edition.

Which takes me back to ZohoCRM. The issue I then have with Zoho is it’s not a part of my stack. If I was starting again, maybe I’d go all Zoho but I’m pretty locked into the Google suite and would probably have a riot on my hand trying to get my staff to shift environments again.

Such is my conundrum, and this is why I’ve always ended up saying – bugger its let’s use a spreadsheet. You know what at least with a Google Spreadsheet, I can embed a form or a sheet into my intranet or onto my MediaConnect desktop. All of the CRM systems I’ve seen operate as silos, they don’t provide widgets to allow you to operate out of their environment. And given they don’t allow variable user pricing; ie I’ll pay $50 per month for my sales person who will use all functionality but only $10 per month for my data entry operator who I just want to tie into the To Do system, it just gets too expensive to adopt it company-wide.

So I think I’ll give ZohoCRM a go. After all, its not going to cost us anything. Zoho seem to be pretty open about playing with other solutions so hopefully they’ll widget-ize it in the future and maybe I’ll dig into their API a bit and see how I can make it play with our core platform.

Google CRM

As an aside, I really wonder how long it will take Google to release their own CRM solution. There was of course some talk of Google buying Salesforce.com, but it was interesting when we had Steve Cakebread – ex-COO of Salesforce.com – at our Influence Forum last year, he wasn’t exactly gushing about the relationship between the two companies.

Really, if I was helping someone to set up a SaaS environment I’d tell them to pick their CRM solution and then work around that. And that would probably lead you towards one of the integrated solutions like Salesforce, Zoho, NetSuite or Worketc. As such, I don’t think Google can afford not to have a CRM play and the fact they’ve not bought anyone in this space, suggests to me its something the might be building in-house. After all, isn’t the golden rule to expect Google to build their own version of any application they would use heavily in-house. And basic CRM isn’t rocket science. Does anyone know what Google sales people use for CRM?

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Google starts stalking

So we all heard about Google’s profiling and how Adsense would soon start serving up advertisements based on not just where you are, but also where you’ve been. Well I just got hit by it on my own hobby site and I got to say it’s a bit creepy.

As I’ve mentioned I run a Parramatta Eels rugby league site called 1Eyed Eel. The other sporting team I follow regularly is Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.

So there I am on 1eyedeel.com and I get hit with an ad for Tottenham Hotspur bottle coolers! See below:

1eyed

Now there are no mention of Tottenham on the page or indeed anywhere on 1Eyed Eel. So the only way Google would know to serve up that ad is based on the fact that I regularly vistit tottenhamhotspur.com.

Getting back to the point I was making previously, this somewhat sucks for tottenhamhotspur.com who don’t get any financial benefit from my visiting their site because they don’t have adsense. If tottenhamhotspur.com had a Google ad unit on their page though, presumably I would have seen this ad already on their site and so wouldn’t have been so interested when I saw it on another site.

In this respect, Google is almost holding the web to ransom! If you don’t have an Adsense unit, we’ll just show your ads on somebody elses website and they’ll make the money you could have made. That’s pretty scary.

For my little 1Eyed Eel site I’m thinking it should result in pretty healthy increases in CPM. There’s not a big market for targetted content for Eels fans so my CPM is miniscule. It will be interested to see what difference this profiling makes!

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

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