Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

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

The future of Google’s web apps

Outside of its advertising business, I’m quite sure Google’s second major revenue stream is going to be its Google Apps business. Today, I was asked to participate in an online survey related to my experiences with Google Apps Premier Edition and it gave a fascinating insight into where Google is likely heading with this stuff.

Firstly, it’s quite obvious that Google has created a survey application (see screenshot below in thumbnail). Now obviously this is not a big deal, but it gives an indication as to just how extensive a Google suite can be. At the moment, we use Survey Monkey to do our customer and internal surveys, but we’d instantly start using Google Survey as a Premier Customer. BTW, the app ran at http://survey.google.com

Google survey

However, the really interesting page came towards the back of the survey when it asked what applications were important to our company.

Future Google Apps

I believe this gives the best possible indication yet of the applications that Google is planning. Here are the apps, it talks about: Email, spreadsheets, word processing, presentation, calendars, online file sharing, web page creation, project management, online discussion groups, contact management

Of these email, spreadsheets, word processing, web site creation are already part of the Google Apps package. Online discussion groups is a product but not part of Apps, and would tie in very nicely. Online file sharing has been talked about for some time, under the platypus code name. It’s an obvious fit with this.

Project Management is an application I expect to see this year. As we all know, Google’s engineers tend to build-their-own-apps, and it’s almost guaranteed that someone, somewhere within Google has been working on a project management application. This will be a killer application to add to the suite, IMO, and will give it significant differentiation over what Microsoft offers. We currently use Ace Project for our project management needs, and again, we’d switch over an instant to something that integrated with the rest of the Google apps.

Contact management is another no-brainer for Google. Already, in Google Apps, you can enable contact sharing. Google just needs to give me the ability to add notes and give me a nice interface and with the integration with gmail this would be another brilliant addition. We have just started using 37Signals Highrise application and while there’s a bunch that’s great about it, there’s also a lot that is frustating me, trying to make it work within our organisation. To have that type of product integrated into Google Apps would be fabulous.

The other big question that Google asks is:
How important is offline capability for your organisation?

This is something I’ve blogged about many times, but Google is clearly thinking about online/offline capabilities.

What’s missing? There’s nothing about wikis. I wish Google would communicate with us, what it’s plans are for Jotspot. We were a Jotspot user, but we’ve passed over the platform at the moment, because I’ve received no correspondence from Google since it acquired the product as to what was going to happen with it. Clearly, that Wiki platform has the potential to tie together all of this stuff. Most of these applications were already a part of Jotspot when it got acquired.

And while I’m here, I just want to reiterate to Google that it needs to get that Start page in order, because it’s a blight on the entire suite. And Google Analytics absolutely has to be part of the suite.

Why is all this exciting. Because Google can integrate it and make it all seamless. I still can’t believe, for example, that 37signals didn’t integrate Highrise with Basecamp. And the lack of integration between Zoho’s products is the biggest drawback with their suite. The potential to have a contact manager, email, calendaring, project management that all works together would be the greatest thing to happen to the online application space ever. Our organisation currently has six separate contact databases, because none of our web apps talk to each other. The first company that truly integrates all these standard web apps, will own the market.

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Filed under: Online Applications

Google Docs ties with your domain

If you have a Google Apps for your Domain account, you can now log into Google Docs and Spreadsheets using your Google-managed user names.

We’ve had our domain hosted with Google now for a few months, but I’ve held off moving away from my gmail user account because I like the single sign-in factor I have with that. The big obstacle for me was not being able to log in to Docs and Spreadsheets with my MediaConnect username as I spend a bunch of time in that app every day as it has become my primary word processor these days.

However, last weekend I thought I might try logging into D&S with my mediaconnect login and it worked no problems at all, although its still not linked to in top left-hand corner of my email.

I wonder why that is? I hope it’s because Google has something bigger planned that simple integration of D&S and GAFYD (and Google can we please get some nicer names for these two apps).

I’m absolutely dying for Google to integrate Jotspot into all this. I have very much come to the conclusion that is the app that brings all this stuff together for SMEs.

My frustation at the moment, is that Zoho has pretty much done this with its recent ZohoWiki, which does tie together its spreadsheet and docs, and furthermore they tie it together further via their Virtual Office product. About six months ago, I came to the conclusion I had to back one horse on this front and chose the Google path, one because of their size and two because I’m so in love with GMail. When they release Google Calendar and Apps for your Domain I was feeling pretty good about that decision, but right now when we’re looking to really built out a corporate intranet faciltiy I’m dying for that Wiki piece of the puzzle to drop into place.

But I do have much faith in the Jotspot team. I think what they were creating with Jotspot was stunning and I have every faith that they can produce something special now they’re in the Googleplex.

P.S. Would Yahoo or even MS hurry up and buy Zoho. These big Internet heavyweights should look at Zoho and be shamed and red-faced as to the suite of web tools they’ve produced compared to what Zoho has pumped out. Unfortunately, I think for all their brilliance Zoho really needs a popular mail client to make everything come together on a personal productivity basis.

Filed under: Google, Online Applications, Online Spreadsheets, Online Wordprocessing, Web 2.0, Zoho

Writely’s another Web 2.0 nail in the coffin

If Google’s acquisition of Writely has any of you Web 2.0 folk jumping up and down thinking the heavens are about to open up and rain gold, then sit down, put away your umbrella and take another Squash reality check.

Over the past week, I’ve read any number of blogs congratulating the Writely folk for selling out. But every indicator points to the fact that this was a dirt cheap deal and perhaps even a salvage mission.

Firstly, has it struck no-one as surprising that there has been almost no speculation as to how much Google paid for Writely?

That’s the first indicator that this was a teeny-weeny deal. When people sell-out in a big-money acquisitions, they usually can’t help but tell that trusted someone, who tells another trusted someone, who passes the word onto another trusted someone and so on until a pretty reasonable picture emerges as to roughly what was paid.

The fact that no-one’s bragging on this one, suggests that, well, there ain’t much to brag about.

More telling though is that I’ve been chatting to a company who is a significant player in this whole web-office space and they swears blind they’ve not even had a nibble from Google. Not a single call, e-mail or overture. Nada.

If this was a strategic acquisition from Google they would have scouted the playing field and this company would have been a part of that. So based on this information, Google ain’t out there looking.

First thing to take out of that fact is you shouldn’t expect a GoogleOffice any time soon. If Google is doing an office, they’re doing it in-house and that’s going to take some time. However, more so, this indicates that GoogleOffice isn’t a priority for the big G. Sure, the Writely buyout is an admission that they’ve got something going on in this space, but as I’ve speculated before I think it’s very much tied to the GDrive/Lighthouse projects and I don’t think anyone is expecting those to be rushed out to market anytime soon.

Salvage?

The second assumption you might draw from the fact that Google aren’t casting a net around is that it’s far more likely that the Writely crew approached Google, than the other way round.

I think there’s ample secondary evidence to corroborate this theory, too.

Google wrote on their blog that Writely had “many thousands of users”. Not tens of thousands of users. Not hundreds of thousands of users. But thousands.

Anyone who knows marketers know that if there are 10,001 users you start talking about tens of thousands. So lets be kind and assume Writely had 9,999 beta users. Other people in this market have told me that’s likely being generous.

The Writely business model appeared to be trying to tempt a portion of its users to pay a “reasonable subscription fee” for advanced features.

Our hope is to always have the basic service be free, with some extra features requiring a reasonable subscription fee.”

There wasn’t too much holding Writely in beta. According to its Beta Meter, 60 per cent of users felt it was time for Writely to rip off the beta label.

Now it’s all well and good to pretend that there’s a big, whopping market out there when you’re in beta but when you take a service like this live, you need to start walking the talk.

So let’s run some numbers. Let’s assume that Writely did a really, really good job of converting users to paid subscriptions and they managed to get 10 per cent of users to cough up some coin, which would be an impressive feat when you consider there are free alternatives out there in the market and there’s not a heap of value-add you can add over and above the primary product. Anyway, that gives us about 1,000 paying users.

How much is a “reasonable subscription feed”. If you look at paid services like Trumba or BackPack we’re probably talking about $50 per year. So best case, we’re looking at revenues around the $50,000 per year mark. We’re not even close to covering the four Writely salaries at those levels.

So if Writely was going to go it alone, it needed to raise VC dollars fast to fund a marketing campaign. You tell me any VC, even one who’s drunk a REAL lot of Kool Aid, who’s going to look at those numbers and see a great investment opportunity.

Best case option then for the Writely folk was to approach a company that they wanted to work for and hope for a HR-driven buyout. That looks to be exactly what has happened.

All this, and we should remember that as far as Web 2.0 consumer plays, Writely looked pretty good. The product was almost perfectly executed; it was good for generating a lot of natural buzz, such is the fascination with a possible MS Office killer; and it was an easy to use, easy to understand product that should have been relatively well-place to break through the wall of Web 2.0 freakazoid early adopters.

Yet, in the end, it almost certainly sold for peanuts. So go on and tell me again, how revenues models don’t matter in the Web 2.0 economy. Go on, please, it just gets funnier every time I hear it.

Filed under: Online Applications, Web 2.0

Google/Writely points to online/offline future

UPDATE: I’ve just woken up to find the Google/Writely thing was on the money.

The Great Om reckons there’s a rumour floating around about Google buying Writely.I’ve got some thoughts (surprise, surprise)…

Regular Squash readers would be aware of my AJAX Challenge, whereby I’ve been holding out installing a desktop Office suite to see if AJAX alternatives could cut the mustard. Now, this might be an anti-climatic way to announce it but AJAX lost the challenge. Last week I installed OpenOffice and now that it’s on my machine, my useage of online apps has dropped dramatically.

Why? Online spreadsheets are ordinary. If Zoho had of gotten Zoho Sheet out earlier it might have helped. iRows has promise but the feel just didn’t grab me. But in the end, I had to print out a really important document and just couldn’t make it look right in either Writely or ZohoWriter. So I downloaded OpenOffice and once I had it loaded up, I did the job in minutes. Unfortunately, as soon as you bring things like tables in the equation and want to format for print, online wordprocessors just aren’t there yet.

(As an aside, I think wordprocessors as we use them are pretty much a redundant application anyway. Most of what we write should logically now be done inside your email application or your blogging/publishing tool. It’s only complex document designed for print that really need to be created in something like Word and in this instance a low-end desktop publishing tool like Publisher might even make more sense anyway. I don’t think it will be long before Word and Publisher come together).

Anyway, back to the Google and Writely thingy. The possibility of this happening excites me for one very, significant reason. I reckon Google knows that Writely and other like products out there are for the most part crap. As Writely exists now, it’s a niche solution with little scope for generating significant revenues.

Doesn’t make any sense therefore for Google to have its precious resources tied up in building this kind of product. It should be able to pick Writely up pretty cheaply and in the proces bring in some talented developers. Writely, for all it’s limitations, is a neat piece of coding (as are the Zoho tools) and these guys will be an asset to whoever picks them up.

But if it’s such a niche, no-nothing market, why would Google bother at all?

Because, whereas most people think Google is working towards a future where everything we do is online and will happen inside a browser, I don’t think Google is thinking along those lines, at least in the medium term.

Rather, I think events over the past week amplify the fact that Google is working towards a seamless online/offline experience.

Let’s look at the analyst briefing presentation that came to public attention earlier this week. Google described a situation where your local drive acts as a high-speed cache of your central GDrive repository of data. THIS IS IMPORTANT. It’s open recognition that people will continue to work on their hard-drives and in desktop applications. In fact, in the presentation Google recognises that there are bandwidth and storage limitations that currently are preventing them from achieving the nirvana of a total online experience.

When you accept that Google isn’t working towards forcing everything into a browser, suddently a lot of things make sense. Like the OpenOffice agreement. Like the fact that they bought Picassa when they could easily have bought a Flickr-like service. Like the aggressive fashion in which they’re ramping up Google Desktop, especially the recent move to try and replicate online and offline data stores.

So this is how I see it working. Google Desktop is used to synchronise your local drive with your GDrive (with Lighthouse probably being the tool that you use to decide who can access and share what data). If your working on your regular computer, click a document and it opens up into OpenOffice Writer. If your on a public workstation log into GDrive, click on the same document and it opens up in Writely. (Oh and Writely becomes the standard text editor across GMail, Blogger, etc). Same goes for your photos with Picassa and then variously other kinds of documents.

Now wouldn’t that be cool?

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, Google, Online Applications, Online Spreadsheets, Online Wordprocessing

Next Stop: Google web page editor

BTW, on the Ajaxian blog it says that Google is developing an AJAX-based web page editor.

I’ll submit that as Exhibit D to support my thesis that Google is very, very focused right now on going head-to-head with Microsoft’s Office Live initiative.

Filed under: Google, Online Applications

AJAX Challenge: All a waste of time?

One of the biggest reasons I’ve been switching to online apps is because I tend to use a few different computers. I have a laptop, a computer in my home office, a computer in the family study and I will quite often jump onto a different PC at work if I want to do something quickly but couldn’t be bothered to set my laptop up.

However, I’m asking myself today, what other benefits do online applications have, because Google Desktop 3 supposedly means you can get access to your documents and work history regardless of where you are.

The answer I keep coming up with then is collaboration. With services like Google Desktop 3, as well as online storage services like OmniDrive, you don’t need a hosted app to get that portability and mobility I love so much. So online apps already need to go a step beyond. They need to take advantage of the fact that being online they can be accessed by anyone, edited, ammended, shared. That probably requires some re-thinking of the way we use our applications. Who’s up to it?

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, Online Applications

Calendars aren’t stand alone apps

A lot of excitement around about 30 Boxes right now. Om says its the GMail of calendars. Thomas Hawk says Best Calendar Ever!

Scoble wants Microsoft to buy it, WordPress Matt is digging it (as in the old fashioned sense of the word) and Stowe has also joined the chorus.

Problem is – calendars aren’t stand-alone apps. For a calendar to work properly it needs to be integated into the rest of the stuff you do – that’s why it’s a part of Office. That’s why they’re a part of salesforce.com. That why’s they’re a part of just about every corporate intranet on the planet.

If you’re an individual, a calendar that exists in a silo outside of your e-mail and particularly your tasks is always going to be hamstrung. You should be able to drag an email across to a date and have it automatically populate a calendar entry. You should be able to take a task and allocate time to it across you coming week and of course deadlines show up automatically.

But as limited as that is – a calendar has to be a part of your corporate workflow. Whether it’s a CRM application, a project management application, a bug tracking system or whatever the primary app that you use at work to keep track of where you and the team you work on is at, your calendar needs to be a part of that.

Yet, in this era of syndication, stylesheets, mash-ups and web services, why are so few, if anybody is, concentrating on letting corporates, portals and so forth integrate their offerings into other larger projects. And these are people who will actually pay!

Maybe, that’s the problem. God forbid any Web 2.0 applications actually generate revenue.

Filed under: Online Applications, Online Calendars

F*cking awesome technology, shame about the name

I’d like to give two awards to SpongeCell, an AJAX calendar that got written up in TechCrunch today called SpongeCell.

The first awards is our F*cking Woeful award. SpongeCell? Dudes, that is truly an inherently bad, bad name, but it’s an even worse name for a calendar app. If there’s a single person out there able to guess that SpongeCell is a calendary app then I’ll let Kiera Knightly give me a spongebath (Hey, what can I say I’m risk averse…)

Mind you, if you thought SpongeCell was bad then wait for the tagline – “the absorbful calendar”. OMG.

Why does every Web 2.0 company feel the need to invent a new verb. Just because Googling has entered the public vernacular, everybody now wants to create or reinvent a verb. Sure, it worked for Digg and quite clearly it rocks for Squash, but for most of you peoples, it just sounds dumb.

So guess what? On SpongeCell you can “sponge”. (You’re still thinking about Keira aren’t you. Stop it, now) The great pity is that the act of sponging is one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the Internet for a very long time. Not quite as good as a Kiera Knightly spongebath but pretty damn tops nevertheless.
Generally, the act of adding a calendar entry sucks. You click on enter, add a subject. You pull down some drop boxes to add the start date and end date, whack in a location and press save. You’re constantly back and forth between the mouse and the keyboard and its just a right-royal pain in the neck. A couple of AJAX calendars have tried to make that easier by letting you simply type an appointment straight into a time slot on your calendar, which is nice.

But not as nice as SpongeCell. Say you want to have a meeting with Squash tomorrow at 10am. You simply go to the SpongeBar (a place where you can enjoy a spongebath while sucking back on a beer? Unfortunately not) and type “Meeting with Squash tomorrow at 10″ press the sponge button and it gets translated into an event.

That’s not even the really cool part. You’re on the road, you meet an old buddy and you decide to hook up tomorrow night at 7pm. You simply pull out your mobile and text message or email to the generic address sponge@spongecell.com and it’s added. Magic. Or you text message or email the words “Next” and you get your next appointment. Send Today and you get today’s appointments.

Now that’s F*cking Awesome. Amidst all the Web 2.0 hype and hoopla you seldom see the technology being used to do really simple things like making a simple act like adding a calendar entry or retrieving calendar information this natural and intuitive.

BTW, the Sponge guys are having a release party. No word as to whether it will feature sponge baths, Kiera Knightly or more crap branding. Incidentl, the company’s media release notes that the four-person team behind the product includes the president, a chief scientist, a chief technology officer and a chief architect. Bet you’re so surprised there was no chief marketer!

Filed under: Online Applications, Online Calendars

When will Picassa go online????

Google was talking up the fact that Picassa is now available in 25 languages. And if you speak Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Tagalog, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Catalan, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, or Vietnamese I’m truly very happy for you.

But when oh when is Picassa going to have an online equivalent. As much as I love Flickr, I struggle to keep it up-to-date because it’s another step in my photo filing process, which I already consider laborious.

What I want is to download my files into Picassa (preferably with some intelligent tagging) and then have the software automatically start uploading the files into the online version. ideally, online/offline should then stay synched.

That’s something I’d definitely pay for so it represents a way for Google to actually monetise its Picassa investment, as well. Quite frankly, I’m staggered this hasn’t happened already.

Filed under: Online Applications, Online Photo Libraries

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