Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Commitment anxiety

I’m sure a lot of Squash readers are like myself and basically try out every new service that comes along. Most you never use again, a few you experiment with for a while jumping between competitors and then there are those few sites that you really commit to.

Committing to a web app is a big thing. It’s generally not easy to pull information in and out of most Web 2.0 sites, not to mention the time in training and becoming familiar with an application. What’s more, due to the social nature of most web apps, it’s quite likely you’ve convinced friends, co-workers and family to follow your lead.

Which is all very well and good, except most web apps are still pretty immature. They all have long product roadmaps, promise they’re working on new features and often can be quite buggy. So if you do decide to commit to a web app, you put a lot of faith that the company you’re going with is going to deliver on its promises.

I’ve switched photo libraries six times. I went from flickr to smugmug to photobucket back to flickr, onto picasa and finally thought I’d settled on smugug. In the end, I like how much you can customise your galleries with smugmug and the customer service is better than the larger players.

However, being smaller they don’t have the third-party support. For example, the new online Photoshop Express doesn’t pull in photos from Smugmug but it does the other services I tried and then left behind. On a number of occasions, I’ve almost switched back to flickr. It’s cheaper (I don’t mind paying for a good photo library and I’m a smugmug pro user) and seems to have almost become de facto standard in terms of having the support of third parties which has become increasingly important. But I’ve uploaded a lot of photos to smugmug and really don’t want to lose that time and bandwidth investment. Plus, I still do really like the service.

However, recently videos have been a sticking point for me. I want to use one service for videos and photos and have been hanging out for this feature in smugmug. Thankfully, they added that support but they’ve been lagging in providing a nice Flash player, which is obviously critical for embedding and making reasonable use of your videos.

It’s been promised as coming for a long time and it’s something that’s now holding up a couple of work projects as we’re hoping to use the smugmug video engine on MediaConnect websites. So when Flickr unveiled they’re really neat video service in the last 24 hours, I must admit to having pangs of jealousy.

I know the Smugmug crew will do a great job when the flash player comes but I’m afraid I’m not a very patient user. Oh commitment is tough, even in the web world.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, ,

Buzzword is brilliant

OK, you’re probably sick of me bleating about the shithouse print formatting of Google Docs. Well, I thought I’d tell the world I’ve given up. If I have to create a document for printing I will never use Google Docs again until they get it right.

If you think this means I’m back to Word or OpenOffice, then think again. I’ve been using the Adobe online word processor Buzzword and it rocks! Prints out exactly as it shows on the screen, has a nice intuitive interface and is just a joy to use. In fact I haven’t really found anything to complain about.

Well, they do really need an online view. At the moment, you’re forced to view the document in a traditional page format but if you’re creating documents for online, you just want your words to fill up the screen. Buzzword needs to enable you to toggle between a page view and a web view just as the desktop wordprocessors do. Google Docs needs a page view. But at least now, I’ve got a solution for documents I intend to print (Buzzword) and a solution for my web docs (Google Docs).

That said, I’m finding I’m using Google Docs less and less. We’ve now got Google Sites up and running (the subject of another blog to come) and it just makes far more sense if you’re creating any documents for sharing among a team to create them in a wiki or publishing environment.

I do admit, its far from ideal having my documents in two separate places and it would be even worse if I created more documents that I do for printing. I hope to riff in a future blog more about this, but the online app vendors need to get together and come up with a common file format that will enable me to move my docs around the various services. More than that, I’d like to be able to decide where I host these docs  (say Omnibox or SugarSync) and then just right click and say ‘Open in Buzzword’ or ‘Open in Google Docs’.

The other thing I’ll note in this blog is I think Adobe can represent a real challenge in the online app space. I’m not a big fan of flash for your average website but when it comes to online apps, the technology really comes into its own especially when combined with Air. If Adobe were to pick up a word processing and presentation start-up and quickly tie them together it could feasibly jump ahead of both Google and Zoho in functionality and ease-of-use.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

SugarSync moves us closer to cloud nirvana

I’ve written a lot about online/offline access and a couple of things have happened of late that has really pushed that concept forward quite a bit. There was the obvious move from Google to announce offline access for Docs and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on that.

However, in the meantime I’ve fallen in love with a product called SugarSync. Quite simply, Microsoft needs to buy this company and built it into the OS and they need to do it yesterday.

For those who have not seen SugarSync, it does what I’ve been pleading for, for years. It sits in the background and automatically synchs your folder on your PC with a virtual drive in the cloud. Not only that it can sync that virtual drive with multiple PCs. I now have my work PC, home PC and laptop PC with near identical folders, plus an online drive just in case I’m at any other PC. I can now get any file that I’ve been working on – no matter where I am and if I’m using one of my personal computers I get the speed and performance of desktop access.

If I had of had this product 2 years ago before I started migrating all my apps to SaaS services I may not have gone down the Google Apps path. Access of files from multiple PCs was my biggest pain-point. Now, I’m hooked on the collaboration aspect as well but if I was Microsoft I’d be buying SugarSync and I’d have bought them yesterday. This kind of functionality should have been at the core of Vista. Not only would it represent a major leap forward in Web-enabling the Windows operating system but, as mentioned, it makes all of Microsoft’s desktop apps work in the cloud.

All Microsoft would then need to do is build collaboration-features directly into its productivity suite and you really would combine the benefits of offline and online.  Office with SugarSync and P2P live collaboration functionality would be a major step forward and would be infinitely more compelling than a revamp of the user-interface like we got in the last version. (Sugarsync also works with mobile devices and Macs btw)

Anyway, back to SugarSync. These guys have just cut their pricing plans in half and now you can get a 10Gb annual subscription for $US25. It’s just a no-brainer if you use multiple computers. My only feedback for Gibu and and the team is you really need to introduce a business plan. I need a ten-user license to roll this out across my team and then I don’t need to worry about backup issues anymore.

And of course the killer feature for small  businesses would be the ability to share folders between team members. I’m a bit surprised this wasn’t a part of the service from launch as it wouldn’t seem that difficult to implement given the syncing nature of the product so I hope its on the roadmap!

Filed under: AJAX Challenge, ,

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