Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Here comes Google GDrive

Google appears to be finally on the verge of launching its long-rumoured GDrive storage-in-the-cloud service.

Amidst the relatively quiet release of Picasa3 last week, Google introduced folder syncing. That is you can click on ‘Sync to Web’ in any album from Picasa and the application will automatically sync to an online album in Picasa Web.

This is exactly the same strategy that SugarSync – who I believe currently lead this space – adopted. They bedded down their syncing technology in the photo/image arena before rollling out the full file-syncing product that is now SugarSync.

So with that piece of the puzzle now in place, if you have a look at what Google now has in the wild, they pretty much have all of the elements needed to roll out Gdrive.

This includes:

Google Desktop

It will surprise me if Google Desktop doesn’t evolve into being the application where you control all of your folders, sync options and so forth. Google hasn’t done a major release of Desktop since March 2007, so it would seem probable that version six is going to be a big deal. Google Desktop has already indexed all your files, it’s already holding an image of those files in the cloud, so it’s not a big stretch for it to now start synching those files to an online drive. With a big installed base of Desktop users, Google could instantly leap-frog everyone else in this space.

File Syncing

As already mentioned, Google has for the first time rolled-out file syncing in Picasa 3. The technology is there and if its being used in Picasa3, which incidentally came out of beta with that release, then the Google folk are obviously pretty confident that it works and is ready to roll.

Google Shared Storage

You can already buy additional storage for GMail + Picasa through Google’s Shared Storage. Prices start at $20 USD for 10GB. That shapes up reasonably with something like Sugarsync but not so well when compared to services like Carbonite which offer unlimited storage for about $50 USD. Judging on the approach, Google took with GMail I would expect them to set a new price-point for storage-in-the-cloud with a very generous free option.

Working prototypes

We know that Google has been working on this for a looooong time under the code-name Platypus. A screenshot back in 2006 showed us that Google has had this working in pre-release mode for close to three years and Google has spoken pretty freely about their ambitions in this area for quite a long time.

While people have been predicting the imminent release of GDrive for a long while now, indeed it’s almost a year since a WSJ article had everyone pronouncing it was just around the corner, I believe it really is crunchtime for Google to finally show their cloud storage hand.
Why Now?
The most obvious reason to act ASAP is Microsoft Live Mesh. Mesh appears to be at the centre of Microsoft’s software + services strategy going forward and they clearly have the advantage in this space, given that they “own” the file system on the majority of computers. If Microsoft gets Mesh right, they can potentially dominate this market and in doing so, control a large portion of people’s online existence. After all, your online hard drive is always going to be a key component of your cloud computer and makes a whole bunch of things easier to integrate if you own that piece of the puzzle. THIS IS A KEY BATTLEGROUND.
Meanwhile, while Microsoft gets its Mesh house in order and Google sits back and wait, Sugarsync keeps rolling on. They are about to roll-out shared folders which is going to take this space forward another large step. If all of my team can seamlessly worked in a shared folder that gets synced across all our computers, we really are freed from the shackles of desktop storage.
On another note, how many computers do you use today? In any week, I’m now likely to log into up to 10 computers – ranging from my own work and personal PCs, the PC of my family members, my iPhone, Internet kiosks and even my Wii. There is no longer any denying the need to be able to access information from multiple computers – and for some of us that need has reached dire necessity.
And finally, streaming is finally taking off. The bandwidth is now there, so you can stream music and videos sitting on your home PCs. This gets even easier if your streaming files from your online hard drive. This has implications for a lot of things, including buying music and videos. You can streamline that process if you run the user’s online drive – for example, instead of having to log in to itunes to download a new podcast, it could simply show up straight to my cloud drive and then I could access that podcast from any device I owned.
When Google does this, I’d hate to be any one of the multitude of companies offering cloud services. None of these companies can survive if you have Google and Microsoft offering fully-synched sharing for dirt cheap prices, there is simply not enough room for differentiation, except to offer greater integration which none of the smaller companies can do. I can see Sugarsync being acquired by Apple. They have had a Mac client from day-one and Apple is going to need this capability to keep pace with Microsoft. Yahoo! will again be locked out of an important part of user’s online infrastructures, despite their My Briefcase being one of the very earliest online storage systems.
What’s taken Google this long?
I have my own theory for why Google has gone slow on this front. The better a user’s online/offline capability, the more Microsoft’s software + service message starts to make sense. By making it easier for user’s to keep files in sync and available across the cloud, Google would also be helping users to hang on to their traditional desktop applications like Word and Excel. So I can see why they wouldn’t have hurried this product out. However, the time is nigh and this will be a game-changer.

Last year around this time, I predicted a Q1 launch for Jotspot – which was realised in the form of Google Sites. And the year prior I went for Google buying Feedburner. I’m counting this as my big 2009 prediction and going for a hat trick.

Filed under: Google

Facebook wins – among my crowd its now totally mainstream

It’s looked increasingly unlikely for a while now that anyone would be able to usurp Facebook as civilisation’s de-facto standard social networking tool, but I’m prepared to say that Facebook has now won. Game Over. Pack up your bags and go home. This show’s over.

On the weekend, I went to a family barbeque and I lost count of the amount of times I heard someone mention Facebook. And we’re not talking techies, Gen-Yers, or even office professionals here. We’re talking mainstream folk I didn’t even know who used computers. I’m also getting a heap of friend invites from old school friends, family members – people from all sorts of demographics, in terms of jobs, age, socio-economic, etc.

From where I’m sitting, Facebook has well and truly crossed over. It’s now mainstream and as a mainstream, social application where network effect must prevail, Facebook has this game wrapped up. It’s now just a matter of monetising the platform and seeing how far it can be extended. I still believe a social platform like Facebook would be where I would start if I was building a truly web-native OS.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Gmail getting there but still needs unthread

As a long-time Gmail user I’ve been overjoyed at some of the additions that Google have added to the Gmail platform via the Labs features.

Being able to add widgets to my Gmail sidebars has been wonderful – it’s particularly nice to be able to see my calendar from within the mail environment.

However, I can’t believe for all this progress Google has still not addressed the fundamental issue that stops many from embracing the gmail platform – which is the forced threading option. Its an issue I blogged about more than two years ago and there’s still no solution.

Quite simply, if you send out emails to groups, then Gmail is close to unusable. All your replies come in under the one thread and you can soon build up a conversation of dozens if not hundreds of messages in the one thread which makes it not only impossible to sort, find and use but it means you can miss messages that get buried under others.

C’mon Google, give users the option to thread or not and you’ll instantly make the service more usable for many more users. One thing Google has to recognise is when your thinking of rolling out this across the enterprise you have to take into account the needs of all users – and right not I can imaging lots of people in sales and marketing finding gmail unusable due to threading. Yes, you can let them use a desktop client via IMAP but surely an unthreading option is not that hard.

I’m certainly not the only one who thinks this way.

Filed under: Google,

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