Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

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,

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

Behavioural advertising should reward niche sites

Google’s announcement that it is finally jumping into behavioural advertising or what it is calling “interested based” advertising is going to be a revolution.

Well, it will be for big, mainstream sites. Your big portals will now be able to serve up content that is just as relevant to reader’s interests as your niche portals, which to date have tended to receive higher CPMs than general portals. General portals should be able to significantly lift their CPMs and advertising returns because they will be able to serve up far more relevant content to their users.

However, I can’t see how this isn’t going to suck for niche content providers. So let’s take my blog. At the moment, if you’re interested in reaching Parramatta Eels fans then there are only a couple of sites on the web where you can go to advertise to reach those people. Mine is one of them. So there is a pretty good chance if there is an advertiser out there who is of interest to one of my readers, they’re going to see the ad on my site and click through on my site. I’m therefore rewarded for delivering that niche content to that user.

However, if Google learns that my reader is interested in the Parramatta Eels and then everytime that user visits one of the big portals where they are likely to spend more of their time, chances are their going to see that content elsewhere first so by the time they get to my site, they’re far less likely to click through on the ad. I get zero reward for that.

What I think Google needs to do to make that equitable is to also reward the sites that the user visits to make the decision as to what ad it should show. So when my user visits and based on the fact they previously went to they serve an ad which gets clicked on, then I should get a cut of that revenue. We all win then. Big portal gets a higher CPM, I get many additional revenue opportunity, the user gets more relevant ads and of course Google should increase their revenues. It would also encourage far more sites to become adsense users because you could get revenue without even having ads on your site.

However, without rewarding the sites that help you build that profile, it simply encourages page whoring. The Internet will become more-and-more sensationalised with the only thing mattering is page views and not the niche value of your content.

I realise there are issues. Of course, it is likely that a Parramatta Eels fan will visit more than one Eels fan site, but it wouldn’t be that difficult for Google’s big computers to divvy up the spoils fairly. Behavioural advertising is going to be a boon to online companies but please Google make sure, everyone is fairly rewarded.

Filed under: Google

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

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,

Google’s take on The Office

Had to hack a chuckle at a couple of the YouTube videos that Google’s Apps team have posted recently on their Official YouTube channel.

The videos are very ‘The Office’-like (oh, the irony?) and feature IT Manager Dan Wilson and the challenges he faces maintaining on-premise software like patch maintainance and security.

Interestingly from a marketing perspective the videos, which wouldn’t have been cheap to produce, have hardly set the world alight. The Thievery video had been seen by a grand total of 14 people when I clicked it. The most recent patch collection video was up to 227 views, which I’m guessing have been driven from an ad on techmeme. Shows that even if you come up with a clever marketing idea and then even if you execute it well like Google have here, you still need to go to the effort of promoting it.

Filed under: Google

Jotspot around the corner

Having sounded out a senior member of Google’s engineering team about Jotspot, it sounds to me like a first quarter launch of the wiki product is likely next year.

While not wanting to put a firm time-frame on the launch, he did seem confident that Jotspot’s re-emergence from its slumber was not far away.

It will be about time, too. I don’t think anyone would have envisioned an 18 month time-frame for Google to move Jotspot onto its software infrastructure and integrate it with the Google Apps products.

However, I remain firm in my belief that Jotspot may be the single most important product for Google in terms of really cracking the small to medium business market, so in that respect I’m not surprised that Google is wanting to make sure it gets it right.

That said, the Google executive I spoke to, did suggest it would still be a work-in-progress – so don’t think the length of time that Google’s been working on this is indicative that its going to be the perfect product at launch.

One question that has come to my mind, is how the Open Social announcement might relate to Jotspot. Part of Jotspot’s beauty before it was acquired was its API and the developer network that it had been developing and it would be nice to see Jotspot leverage whats going on with Open Social. I guess people tend to associate Open Social with social networks but the Wiki is the definitive social business application.

Filed under: Google

Let’s hope GDrive exposes your files

I have long maintained that the single, most important piece of any online suite is going to be the online storage/file management system.

This is another element that none of the big-guys have yet nailed. GDrive has not made an appearance nor has Zoho’s offering in this space, while Microsoft’s SkyDrive was a massive let-down. However, it’s an area I expect to really hot up over the next 12 months.

However, a Google Blogoscoped article notes that there is definite integration happening between Google Apps and GDrive.

Ironically, the best online storage system would be application independent. Omnidrive is furthest down the track with this, in that you can open files with your desktop tool or use Zoho’s Word and Spreadsheet tools. However, as I like to use Google’s Apps it doesn’t work for me.

As mentioned in a previous blog-post this remains a sticking point in the adaption of online apps. Until documents and data aren’t so tied to applications, users remain locked-in and I wouldn’t blame anyone for putting off adopting online apps based on that difficulty alone.

So what I’d really like to see is that GDrive exposes your Apps files so that they can either be opened directly to your desktop tool, or even with a competing product like Zoho. Chances?

Filed under: Google

Google Docs revamp: Our first look at GDrive

The new Google Docs & Spreadsheets revamp must surely be our first look at Google’s GDrive.

To me, this simply looks like an iterative move towards what is looking more and more like a full-blown online platform. Let’s look at what draws me towards this conclusion.

Firstly, the changes made to the document management side of Google Docs & Spreadsheets have been made completely independently of the document creation apps. Create a new document or spreadsheet and those screens haven’t changed at all. They load in a new window or tab and now feel almost like completely distinct applications.

What is completely obvious is this revamp has been set up to allow for the integration of Google Presentations.
– Where as the old Google Docs & Spreadsheet always referred to ‘documents’ the new revamp refers to ‘items’.
– The icons now much more clearly distinguish between documents and spreadsheets with the use of colour – a necessity as you add more file types.
– Google has prominently introduced an ‘Items by File Type’ – which right now is pretty lonely with just documents and spreadsheets options

You wouldn’t need to be a brain surgeon to assume that whatever else Google adds to its online productivity suite will be integrated with this file management system, given these pretty clear moves to make the application more generic and less tied to the wordprocessor and spreadsheet application.

So the next question to ask yourself is: If you’re storing your wordprocessing documents, your spreadsheet documents and your presentation files – easily the main file types for most users then are you really going to want to use another file management system to store images, PDFs, videos, etc on an online storage drive. I don’t think so.

Given that fairly logical assumption that it makes sense for this to evolve into Google’s file management system, let’s take a look at the considerable headroom that has been built into this interface.

If you go into any folder, you will notice Google has given over an enormous amount of screen real estate for information about the folder. There is one basically redundant tab called Items. I think we might expect to see a couple more tabs, probably a Users and Settings tab that will greatly expand the usefulness of these folders.

As it stands, there was no reason for Google to move to the folder presentation model. The folders still act like the old tags; ie you can label your documents in multiple ways. But tags as they are understood are very basic creatures, they’re simply an identifier and not hugely useful for doing any real filing, sorting or retrieval of documents.

Folders on the other hand can be hierarchical. You can share folders. You can give folder’s descriptions. All of these things are going to be necessary for people who store a lot of files or documents within this environment. If you’ve got 100 tags/folders, its hardly going to be an easy proposition to have to scroll through all those simply to file a document. The folders have to become hierarchical and I belive they have to have sharing mechanisms. As a heavy user of google docs I can tell you that sharing, while extremely valuable and really the primary value-add is a pain-in-the-butt to have to keep typing in email addresses for every doc I share. Dragging and dropping into a folder will be a far more elegant solution and I’m sure it must be in the product plans.

Again, if you’re going to build a sophisticated file management system like this, it would certainly make sense for it to drive your online file storage system wouldn’t it?

One final question still to be answered is what will Google do with the name ‘Google Docs and Spreadsheets’ once it adds presentations in the not-too-distant future. One would think it is going to have to reveal where it’s going with this product line at that point. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we don’t see a simultaneous launch of Google Presentation and Google Drive.

Filed under: Google

Build-your-own-widgets gains momentum

So Google today relaunched its personalised home page as iGoogle and announced the ability for users to create their own gadgets, which has received a bunch of coverage throughout the blogosphere.

Personally, it’s nice to see Google heading in that direction because it’s exactly where we’ve been headed with the Wyaworks Widget Creator (disclaimer: I consult to Wyaworks on product development and strategy). While the Google Widget maker allows users to create simple, fairly static widgets, the Wyaworks Widget Creator enables you to build your own full-blown, database-driven widgets.

I’ve got to say, even I’m surprised how useful I’ve found these. My company is now standardising on the Pageflakes AJAX desktop as our Intranet platform and I’ve got about a dozen widgets running across our shared Pageflakes tab for various functions like HR, editorial management, project management, etc. Each of these widgets has taken about 5 minutes to create, they can all interact, and I can personalize them to match our business processes precisely. We had been using Google spreadsheets for these kind of ad-hocs applications, but the problem with that is that they’re difficult to find and never really at hand.

John Hyde, CEO of Wyaworks has added a host of functionality since they were first announced. Security has been added, they run across iGoogle, NetVibes and Pageflakes, columns can be sorted, data sets can be restricted by field values and widgets can share information and fields. Widgets can be created by simply adding fields, or alternatively you can turn any spreadsheet into an AJAX desktop widget by simply importing a spreadsheet. We took a spreadsheet of customer records, imported it, and bam, we had a customer contact management widget, automatically populated with our data in a matter of seconds. Being able to access this kind of information, all from your AJAX desktop makes this kind of information incredibly accessible and easy to use.

I’m convinced that some type of webtop, or AJAX desktop, will become most people’s home page and online hub. I predict that within the next couple of years, every web application will have widget-versions of their applications that can be integrated into this kind of environment, or else they will incorporate their own AJAX desktops – that’s the way we’re heading with our MediaConnect and ITJourno portals. Most likely, it will be both.

It’s nice to see this idea start to pick up pace, when Wyaworks is so clearly the market leader in this space. I still think the killer feature with these widgets it the cross-platform capability. The openess of AJAX desktops means you don’t want to be tied into any particular desktop, so you really want to be able to take your widgets with you. While iGoogle, Netvibes, and Pageflakes are supported right now, Wyaworks has the potential to allow widgets to be deployed to any platform and with this market moving so quickly, that’s an incredibly important feature.

Filed under: Google, Web Development, Webtops

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