Friday, June 12, 2009

How to Improve the Google Experience

We all know that Google has expanded far beyond just Search, but from the outside looking in, it feels like Google have developed a whole bunch of individual apps, and are now trying to link them up. This is understandable, as many of these apps were companies Google bought out when they showed some promise in the market. Obviously, we mere mortals are not privy to the Google Master Plan, but the whole process seems very disjointed to me.

Central to Google’s effort are Contacts. This is the Facebook equivalent to ‘Friends’, and is the list of people you communicate with regularly, via Gmail or Chat, tag or share with in Picasa Web Albums, share blogs with in Reader, and if you’re using Google Sync, speak to on your cell phone. Web 2.0 is about Social Networking, and Social Networking is about friends, and Contacts are your Google friends. That’s great, but I just think the integration has been poorly executed to date. Let me explain.
In Picasa Web Albums they introduced face recognition. It’s a brilliant technology, and often surprises me with its accuracy. The app chooses a common face from the album you’re analysing, then offers a list of your Contacts to choose from. If the person is not a contact, you can then add their name and that name is added to your contacts. Google assumes that anyone you’re prepared to name in a photo deserves to be on your Contacts list. I actually don’t have a problem with that, although the result is that my ‘All Contacts’ is full of our kids’ friends, who still being in the single digits age-wise, don’t have cell phones or email addresses!
Anyway, where Google could improve the process, in my opinion, is when it comes to adding details to those contacts. After clicking on ‘Add a picture’ on their page in Contacts, you’re presented with a number of options to add a picture:

However, choosing the Picasa Web Albums option should take you to a suitable series of their tagged photos, but it doesn’t. It gives you a list of all your albums, and you have to hunt for that elusive photo that you tagged in the first place!

In Reader the integration is even worse. You have the option to share items from reader with your friends. The options are your Friends, or Chat buddies. Problem is, is that Friends refers to your ‘Friends’ part of your Contacts. Click on friends, and they’re all given access. Ah, there’s an option to remove each individually, that’s great. Remove a couple who you don’t think would be interested in your reading habits, and guess what? They’ve been removed from your Friends within Contacts! Next, you want to share with someone from Family, or perhaps a Co-worker? Can’t be done, unless you add them to Friends of course. Come on Google, this is an easy one to fix.

One of the features I would love to see Google add, with regard to Contacts, is integration with Calendar. Google recently added a function to add birthdays and anniversaries to your Contacts. So how hard would it be to automatically add those dates into Calendar? Problem is, Google Calendar doesn’t know how to handle birthdays. It adds them as all day events, which is fine within their app. It adds a pretty little block to the top of the specified day. However, sync that with your phone’s calendar, and you end up with an event running from midnight to midnight. Google needs to take a leaf out of almost any other Calendar; it needs options to add birthdays/anniversaries, reminders and notes to the main calendar, in addition to meetings, and the newly added Tasks. Unfortunately, Tasks don’t get added to the main calendar, so aren’t included in the sync.

I don’t think these changes would be that hard to implement. If there’re any Google employees reading, how about using your 20% time to fix these?

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Are You Ready To Do The Google Wave?

I’m a big fan of Google; like most people I use Search, but I also use Gmail, Calendar, Reader and Docs on a daily basis. I also use Picasa for quick viewing my photos, and Picasa Web Albums to share them on the internet. I use Google Maps, Earth and obviously Blogger.
There are other products that do the same thing, and I use some of those too, but I like the way that Google is starting to integrate these services. For example, when you use the face recognition feature in Web Albums, it offers a list of your contacts (just like Facebook’s photo tagging), and if you add someone new, it automatically adds that person to your contacts.
Contacts has now been given its own page, as well as being bundled with Gmail, which indicates Google has bigger plans for Contacts than just email.
Which brings us to Google Wave. If you haven’t heard about Google Wave yet, you can read about it
here. In it’s simplest form, Google Wave is described as next generation email, or as Lars Rasumussen (one of the developers) put it, “Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today.”
But it’s so much more than that. Google Wave combines email and instant messaging, and offers them in real time. It also allows drag and drop functionality for adding photos to a ‘wave’, which then immediately become visible to the other participants in the wave. Oh, did I mention that any wave can have multiple participants? All you have to do to add people is drag them in from your Contacts list. If they’re on-line, indicated by a green dot, the wave will pop up in their in-box and they’ll be able to join the conversation. If they’re off-line, they’ll be able to open the wave and read it like an email, and doing so would bring the wave back to live status.

I can imagine that if you had a number of people commenting simultaneously it might become very busy; all this live action might take some getting used to.
So what is Google really trying to do? I see this as Google’s entry into social networking. Consider Facebook. Facebook has  a profile page and a list of Friends, Google also has a Profile page and its Contacts. Facebook allows sharing of photos and the facility to allow friends to comment, Google Wave does the same. Facebook shows which friends are on-line, and allows instant messaging. Google Wave has a dynamic combination of email and IM.
The major difference in their approach is push and pull. Google Wave requires one to ‘push’ the content to one’s friends; on Facebook one uploads content and relies on friends accessing (‘pulling’) it. Which system is better remains to be seen.
One of the common complaints is that there are too many ways to communicate on-line. I would love one communication tool. Facebook has a form of microblogging, photo sharing, IM and is soon going to add email. This must be a worry to Google. They already have email, IM and photo sharing, but Wave combines them into one application, adds Twitter integration, gaming, document collaboration (did I mention those?), and a lot more.
Will people want both services, or will people choose between them. At the end of the day, I think people will go with whichever service offers the cleanest, simplest user interface, and I fear Google Wave might be too complicated and confusing. It’ll certainly gain a lot of attention when it’s released later this year, and I can’t wait to give it a try.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Nashua Mobile Sucks

An agent from my cell phone service provider (Nashua Mobile) phoned the other day to advise that I was legible for an upgrade if I was prepared to sign-up for another 24 month contract. Standard practice. No objection. I asked him what my options were; I had had my eye on the new Nokia 5800:

Option #1
Option #2a
MTN MyCall 100
MTN AnyTime 200
Vodacom Weekender
Monthly Included Minutes:
85 off peak mins
15 peak minutes
86 any time mins (approx)
120 off peak mins
Once off cost:
Cost/24 months:

Unfortunately, MTN have discontinued their popular MyCall 100 package, so my preference was for the Vodacom Weekender; it offered the most similar package to my current package, which had always been adequate for my needs, at a similar monthly cost. What I didn’t like was the once off charge; it seemed excessive for a mid-range phone.

So I shopped around:

Option #2b
Vodacom Weekender
Monthly Included Minutes:
120 off peak mins
Once off cost:
Cost/24 months:

That sounded a lot better. Phone Nashua Mobile back and sent I wanted to give notice on my contract asap, and port my number to Vodacom and a new service provider. “That early termination, and will incur a penalty”, I was informed, “there’s still 4 weeks until the end of the contract.” Now I was prepared to pay the monthly subs until the end of my contract, so why the penalty? Because I wanted to port my number (retain my number, despite switching to Vodacom). OK, how bad could it be, there’s only 4 weeks remaining (I didn’t want to miss the offer I had been quoted on):

R2,622.00! You’re kidding me, right?

Well, screw ‘em. I have been a customer with Nashua Mobile since my very first cell phone all those years ago, except for the 2 years I was overseas, and even then I went back to them when I returned, and now they’re pulling this petty ‘early termination’ crap because they can’t match the deal their competitor’s offering. Times are hard, and loyalty takes 2nd place to price I’m afraid.

So on Friday I filled out the cancellation form, and next weekend I'll sign a new contract with Vodacom, via the VodaShop. I thought that was the end of it. No way! This morning I received the following SMS:

"From Nashua Mobile at 01/06/2009 09:07 Your subscription discount of R50.00 expires on 01/06/2009. Please note that standard charges will now be applicable."

This discount was part of the agreement when I renewed my contract 2 years ago, so I'm pretty sure they can't change the terms, but it's just not worth the argument. 

Come on Nashua Mobile, you’re better than this. Keep your customers with good service and the best prices. Don’t resort to underhand tactics to try and keep your customers; you’ll lose every time!

Thanks for reading.