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.