Category Archives: Google

Google account hell

I’m currently on a big mission to sort my online life out.

I’m simplifying as much as I can. Shutting down sites, consolidating email accounts, deleting old social media guff I never use.

One thing I have been putting off is the Great Google Nightmare.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been using Gmail since it launched as an invite only service a decade ago. My email address, briggs.dave@gmail.com has been a trusty ally over that time. It’s never let me down. I, on the other hand, have strayed.

I didn’t stray far, to be fair. Instead, when I decided I needed an email address for my work, using my own domain name, I chose Google’s service. This is all fine and dandy, except that with Google’s email service comes a Google account. Just like my trusty Gmail account. Only different. I now have two.

I want to get rid of the Google email on my kindofdigital.com domain. Sorting out the email is the easy bit, set up a forward here, some filters and labels there, and I’m done.

But what about all the documents in the dave@kindofdigital.com Google account? The Google+ profile registered to dave@kindofdigital.com? All the apps and services I use that are tied to dave@kindofdigital.com? Apps I have purchased through the Play store with dave@kindofdigital.com?

Even my browser set up is tied to dave@kindofdigital.com and I am struggling to see how I can easily transfer this to my vanilla Gmail account.

I’m sure I will get this all sorted over time, with a bit of irritation and some foot stamping, no doubt. But here’s the moral:

Always use a vanilla Gmail account as your main Google identity. Don’t be tempted to use anything else.

Seriously. Save yourself a load of hassle.

Bringing an old telly back to life with a Chromecast

Google-ChromecastGoogle’s Chromecast is a neat little device that plugs into the back of a television via the HDMI port, and then is supplied with power through a standards mini-USB charger that you might use with a smartphone.

It then enables you to ‘cast’ content from another device – a laptop, tablet or smartphone – onto the television, assuming the app you are using on said device supports Chromecast.

They are relatively low cost devices – just £30, and work rather effectively. If you have an Android phone, for example, you can play television programmes, movies or YouTube videos on your television set, so you are not reduced to squinting at a tiny screen.

We had an old telly which didn’t have anywhere to go in the house as we had run out of TV points. We could have bought and plugged in a DVD player, perhaps – but who on earth watches DVDs?

Instead, the Chromecast works perfectly. We can watch Netflix and BBC iPlayer (to name just two services) on the big screen, all controlled via whatever device we happen to have to hand.

I hadn’t really thought before about how streaming services like the Chromecast can be seen to “liberate” older tech like televisions from having to be where there is a cable to connect them to the aerial on the roof.

Plus it means I can now watch the World Cup in bed, which has to be a good thing, right?

Google+ launches communities

Google+ is an interesting – if quiet – place. It’s not used by very many people, which is a shame, as the interface is rather nice and it features some really cool bits of technology.

Hangouts, for instance, are fantastic – on demand video conferencing which integrates neatly with Google’s other services likes Docs and so on.

However, because so few people are active there, it does feel a bit empty at times. When asked if organisations should use it as a space for engagement, I tend to say no – as time would be better spent working with the much larger existing communities on Twitter and Facebook.

Perhaps though Google+ is just a different space for doing different things. I wonder if it’s a better vehicle for collaboration than communication.

Take the new communities – basically the G+ version of Facebook Groups. You create your community, invite people in and then share updates, links, videos and so on just as you do in other similar spaces.

I’ve set up a ‘digital innovation’ community to test it out – do join in!

Here’s a video to explain more:

Communities are nicely integrated into other Google services – for example you can share links into your communities directly from Google Reader; and with a bit of fiddling can make a Google Doc editable by all members of a community. Of course, this being G+, you also have the ability to video conference via Hangouts whenever you want.

I have reservations about how useful G+ communities will be for public engagement activities. However, as I mentioned above, they are particularly suited I think to project working.

Indeed, the suite of tools that Google has made for collaboration, including Communities, the email based Groups, Docs, Hangouts, the wiki-like Sites – is fantastic and mostly free.

If you are a small organisation or team, and don’t have too many hangups about information security and so on, Google does pretty much everything you need to work smarter out of the box. Well worth having a play.

Thoughts on Google+

Having been playing with Google+ for a while, I’m starting to get to grips with things. I’m seeing it as a place to talk geeky stuff, where I won’t bore the large group of people I am friends with on Facebook who aren’t obsessed by the internet. Twitter remains my default place to share stuff online though. A few things have occurred to me that would improve the service:

1. Let me sort out my Google identity crisis

A few others have made this point – most consistently, Dan Harrison – but those of us that use Google to host our email using our own domains (ie my dave@kindofdigital.com email address is set up using Google services, and thus is a ‘Google Account’ in its own right) can be in a bit of a pickle.

Luckily I’m not the position that Paul Clarke found himself in, as I’ve always used a vanilla Gmail account for most of my interactions with Google. But it would be nice that those of us who are actually paying for the Google service get as full an experience as those using free accounts.

2. Find a way of making circles quicker

It’s got some lovely little visual tricks, but the circles interface just takes too long to organise. It’s also something that you can only get right after having used the service for a while – ie once you’ve already got hundreds of people in your circles and it’s too much of a pain to fix.

In other words, circles has got the technology pretty right, but the process isn’t great and Google needs to find a way of speeding it up.

3. Make better use of my other streams: email, docs, Reader

It strikes me that Google has a bunch of my other content and information that it could be making use of within the Google+ interface. After all, through Reader it knows what my favourite websites are, and which I pay most attention to. With Docs it knows who I probably work with, because I share documents with them.

It would be great if G+ became my Google service dashboard, where I can access all my own Google-stored data but also all the stuff shared by the people I know.

4. There is a distinction between +1ing something and sharing it, but it isn’t that pronounced

I guess the comparison to Twitter is that +1ing an item is like marking it as a favourite; and sharing is like retweeting. But Twitter is a very different beast to G+ and I’m often left wondering whether I should share, or +1 a bit of content. In the end, I usually don’t bother to do either.

5. Why on earth hasn’t Google killed off Buzz? It’s another potential confusion

Not much more to be said. Buzz was Google’s previous effort at doing something like Twitter… and not only have they not killed it off, they even include a user’s Buzz updates as a tab in their Google+ profiles. I don’t know why this is there as it appears to be a confusing duplication of effort and features.

Maybe all I want is FriendFeed?

Whilst I was thinking about all this, it made me wonder whether the grand sharing tool I seem to want Google+ to be might in fact exist, in the form of FriendFeed, the forgotten social sharing site bought by Facebook a few years ago.

I went and took a look, and lo! FriendFeed still seems to be running, albeit without much love. Here’s mine.

If you’re new to the site, it enables you to pull all your social content into one place (tweets, bookmarks, blogposts, Facebook statuses, shared Google Reader items, etc etc) and subscribe to other people’s feeds.

One downside to this is a bit of duplication (ie, if I post something on my blog, and then tweet a link to it, it’ll appear twice in my FriendFeed) – but that’s easy enough to overlook.

So I do wonder if, for Google+ to have something that sets it apart, looking back to FriendFeed might be a good idea.

Wave goodbye

Google Wave

So, Google Wave will soon be no more:

But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects. The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began. In addition, we will work on tools so that users can easily “liberate” their content from Wave.

I guess it was always a technology looking for a problem to solve. However, I did think they might have tried pushing it into organisations a bit before giving up – it seemed a potentially really powerful tool for collaboration amongst teams, and Wave hasn’t been a part of the Google Apps suite for that long.

Word is though that Google are working on a Facebook style social network and maybe some of the Wave stuff will make it into that.

I guess the other thing is that at least they are open sourcing bits of the code, so someone else might be able to pick it up and do something useful with it.

Thanks to Google, then, for innovating and trying new stuff publicly, and not being afraid to fail. A lesson to us all.

Google jokes

One of the things I like about Google is the way they try and inject a bit of humour into what they do. Being funny is a key part of internet culture, and Google’s occasional light-heartedness is a welcome break from other more po-faced tech companies.

Here’s a couple of examples:

1) Recursion

Search for ‘recursion’ on Google, and see the suggested result. It took me a couple of seconds to get it…

recursion

2) ASCII art

A real one for the geeks this. Seach for ASCII art on Google and see what happens to the logo…

ascii art

3) Anagrams

Search for the word anagram on Google, and it offers this suggestion – ho! ho!

anagram

4) World Cup

This one came to my attention today via Google’s Matt Cutts, who posted this to Twitter:

Matt Cutts

And here it is:

gooooal

Nice one!

Moving to Google Apps…and surviving!

Dave says: Paul is a director of Learning Pool, and thus my boss. When he offers to contribute a post to this blog, I don’t have to say yes, but it kind of makes sense to do so. As well as being someone who knows how to run a great business, Paul also has an understanding of big IT that I simply don’t, thus he is much better placed to write about this than me!

Everyone knows that Learning Pool is all about collaboration, sharing and saving money.

Over the last three years it has also been all about growing a busy and successful business too.

While most of us at #teamlovely just want to meet customers, sell business and do interesting projects, someone has to make sure the lights stay on and that our growing team can continue to work efficiently, no matter where they were.

A few months ago I realised that at least some of this responsibility was mine. I was sitting in an airport (can’t remember which one) unable to connect to our exchange server.Frustrated, I called our tech team and asked them what was up. They fixed the immediate issue but reminded me that the server we were using was

  1. old;
  2. underspecified;
  3. overworked.

Some joviality along the lines of ‘it should see my diary and see what overworked really is!’ later, I received a quote to replace our internal systems with the latest that Microsoft and Dell had to offer.

The response left me running straight into the arms of Google!

We implemented Google Apps in around five weeks and are using the service for email and documents. In the next few weeks we’ll also be moving to Google Sites, from Sharepoint, having trialled this extensively and successfully.

While the project was pretty straightforward, there were a few things to consider that we would have thought should be just easy:

  • How do you set up a LAN without an expensive piece of Microsoft kit and associated licencing? – Google have no good ideas about this so we’ve gone with a standard Windows Server workgroup (much to the displeasure of @ianmoran!);
  • How do you deploy updates to each PC? – answer is that you don’t so you’re expecting all your users to be diligent about keeping their kit up to date;
  • What about all that historical data? – there are a number of solutions for getting archived email data into the Google cloud. We found a real restriction with our upload speed which made this process a pain we could have done without.

And so to Google Apps…

The Good

  • Excellent support. The guys at Google listened to what we wanted to achieve and then in a very matter of face way did it;
  • You can save money. The total cost of ownership of a Google based approach is much lower than a traditional solution. We’ve spent around £6,000 on hardware and licenses. The alternative was a £35,000 project. While we will need to pay an annual subscription to Google, having to pay out less cash has been very welcome;
  • Collaboration – Google docs just works. Several people can collaborate on a document across the net in real time;
  • Google works offline – we didn’t really expect it to, but it does!
  • No more Sharepoint – while I’m sure Sharepoint is a valuable and well built tool, it became the subject of intense hatred at Learning Pool over the last few years. I guess we didn’t invest enough in the initial set up and training. Although my experience is that Google Sites is far better in terms of its ability to enable collaboration.

The Bad

  • Google is a work in progress. I can pretty much guarantee that if you see something you don’t like, the answer from Google will be “we’re fixing that”. On the one hand that makes me feel better about the approach we take at Learning Pool – I have no doubt some of our customers feel the same frustration. At least we know they are working on it I guess;
  • Collaboration requires a Google account – I think this will be a seriously limiting factor in the long run, particularly as we work with organisations who are mainly public sector;
  • We still use Outlook – much and all as we would love to get rid of this, we’re reliant on Outlook for integration with our CRM – something we just can’t live without. No doubt though that Google mail works best in the browser;
  • Managing PCs on our ‘network’ is now pretty difficult – over time this could become a real overhead but we’re working on it as best we can for now;
  • Google Spreadsheets – in my opinion this just doesn’t work right now – the functionality isn’t rich enough and its routinely too slow to use and so there’s no way we can leave Excel behind just yet;
  • Google sites don’t really support hierarchy – this means that all your sites exist at the same level and you need to stitch it together with some html yourself;
  • Search on Google sites isn’t security trimmed. If a user searches all sites they’ll get documents returned that they don’t have permission to. We did have a bit of a chuckle at how Google have mucked up the search function – they are working on it of course (release due in a few weeks!)

On the whole then I’d recommend Google Apps as a way forward for providing groupware for a small to medium sized enterprise like Learning Pool. We like the idea of software as a service and five weeks into the project, most things work just as well as before and some things work a lot better indeed.

Nice work Google (and the Learning Pool and Konnexion teams too of course!). Kenny, our Head of Tech, has written two posts covering the operational side of the big switch over on the LP blog.

Buzzin’ enterprise

Two interesting viewpoints on Google Buzz and its potential application behind the firewall, within organisations.

Firstly, Larry Dignan on ZDNet’s Between the Lines blog points out that perhaps Google has Sharepoint, not Twitter, in its sights:

The Google Buzz playbook will resemble the current Apps and Docs strategy. Aim Buzz at the smaller companies first since they are the low-hanging fruit. Large enterprises will stick with SharePoint for now until Google makes the ROI case over time like the company currently does with Exchange.

If Google Buzz becomes Google corporate Buzz it could be disruptive. Enterprises could potentially use it to save on Sharepoint licenses. It’s all about the collaboration.

But ReadWriteEnterprise questions how suitable Buzz will be in big organisations:

Google Apps has it own faults to work out, before Google Buzz can even be considered a viable service for the enterprise. The Google Buzz open architecture may be the difference though, creating real opportunities for customers to pull external data into its real-time environment.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out.