Tag Archives: Web applications

Google’s Missteps

By Jeremy Wagstaff

This one needed some correcting, for which apologies, and also, unsurprisingly, attracted some opprobrium. It’s Google Notebook, not Notes, and Jaiku’s founders are Finnish, not Swedish.

I’m a big fan of Google. A big fan. But I’ve finally realized what its problem is. It doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing.

Take its recent decision to close something called Google Wave.

Google Wave was introduced to much fanfare back in May 2009. I can’t really describe what it is, but I can tell you what Google called it. Email killer, a new version of the web, etc etc. “Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today,” said one of its creators.

Then, a few weeks back, they killed it. CEO Eric Schmidt said: “We liked the (user interface) and we liked a lot of the new features in it,” he was quoted as saying,  “(but) didn’t get enough traction, so we are taking those technologies and applying them to new technologies that are not announced.”

Schmidt explained Google’s policy like this: “Our policy is we try things. We celebrate our failures. This is a company where it is absolutely OK to try something that is very hard, have it not be successful, take the learning and apply it to something new.”

The point is not that Wave was rubbish. Or great. It’s that we never really got to try it out. When Schmidt says that “we tend to sort of release them and then see what happens” he’s telling the truth. Only it’s not really something he should be too proud about.

Quite a few of us worked quite hard to make Wave part of our lives. Not many of us, admittedly, but enough. Enough to be somewhat peeved to find it’s not going to be around much longer.

This isn’t the first time Google has done this. Google Notes Notebook was a way to collect snippets from the web and save them in the browser. Great, but Google killed that one off. They bought and killed off something called Jaiku, a better-than-Twitter service developed by some guys in Sweden Finland (thanks, Gabe,Adewale Oshineye and others). Of course, like Wave, they don’t actually shoot these things dead, they just go to some weird twilight zone where new people can’t sign up and existing users look kinda passé.

Like people who overstay a party that never really took off.

Who’s going to continue using a product that could disappear at any minute?

This, arguably, is fine when you’re not actually paying for the product. Well, not directly. But what happens when you shell out $500 for it?

That’s what happened when fools bought into Google’s foray into the cellphone world with their fancy Nexus One phone. What it called the Superphone, with plans to make lots more. “Imagine a thousand gphones!” said Schmidt

So people went out and bought it and yay! less than a year later Google closes down the online store where you can buy the thing and then, a few weeks after that, said that it’s not making any more phones.

Of course, Mr. Schmidt put a positive spin on it all.

But it’s not good enough.

I was one of those people who bought the phone because I love Google’s email service, its photo service, its online documents service, its RSS reader, its chat program, its maps. Its search engine. Pretty much everything it puts out. And I thought to myself: all this in a phone, made by the same guys, it’ll be heaven!

Only it wasn’t. The phone is good, but not great. I still use it, but my hope was that Google would be serious about all its products and pulling them together into one seamless service.

Never happened. And now, clearly, never will. Yes, Google make the operating system—the Android OS—so they still have a dog in the fight, but clearly they’ve decided that spending more time on the cellphone thing isn’t worth it for them.

Now these are the gripes of someone who feels a bit like a mug. But they’re also the ramblings of someone who feels there’s a fundamental problem with Google’s approach to the post-search world.

They don’t seem to get it. Buzz, their version of Twitter, is awful. It ignores the fundamentals of the service: it’s personal while also being impersonal, it’s chatty while at the same time having to be succinct. It’s not the same as email, and the people we share tweets with are not, necessarily, the people we email. So putting it together with Gmail was dumb.

Google has got to tread carefully. It’s not really had a hit for a while—since Gmail, probably, back in 2004. Yes, its Google Docs are good, but they’re not taking over the world. And the things they thought might take over the world—such as Wave—are poorly thought out, poorly promoted, poorly supported, and killed off with an insouciance that doesn’t only upset those people like me who took time and effort to build them into our workflow. It’ll also upset two other key groups: business users and investors.

No business user is going to start playing around with a Google product thinking it might be good for their company, because who knows when Mr.. Schmidt is going to pull out his hunting knife? And investors? Well, we’ve seen plenty of tech behemoths who were one- or two-hit wonders.

It’s not time up yet for Google. They’ve just launched a sort of phone service that could be a Skype killer, but who’s going to ditch Skype in their office for something that might not be around in a year’s time? They not only need to come up with good new products. They need to find ways to convince their users they’re not just playthings, given and taken back on a whim.

Windows. How Much Pain Can You Take?

If you’re still happy with your Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Millennium Edition then you’re on your own. Microsoft won’t help you out after July 11, 2006, when it ends public and technical support. This doesn’t just mean not having someone to talk to on the phone. It means no more security updates, too, effectively rendering these operating systems useless. It’s a bit like Mad Max shoving the weak and helpless members of the Thunderdome community out beyond the gates at the mercy of those really ugly people whose name I can’t remember. Maybe they didn’t have a name. Maybe this analogy isn’t as good as I thought it was when I started writing it.

Anyway. Microsoft says it is “is ending support for these products because they are outdated and these older operating systems can expose customers to security risks.” Well, yes, but isn’t this because you’re not updating them anymore?  “We recommend,” Microsoft goes on, “that customers who are still running Windows 98 or Windows Me upgrade to a newer, more secure Microsoft operating system, such as Windows XP, as soon as possible.” Of course it’s natural to suggest your latest product is the best one, but it always makes me chuckle when Microsoft say this. You can almost hear their salesmen at work with recalcitrant customers:

“Why did you buy Windows 98? What were you thinking?”
“Well, at the time you said it was great. You said it was the best thing ever.”
“That was then, buddy, this is now. Now it’s the worst thing ever, and you should get our best operating system ever, namely XP, right up until Vista is ready and it becomes the worst thing ever. Then you should buy Vista, which by then will be …”
“The best thing ever?”
“You got it.”
“Shouldn’t I wait for Vista, then?”
“I wouldn’t do that, buddy.”
“Why not?”
“Well, er, frankly we’re not sure when it’s coming out.”
“So you know when products die, but you don’t know when new ones are coming out.”
“That’s right. So you want this XP or not?”

Actually, there are lots of things going on here. There’s the fact that people are so excited about Web applications — programs you run from your browser, rather than as a bigger separate program — that there’s a question mark about the need for Windows. You can run a Web application from any operating system (and most browsers.) And even if you are using Windows, it doesn’t really matter which one — it won’t really improve the quality of the Web application you’re using. So if you can’t get the user excited about the operating system, at least you can get them scared about security. That might prod them to upgrade.

There’s also the fact that operating systems just aren’t as exciting as they used to be anymore. Windows 95 had people queueing up around the block. Since then users have had to be bullied, enticed and scared into upgrading. Sure, XP is better than 98. Actually a lot better. But better for who? For what? A lot of folk, it seems, are still quite happy with Windows 98. If you’re using a computer more than 5 years old, it makes more sense to use 98, because XP will limp along. If you have an office full of computers, you might not want to splash out on XP licenses for all of them, in which case 98 makes sense too. If you’re the kind of person that just doesn’t feel the crazy urge to throw away your computer every few years, chances are you’re still using Windows 98. In fact, according to anecdote, there are still a lot of them out there. They don’t tend to show up in statistics because they’re not often, or at all, on the Internet. (Think old folk; think fixed incomes; think people who aren’t gaga over the whole Web 2.0 thang as we are.)

Then there’s my own pet theory. Most people don’t install operating systems. They just buy a new computer with it already installed. So: Hardware manufacturers are so upset that Vista won’t be out for Christmas — meaning that millions of people won’t bother buying a new computer then because there’s no new operating system to run it — that Microsoft decided to retire 98, Me and all the other slowcoaches, knowing that people won’t “upgrade” their software, they’ll upgrade their computer.

Microsoft has tried to shove Windows 98, and Me (not me, but Windows Me, the operating system) out to the knackers’ yard before. In early 2004 they backed off retiring support for these versions of Windows hoping to keep customers from wandering across the street to Linux. One piece on ZDNet back then quoted a Microsoft senior marketing manager as saying of customers, and I quote: “The more they are used to working one way, the more [it is] likely they will want to continue working that way, so it plays to our advantage. If they move to another operating system, they will need to rethink and relearn. For some people, that is painful. This is also why so many people are resisting an upgrade from Windows 98.” I love this argument. Turns out it’s all about pain. “Our software is so hard to figure out,” the pitch goes, “it actually causes our users pain. We’re counting on this pain to keep our customers. Do you want our pain or someone else’s pain? We’re going to get them hooked, and then they figure the pain they’re used to is better than the pain they’re not. Of course one day we’ll make it impossible for them not upgrade, but by then they’ll be so used to the pain, they would prefer a little extra pain than to switch to another vendor. Which would cause them even more pain.”

That day has come. Paid incident support and critical security updates for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Me will end on July 11, 2006. No other security updates will follow after this date. You’re on your own, buddy.  Good luck out there.

98P.S. Actually, not entirely. There is a Microsoft web page that is dedicated to Windows 98 users. But it hasn’t been updated since October 31, 2002, and is it a coincidence that the only photo on that page is of someone in a d’oh moment, where it looks like they just lost all their files or had a major security breach on their Windows 98 computer? Talk about subliminal messages.

 
 
 
 

The Merits Of Online Publishing

Jason Fried of 37 Signals, the guys behind web applications like Basecamp and Tada List and Backpack , have published a book on how to build web apps. And they’ve proven a point — that publishing online can be the smart way to go. Jason tells me they’ve sold 4,000 downloadable digital copies of their new book Getting Real in the first week — at $19 a copy, or $49 for a site licence that allows users to make up to 10 copies for co-workers.

That’s $85,000 in pure profit, Jason says. Which I have to say is pretty good. I can’t imagine the same thing would happen, or does happen, for every tome. I asked Jason why he thought the numbers were so high. Here’s his response:

  • It’s easy. buy it now, get it now. you just download the PDF
  • we’ve been talking about our Getting Real process for a long time on our blog, and now people can get the whole thing in a $19 book
  • Lots of interest in how we work. How we’ve been able to build 5 products, write a book, and write Ruby on Rails in 2 years with only 7 people

Interesting. In other words, if a book really adds value to something that has already attracted a lot of interest, you have a ready audience. Even if you keep a blog, and tell everyone what you’re doing and how to do it, there will still be people interested enough to buy the book to read more. And $19 isn’t cheap: That’s a hardback book where I come from, but somehow online, being able to just grab it in PDF in a second, somehow makes the price seem reasonable. As Jason puts it:

I think there’s a big story here… The idea that authors with audiences don’t need publishers anymore. You can take your message direct to your audience. AND you own the rights to your work.

Opera Gets Widgetized

The Opera browser continues to impress, even as it becomes less and less relevant in the face of the mighty Firefox. This week Opera’s preview puts widgets on stage according to CNET :

Opera Software on Tuesday plans to release a second preview version of Opera 9, the next version of its namesake Web browser. For the first time, the new version will include support for so-called widgets, Opera representative Thomas Ford said. Widgets are essentially small browser windows that display information taken from the Internet on a user’s desktop. The notion is similar in concept to the widget idea that Apple Computer uses in the Dashboard feature of Mac OS X.

“It is really a big jump for us into Web applications,” Ford said. “They give people the information they want right on the desktop. Even if it is a Web page, people don’t have to go to the browser to see it.”

Actually Windows users have had access to widgets for a while, via Klips and Konfabulator, now bought and rebranded by the folks at Yahoo! as straight Widgets. I’m a big fan of widgets but I find I don’t use them as much as I should. It’ll be interesting to see how Opera handles it. The preview version also includes support for BitTorrent, the file distribution protocol.

The Moleskine Report, Part II

Continuing to add material that I could not include, or could not include much of, in my WSJ.com, piece (which comes out today), here’s the second emailed reply that I thought might interest readers. It’s from Mike Rohde, a graphic and web designer, working for the international engineering and web services firm MakaluMedia, and I include his reply in its entirety because it’s very interesting:

I work remotely from home with colleagues in Germany, Spain, France and Ireland, helping design and building web applications, web sites for small & medium-sized firms and corporate identity work.

I manage projects with my colleagues and clients via email, IM chat, voice over IP, phone and web, from my home office. So as you can see I work pretty digitally during the day.

Personally I am quite digitally oriented as well, writing a weblog, reading many weblogs, using email, chat and VOIP with international friends. Specifically, I have text and VOIP chats with one friend living in the UK on a weekly basis via Apple iChat.

I was introduced to PCs and technology as a teen, when my dad explored his interest in computers. I now see this was critical to the way I work now, as my experimentation and use of computers then, reduced the fear of technology very early, and gave me the sense that I could bend technology to my needs.

My higher education was focused on graphic design. Following graduation, I spent 9 years as a print designer and system manager for a design studio, moving into web design in the late 90s. In 1998 I began working with MakaluMedia, remotely from my home office.

As you know I have an interest in sketching with Moleskines; I also use a Miquelrius sketchbook for generating ideas and layouts for my business activities, like design ideas, logo concepts and so on.

However, after some thought, I chose to use a digital approach for recording my business diary, which I have found works quite well. Further, I enjoy using paper diaries to record personal thoughts and observations, mainly because I enjoy the tactile feel of paper and pen.

So, I enjoy both digital and analog means of recording thoughts, depending upon the use and context. Hopefully that provides you with a good starting point about me and my approach. 🙂

Here are my answers to the questions you have posed:

What do you use, exactly, in digital and paper terms?
How do you use them?

Digital:
———–
1. Business Diary: I keep a business journal as a plain text document on my Mac Powerbook. There I record MakaluMedia related thoughts, web links and comments of clients and colleagues. I separate entries by date and archive each month’s diary to dated plain text files (Makalu-Diary-2004-12.txt). The current month’s diary is synchronized to my palmOne Tungsten E PDA via DataViz DocumentsToGo.

2. Project Specific Notes: These kept in DayLite, a networked Mac OS X business application very much like ACT! for PC (http://www.marketcircle.com/). Notes relative to projects recorded in my business diary and emails are copied into DayLite as notes for access by myself and my MakaluMedia colleagues.

3. Business & Personal Links: I store interesting business and personal web bookmarks at my del.icio.us account (http://del.icio.us/rohdesign) and also in the Safari browser on my Mac.

4. Personal Blog: This is my public forum for thoughts, ideas, reflections, designs, sketches and whatever else seems pertinent to my personal and business life. I try to be encouraging, inspiring, humorous, serious here, but the entries are definitely for public consumption. I do share personal details but have an internal gut feel for where the line ought to be.

Because I built a reputation writing the Palm Tipsheet for many years (it was sold in ’03), many of my longstanding blog readers are Palm users who came from that newsletter. I do like to discuss mobile tech, but intentionally explore other topics, because I think life is broader than technology.

5. Personal Notes & Sketches: I also occasionally write notes (Memo Pad) or make digital sketches (Note Pad) with my palmOne Tungsten E, which are then synchronized to my Mac Powerbook.

Paper (Analog):
———————-
1. Business Concepts & Sketches: Stored in my Miquelrius gridded notebook. This is the place were I start ideas going, work out concepts (visual or textual) and sketch layouts for websites or logos. Often my sketches will be scanned and presented to clients and colleagues to show concepts or direction before I flesh out ideas on the computer.

2. Personal Sketches: Small Moleskine sketchbook for sketching (e.g. proj: exhibition sketchtoons), and a small Moleskine gridded notebook for ideas and concepts I come up with (e.g. ideas for home or personal projects, dream tech concepts, etc.).

3. Personal Diary: Small Italian-made notebook for recording thoughts of the day, reflections and goals. Usually I enter thoughts at night in bed, or at the café over coffee in this diary. Entries are not regular (daily) but rather entered when I have the need or urge to get something down.

(Note: I can provide scans from my paper sources if they are helpful)

Why still use paper?

Refuge & Escape from the Digital World. Paper is a refuge from my very digital lifestyle. I spend quite a bit of time on my Mac (at work and personally), so time with a nice pen, rich black ink or smooth pencil lead on crisp paper, are very much an escape from bits and pixels.

Immediacy. The immediacy of paper is very gratifying. I can knock out several concept sketches in the time it might take to fiddle around with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop on just one tight drawing. Further, immediacy and looseness of ink or pencil on paper lets me explore with more latitude. I find that once I move to the computer, my ideas naturally tighten up and loose their loose qualities.

No batteries required. I love that my sketchbooks require no battery or wall connection. If the power goes dead, I can still work with my sketchbook and pen. The simplicity of a book and pen keeps me from getting hung up on technical issues as often pop up carrying a laptop and peripherals to support it, or choosing which café has WiFi so I can remain connected.

Portability. When I need to be creative, I just grab my sketchbook and head for a local café or library — the ideas just seem to flow. I also like that a sketchbook can be kept in a pocket at all times, without regard to cold or heat, or location. Sketchbooks can also take a beating better than techy gadgets. 🙂

Any particular Eureka moment on using paper?

Probably about a year ago I started realizing that I was using sketches less that I had in the past for my business design work at MakaluMedia. I decided to focus on making sketching an integrated part of my work. Since integrating sketching I’ve noticed my creativity has improved greatly.

Are you alone, or does everyone you know follow the same practice?

As I work alone from my home office, I can only comment on my own methods directly, though the posts I have made related to use of paper sketchbooks and diaries have brought interesting comments from other digital folks who also integrate paper into their lives. Mane are Moleskine fans like me, others feel that paper offers them options not easily available digitally.

Do you get odd looks for using paper?

Quite to the contrary — people who see my business or personal sketchbooks are always interested in having a look at them, and comment how they wish they could draw. I encourage them to give it a try, because a paper sketchbook or journal are just tools to get your mind working creatively.

Do you think paper and digital might merge, a laLogitech’s io Pen, or is that the wrong way of looking at things?

I think there is an overlap. I have not used a Wacom tablet for some time, but am actually considering one now, to see what options it might offer me on the digital side of things. I do think there is a wide open market for digital tools which work in conjunction with analog sketching and notes, such as the IO pen. I would love to try the IO pen as well.

Thanks, Mike, for such a long and interesting answer.