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Gmail, Don’t be a Yahoo!

In the 90’s I used to laugh at friends who all used Yahoo! as their personal email service. I did not understand how anyone could put up with the slow speeds of web-mail, and tried to convince them to install a decent email client, like Outlook, which is what most of them used in their corporate jobs.

Then things changed: Outlook grew into a bloated monster, it brought otherwise fairly speedy computers to a grinding halt and finding stuff in the archives of years of email became a gargantuan job. A new web-based email service came to rescue: Gmail was fast, well-organized, included productivity-boosters like labels and conversation-threading, and most importantly, you could not only search but also find old email in seconds! For this former Outlook-fan the switch was a no-brainer – in fact I ended up ditching almost all desktop software, moving online. (Gmail for mail and Zoho for most other tasks).

Life was good, I stayed productive and Gmail grew into a suite of productivity services by Google.  Too bad it’s breaking down – again…

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GOutlook. Gmail Back to Earth… in Search of Revenue.

Image credit: LifeHacker I’ve been long-time Gmail fan, having used it from the very early days, for almost 5 years now. The key reasons why I switched and have stuck with the service ever since were the productivity boosters, first of all:

  • Threaded conversations
  • Labels
  • Search

Google did to email what all new product teams should: throw away all known concepts, start from fresh, figure our what the system should really do, instead of delivering a customary system with minor improvements.  Instant success. Instant Customers.  No, correct that: instant users.  There is a difference.  Apparently not everyone likes “radically new”.

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Gmail Back to Earth – In Search of $, I Suppose…

Image credit: LifeHacker

Image credit: LifeHacker

I’ve been long-time Gmail fan, having used it from the very early days, for almost 5 years now.  The key reasons why I switched and have stuck with the service ever since were the productivity boosters, first of all:

  • Threaded conversations
  • Labels
  • Search

I also must say that for all other Web Office needs I prefer ( and always have) Zoho’s products.  Now, take that with a grain of salt, I do have a bias, since Zoho are is the exclusive Sponsor of CloudAve, my main blogging gig, and before launching CloudAve, I had been a long-time Zoho Advisor. Being an Advisor is a controversial role: sometimes your Clients listen, sometimes they don’t.

I must admit for a long time I was going nuts trying to convince Zoho to throw out most of their email product and radically revamp it to offer Gmail-like benefits, mostly threaded conversations.   Why didn’t they get it?  I was frustrated.  But the two things happened.  I looked at the email (both Zoho and Gmail ) accounts of several people and was surprised that even the Gmail version showed only 1-2-3 items in a thread.  My folders labels are full of threads with 30+ entries each.  I’m a productivity-maniac freelancer, part of a few hyper-active discussion group, but not everyone’s usage pattern is like mine…

In fact I also had to realize that I don’t really represent Zoho’s paying customer base.  Sure, freelancers, bloggers..etc can generate a lot of hype and get enthusiastic about change, but the real money is in those “boring” businesses that are willing to pay, but don’t really want to change.  Corporate employees live in Outlook, whether they like it or not is almost irrelevant, they (or their employers) resent change.  So Zoho decidedly resisted turning everything upside down, staying “boring” for a long while, because this is what customers told them to do.  (Zoho has this strange philosophy about business: they don’t want to be coolest company. Just a profitable one.)

Of course over time they added conversation threads and labels, albeit implemented less radically than Gmail – it’s a mix, you can have either traditional or conversation views, and both labels and folders.   But this story is not about Zoho – it’s about Gmail.  Funny changes are happening in Gmail-land.  They added folders, then improved them.  Not that it makes a lot of difference – while for some it is a religious war, I’ve always said:

All folders are labels, but not all labels are folders.

Really. Read the details here.   And now Henry Blodget reports: Google To Change Gmail, Add “Normal Email” Option Instead Of Just “Conversations”.

OMG!  Is that the End of the World, or what?  Not really… I suppose it’s all about financial realities and what the real world wants: you can be innovator, but if you want to sell, you better listen to your customers.  (For clarification: customers are those who pay.  That’s not me ).   Welcome back to Earth, Gmail!   I for one am happy the “new” old way is just an option and conversations remain, otherwise I’d have to switch again – and switching is a major pain.

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Now Tell the Difference Between Folders and Labels

If you really think about it, there’s not much of a difference.  They are more or less the same.

Folders are a very old metaphor, as old as email and documents are.  Early email systems physically kept folders in separate files, and even when they were no longer separate files, basic functions like sort, search were limited within individual folders.  We got boxed in to physical folders.

The big break away from this, introduced by Gmail’s label concept was flat storage of email with only logical labels – but because labels were no longer physical containers, you could assign any item (email) to multiple folders.

The more traditional “folder-camp” was missing some of the good old attributes: drag-and-drop, nested folders (aka hierarchies)..etc – and lo and behold, little by little they all go it, the final step being the release of nested Gmail folders today.  Now tell me the difference between Folders and Labels.   They are one and the same, Labels are just more flexible Folders.

Actually, and to take this a few steps further, I’ve said before:

All folders are labels, but not all labels are folders.

But of course it’s all semantics … and I don’t want to quote my posts from a year ago … I suggest you read it (yes, shameless self-promo) because in the original post I laid out quite a few concepts for the improvement of folders / labels / tags .. whatever we call them.

I’m glad to see some of those concepts have become reality….

(P.S. Zoho – exclusive sponsors of CloudAve-  have been offering both folders and labels for a while in their Mail service, albeit kept separately.)

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Your Honor, You’re Clueless. (Judge Orders Google to Shut Down Email Account)

Rocky Mountain Bank might as well be called Royal Sc***up Bank.  An employee emailed loan documentation to the wrong email address.  Bad, but not unseen mistake. However, he also mistakenly attached documents that should not have been sent to anyone in the first place:

The attachment contained confidential information on 1,325 individual and business customers that included their names, addresses, tax identification or Social Security numbers and loan information.

After unsuccessful attempts at contacting the recipient, the Bank asked Google to reveal the account holder’s identity, only to learn Google will not do so without a court order (as per Privacy rules).

On Wednesday U.S. District Court Judge James Ware in California issued an order that requires Google to reveal the user’s identity.  But he did not stop there: he also ordered Google to inactivate the Gmail account in question.  Let’s just say at this point nobody knows if the account is even active (the owner did not respond to bank emails).  It could be dormant, a black hole where all the mistakenly sent bank documents disappeared.

Or it could be a real live email account, one that the owner’s every day life, business depends on.  Losing one’s email account is a serious disruption.

“It’s outrageous that the bank asked for this, and it’s outrageous that the court granted it,” says John Morris, general counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology. “What right does the bank have and go suspend the email account of a completely innocent person?”

I wonder if the judge realized what he just did.  You see, I meet people day by day in good old-fashioned professions whose life does not depend on email access.  To them email is still a once-a-week affair to communicate with remote friends and relatives. Sadly, most physicians fall in this category.  Oh, and I knew a high-tech VP who had his email printed by his assistant…   Perhaps His Honor belongs in this group, too, and really had no clue about the harsh consequences of shutting down one’s email unknown?

By the way, what exactly is being protected by killing that email account?  If the account owner intended to use the information in any way, it could have been downloaded by now.

But most likely, it’s just an innocent and busy person with heavy email traffic (like yours truly), who sometimes does not get to open unsolicited email from unknown persons for days or weeks.

20th century justice in action – again.

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Google Replaces Beta Tag With Price Tag on Apps

Just a short note:

Guess who will welcome GooGreed with a big smile?  Zoho.

Update:  TechCrunch has the clarification from Google:

In experimenting with a number of different landing page layouts, the link to Standard Edition was inadvertently dropped from one of the variations. We are in the process of restoring it and you should see it soon. We have no intention of eliminating Google Apps Standard Edition, and are sorry for the confusion.

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Google Finally Ends the Folder vs. Label War – What’s Next? Find the Answer Here.

Bear with me for this somewhat long post, for I am not only discussing the sweeping changes Gmail made today, but in the end will also tell you what they are going to do next year – or perhaps after that.

Gmail Changes

The Gmail label changes announced today and to be released to accounts slowly (you may not see them yet, I only have them on one account) are ones that I’ve long been waiting for, and that most reviewers seem to underestimate, thinking of them as mere cosmetic or usability changes, i.e. “drag and drop”, “right-side labels retired”..etc.  We can always trust good old Lifehacker to call it what it is: Gmail Gives Labels the Folder Treatment.

Folders vs. Labels

Because they are. Folders, that is. Just very few people realize that.  The Folders vs. Labels debate is older than the tenancy debates we discussed recently, with two deeply religious camps (apologies for the extreme characterization):

Continue reading

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Gmail’s Undo Send Isn’t Really Undo, Just Like Multiple Inboxes Were Not Really Multiple Inboxes

First of all, I love Gmail, it’s my one-and-only email system.  And I’m certainly glad to see the ever accelerating rate of enhancements, whether “official” or just the Labs variety.  But oh, please, can we have some control here and call features what they really are?

First there was the multiple inboxes announcement.  Nice. Except that it wasn’t. Multiple inboxes, that is. Think about it: that would defy logic – unless we’re talking about handling multiple email accounts, which is clearly not the case with Gmail.  This feature is multi-pane viewing – no more, no less.

Today we’re getting another new feature: Undo Send. Except that it really isn’t. Undo Send, that is.

Undo Send is what Outlook has offered for ages: you can actually recall a message that had already been sent, provided the recipient has not opened it yet, and you’re both on Exchange.  What Gmail offers now is a momentary delay of 5 seconds, during which you may just realize you’re emailing the wrong Smith or Brown, and hit the panic Undo button. It’s not really undo, since the message was never sent in the first place – Gmail was holding it for 5 seconds, if you had enabled this option.

Of course, as just about all TechCrunch commenters note, 5 seconds is not enough, the delay might as well be configurable.  Something like this:

Oh, I forgot.  It’s from that other Web-mail system (the one that actually has multiple inboxes, too).

UpdateMG Siegler over @ VentureBeat agrees this is not real  unsend,  and he remembers AOL had a real unsend/recall feature, just like the Exchange theme I described above.

Update #2:  Oh, please… per Wired, Google already plans configurability, but all you get to pick is 5 or 10 seconds.

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Resistance is Futile: We Will Be Assimilated – by Google.

videob6d091fb9400.jpg

Two seemingly unrelated items:

Today Hitwise reported on how Google Maps is catching up on Mapquest, which once was the king of online mapping.

Perhaps more important than just the numbers is the source of traffic:  61% of Google Maps traffic comes from links placed in organic Google Search results.  Contrast that to Mapquest, where 8 out of 10 hits come from searches on the Mapquest brand itself.  Translation: Mapquest is only used by its already dwindling user base, while Google Maps gains steadily, since Google owns Search.  The writing is clearly on the wall.

The second story: Google Gmail Within Striking Distance Of Hotmail – reported Information Week a few days ago.  Wait, wasn’t Gmail supposed to be email for the geeks only, lagging behind the masses of Yahoo and Hotmail users?

Between September 2007 and September 2008, Gmail’s visitor total grew 39%, from 18.8 million to 26 million, ComScore figures indicate. Windows Live Hotmail during this period saw its visitor share decline 4%, from 46.2 million to 44.6 million.

If Google’s Gmail growth rate rises to, say, 46% over 2009, it could reach approximately 43 million unique U.S. visitors by the end of the year. And if Windows Live Hotmail continues to bleed visitors at a rate of, say, 3%, it will finish the year with around 42 million unique visitors per month.

So Gmail may overtake Hotmail by the end of this year, and if the trend continues, it might overtake Yahoo by the end of 2011, concludes Information Week.  Note, these are site visits, not account numbers, but account numbers include all the throw-away, long forgotten dormant accounts that both Yahoo and Hotmail has in abundance.  All these email systems being web-based, visitor stats are a better representation of actual usage.

The third story (yes, I promised two, but can’t stop now):  The Google Power Meter., currently being tested by Google employees.  These are smart devices you plug in all around the house, they will report back to the mothership and you get a nice dashboard aimed at helping you making the right energy choices.

I would certainly like to know just how “smart” they can be – any chance of bi-directional communication?  I can’t help but remember the mail campaign from PG&E, my utility company.  They are handing out $25 to anyone who allows them to install a smart thermostat free of charge.  The catch?  At times when consumption reaches peak levels, the utility company can remotely throttle back your air conditioner.  So now you see why I’m hesitant about these Google electricity meters.  Could they be switched from passive reporting to regulating one day?

The fourth story (gee, I really have to stop soon): An opinion piece on Bloomberg discusses how the health provisions slipped into the stimulus bill will effect every one of us in the US:

Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors.  But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446).

Ouch. I’m all for electronic medical records, but I don’t want them to be turned into a Big Brother function.  And I don’t want a computer program to decide on my medical treatment.  But I’ve just complained about the Sorry State of Health 2.0: neither Google Health nor Microsoft HealthVault are up to the job yet.  I want them to get there, and I trust they will (at least one of them).  I don’t want them to run my health care, just help me and my providers manage it – but fear of potential misuse won’t stop my desire for progrees.

Do you see the trend here?  Google is unstoppable.  They want to manage all data, but our life is increasingly all about data and what we do with it.  The former Borg in Redmond is now a toothless veteran, slowly dwindling away – Google is the New Borg.  Resistance is futile.  We’re being assimilated.  And we like it.  Enjoy the video: (better quality if you click through)

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(This post originally appeared @ CloudAve.  To stay abreast of Clod Computing, SaaS news and analysis, grab the CloudAve feed here.)