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Is Your Online Content Really Yours?

Industry Analyst and fellow Enterprise Irregular Josh Greenbaum had a shocking discovery:

…the Terms of Service posted on the Google Docs and Spreadsheets site assigns content rights of anything saved on Doc and Spreadsheets to Google. It’s almost too incredible to believe, so here’s the wording from the mighty Google maw itself:

“… you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services…”

His conclusion:

I’ve said it before – Google is the new evil empire – but now I really am beginning to believe it. I know that user agreements are typically ignored by most users, but anyone in the corporate world who ignores this risks seeing their IP in a Google marketing campaign, or worse.

All I can say is this: Are they out of their minds?

Unlike Josh, I’m not sure this is part of Google’s Evil Master Plan, more a case of careless wording. Google’s very own Privacy Policy spells out more proper intent:

Files you create with Google Docs & Spreadsheets may, if you choose, be read, copied, used and redistributed by people you know or, again if you choose, by people you do not know. Information you disclose using the chat function of Google Docs & Spreadsheets may be read, copied, used and redistributed by people participating in the chat. Use care when including sensitive personal information in documents you share or in chat sessions, such as social security numbers, financial account information, home addresses or phone numbers.

It’s all about warning me and you, users, to be careful about protecting our content, which to me would be contrary to the “Evil Plan”. I think in this case Dennis Howlett is right, there are inconsistencies between the legal terms of various Google Services, that’s all:

I leave it to the lawyerly brethern to chew over this lot but as an advisor to business decision makers, I don’t need a lawyer to tell me this is an unholy mess where my rights are unclear and where my privacy is at risk. Unlike Josh, I find it hard to believe Google wants part ownership of my data. It wants to send contextual advertising. To that extent, it needs to analyze and understand what’s going on in the things I commit to GAPE. The conclusion I’ve come to is that like so much that comes out of Google, it is half baked and poorly thought through.

In the above Dennis refers to Google Apps for the Enterprise. Now, Google and other online services are certainly targeted to small businesses, too (some more than others), which will look at usability, convenience, cost, and don’t typically comb through legal documents. This is not very reassuring. In fact it got me outright worried – are my friends at Zoho equally lax about legalities? I’m using their services and never bothered to check the TOS. Ignorant, I know – but you see, I am a Very Small Business.

My worries only lasted 5 minutes, until I found this in Zoho’s Privacy Policy:

We assure you that the contents of your Account will not be disclosed to anyone and will not be accessible to employees of AdventNet. Neither do we process the contents of your Account for serving targeted advertisements.

It’s affirmative, plain and simple, black and white: does not take a lawyer to decipher Drooling. This may very well be one of the differentiators I’ve hinted at before. Case closed.

Further reading: CNET/News.com, Open The Dialogue , Read/WriteWeb, CyberNet.

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Zoho Start Integrates Several Applications Under the Same Hood

It’s Web Office Week at Read/WriteWeb, and Richard opens with a historical overview of Web Office developments starting from 2005. Like him, I was an early user of Writely, which later became Google Docs – but soon after Writely there were several other point applications, and by March 2006 I felt I was “losing the race” – too many apps, hard to keep track, my data fragmented in million places. The solution came a few months later:

While one by one most of their applications are comparable to at least another web-based application, I am not aware of any other company offering such a complete suite, with that level of support and the realistic prospect of integrating the applications soon. For me the choice is obvious: Zoho is my Office 2.0 Suite.

Fast-forward a good year, and today we’re seeing the launch of Zoho Start, which brings several Zoho Apps under a single page. (You’d think with the Office 2.0 Conference just a week away they’d reserve announcements for the conference – I suppose this means there is still enough ammunition for next weekWink).

For now Zoho Start includes your text documents (Writer), spreadsheets (Sheet) and presentations (Show). You can organize your information across document types into folders and tag them (mouse over any item and a pull-down arrow appears, with action items including tagging). Of course you can filter to only view spreadsheets or presentations, text documents, or All. Search finds documents independent of type, too, and this will be particularly important as Zoho continues to integrate more applications into the Start page, eventually including Mail, too. The Zoho Apps icon in the upper right corner provides access to other applications, including those not (yet) integrated into Start.

You can switch between list view (above) to box view, which segments your documents into separate boxes based on the application that created them. For appearance I prefer this view, and it works well with relatively few applications and documents.

I do believe that as one’s online document depository grows, lists, boxes, browsing titles become less and less helpful. We’ll create and store information online, and the document format, the application used to record our thoughts becomes less relevant. It’s just digital information findable by using search, clicking on tags, or organizing them into logical folders. I could also see the flow of textual information organized into a wiki, extended by spreadsheet and presentation capabilities.

Zoho Start will continue to be improved. Eventually I envision Mail, Calendar, Task abilities added, and at that point a more dynamic, time and task-focused view might be appropriate, with information “buried” in docs, sheets, presentations..etc “hiding” under the cover yet easy to pull up by search.

(Disclosure: I’m an Advisor to Zoho)

Related posts: Read/WriteWeb, Mashable, CenterNetworks, Wired, Blognation, Between the Lines, Webware, CyberNet News, Zooomr, Insider Chatter, Lifehacker.

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Google & Zoho: Friend or Foe?

When Zoho introduced the offline version of their word processor, Zoho Writer, no commentators (including yours truly) missed the chance to point out the irony that the solution is based on Google Gears, while Google’s own competing Docs do not have this capability yet.

Zoho, which competes head-on with Google Docs & Spreadsheets, managed to launch offline functionality on their product before Google did. The fact that they are using Google software to do this makes the story somewhat ironic. (TechCrunch)

it’s very ironic that Zoho Writer has incorporated off-line features before its competitor, Google Docs, did. And by using Google Gears software developed by Google itself! (Proud Geek)

Donna Bogatin @ Insider Chatter went further:

What IS up with the would be Microsoft Office killer, Google Apps? Chief Googler Eric Schmidt proclaims “Search, Ads and Apps” is the new Google worldwide domination motto, but he is helping competitors Sun StarOffice AND Zoho attempt to steal Microsoft’s thunder, while Google Office remains Microsoft Office killer MIA.

First, Google subsidizes free downloads of Sun’s supposed Microsoft Office replacement via its Google Pack.

Now, Google Gears powers direct Google Apps competitor Zoho in an offline initiative, while Google Apps itself remains firmly in the cloud!

Google is either planning something VERY big for Google Apps, or it is retrenching.

While I have no idea what the plans for Google Apps are – after the StarOffice announcement there was speculation whether the future is syncing to StarOffice or Gears-based offline – they are definitely not retrenching. This is not a matter of “who gets there first”. In fact it’s not even cut-throat competition. Of all the reports, I believe Techdirt got it right:

As we noted when Gears was first announced, Google was clearly interested in advancing the whole area of web-based software, not just in pushing its own apps. Just as Microsoft seems hesitant to give even the slightest endorsement of this model, Google recognizes that it will benefit, regardless of which offerings users choose in the short term.

Exactly. Any time you, me, any user makes a choice between Google Docs or Zoho Writer, Google Spreadsheet or Zoho Sheet, it’s clearly a competitive situation. But in other ways, Google’s and Zoho’s interests are well aligned. I’ve said a number of times before, it’s not about slicing the pie yet, it’s about making sure the pie will be huge . Both Google and Zoho have vested interest in promoting the paradigm shift from PC-based to Web-based computing. Competitors can be friends – it’s not unheard of, just think of arch-rivals Oracle and SAP: cut-throat competitors in the enterprise application market – yet as a database vendor, Oracle is an important SAP partner.

But let’s be clear, I’m not trying to give the impression the Gears-based Zoho development was the result of some grand Google-Zoho master plan. Nothing would be further from the truth. Google Gears is an Open Source project (check out Donna Bogatin’s post for details) , a significant one, and “Mother Google” is not trying to control who uses it for what. Let’s go to the source though: Dion Almaer of the Google Gears team said:

Of course, Google could have held Gears back and released it at the same time as a bunch of offline Google applications, but that isn’t the point. Gears is about making the Web a better place through offline, and we want the Web to be able to benefit.

That is why I am excited to see (Zoho) Writer join the list of developers that use Gears.

In fact Dion called to congratulate the Zoho team, and visited their Pleasanton office to interview Sridhar Vembu, CEO, and Raju Vegesna, Evangelist. Here’s the video:

And if that was not enough media, Raju is going live on the Computer America radio show at 7pm PST tonight. (I hope he won’t sing smile_wink)

(Disclaimer: I’m an Advisor to Zoho, however, the article above is a reflection of my own thinking, not a statement from Zoho.)


Further reading: Zoho Blogs, Insider Chatter

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Now You Can Zoho Offline

As much as I moved online I’m not naive enough to believe I’ll always have 100% broadband availability. Crazy shooters, limited conference availability, or just traveling to less covered areas (and I don’t mean here) – there will be times when we need our documents offline.

Seamless online/offline access has just become easier today, with Zoho introducing offline support for your Writer documents. Ironically, this has been implemented using Google Gears, not yet offered in Google Docs & Spreadsheets. (In all fairness, we don’t really know if a Gears-based offline mode in in the plans for Google docs, there was some speculation that StarOffice becomes an alternative).

In Zoho Writer you just click “Go Offline”, and if you don’t have it yet, first this will trigger the Google Gears download/install process, than, and any time after this it will simply download your Zoho documents to your local PC. Your documents are available at http://writer.zoho.com/offline. See more details on this video:

For now, offline access is read-only, but Zoho is working on providing active editing capabilities in the next few weeks. It’s worth mentioning that Zoho has long offered an alternative, the Zoho MS Office plugin (previous coverage here) .

Commenting is another important feature added in today’s update. Now that there are three recognized leaders – Google, Zoho, ThinkFree – on the online office market, niche players (e.g. Coventi) pop up here and there focusing on a particular area not supported by the “Big Three”. The problem with being a feature-based niche player is that you can never know when the “majors” add your feature-set. Zoho has just done it.

You can easily add a comment, and of course all users the document is shared to can do the same, making up a conversation-thread, indicated by a comment icon ( picture-1.png ) in the text. Clicking on it pulls up the actual comments (see below), or you can see all comments inside the document by clicking on the comments icon ( picture-4.png ) on the status bar.

Talk about conversation let’s not forget that Zoho Chat is integrated right into Writer, so you can have real-time conversation with your collaborators or leave comments. As usual, Zoho will continue enhancing the comments functionality.

(Disclosure: I’m an Advisor to Zoho)

For additional coverage, read: TechCrunch, Read/WriteWeb, Mashable, Proud Geek, Open Source Guy, Techchee, Collaborative Thinking, TechBizMedia, Insider Chatter, Download Squad, jkOnTheRun, Office Evolution, CNET News.com, mathewingram.com/work, Ajaxian, CyberNet Technology News, Profy.Com, The Universal Desktop, PC World, Techdirt.