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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”.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve » Zoli Erdos)

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That’s not Email

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This Reminds Me of My Old Boss (Dilbert)

Dilbert.com

At least the ‘write down part’.  His process for dealing with email was:

  • Have Assistant print and fax email to whichever hotel he was staying in
  • Make handwritten notations on fax, ask hotel to fax it back to his Assistant
  • Assistant would then type it as email using his account

The whole process would take only 3 days or so …except when the fax had to be forwarded to another hotel since he had already moved on.

Oh, btw, he was a VP at a very big, very hi-tech company 🙂

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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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.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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The Perfect Out-of-Office Email Response

Normally I hate auto-responders, but this made me laugh:

Hi – thank you for emailing me.

When your email arrived, I was doing one of the following: celebrating
Christmas with my family, bringing in the New Year with friends,
getting married to my favourite person in the world, flying across the
planet, navigating the Indian transport system, riding a camel around
the Arabian desert or looking for jaguars in the Belizean jungle.

Needless to say, I won’t be able to reply to your email. My apologies.

Come think of it, all the above activities can be fun  – with one exception.  Which one?

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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.

Related posts:

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

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)

Related posts:

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

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Google Releases Zoho Mail with Offline Support

Yes, you read it right: the first announcement of Zoho Mail’s general availability, with Google Gears-based offline support did not come from Zoho, but from the Google Gears team, which released this video discussing Zoho’a use of Google Gears, synchronization, the Marketplace and  a lot more a bit prematurely:

Somewhat used to it (see TechCrunch Releases New Zoho Service: Invoice) the Zoho folks decided to play along and released their own announcement.

This announcement somewhat symbolizes the interesting dynamics between Zoho and Google: competitors, yet collaborators.   ReadWriteWeb is probably right:

But also Google probably sees Zoho less as a competitor at this point (even though Zoho does compete directly against Google Apps) and more as an evangelist for its technology – such as Google Gears.

First of all what’s in today’s announcement:

  • Zoho Mail has been in private beta for over a year now. As much as we like to switch to native collaboration using web-based tools, email is still where most productivity workers spend 80+% of their time.  Mail is the glue that brings it all together – so it’s important for Zoho to step out of background testing mode and make Mail publicly available. It’s also an integral part of the Zoho Business Suite.
  • Features: It’s an email service (everyone gets a [email protected] email account) and an email program that can consolidate several other email accounts, Outlook-style.  It combines old and new: supports hierarchical folders a’la Outlook as well as Gmail-style labels, chronological view as well as the threaded conversation views made popular by Gmail.
  • Access anywhere, any time: Offline access is provided via Google Gears (for now Firefox and IE only), and it’s also available on the iPhone.
  • Integrated Chat – this is another “glue” application within the Zoho Suite, and several other features listed here.

So with all that, why am I unhappy?  I’m a die-hard Gmail fan, mostly for its productivity boosting features:

  • Conversation threads
  • Labels
  • Search

Zoho Mail handles the latter two well, but I am not too happy with the way conversation threading works.  My business conversations last weeks, include dozens of emails, and on a traditional mail system the threads are basically a pain to put together before responding to someone.  Gmail handles it automagically, and as a side-effect, it presents a lot more information on it’s list screen – since the dozen individual emails are now compressed into one line.

But we all have different usage patterns. When debating the importance of threads, I looked at other Zoho Mail users whose conversations are typically one-off, so they won’t value threading feature at all.  In fact not everyone needs productivity.  Not everyone wants to go through a paradigm change.

AOL, YAHOO, Hotmail are the absolute web-mail market leaders,and they should do whatever it takes to keep their customers.  Their mainstream users are corporate employees who use Outlook in the Office, whether they like it or not is irrelevant, they are used to it. When they go home, they may not email a lot. Some will check their emails daily, once a week, or less. They want a personal email that resembles to what they already know.  For them familiarity is more important than productivity.

As much as I hate to admit it,  I am NOT the mainstream Zoho customer.  I am probably more a part of the TechCrunch 53,651 (even though it’s 1M now) than the mainstream customer base Zoho targets.   And if it wasn’t clear before, the current crisis brought home the message loud and clear: only businesses with real revenues survive.  Which probably means that for all my yelling and screaming, Zoho is quite right coming out with an email system that meets the needs of businesses who actually pay for it.  After all, this is what enables them to offer all the other apps I like for free.  And I like free. smile_wink

(Disclosure: I’ve been a long-time Advisor to Zoho and they are exclusive sponsor of my main gig, CloudAve. This article has been cross-posted there.)