Why are Google Apps users treated like second-class netizens?

Google+: Great Walled Garden
Google+: Great Walled Garden
Original photo by Neil D'Cruze

Hey Google.  Remember me?

I was there when you launched Gmail.  I got one of those first beta invites a couple of weeks after you launched the platform.  I immediately dropped my Hotmail account and switched everything over from a crazy [email protected] (at the time it was fibonacci_jazz), to a more professional sounding address using my initials and last name @gmail.com — then, a symbol of l33tness.

When you released Gtalk, I was all over it.  I downloaded the client, and it is still the main messaging platform I use, eschewing frilly and ridiculous, ad-ridden messengers like MSN Messenger, AIM, and Yahoo!.

When Apps was first released to the public, we all thought it was cool, even if we didn’t know exactly what we’d do with it.  Moving everything to the cloud was a hard pill to swallow, but swallow it we did, and started sharing documents across the interwebs.

Since then, our relationship has gotten a little rocky.

You launched Google Apps for Business.  Okay, so you’re trying to take on Microsoft — a lofty and noble goal, even if it is a bit delusional.  No one is going to dump years worth of Microsoft Office in favor of a free, web-based platform, surely.  And you created a free version for us normal folk.  We weren’t entirely sure why we would need Google Apps on our own domain — outside of being able to use a Gmail interface for our own personal domain, which was pretty cool — but we all signed up anyway.  We wanted to be part of the cool club, and just saying “I’m using Google Apps for my domain” was pretty cool.

But you shit on us.  And I don’t mean that figuratively.

Google Apps for personal domains was always last to receive the latest and greatest updates you were making to Google Apps for everyone else, and that included the improvements you made to Gmail.  Sure, you added an option to be on the bleeding edge of updates.  Later.  After the resentment of having been slighted set in.

Then, once we’d gotten settled in our new Apps domain, and started using our Apps email address for everything Google under the sun (and I mean everything, because we were still drinking the Kool-Aid), you pulled the big whammy on us.  This migration bullshit.  WTF, Google?

Okay, I get it.  I’ve worked in the IT industry and I understand the challenge of moving a bunch of users from an old platform to a new one.  But to us, it’s not really a new platform, is it?  It’s the same stuff we’ve used for years.  It’s the address we’ve had since the day we signed up for Google Apps for our domain and have used for every other stinking Google product including freaking YouTube.  Conflicted account, you say?  Conflicted how exactly?  It wasn’t conflicted when I set up a Blogger site to test templates I was developing.  It wasn’t conflicted when I was saving stuff in Google Docs on jazzsequence.com.  To us, this is just some crazy bullshit you made up.

From a tech perspective, it’s no better.  So you need to migrate thousands, if not millions of users over to the next generation Google platform.  So what?  Figure out the migration process and make it work.  Do this first, before you launch a new product, before you tell everyone that they will lose everything and need to create a new personal Gmail account, which is just bullshit.  A new Gmail account?  That’s the reason we set up Google Apps on our domain to begin with — so we didn’t have to use a Gmail (or Hotmail, or Yahoo) address.  How and when am I going to use another email address, and why would I want to have to switch accounts every time I need to use that stuff?  You’ve got 28,000+, highly trained, incredibly brilliant, motivated, well-paid employees and you’re telling me not one of them had any insight into making the transition more painless?

But the real slap in the face, Google, and the reason I am writing to you, is your latest insult: Google+.  When you first launched those +1 buttons, I was right there with you.  Yeah, I said, share content with friends and family, affect their search results and show them things that I think are cool — sounds awesome.  And I started using the +1 button and trying to figure out how I could add it to my website and the sites I built.  That is, until Google+.  All of a sudden, the +1 button required me to log in, and  I couldn’t log in because I was using an Apps account.  I’m surely not going to switch accounts every time I want to +1 something, and why bother getting set up on a new social network when I’m going to have to dump that account anyway if/when you do let the Apps people in.  This whole switching accounts thing is bullshit anyway — I thought you were going to make that easier.  Why can’t we, I don’t know, merge accounts?  Multiple email addresses and profiles that all feed into the same master address/profile that works on everything.

I can’t tell you how many invites I’ve gotten to Google+ at this point.  I’d love to be able to use it.  But you screwed me, Google.  I refuse to log into a crap account that only exists because you forced me to make it so I can get access to your pretty walled garden network and ogle over how glorious and white it is.  I’m not going to bother setting up circles and following people until I know I can do it with the account I actually use.

We’ve had a rough couple of years, Google.  My brief period of alone time from you made me realize how dependent I am upon a number of your products.  But I can’t buy into your bullshit anymore.  The “don’t be evil” thing — maybe it meant something a long time ago, but now it’s a joke.  You are evil, fueled by the profits you reap from harvesting all our personal data.  There’s some pockets of good in there, I’m sure, like the developers who work on the products you deploy that people can actually use, but I know you’re taking my Chrome browser and click history and storing it in your datacenters so you can feed me better ads (which I then block with a Chrome extension).

When Apps users are let into Google+, we’ll all be raving about how wonderful it is, I’m sure, but until then you’ve just made yourself look like an ass, Google.  Locking out the very people who were very probably some of the earliest of early adopters, people who have used Apps for years and stuck with it.  Don’t get me started on how badly you’ve nerfed Groups, and how Groups for Apps is a joke now.  Fine, whatever, I have to believe you’ll bring some of that stuff back.  And if not, well, I can live without, I guess.  But if you want me to be a megaphone for your new thneed, then you need to give me the fucking key.

embed google apps documents in a wave

while the fact that google wave isn’t natively integrated with all things google already — something that still baffles me; this is the technology that’s going to take over the world, isn’t it? — this particular trick works brilliantly and cleverly disguises the fact that your document isn’t actually natively integrated into your wave.

first, start a wave.  wait, you don’t have google wave yet?  wtf are you waiting for?  i’ve got invites right here! okay, with me now?  good.  start a wave.  click on the little add gadget button that looks like a puzzle piece.  that lets you enter the url of a specific gadget.  now enter this url in there:

[co]http://wave-ide.appspot.com/iframe.xml[de]

what this gadget does is allow you to embed a new webpage into your wave in an iframe.  not the most elegant solution, granted, but it works and it’s seamless.  now you have a big, ugly, teal iframe in your wave and you want to change that to a google document.  if you’re doing a document or a spreadsheet, go to said doc/spreadsheet and click on share.  here’s the cool part: you can publish your document publicly, but you don’t have to, you can use the private url in your wave embed and only you and the people invited to your wave will be able to see the document.  if you want to go this route, from Share, click “Get the link to share” and copy the URL (make sure you hit Save after copying  your URL).  back in your Wave, click Edit above the big  ugly teal box.  now you can paste your doc’s URL and also specify the height for the iframe.  voilá, you now have a google document embedded in your wave.  presumably you can see others making edits to the doc in real time, too, though i haven’t tested this personally.

so what if you don’t want to share a document, but instead want to share a calendar?  this is actually what i was trying to do when i discovered this trick.  make your calendar (or select the calendar you want to share in your Wave), and from the dropdown menu, select “Calendar settings.”  from there, you can right-click and copy the link for HTML under Calendar Address (or click the link and copy the URL in the address bar) if your calendar is public, or do the same under Private Address if it’s not.  again, using the private address shares the calendar only with the people invited to the wave — it’s still private, otherwise.  once you have the URL, plug it into the iframe gadget and you’ve got yourself a calendar embedded in your wave.  unlike what’s been reported about docs and spreadsheets, it doesn’t seem to me like the calendar updates in realtime.  i suspect this has to do with the infrastructure of the technology, but i imagine someday everything google does ever will always be realtime, so i’m sure it’s only a matter of time before you will see events randomly pop up in the calendar as you’re staring at it.  and, of course, it’s only a matter of time before all google apps are natively integrated with Wave in the first place.  but to see this working,  it’s easy to believe that it is a native integration and not a third-party workaround.

with the intensity of ambivalence with which Wave made it’s official debut, i’m glad that things like this are slowly coming into the fold.  i really believe that Wave could revolutionize how we communicate, but it needs a massive adoption: it needs to replace email itself to fully be realized for what it can be.  but i still pine for more tools and more adoption for more of the fancy crap that Wave is capable of.

everything’s better in the cloud

image source: gawker
image source: gawker

since google’s big chromeOS unveiling last week, i’ve been left thinking a lot about cloud computing and chrome as an operating system in particular.  while i failed to be enamored about chromeOS, i do think the concept of cloud computing is an exciting developing technology.  chromeOS felt half-assed and not-fully-developed (the latter of which, at least, was true).  and it’s banking on a technology that is not yet widely adopted for which there aren’t a lot of equivalent technologies to what we are used to on our desktops and standard laptops.

the idea behind cloud computing (and the concept that chromeOS is founded on) is that most of what we do these days is done online, and that our most used applications are things that really just interface with the net.  even things that we think of as applications that run locally of our computer — like word processing or spreadsheets — can be taken to the cloud with microsoft’s new Office Live which was introduced to rival google’s own, longstanding Google Apps.  the few things you sacrifice by using a more simplistic user interface with less options (theoretically the stuff you don’t use anyway), you make up for in having permanent, secure, online data storage that follows you wherever you go, no matter what computer you’re on.  it doesn’t matter if your computer crashes, or your whole office crashes — if all your documents are online in Office Live or Google Apps, they’re safely tucked away in microsoft’s or google’s data warehouses.  and the chances of google’s or microsoft’s servers going down are about as high as snowflakes in the mojave desert in august. nvidia’s RealityServer and the independent OnLive show us ways that gaming can be taken to the cloud — and that is a glorious thing.  imagine not ever having to buy a graphics card ever again, and yet, still be able to play the hottest new games available at breathtaking resolutions that would have you staring at your screen in awe.  by taking all the heavy duty graphics and physics processing off your computer and crunching the numbers on a vast server cluster, the only thing you’d need is a fast enough internet connection to stream the audio and video.

cloud2it’s true, it’s beautiful up in the cloud.  the heavenly connotations are not entirely unwarranted when given access to unlimited data storage, unlimited processing power, unlimited games, unlimited music, everything you do and say and think lives in the cloud, you just need a conduit to tap into it.  all this constant upgrading your computer to the latest fancy technology to make it go faster is unnecessary.  you can access the cloud on the laptop you threw in the closet 7 years ago and forgot about. but wait…what about everything we’ve ever known about computing technology?  about how processors are constantly getting faster, data storage is getting bigger and faster and cheaper.  if you can access the cloud with any old thing, namely, if you can access the cloud with a chromeOS-powered netbook that does nothing else other than access the cloud, wouldn’t that sort of put a wrench in how hardware is developed, and do we even want that? because with cloud computing, nothing is local, all (or most) of the processing is done in the cloud.  at least, that was what google was presenting a few days ago.  you don’t need a fast computer, you just need something that can run their software.  (and google kind of has the corner on that market: one of the things they announced was that you would be running chromeOS on a specially-designed hardware device built to run chromeOS.)

a netbook is either a bloated smartphone that can’t make calls, or a dumbed-down computer with limited local storage.

this is where i get stuck.  it doesn’t make sense to me: why use a netbook to access stuff that only lives on the internet if it can’t do some of the things i can do on a regular computer?  okay, so it’s only task is to access and manipulate apps that live online, but so does a smartphone.  a netbook is, pretty much by definition, either a bloated smartphone that can’t make calls, or a dumbed-down computer with limited (or no) local storage.  this is the future of computing?  really?

the cloud also throws a wrench into our concept of ownership.  i mean, sure, i can say that i own all my documents on Google Docs, but what does that actually mean to me if i don’t actually have a file i can manipulate myself.  or, more to the point, what happens to the music collection i consider to be mine if it’s not actually stored on any hard drive i have physical access or proximity to, but rather, is part of a membership service i am subscribed to?  we saw this summer how easy it was to take away digital possessions thought to be the property of the purchasers when amazon pulled 1984 and animal farm off their (digital) Kindle shelves and, subsequently, out of the Kindle users’ collections.

aw_snapthe cloud is great at some things, but not so much at others.  netbooks are a hot, cheap solution to do some basic daily tasks, but they will never be able to do everything you can do on a regular computer.  rather than forcing users to settle on a good enough, cloud equivalent for what they want to do, let’s embrace the differences between netbook computing and desktop (or laptop) computing.  what i’m thinking is web apps that behave more like desktop apps and desktop apps that behave more like web apps.  so much so that the only distinction between the two is whether an app is web-exclusive and therefore can be run on a netbook with no local storage.  as an example, let’s say i’m using something like a video editing program that eats up a lot of memory, disk space, and cpu cycles.  rather than having to go out and buy a supercomputer that can handle the load, let’s offload some of the memory consumption, processing, and temporary data storage to the cloud.  the app still lives on my computer, i still have to go to the store and make the purchase (or download it online and install it on my computer), but it leverages the cloud to enhance the user experience.  my video editing app can use a server cluster in mountain view to handle the video rendering so that task can take minutes, or even seconds, rather than the hours it would take me to render the same video on my computer.  then i’m limited only by my bandwidth, which is pretty much universally accepted as necessary to make cloud computing — and the environment in which chromeOS can truly live — a reality.

is chromeOS really anything more than a cheap ploy to generate more ad revenue?

granted, google told us that this was not a release, not a true unveiling.  merely, it was a chance to look at what the operating system does and how it’s different than what we’re used to now.  but, if you’ve read the chrome browser propaganda, none of this is really new territory other than the fact that, in the future, there will be chrome devices that only run chrome.  with chromeOS, google is banking on a technology whose time hasn’t yet come, and it’s a hefty gamble.  and are google’s intentions purely benevolent?  if google is working towards bringing about a world in which computing is done entirely (or at least mostly) online, gee, doesn’t that mean there will be more opportunities for their text ads to appear while we go about our normal workday?  is this really anything other than a cheap ploy to plaster more google ads across more things you do, by bringing the things you do online?

when applications can intelligently use the cloud to boost performance and take the load off of the local host computer — as i see it, the best of both worlds — then i will be a true believer.  until then, google’s cloud lives in that same utopian dream that the Agents in The Matrix told us failed the first time they built the Matrix.  we kept trying to wake up.