About all that Google+ Traffic

So Mashable reports that Google+ traffic has increased massively since Google opened it up to everyone other than Google Apps users.

Great.  Happy for you.  Hope you’re having a ball.

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But I have three questions.  Actually two and a rant.  Let’s get the rant out of the way.

Can someone explain to me one good reason why Google continues to deny Google Apps users the ability to participate in so many of its offerings?  Because a few companies use Google Apps is not a good reason.  You could make Google+ an option, and let the admins (and ass-backwards corporate IT policy) decide.  I’m really starting to pull against Google, purely out of some combination of anger, sadness and confusion.  Yes, and jealousy.

Now for my questions.

One, how many of the deluge of Google+ users are non-geeks?  Facebook has long held a virtual monopoly on non-geeks.  You know, that 98% of your real world friends who don’t build their own computers or jailbreak their iPhones.  Just about everyone I know uses Facebook to one extent or another- that’s why I ultimately capitulated and started using it.  I don’t know a single non-geek who uses Google+.  Of course, since I’m locked out, there may be a huge group of regular people over there, networking away while I check over and over to see if I can finally join the party.

Two, how sticky is it?  I’m sure tons of people sign up.  But what percentage of those people become regular users?  I really have no idea the answer, but I think the answer would be a good indication of how much of a threat to Facebook Google+ is.  At least so far.

If I ever get to use Google+, I’ll hope it thrives, because nothing is as good for the consumer as competition.  Well, except access.

Access would be pretty good.

The Needless and Inexplicable Flounderization of Google Apps Users

Do you ever feel like there are so many cool and amazing things to do on the net, that you feel overwhelmed?  If so, I have a guaranteed solution for you.  Become a Google Apps user.

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I ranted a few weeks ago about Google’s unwavering policy to deny Google Apps users the ability to use its newest features.  Lots of people reacted sympathetically and emotionally to that post, so I am clearly not the only Google Apps user who is unhappy about this.  In fact, I suspect that a lot of people are wondering why they elected to put themselves at a comparative disadvantage to the rest of the planet by going all-in with Google.

Now comes the (sort of) much anticipated Google+ Project.  It actually looks great.  One of the good things about being a 15-plus year tech blogger is that I know a lot of other technophiles (e.g., geeks).  It’s a rare thing when I don’t get an early invite to new applications.  I’d dearly love love to try Google+.

But I can’t.

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Because like just about everything else Google releases, Google+ requires a Google Profile.  Which Google Apps users still can’t have.

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It gets even worse.

With the release of Google+, Google seems to be opening up more cloud space, in an attempt to attract more loyal Google users.  As Yahoo ignores Flickr to death, it is a good time to start thinking about alternatives.  Google has begun offering almost unlimited space to its loyal Picasa users.  Just not its most loyal users- Google Apps users need not apply.

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When I asked Google why Google Apps users are getting hosed, they gave me an unsatisfactory but completely accurate answer.

This makes no sense.  At first, I thought it was just a matter of the left hand and the right hand operating separately, and at different speeds.  But if we still can’t even use Google Buzz a year and a half after it was “coming soon,” no one should be holding their breath.

It’s hard to come up with any good reason for Google to continuously leave Apps users out in the cold.

Which leaves only bad reasons.  Apathy?  Cluelessness?  Are they just being mean?  Do they hate us?

Someone will inexplicably try to mount a defense for Google by playing the “Apps are for Enterprise” card.  Fine, then make all the cool stuff an option, for the Google Apps Admins to select or not, as they see fit.  There is simply no way that taking choices away can be spun as good for the customer.  We’re not talking about skydiving here.  We’re talking about using web apps.  The same web apps that Google hopes will be the vanguard for its latest assault on the social web.

Come on, Google.  Stop screwing with your most loyal users.  The Flounderization of Google Apps users is bad business.

Do you love irony and social activism?  Then +1 this post so Google will see that Apps users are getting tired of standing in the back of the line.

Google +1 Plus Google Apps Equals Nothing

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The internets are all worked up today over the release of Google’s latest attempt to be meaningful in the social networking arena: Google’s +1 button.  It sort of reminds me of the excitement over the soon to be shuttered Google Wave, which was actually an awesome application, and the probably soon to be shuttered Google Buzz, which isn’t.

Being deeply in love with most things Google, most particularly the Chrome browser, I’d love to give +1 a try.  Except that I can’t.  Once again Google Apps users- yes, some of whom (not me, yet) are paying customers- are left out of the premiere party.

No worries says Google, again- Apps users will soon have the ability to use Google Profiles, and +1.  Soon may be a relative thing, however, given that Apps users still can’t use Buzz, over a year later.

Look, I realize this is not a huge deal.  But here’s the thing.  I would venture that Apps users are among the most loyal Google users.  People who would jump right in and do their part to kick-start just about any new Google app.  I know that, like a digital vampire, I have turned every Internet Explorer and Firefox user I can find into the walking Chrome.

I don’t understand why Google can’t roll features out to all users- including its most avid- at the same time.

I’d love to write about using +1.  Instead, I’m writing about the fact that I can’t use +1.  That’s a lose, lose equation.

Anyone want to +1 me up, since I can’t play?

Hey Google, Let’s Fix Contacts Too

Since I tend to use my Google Apps Gmail page as mission control for scheduling, organization and communication, I was very happy to read that Google is going to (finally) make some much needed improvements to Google Tasks.  I like the way Tasks are integrated into Gmail, and I generally keep my Tasks open at the bottom of my Gmail page.

I agree with Mashable that these five improvements will vastly improve Tasks.  I was already using Tasks, having moved away from RTM and other third party options, and most of the things I miss are covered in Google’s recently announced Task task list:

1. A Tasks API and synchronization
2. Reminders and notifications
3. Recurring tasks
4. Shareable task lists
5. Visual distinction for overdue tasks

So, good job Google.

fixmeNow, what about Google Contacts?  Can we please fix them too?  Gmail is beautiful.  Google Calendar is powerful and elegant.  Google Contacts sort of sucks.  But we can fix it, and I’ll help by giving you the list- right now.  Together we can make Google Contacts awesome.

1. Make the Contacts Page Simpler and More Useful

The page looks, well ugly.  Compare it to Calendar and you’ll see what I mean.  Google can create the new design, but here are a few ideas.  We simply must have alphabetical links at the top somewhere, at least as an option.  No one wants to have to search just to get to the S’s.  Please lose the “All Contacts” list.  I don’t know what that is.  I want the people I add to my Contacts to be in here.  Not people I may have at one point emailed or chatted with.  Or yelled at to stop spamming me.

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Again, this can be an option, if Google believes there is  value to auto-adding contacts.

Let’s add a tag for “Favorites” and have that list appear in a separate column on the landing page.  There’s plenty of room.  I know there is a “Most Contacted” list, but I want more control over this, and I want the list to appear all the time.

Finally, let’s move the Contacts link from the left column up to the top, beside Mail, Calendar, Documents, etc. and have it appear on all of the app pages, just like the others.

2. Let Us Choose to Default to Home or Work

If we only get one wish, this would clearly be mine.

I can’t tell you how many of my contacts have their work information stored under “Home,” because that’s the way the entry form defaults.  See?

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This one simple improvement would save me a ton of time.

3.  Auto-convert Phone Numbers and States to Designated Format

I’ll admit I’m a little anal about this stuff, but I hate to have some phone numbers with periods and some with dashes.  And I want all of my states to be abbreviated.  Outlook has done this with phone numbers for years, so we know it can be done.

4.  Let Us Create Custom Fields

I love the fact that the default form has a blank for birthdays, but I want the ability to add other information.  For example, I might want a field for Facebook Page, Twitter Name,  etc.  I know you can add multiple “Websites” now, but I want total control over the info I add, and the way it appears.

5.  Better Google Maps Integration

When I display a contact, a Google Map should appear somewhere on the page showing me his or her address, and offering to give me directions there.  A link that would let me email the address and directions to someone would also be nice.  I know I can click "Map” under the address and get a map, but that requires me to leave the Contacts page.  I want all of this to be integrated and embedded.

And Two Wishful Bonuses

The last two might be a stretch, but it would be awesome to have the ability to email a photo of a business card to a designated email address, and have that card converted into a Contact entry.  It would need to go into a special list, perhaps “Scanned,” so we could check it for accuracy and then add it to our main Contacts list.

It would also be awesome to have a box beneath the Contact entry with customizable search results for the name of the Contact and/or his or her company.  We should be able to configure the search results as we like: web, news, blogs, social networks or any combination thereof.

Add Your Wish list

Add your wish list in the Comments and I’ll compile a list and send it to one of my Google contacts for consideration.

How to Make Chrome Even Better with Extensions

It’s no secret that I think Google Chrome is, by far, the best web browser.  Ever.   I could write a dissertation on how much I love it.  In fact, it’s so good that I believe the forthcoming Chrome OS is going to change the way we work online.

One of the beauties of Chrome is its functional minimalism.  Unlike most applications, there isn’t even a hint of bloat in Chrome.  It lies at the hard corner of sleek and powerful.  The Chrome experience immediately upon installation is fantastic, and just about anyone could have a great experience without installing any extensions- or add-ons- at all.

There are, however, a few extensions that I use and recommend to make it perfect.

Here, in no particular order, are the Chrome extensions I use, with a rating (1-5) of how essential they are to my online experience.

AdBlock.  I will go out of my way to avoid the clutter of ads.  The continuing malware problem is another reason to block as many online ads as possible.  The combination of AdBlock and AdBlock Plus (see below) results in a completely ad-free experience.  Essential Factor: 4.

Adblock Plus.  This is the recent Chrome port of the ad blocking app I have used for years.  I tried to use it alone, but found that it did not block certain message board ads, which are known to occasionally carry malware.  So I went with a combination.  Eventually, I’d like to settle on a single ad-blocking solution, but for now I’m choosing redundancy over screen bloat and possible malware.  Essential Factor: 4.

Bit.ly.  Like just about everyone else, I use Bit.ly to shorten the links I share on Twitter (Follow me) and elsewhere.  I like being able to see the actual link destination as well as stats on the links I share.  While helpful, this one is not terribly essential.  If I had to uninstall one of my extensions, it would be this one.  Essential Factor: 2.

Google Calendar Checker.  I long ago moved my calendar and my contacts  from Outlook to Google Apps.  I like the ability to see when my next appointment is, and the ability to hover over the icon for pop-up details.  Essential Factor: 3.

Google Dictionary.  This is the first extension I installed and the one I would recommend first.  A single click on any word on a web site will result in a pop-up definition or Wikipedia summary.  This is a must-have extension.  Essential Factor: 5.

Google Mail Checker.  Since I use Gmail, via Google Apps, as my email app, this must-have extension notifies me of new mail.  Essential Factor: 5.

Google News.  This extension wasn’t made by Google, but it sure looks like it was.  A simple click on the icon renders a tabbed, customized news display.  Very nice.  Essential Factor: 3.

Google Voice.  Being pretty-much all-in with Google Apps, I use Google Voice for my voice mail and to make an increasing number of phone calls right from Chrome.  This extension lets me know when I have new messages, texts, etc.  Essential Factor: 3.

iReader.  Much like ads, I hate all the clutter that most media sites append to their web pages, making them look like the TV screen in Idiocracy.

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iReader will render the articles you want, in an elegant, scrollable display, complete with powerful, but unobtrusive, sharing features at the bottom.  Essential Factor: 4.

NPR.  I like to get my audio news updates as well as some music via NPR.  This extension lets me quickly access content from the NPR site (even while browsing other sites), as well as  music from great stations like UNCW.  Essential Factor: 3.

PriceBlink.  Since I do most of my shopping online, this extension, which tells you if there is a better online deal on the item you’re looking at, is a real money-saver.  Essential Factor: 4.

RSS Subscription Extension.  This Google created extension detects RSS feeds on the page you are reading and displays an RSS icon in the Omnibox, allowing you to click on it to preview the feed content and subscribe.  Essential Factor: 2.

WOT.   Web of Trust is a safe browsing tool, which warns you about risky sites that cheat customers, deliver malware or send spam.  Essential Factor: 3.

That’s 13 extensions, which, in the interest of bloat-avoidance, is more than I would like.  My plan is to treat extensions like I do stocks: only own a certain number of them.  So if I find one I like, I have to decide if I like it enough to get rid of an existing one.  I haven’t noticed any slow-down after installing these extensions, so I’m not sure what my magic number will be.  Probably more than 10 and no higher than 15.

Another of the beauties of Chrome is the sync feature.  If you install or uninstall an extension on one computer, corresponding changes will be made on the other synced computers.  Just one more reason why you should be using Chrome as your default web browser.

I really dig Chrome.  If you give it I try, you will too.  What are you waiting for?  Go get it.

Why Chrome OS Will Change the Way You Compute

Sadly, I haven’t received my Cr48 yet, even though (are you listening Google?  Email me and make me happy) I am a devout lover of Chrome and have moved most of my computing life into the cloud.   But there is no doubt that Chrome is about to change the personal computing landscape.

Paul Thurrott explains why it is a huge threat to Microsoft in the latest installment of his excellent Google Chrome Vs. the World series.  If there were a Pulitzer for blog writing, this series should win it.   Probably the best tech read of the year, in part because a guy who likes Microsoft is trying to save Microsoft from itself.

Yes, Chrome is going to hurt Microsoft, and yes it will further extend Google’s empire.  And it will be very good for consumers.  Shoot, if I ever get a Cr48, it will immediately become my primary mobile computing device.

But I think Chrome will also help Apple, by being the final element in a lot of peoples’ decision to leave Windows forever, if not for Chrome, then for OS X with Chrome, in browser form or otherwise, installed.  Sound crazy?  Then consider this.

Just about everyone has capitulated to the iPhone.  Yes, some geeks like Android, and there is no denying that it is a good option.  But it just doesn’t have the penetration into the non-nerd set that the iPhone does.  I know one person in the real world (e.g., people I regularly see face to face) who has an Android phone.  I know one person in the real world who doesn’t have an iPhone.  It’s the same guy.  NOTE: Yes, I am excluding the sad masses who are chained to Blackberries because their companies have not realized that Blackberries are on the Palm road to obscurity.

Apple is soundly winning the handset war, at least for now.  The new battle is for the everyday computing device.  You know, what netbooks (ugh!) were supposed to be, but were not.  Make no mistake, this battle will be fought in the browser.

And as I have told anyone who will listen, Chrome is by far the best browser.  It’s not even close.

There are only four things I have to do regularly that I can’t do right now in a browser.

1. Edit photos with Photoshop.  I can’t do that (yet) in Chrome, but I can on a Mac.  Imagine if you will a MacBook, with the Chrome browser (if not somehow the OS in a Parallels-like configuration) installed.  I could do just about everything in Chrome, and drop into OS X when I need to work with Photoshop.  Nice.

2. Edit videos in a sane, easy Format.  I am on record as to my dislike of the Mac video import and editing process.  I certainly can’t (yet) edit videos the way I want to in a browser.  For people like me who do a lot of video, this is a big issue.  For most people not so much.  Plus, at some point someone will come up with a workable cloud-based video editing solution.  All of this doesn’t scream for a MacBook+Chrome device, but neither is it a strong enough chain to bind many folks to Windows.  Yes, I know that many people believe Macs are infinitely better for video.  I disagree, but all of those who feel that way are certainly not likely to choose a Windows-based computer over a Mac.

3. Manage iTunes.  I’m also on record about the train-wreck, Apple-hampering mess that is iTunes.  I hate it, but I have to use it for my iPhone and iPad.  Once again, a MacBook+Chrome device would let me drop into OS X when needed.  Certainly no reason to stay with Windows.

4. Write Blog Posts with Live Writer.  How bizarre is it that Live Writer is the biggest thing tying me to Windows?  I can’t overstate my love for Live Writer.  But like Romeo and Juliet, it is a love that won’t last.  There are too many forces aligned against a desktop based editing app and pointing to the cloud.  The standard WordPress editor is not horrible (unlike the iPad app, which is).  At some point I will have to say farewell to Live Writer.  Unless, oh please, it finds a home in the cloud.  Then I could use it in a browser.

Taking all of this into account, it seems to me that there are three paths to travel.

A. Chrome OS on a Cr48 or its successors.  I sure would like to try this, Google. . . .

B. A MacBook+Chrome device.  But for the video thing, I’d probably be there now.  At a minimum, I expect Chrome in some form to become my primary day to day computing platform.

C. The status quo, via Windows. I’m not going to sell my Windows-based computers, but I am beginning to wonder if I’ll replace them when they grow old or die.  Even now, the large majority of my computing is being done via the Chrome browser.

All paths involve Chrome in one form or another.  One path definitely benefits Apple.  Unless something unexpected happens, Windows may end up on the path less traveled.

As a less desirable metaphor.

Why Chrome is Going to Win the Browser War

Jolie O’Dell reports that Internet Explorer’s share of the internet browser market has fallen below 50% for the first time in a very long time.  Meanwhile Firefox’s share grew by half a percent during September 2010.

Three things seem pretty clear to me.  One, Internet Explorer is fighting a war it can’t win.  Two, Firefox is going to have to scramble to stay in the game.  Three, Chrome is going to beat everybody.  Maybe sooner than later.

Internet Explorer had a good ride, replacing Navigator and becoming the people’s (default) choice for a decade or so.  I moved from Navigator to Internet Explorer back in the day (after much urging from my IT friends at my old firm), and then from Internet Explorer to Firefox a few years ago (also at the suggestion of my IT friends).  Internet Explorer seemed bloated, and Firefox seemed lithe and nimble, and offered a web-full of excellent extensions that allowed me to create something akin to a custom-made browser.  But over time, Firefox started to get a little pudgy.

Then came Chrome.

I tried Chrome when it was first released and was very under-whelmed.  I ran straight back to Firefox for another year and a half.  A few months ago I tried Chrome again, and, wow, what a difference!

Chrome, at least so far, is the best combination of efficiency (e.g., non-bloat), speed, good design (both looks and usability) and customization.  It’s both minimalist and robust.  I love it.

The universe of extensions kept me tethered to Firefox for a long time- probably too long.  When I took another look at Chrome I realized that you don’t need as many extensions with Chrome.  And I realized that the ones I really need are available.  I only use 7 extensions, but they are 7 great ones:  AdBlock, Google Dictionary, Google Mail Checker, Google Voice, iReader, NPR and RSS Subscription Extension.

Chrome is, hands down, the best browser right now.  Add Chrome’s elegant (and strategically advantageous) integration with other Google products, and Google’s obvious commitment to push out upgrades and new features, and I just don’t see how the other browsers can compete.

I’ve moved my entire family to Chrome and, unlike my disastrous attempt to move my family from Word to Google Docs (which resulted in an immediate and simultaneous mutiny on the part of every other member of my family), everybody is happy.