Tag Archives | Google

Google’s Knol: So Far, Not So Good

You could argue that it’s unfair–or at least unrealistic–to review Google’s Knol in its current form. After all, the Wikipedia-like service just went public a little over a month ago. It takes time to build a build a repository of the world’s knowledge, even if it’s less than comprehensive: Wikipedia surely wasn’t really ready for prime time six weeks after it was launched in 2001. As a Google service, Knol could end up being in beta for years.

On the other hand, as I said back in July, I think Knol is a neat idea. When it launched, it sported an oddball collection of entries that skewed heavily towards covering diseases. I was curious to see how much progress it had made in the interim. So I checked in today…and was startled by what I found. Depressed, actually.

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The T-List: Special German Edition!

My trip to Berlin for the IFA electronics show is winding down, but I still have stuff to talk about. And it’s a slow news day. So here’s a T-List about my visit–be thankful it’s not in German!
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Windows Geniune Advantage: Now Even More Advantageous!

I’m in Berlin at the moment, where I arrived today to be a speaker at IFA, Europe’s equivalent of the Consumer Electronics Show. More on that later this week, I’m sure; for now, here’s some stateside news.
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iPhone 3G Sluggishness: It’s the Network!

Until July, I used an AT&T Tilt 3G phone, and found that performance was often disappointing. Today, I own an Apple iPhone 3G, and find that performance is often disappointing. Coincidence? Nope!
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Gmail: Love It! Hate It! Love It! Hate It!

There are applications and services that I know I like. There are applications and services that I know I don’t like. And then there’s Gmail. Ever since I got my hands on an invite back in 2004, I’ve been a fan…or so I’ve thought. But recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s slowly driving me crazy–and that it may be time for an intervention of some sort.

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An Unexpected Look at an All-New Google News

Google has long liked to test new features by randomly surprising a subset of its visitors with them to gauge their response. Seems like I’m always reading blog posts from folks who have stumbled upon something unexpected and interesting in one Google service or another, but that I’m never one of the lucky ones. Until this morning, that is.

As I often do, I began my day by checking Google News to see what was new in the world. What was new turned out to be Google News itself–I got a significantly revamped version. One with not one or two new features, but a whole bunch of ’em. If I’d been drinking coffee, I might have done a spit take.

This revamp isn’t brand new–the Google Operating System blog covered it back in July–but I think it’s possible, at least, that it’s being prepped to become the standard version, since I’ve gotten it twice this morning, and another newshound friend encountered it today, too. (The official Google News Blog is mum about any impending changes, although it told readers a couple of months ago that they might see experimental features.)

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John McCain: Secret Wikipedia Fan?

A political scandal! A dead service with a funny name! Two e-mail services that have had trouble doing e-mail! And a computer we all know that’s celebrating a very special day! They’re all on today’s T-List.
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Google’s Gmail-a Culpa: Good, But…

In my first post on today’s Gmail outage, I noted that Google’s official Gmail blog was mum on what was going on. I’m pleased to report that after Google had found and fixed the glitch, it used the Gmail blog to report that fact and apologize for the inconvenience. Google didn’t explain what happened, but as my look back at a dozen years of Internet outages shows, the explanations behind unplanned downtime are usually boring, technical, and cryptic–not particularly exciting reading unless you’re a system administrator yourself.

But the one thing about Gmail product manager Todd Jackson’s post that kinda bothers me is this aside towards the end:

“We don’t usually post about problems like this on our blog, but we wanted to make an exception in this case since so many people were impacted.”

Jackson goes on to suggest that people who encounter Gmail problems check out Gmail’s online help and user group for the fastest updates; fair enough. But I hope that Google isn’t too cautious about using its many official blogs to discuss problems with its services and what it’s doing about them. A corporate blog that alerts users to cool new features can be useful; one that’s a comprehensive guide to the services it covers–warts and all–can be invaluable.

Thinking back to AOL’s famous string of humiliating outages in the mid-1990s, one of the things that got the company through them was CEO Steve Case’s letters to AOL users. They were proto-blog posts, prominently displayed on the AOL home page and pretty open about the service’s hiccups, of which there were many.

Today, even Apple is using blogs to deal with MobileMe’s ongoing issues–in a somewhat halting and stilted fashion, but at least it’s trying.

So please, Google (and every other Internet company I deal with): Err on the side of addressing the challenges you and your customers face on your blogs. Apologies are appreciated, but a generally up-front approach to explaining what happened, what you’re doing about it, and whether it might happen again is much more important than “I’m sorry.”


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Gmail: Maybe the “G” Stands for “Gone”?

Last week, I blogged about a Gmail outage and noted with relief that it hadn’t affected me. Gmail is down again now, and I’m not feeling so lucky: Both my personal and work accounts are displaying the same message at the moment:

It would appear that I have lots of company–Twitter is abuzz with reports from folks who are locked out of their accounts. When I went looking for more definitive word on what as going on, I checked TechCrunch–it has covered the outage and calls it “systemwide.”.

I also visited Google’s official Gmail blog in hopes that it might be a source of information on what’s wrong and when it might be fixed, but the last post there is a week old. I read a whole bunch of Google’s blogs and find them valuable when the company’s up to something new and interesting, but they will be far more valuable if and when the company chooses to use them to communicate with customers in real time about issues like this.

I also find the error message above less than entirely clarifying, since it sounds like it’s my particular inbox that’s feeling sickly at the moment. As Slate editor John Dickerson said on Twitter when he got the same message:

TechCrunch says that Comscore estimates that 20 million people visit Gmail every day; I’m sure that a goodly percentage of those folks, like me, absolutely depend on it for both personal and professional use. Google’s track record for dependable service is generally so strong that it’s easy to get complacent and assume that its stuff will always be there when you need it. So I’m going to consider this outage a perversely useful reminder that it’s always good to have a backup strategy. Especially when it comes to services you don’t pay for, and even when those services come from big, technically savvy companies like Google.

Update: At the moment, my Gmail access is back, but the service is loading really, really slowly. I’ll hope that’s a sign that things are on their way back to normal.

Let’s end this with a silly little poll:

Further update: I can get into both of my Gmail accounts again, with no signs of trouble. Let’s hope that the outage is over–and that Google tells us what happened.

Furthest update of all: Google has posted about today’s outage on the Gmail blog. And I in turn have posted about that post.


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Google Translate Where I Need It: On My iPhone

Here’s a small bit of good news: If you’ve got an iPhone and use Google’s Google Translate service, you now get a version with an extremely iPhone-friendly user interface.

It’s a Web app rather than an iPhone app, which makes sense, since it supports 24 languages and presumably relies on dictionaries and translation techniques that would be tough to squeeze onto the iPhone. But Google has done a nice job of tailoring everything to the iPhone’s screen size and touch interface–I can’t imagine that a pure iPhone version would be any easier to use. And it stores your past translations locally, so you can go back to ’em at any time. (Hey, if I knew it was possible to do that with the iPhone’s Safari, I’d forgotten.)

Here’s a peek at how it all looks:

I’m a good example of a person who really needs this service, and is utterly unqualified to review it: I’m lousy with languages, and therefore can’t really judge the quality of Google’s translations. I’m going to Berlin later this month, though, and am looking forward to giving Google Translate for the iPhone a try then–and hoping that the data charges for international roaming aren’t too onerous.

Google, by the way, is quietly doing some really excellent work with phone-specific versions of its services. Google Maps is terrific on multiple mobile platforms, including BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Palm. And the version of Gmail you get when you visit the service in the iPhone’s Safari is so good that I’ve been using it, rather than the iPhone’s Mail application, to manage my e-mail. When the day comes that most of our computing is done on handheld devices rather than PCs, I think there’s a good chance that Google, in all its forms, will be just as indispensable as it is today.


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