Archive for the ‘Google’ Category

The Quest for Feed Bliss

July 18, 2009

I’ve recently switched to Google Reader for all of my feed reading needs. This is the latest iteration in a long line of trying to find the perfect feed reading experience. Here’s what “perfect” means to me in this context:

  • Readily available so that I can polish off a few items whenever I have a spare minute
  • Enables me to clear out a batch of unread items easily
  • Fast
  • Navigable by keyboard for faster reading
  • Native applications for whatever platform I’m on plus a Web application backend
  • Sync between work, home, and phone

I subscribe to 250 feeds presently so the primary consideration is staying on top of them. There is a real cognitive weight to having 1,593 unread items and I strongly dislike declaring “feed bankruptcy.” So I have spent the last few years testing different options.

For most of that time, Bloglines was my go-to solution. It was fast and fairly efficient. But I was never satisfied because it was Web-based, lacked decent keyboard navigation, and required an Internet connection to access at all. I tried Google Reader when it first came out but it left me cold. Since I spent my working life on a Windows XP machine, I resigned myself to a Web-based application.

Then I got a Mac at work and suddenly all of the great Mac OS X feed reading applications were available. I again tried all of the ones I had evaluated at home: NetNewsWire, NewsFire, Shrook, and some others that I can’t remember now. I settled on NetNewsWire because of the NewsGator syncing, the native iPhone application, and decent keyboard navigation. I still wasn’t completely happy with the set up because the NewsGator Web application is terrible: no keyboard navigation, slower than you’d think possible, and hard to mark items as read.

As I said earlier, Google Reader is my current solution and I think it’s going to stick this time. The Web application has matured substantially since I looked at it four years ago. It lacks a native Mac OS X application but I found a way around that earlier this week, which I chronicled in this Super User answer:

  1. Download Fluid.app.
  2. Save this PNG image (or this higher-resolution one) to your Desktop.
  3. Open Fluid.app and use the Google Reader URL, name, and newly-saved icon.
  4. Launch the Google Reader application from your Applications folder.
  5. Buy Byline or use the really good mobile version of Google Reader (you can save it to your Home screen to boot).

This setup is very fast, feels native (Fluid.app even displays the unread item count as a badge on the Dock icon), syncs between all environments, has great keyboard navigation, and is always available. I’ve gotten my total unread item count down to 8 and kept it in double digits for the last week, something I haven’t done since I started feed reading.

It’s refreshing to have that load off my mind.

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Polishing the Chrome

September 2, 2008

I’ve just finished reading Scott McCloud’s comic book introduction to Google Chrome, Google’s new browser that will be released tomorrow in some fashion. I am very intrigued by this new player and I think McCloud’s work is an accessible introduction to the basic ideas behind the design. (Of course, it could have been summarized in a single page or blog entry much more efficiently than being spread over 40 pages but McCloud did a great job in explaining things.)

When Jason Kottke first began speculating that Google was working on its own browser, I dismissed it just like I did his notion of Google OS—a Linux distro with Google branding. (I’m not sure Kottke can count this as a win, by the way, since five years worth of bupkis does not make for a successful prediction.) It seemed like an overreach for Google, well outside its focus. The intervening years have proven that Google views its mission as pretty much everything on or related to the Internet.

But I think Google Chrome makes a lot of sense. For one thing, Google now has some skin in the game. It can act in such a way that Microsoft and Apple have for so long: if there’s some special feature that it would like to be prevalent, it can implement it in its browser and propose it as a standard to some friendly standards body. Microsoft got XMLHttpRequest in there early (among many other examples) and Apple got the canvas element accepted in exactly that way. Google, previously, had to work within the Microsoft-Apple-Mozilla constraints and now it gets to be the interloper, the mole. I think that’s a powerful position and likely well worth whatever money Google is throwing at this project.

Also, it clearly has some innovations to bring forth. Putting each tab in its own process is genius. At once it solves the issue of memory leaks and the expansive memory footprint that afflicts every modern browser as well as protecting the user from malicious code in a very effective way. Google also developed its own Javascript virtual machine called V8 to couple to the open-source WebKit. Refactoring the Javascript engine has become a hobby with the browser makers: SquirrelFish from Apple, TraceMonkey from Mozilla, and excuses from Microsoft (paraphrased thusly: “Oh, Javascript isn’t really that important. We focused our performance improvements in IE8 on everything else that stunk about IE.”) The neat thing about Google’s Javascript optimizations is that they took a completely different approach to speeding things up, which means the other browser makers will likely copy them. Innovation in the browser space is an unmitigated good thing.

Finally, as the most popular set of properties on the Internet, Google can drive adoption of its browser by offering improved performance and heightened functionality when visited using Chrome. It can tie its sites into the browser in a way that it never could if it weren’t a browser maker itself.

In the end, each of these reasons for developing its own browser also benefit the user so I applaud Google’s decision and hope that they can succeed in following through—which has always been a problem in Google’s application ADD environment.

[UPDATE (9/2/2008): Google Books has a better version, so I’ve updated the Google Blogoscoped link to point there.]

Lock-In

April 9, 2008

Google recently announced its AppEngine initiative and I can’t say I get who would want it. It strikes me as too inextricable from Google.

Amazon Web Services operates in a similar fashion but it is clearly serving as an infrastructure provider rather than a platform. While it’d be hard to migrate off of AWS if you ever chose to do that, it’s not as if you’re promoting Amazon by virtue of creating and running your application. At every turn, the AppEngine application uses Google products like Google Checkout and Google Accounts. Building a business so closely associated with the largest Internet company in the world strikes me as perilous.

AppEngine aspires to be a platform like Facebook has become. But it lacks the social aspects that make Facebook so attractive as an application platform. So, ultimately, I think AppEngine’s main competitor is not Amazon, Facebook, or even Microsoft (which has its own cloud initiative in development) but Ning. Who’s Ning? Exactly. I just don’t see this market as compelling so I don’t understand why Google’s entered it.

Traffic Facts

February 28, 2007

Google Maps now has real-time traffic data. I checked Phoenix and I see lots of green. I assume that it means “go” but I have absolutely no context for what “go” would mean on a freeway. There’s no legend anywhere on the page. Digging through the help, I find this article that indicates green means an average speed of 50+ MPH on that stretch. Yellow means 25–50 MPH and red means under 25 MPH (grey indicates unavailable data).

Yahoo’s version is nice in that it shows average MPH at various points along the freeway, but you have to be at a sufficient zoom level for them to show up at all. Google’s shows up from a citywide zoom level all the way down.

I guess to maintain consistency across those levels, you really have to boil down the presentation to something as simple as red, yellow, green, and grey. Still, it’d be nice to have actual speeds at some point…

Health Link

January 15, 2007

Adam Bosworth, bigwig at Google, is interested in tackling health URLs. As soon as I saw that term, my mind exploded with possibilities. Imagine no more charts that must be transferred between family physicians, full medical histories available to emergency personnel, and the ability to know whether doctors have ever considered you “difficult.”

But then I remembered that the health care industry is one of the most regulated segments of our society. For a moment, I was under the misapprehension that it would just take an agreement between me, my HMO (possibly), Google, and my doctors. But that’s not possible in today’s political environment: you know that every branch of government would want to make sure that it followed onerous regulations, complied with their whims, and required paperwork that utterly defeated its purpose.

All that would be done in the name of protecting the patient’s privacy. Never mind that the patient could protect his own privacy, thank you very much. The nanny statists know that consumers just aren’t as sophisticated as they are and that those who would provide such record retention would jump at the chance of selling it to anyone who expressed an interest.

But I don’t believe that. I believe that I should make my own decisions and the idea of having my entire medical history available on the Web, no matter what health care insurance I have or who my doctor is, excites me. If Google does an adequate implementation and limits access to those whom I specify, then I don’t see anything untoward happening.

And if they restrict access by the government by requiring a subpoena, all the better.

GooTube

October 10, 2006

So Google’s going to buy YouTube for $1.65 billion. This really doesn’t surprise me. Oh sure, there’s thorny copyright issues to overcome and YouTube’s revenue scheme is practically non-existent. But there’s three points that made this is a certainty to me: 1) Google already has Google Video; 2) Google blew it with MySpace; and 3) Google needs ad growth.

The fact that Google has already done Google Video indicates that the company realizes that it needs to be a player in this space. It has gone through several revisions, uncharacteristic of Google’s fire-and-forget product development cycle. They’ve even negotiated exclusive deals with several content providers. This is an area that Google wants to own; my gut tells me that it’s because it was largely wide-open when they got into it. Music was (and is) dominated by Apple, but movies and video is a nascent market.

I remember when News Corporation bought MySpace for $580 million reading that Google was an early suitor for the social networking site. My guess is that Google decided that MySpace just wasn’t worth it at the time—up to that time, by my recollection, all of their acquisitions were pretty small potatoes compared to ones by Yahoo and Microsoft. That passing proved to be a huge and costly mistake for Google since they then ended up paying $900 million to be MySpace’s exclusive search partner later that year. And that’s not even including the revenue they could have kept in-house through advertising sales on MySpace’s notoriously page-inflationary site.

The management at Google probably views YouTube in a much different light because of that blunder. While $1.65 billion might seem dear to us, 100 million videos per day could yield untold amounts of advertising revenue that would be kept within the company. Further, Google could keep YouTube’s search functionality for itself. If Google didn’t buy YouTube, it’s pretty clear that someone else would and the number of companies that could pull off such an acquisition is pretty exclusive. In other words, Google saw another MySpace in the making and acted decisively to stave that possibility off.

The addition of 100 million video-based ads and some smaller number of page views for serving textual ads would rejuvenate Google’s ad growth in a very big way. With Yahoo’s shares tumbling recently on the announcement by its CEO of falling ad revenue, Google could quickly stand out from its peers on that front and watch its stock soar as Wall Street rewards its discovery of a new advertising mine.

It should be interesting to see how Google integrates YouTube into its orbit. I suspect that the press release’s statement that YouTube will remain as it is is the best move Google could make. Why tamper with what’s working? Adopting a ham-handed branding could kill YouTube’s popularity and there are certainly any number of players in this space that could bleed YouTube dry if its fortunes changed. In fact, the distinct corporate identity could allow Google to try different ad variations that it couldn’t readily do under the AdWords or AdSense umbrellas. In due time, these questions will be answered of course.

Google and China

January 30, 2006

Google can try to whitewash its decision to offer a censored version of Google to the Chinese, but it’s not going to fly. It’s just too naked of a capitulation. Comparing the results for a search on Tiananmen on Google and Google China puts the matter in stark relief (via Diana Hsieh).

The other search engines are yielding to the Chinese to get some of those billions of ad clicks that would result, but so what? If Google is truly about delivering information to the world, how does helping the Chinese government to retain power and pretend it’s a legitimate, democratic regime further that mission? It’s possible to take a principled stand for something and still make money. The other thing you get from such an action is respect.

In Google’s case, everyone was waiting for them to misstep on the “don’t be evil” pledge. Perhaps they thought they’d get it over with and future evil would be met with jaded cynicism rather than righteous indignation. Whatever the reason, I think Google’s really exercised poor judgement. I’ll still use them but I won’t be so vociferous in my admiration any longer.

Google Web Analysis

January 25, 2006

Web Authoring Statistics: I can’t believe how incredibly interesting this is. Google analyzed the way over a billion Web pages were composed and distilled it into various statistics. I love it.

Do No Evil

January 23, 2006

Google’s response to the Justice Department’s request for search data is exactly what a company that pledges to do no evil would do. I hope this convinces the naysayers that Google really means what it says. Yahoo, AOL, and MSN all folded like origami, agreeing to cooperate without so much as a peep.

This behavior is unsurprising from the Bush Administration, which has been on a tear lately to protect the American people from themselves—especially American children. And, of course, the response from the Democrats in Congress—those who cherish our privacy so—is to force search engines to permanently destroy the data on a regular basis. Sadly, Google’s defense is that the subpoena is “overreaching”—not exactly a spirited or principled one.

[UPDATE (1/25/2006): Oh, forget it.]

Distracting Work Environments

December 12, 2005

Visit to the Googleplex: how does anyone get any work done in that environment?!?! {via}