Showing all posts tagged google:

One more time

I have worked all my career in enterprise IT, either as a sysadmin, or for vendors of enterprise IT tools. There are many annoyances in big-company IT, but one of the most frustrating is when people miss key aspects of what makes corporate IT tick.

One area is the difference between a brand-new startup whose entire IT estate consists of a handful of bestickered MacBooks, and a decades-old corporation with the legacy IT that history brings. Case in point: Google is stealing away Microsoft’s future corporate customers.

Basically, it turns out that - to absolutely nobody's surprise - startups overwhelmingly use Google's email services. Guess what? Running your own email server for just a few users is not a highly differentiating activity, so it makes sense to hand it off to Google. Big companies on the other hand have a legacy that means it makes sense to stick with what they have and know, which generally means Microsoft Exchange.

So far, so good. The key factor that is missing in this analysis is time. What happens when those startups grow to become mid-size companies or even join the Fortune 50 themselves? Do they stick with Google's relatively simple services, or do they need to transition at some point to an "enterprise" email solution?

It is now clear that Google does deep inspection of email contents. So far, this appears to be done for good: Paedophile snared as Google scans Gmail for images of child abuse. However, if I were in a business that competes with Google - and these days, that could be anything - I would feel distinctly uncomfortable about that.

There are also problems of corporate policy and compliance that apply to proper grown-up companies. At the simplest level, people often have their own personal Gmail accounts as well, and with Google's decision to use that login for all their services, there is enormous potential for bleed-over between the two domains. At a more complex level, certain types of data may be required to be stored in such a way that no third parties (such as Google) have access to them. Gmail would not work for that requirement either.

Simply put, startups have different needs from big established corporations. The impact of full-time IT staff on small startup is huge. The alternative of doing your own support doesn't work either, because every hour spent setting up, maintaining or troubleshooting IT infrastructure is an hour that you don't spend working on your actual product. For a big corporation with thousands of employees, on the other hand, it makes a lot of sense to dedicate a few to in-house IT support, especially if the alternatives include major fines or even seeing managers go to jail. The trend Quartz identified is interesting, but it's a snapshot of a point in time. What would be more interesting would be to see the trend as those companies grow and change from one category to another.

Corollary to this is that business IT is not consumer IT. Trying to mix the two is a recipe for disaster. Big B2B vendors end up looking very silly when they try to copy Apple, and journalists look just as silly when they fail to understand key facts about the differences between B2B and consumer IT, and between small-company IT and big-company IT.

Image by Philipp Henzler via Unsplash

Protect the base

An interesting story in the news today is about Gmail adding an "unsubscribe" link to marketing e-mails. Of course this is not exactly a new feature, having first launched in 2009.

Some of the commentary about why Google is doing this seems to me a bit misguided. Someone from Slate on Monocle’s The Briefing (sorry, missed the name) characterised this move as Google trying to make Gmail more useful for users and therefore more sticky.

I think the actual reason Google is doing this is to reduce or even eliminate a channel marketers can use to connect with consumers without going through Google. Subscribing to e-mail updates is a direct connection between consumers and brands. Google would rather be the middleman in that transaction, selling AdWords to brands and collecting a toll on all the traffic.

What makes me fairly certain of this analysis is that Gmail’s unsubscribe feature relies on the sender including the list-unsubscribe header as per RFC 2369, so it won’t help with spam or with dodgy marketing e-mails in general, only with entirely legitimate and technically correct marketing communications.

I’m not on Team "Everything Google does is evil!", but that doesn’t stop me from taking a clear-eyed look at what they do.

Stop doing that.

Generally I prefer apps on my iDevices to web pages or "web apps". I like the offline access to historical data, I like the streamlined navigation, and I like the fact that interesting navigational concepts don't kill Safari with megabytes of JavaScript and CSS.

There is one thing that I hate about apps: they all insist on opening web pages inside the app.

Don't do that, not even if John Gruber likes it.

For one thing, Safari has all the cookies, and I don't want to log in to things all over again just because I tapped on a link in an app rather than going through the browser. For another, Reader mode only works in real Safari, not embedded Safari. Finally, all my useful bookmarklets are also only available in Safari; things like "Save to Instapaper", for instance. Even Flipboard, possibly my very favourite iPad app, does this: if you're reading something and you want to bookmark it so that it will persist after you close Flipboard, you have to first "View on Web" and then "Open in Safari". At least these days you can "Read Later" directly from Flipboard without having to back all the way out to Safari, but waiting for developers of other apps to adopt your app is a major stumbling block for adoption of new useful apps.

Images are fine inline, but complete web pages should go to Safari, full stop.

A change will be needed in how Safari manages tabs for this to work. Either it needs a limitless number of tabs, to be managed like the iOS app list, or it needs a warning when opening a new tab will cause an existing one to be closed.

One other feature I want for iOS 7 is a central router for URLs, so that for instance everything to do with gets sent to the Twitter app, no matter where it comes from. Some app developers seem to be onboard with this idea; now displays a bar along the top of the page offering to open the current view in the native Twitter app, but Google+ and Facebook don't. This leads to the sort of idiocy we see in this screenshot, where clicking on a link in the Google+ iPad app spawns an embedded browser which does not have my G+ ackles.


No, grazie.

This then triggers another rant of mine because Google in their wisdom send you all their content in the local language of wherever their geo-IP code thinks you're located, instead of, oh, for instance
respecting HTTP

At least Google seem to have fixed another pet peeve of mine, where the menu with all the different language options was itself localised. While one of the less-publicised benefits of a classical education is the ability to identify Αγγλικα in the menu when browsing from a beach bar somewhere in the Cyclades, this works less well in Riyadh or Bangkok.


Go on, now find English.

Nowadays there's a nice "Google is also available in English" popup pretty much everywhere, so there's less call for appending
to Google URLs. Progress, finally!

The good news is that things are moving in the right direction, as we can see in the examples of Flipboard and Google, but if the Daring Fireball is issuing plaudits for apps that reinvent their own wheel^W browser, maybe continued progress is not a given.