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Dec 13

What Google could have done differently with Wave!

Posted on Monday, December 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

You remember Wave, right? That instant mail/IM thingy from Google? Yes, that one. Well it was killed some months ago and Google promised to shut it down in December. The month of December is here and I decided to check out Wave. Well, it seems Google has had a change of heart and decided to keep Wave going into 2011. Hopefully, till the Wave In A Box project under Apache becomes mature enough to import users’ waves. So long, Google Wave.

But let’s go back to the unveiling of Google Wave at Google IO in 2009. The developer crowd went wild and gave standing ovations during the product demo. There is no denying it, technologically, Wave is very impressive. But as some would put it, in the months to follow, Wave struggled to find an audience.

I signed up and used Wave as soon as I could get an invite. I sent out invites and tried to get friends and family onto Wave too, but it just didn’t catch on. After logging in once, most never returned. The biggest question always was, “This is cool, but what can I do with it?”. So gradually, I too stopped using Wave. Using Wave alone is no fun.

So now I look back and offer my opinion on 3 things I think Wave could have done differently. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but nonetheless, I think these could have made a difference.

1. Wave was ahead of its time. No, I do not mean this like it was too technologically advanced as some will have you believe. I mean, it took too long before everyone who wanted access to Wave could get it, almost a year actually. Like I said earlier, using Wave alone is no fun. I remember all the anticipation, waiting and begging for invites that followed Wave’s release. I understand the need to give people time to get used to something that new, as well as giving developers time to build cool add-ons. But maybe they could have waited till they could take in more users from the get go. This would not have solved the problem of people not knowing what to do with it though, which brings me to my second point.

2. Wave should have been integrated with Gmail. Much like Google Buzz, I believe Google would have been better served if they shoved Wave down our throats like they did with Buzz. It should not have lived in its own tab, but be integrated tightly in GMail’s messaging flow. One would then simply have the choice when composing to either send a normal email or create new Wave. This would have made the use of Wave so much more obvious to folks. Unlike Buzz which lives in its own tab and is disconnected from mail, Wave would have been part of the email experience itself. This could have take GMail to a whole new level of social.

3. Wave should have been given more time. Ok, we’ve all heard this one before, even Lars Rasmussen said it. But it’s true, only one year from total availability till shutdown for something this new was too short.

Of course, I acknowledge that it was a business decision to shut down Wave and there were probably factors considered which I do not know about. All of this shoulda/coulda/woulda does not change the fact that Google is doing some cool innovation on the web. But these are some factors that would have made a difference for me, and I believe for many others too.

What about you, what could Google have done differently with Wave?

Oct 13

Forget folders, leverage your history

Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

You know the feeling; how do you find that site which you visited some months ago whose link you no longer have? Why did you not bookmark it when you visited it? Ok, I hear you, you didn’t know that you would need it again.

But before we get to finding the address, let’s examine how it is commonly done today. It normally goes something like this: you find a site, you like it, then you bookmark it for later. Except that the bookmarking is hardly always that easy. You have to organize your bookmarks, tag them correctly, put them in the right folder, and so on.

bookmarking

That’s a lot of work for the chance that you might need the site later. So a lot people don’t bookmark sites at all. Then we’re back at the question of ‘how do you find that particular site’. This is why I was particularly stoked when awhile back, Firefox introduced the “Awesome bar”. Firefox as I remember, was one of the first browsers to introduce this feature but most major browsers today have some version of it.

The basic premise is that when you start typing in the “Awesome bar”, it searches your history, bookmarks (and open tabs in Firefox 4) to find pages with content or addresses similar to what you are typing. For example, my search for ‘awesome’ turns up this:

firefox_awesome_bar

I find this so useful that I have little incentive to bookmark anymore. If I even vaguely remember what the site was about, then I type in a few keywords and Firefox finds the page for me. I find that Google Chrome’s implementation is weaker that Firefox’s (which is ironic as Google is search market leader). Chrome does not take full advantage of my browsing history as I would like it to when searching and results are not very comprehensive. IE 9 does a decent job however.

With Firefox Sync (built-in in Firefox 4, but available as add-on for previous versions), you can leverage your browsing history on multiple computers and even on your phones. Of course, all this will not help you if you do not keep a search history. If you use bookmarks a lot, I recommend adding useful tags to your bookmarks so that you can easily find the site later.

So always remember: you have a history, leverage it.

Aug 23

The perfect password

Posted on Monday, August 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

Creating strong passwords is a delicate balancing act between the right combination of characters which is not easily guessable, but which you can easily remember. It is recommended that a strong password should contain a combination of letters, symbols, numbers and be of minimum 8 characters. It should not be things about you which can be easily guessed, like names, birthdays, either yours or that of someone close to you, etc.

 password_checker

Recently, most sites also allow spaces in passwords which means it is possible to create passphrases instead of just passwords. (With the exception of Windows Live accounts as I recently found out). There are also many sites that offer password generators and will generate random combination of characters. While these may be really strong, they are no good if you cannot remember the what the password was. There are sites like The Password Meter which check password strength.

Add to this the fact that a strong password of itself may not be enough, but you should not repeat your passwords on different sites and you also should change your passwords regularly. Considering the number of sites where the typical user has an account nowadays, the combination of accounts and password changing frequency can be really high.

Hail password managers to the rescue. Most browsers have these built-in and there are also other free encrypted password services which synchronize between your computers. The problem which I have with these services is that they represent a single point of failure. If a malicious person gets access to your password manager, you can kiss your online identity goodbye.

Alas, password managers are more often than not, a risk worth taking for the convenience. The moment you start forgetting passwords because you cannot remember what you last changed it to, or you wrote it on paper and forgot to update it, then you know its time to take the risk.

But there may yet be some middle ground. Since email is commonly used as the de facto primary online identity, it may make sense to store other non-important passwords in the password manager, and then try to keep the password to your primary email account(s) in your head. That way, even if you password manager is compromised, you still retain control over the process of resetting your passwords (through email).

This is also the reason why I love the increasing use of OpenID by several sites. When sites allow you to log in using an existing account, you need to remember just one, instead of two passwords. So developers, when you are building your next site, try to remember that using OpenID reduces the barrier to entry and spares your users from Yet Another Password (YAP).