Forbes has an interesting article in which is raises the seemingly perennial question about Google+: why should “ordinary” users care about Google+? The point that no-one is using Google+ isn’t really a good one, however you measure Google+ users, there are a substantial number of people using the service. The challenge is more the composition of those users.
The Google+ social service at plus.google.com keeps getting better and while it is pretty clear that this is not going to be an interoperable social service linking in with Twitter, Facebook and whatever else comes along (the dream of a federated and social Web seems to have left for more distant shores), it is still has enough appeal to keep attracting interest, at least. That said, Facebook is still where our friends and family tend to be (my wife has no interest in Google+, my mother mostly comments on all the notifications she receives from the profile I set up for her a while back but doesn’t visit the service much). That sort level of interest is typical of most of my friends and family members who don’t see a reason to use something other than Facebook.
This is why Google+ has almost no value to me as a personal, friends-and-family social service but the way Google seems to be tying everything into Google+ may bring more and more people into the circle as time goes on, without them really intending to become plus.google.com users in the first place.
The first clue is the new Hangouts app which is Google’s new unified communications app. It runs on iOS (very nice app that looks great on my iPhone and iPad), Android and in Chrome. It also seems to work just fine on plus.google.com in Safari and, possibly, Firefox (I haven’t tried the yet). Hangouts has replaced Google Talk, Google+ Messenger (yes, didn’t really use that either) and Hangouts (v1). The catch is that you have to have a Google+ profile to use Hangouts. This, alone, could push Google Talk users to activate their Google+ profiles if they haven’t done so already.
The next clue is how other services like the Android development tools use Circles to distribute beta or limited release software builds and how the new Maps will use Circles to enable users to filter, say, nearby restaurant options much like Foursquare users can filter nearby spots based on where their friends have checked in.
The point is that although a lot of the attention on Google+ has focused on plus.google.com and its potential for a Facebook and/or Twitter alternative, it is increasingly the connective tissue between Google’s products and services as well as the fabric from which many of those products and services are created. I can see a time coming when your choice is to use Google services (powered by your Google+ profile and identity) or to use something else. That time probably isn’t all that far away either.
In many respects, Google is becoming a lot like Facebook with a distributed walled estate and that is a tragedy. This is the trend on the social Web and the determining factors for which services you use may include which services (email, calendaring, collaboration, chat, photo sharing and so on) you want to use and your social experience could depend increasingly on those choices.
You may have heard that Google launched a unified messaging app/service called Hangouts yesterday at Google I/O 2013. Hangouts works in Chrome as an extension as well as within Google+ (which also received a revamp). Interestingly, you can also download the Hangouts app on to your Android and iOS device too (iPhone and iPad). The result is a relatively cross-platform messaging option which requires you to be a Google+ user (a little catch).
I installed the app on my iPhone and iPad, lamented the lack of multi-account support, was corrected and then discovered I couldn’t add my Google Apps accounts (my two work accounts). I did a quick search and discovered that you need to enable this in your Apps settings first and thought I’d show you how in this post.
First, you need to enable the feature in your Apps dashboard
You then see this:
Next, open your iOS app and add your accounts
I used my iPad for this demo but the same options are available in the iPhone version. To get started, tap the gear cog in the top left of the app screen and go into your Settings.
Once in settings it is pretty easy:
You may see some other stuff in settings when you first open the Settings panel. The panel simplifies once you have added a second account (the settings that disappear from the main panel are shifted to individual account level settings).
When you add your accounts, you will need to do the following:
Sign in with your username (email address) and password;
If you have 2 factor authentication enabled, you will be prompted for a PIN;
You will be asked for your mobile phone number (you can skip this) which is presumably associated with your account as with iMessage and WhatsApp (pick your country from the list and add your phone number);
You’ll receive a one time PIN to the number you supply (if you supply a mobile phone number), enter that and proceed;
You may be prompted to add a profile photo if this process activates Google+ for your Apps account.
Once complete, you have a handy drop-down to enable you to switch between accounts:
You’ll need to do this with each device (which is a bit of a pain).
I bought an Adonit Jot Pro stylus a while ago to use with my iPad 3 and I struggle writing stuff on my iPad with it. It seems to jump around a bit. It is possible I am not holding it correctly (or something) but I tend not to use it even though I have some awesome apps on my iPad for notes, drawing and brainstorming stuff visually.
I was at a meeting a while ago with a couple agency people and noticed Ramotse Phalatsi (I think it was him) using a fat stylus and asked him how it works for him and he raved about it. It is cheap and you get 3 for the price of 1. I thought I’d check it out and went to the iStore today. I couldn’t remember the brand but I bought the Ozaki Stylus R which I am pretty sure is the one he was using. The stylus comes with 2 replacement tips so you basically do get 3 in 1. The Ozaki costs R199 (I received a discount due to some sort of FNB Business cheque card promo I was unaware of).
I played around with the Ozaki for a few minutes and it is really smooth and seems to work well. It is definitely chunkier than the Jot Pro (I lay the two styli besides a couple pens and a marker for a size comparison below) but it feels good in my hand. I’ve been taking more handwritten notes in a Moleskine notebook I carry in my laptop bag lately mainly because doing that on my iPad has been more frustrating than its worth.
I think fairly visually so my notes include diagrams and handwritten notes that probably don’t make much sense to other people but that works well for me. My process has been to take a photo of those notes afterwards and stick the photos into Evernote for later reference. If the Ozaki works consistently for me, I’ll have the option of doing something similar on my iPad and just moving the images across to Evernote either using Penultimate’s integration or importing images I create with Paper.
The only catch with the Ozaki is, because of its size and shape, you don’t see the point where it makes contact with the screen so really fine work can be tricky until you get a great sense of how it feels in your hand and where it makes contact. It is very possible I am not using the Jot Pro effectively so I’ll keep working on that. For now, though, the Ozaki works pretty well. I’ll see how well it works when I am using it for a longer time period and how accurate it is. At R199, it’s not all that much to spend if you want to try it out and like the size and form factor.
Rian van der Merwe published a post which touches on a recurring theme which I have been thinking about for a while: we should fear Facebook/Google/Twitter because of all the data they hold about us.
I keep wondering why? There are good reasons to be afraid of what these services may know about us in some circumstances. If, for example, you are in a country run by ruthless despots, being identified as the person behind a Twitter profile advocating revolution is worrying. If you are engaged in criminal acts, you should be worried that the authorities may be able to use your Foursquare or Facebook location data to tie you to your escapades.
On the other hand, if you live in a country that doesn’t (overly) victimise its citizens and leaves you to express yourself legitimately and without reprisals, what do you have to fear from these major social services? Certainly sharing your home or children’s schools’ locations could compromise their and your security and you should be concerned about that (or you just shouldn’t share that information in the first place). Facebook could decide to make all shared updates public and expose your private thoughts. That could be worrying too.
But what about Facebook knowing more about our preferences and activities and presenting us with more relevant (if somewhat annoying) ads? Why is that a problem? Sure, we would probably mostly prefer not to see ads at all but Facebook is free, is really large and requires a lot of mine to operate. The same is true of Twitter, Foursquare and Google services.
Conventional wisdom is that if you are not paying for a product, you are the product. That may be true, as a generalisation. I prefer to think it isn’t so much we who are the products on Facebook but rather our preferences and attention. What does that buy us? For starters, it buys us Facebook, Twitter, Google services and more. It also buys us slightly less annoying ads that can be remarkably relevant. It buys advertisers a better chance that we may want to buy their products and services (we’re not doing that because our lives or our loved ones’ loves are at stake) because those products and services may just be what we are looking for at that point in time.
I’m not so sure we should be afraid of social networks. We should be afraid of persecution dictatorial governments and overreaching government bodies that make use of what we share to further their oppressive agendas, but social networks because they enable sharing in the first place? I don’t think so. What should concern us more is our ignorance of what our privacy controls are on different services and our failure to make smarter and more considered decisions about what to share and where to share that.
In many respects the social services we have today give us more ways to safeguard our privacy than we had when the social Web was largely comprised of blogs and discussion fora. Back then (about a decade ago), sharing was public and if you wanted to share something on the Web with a select group of people, you either password protected your blog, published posts with password access enabled or shared limited content with pre-approved people (limited sharing on Flickr comes to mind).
Facebook and Google+ enable users to share selectively using Facebook Lists or Google+ Circles. You can create lists or circles to suit your sharing preferences and ensure that only the connections you want to share something with, will see it (for the most part). Unfortunately, that level of sophistication can also be accompanied by a degree of complexity in the sharing controls. Both services have options for closed groups or communities in addition to selective sharing at a post level. As a user, it remains your responsibility to explore your privacy controls and make sure that they are configured for your sharing comfort level. You should also bear in mind that whatever you share online could still be made public through a policy change or an exploit so decide for yourself, in advance, what you will never share online and you don’t share that stuff. Good examples of stuff not to share include identity numbers, your home address, where your kids go to school or even your home phone number (it could be cross-referenced with your name to locate your home address in a phone book).
One trend that bothers me is a shift to Twitter for personal sharing. Twitter gives you two options for sharing: publicly or completely privately. I suppose this largely depends on what you are comfortable sharing publicly. Your Twitter profile is public by default and this means everything you tweet is public and anyone can see it if they know where your profile is. The alternative is a private profile where sharing is limited to followers you approve. Twitter doesn’t really have selective sharing capability like Facebook or Google+ and it is the equivalent of trying to have a conversation in a crowded room. You may think you are talking to a select group of people but you potentially have a much larger audience.
Another option worth mentioning is Path which a mobile only social network and which is designed for only your real friends and family. It is a beautiful app and a terrific sharing experience but the challenge, for me, is that very few of my friends and family are using it and that diminishes it value to close to zero. If my close friends and family were using it, it would be a terrific choice. For now, I have set up my Facebook lists to emulate the sharing capability I would have in Path.
Social services like Facebook have been somewhat cavalier with our data but a spate of privacy controversies and increased attention from regulators has persuaded these services to take greater care with our data and our privacy options. Using social media is not a risk free proposition by any means but the social Web gives us the ability to share in ways we just weren’t aware were possible a few years ago. The real cost is vigilance and increased personal responsibility but that is how it should be anyway. After all, it is our data and our lives we are sharing. We should take responsibility for that anyway.
I’m pretty interested in Git and +GitHub and whether there is scope to use either in our work. Perhaps if we were working exclusively with plain text files there may be scope as an internal collaboration option. Adding it might just add more complexity to our workflows unless we’re going to replace something with it.
One thought is to replace our current Simplenote sharing option with a Git-powered sync option for our plain text notes (or use a private repository on GitHub) which we generate as file notes or draft documents and reports. What we do is we share these notes with each other as we go. We still use Dropbox to sync other documents like Word docs and PDFs (and which won’t really sync across GitHub) but when it comes to text notes, we shift to Simplenote (we could also just use Dropbox syncing for that too but my team likes having all their notes in one place).
At the moment I use Simplenote to sync notes with Dropbox but the syncing seems to require manual reminders to keep working and that is a problem where my team creates notes in Simplenote to share with me and I don’t receive them locally until I manually sync Simplenote.
I wonder if using GitHub with the GitHub app installed on our machines wouldn’t be a solution. Can you set it all to sync automatically and in the background?
Another question I have is security. I saw that GitHub using 128/256 bit encryption for transmissions although I can’t tell what level of encryption is applied to stored data in GitHub’s servers. I suppose I could use Git to transmit and store securely on my own servers if that became a concern?
Apparently MTN is charging its contract users an extra R39 each month for access to its LTE service. This access charge seems to be an add-on like data bundles and itemised billing and it is something Telkom executives would come up with as a Good Idea because it adds another convenient revenue stream. It doesn’t matter that it just insults its customers and ignores a much simpler and more effective option: reduce data charges and open access to the LTE service up to all users, at no extra cost.
This is a bit radical so I’ll explain my thinking (formed in the absence of any sense of MTN’s costs, margins or any possible insight into MTN’s economics). It’s a pretty simple idea, really. What MTN does is it reduces its data costs like its competitors have been doing, for starters. It then allows any device that can access the LTE service to do so at no extra cost. Consider what this offers customers: a fast data service that you can use anywhere and at lower prices that MTN currently offers. As the cost of mobile data moves closer to other broadband options it becomes worthwhile using mobile broadband more often.
We are already using 8ta’s mobile broadband at my office instead of Telkom’s ADSL access. I disabled ADSL access on my landline and reduced my Afrihost data bundle solely for home use (I had 120GB each month, capped, and shared between home and office). I may pay a little more each month for data access at my office but it is faster than Telkom and Afrihost ever offered us and is more reliable.
Our MTN coverage at the office is even better but there is no chance I can use MTN’s 3G for work data consumption because it is so expensive relative to its competitors. If MTN data cost what I pay 8ta or Cell C and I had LTE access available, it would be even better. Would probably spend even more on data with MTN each month and that is the point. A lot of other people probably would do and that extra cost would almost certainly be more than the stingy R39 MTN is charging just for access to its high priced data service. That probably sounds like an awesome idea but it is a short term gain at the expense of its customers who are probably also exploring competitors’ cheaper alternatives.
In other words, MTN’s pricing strategy is just stupid and is a metaphorical giant middle finger to its customers. Good job Telkom, sorry, I mean, MTN.
Having Facebook integrated so deeply into your Android phone may be worrying to you but then you probably wouldn’t install it anyway. Something that interested me after this anouncement was how this development could impact mobile messaging. I posed this question on Twitter, Facebook and Google+:
What would it take for Facebook Messenger to replace WhatsApp, BBM and iMessage for you? Could it?
Not as long as requires users to be on FB. A message client needs to be platform agnostic.
I thought about this a bit and he has a point. The big messaging services we tend to use include SMS, WhatsApp, BBM, iMessage, GTalk, Skype and, perhaps, Facebook Messenger. Of this lot, SMS and WhatsApp are arguably the only ones which are probably “platform agnostic” in the sense that they are not limited to a specific operating system or device manufacturer or platform provider. BBM is limited to Blackberry users, iMessage is limited to iOS and Mac OS 10.8 and later and Facebook Messenger runs across multiple devices but you have to be a Facebook user (although doesn’t it use the XMPP protocol?).
WhatsApp is enormously popular and it isn’t tied to any of the major social services or device manufacturers, yet. It is practically ubiquitous and has just about replaced SMS as the standard messaging service for anyone with a device that supports it. It is also probably an acquisition holy grail with numerous rumours about interest from a variety of the larger social services including Facebook and, more recently, Google. The Google acquisition rumour seems to be somewhat dubious but it is a matter of time before someone comes up with the right number at the right time to convince WhatsApp’s owners to sell. So, bearing in mind Rich’s comment about messaging needing to be “platform agnostic”, I wondered to myself what would happen if WhatsApp was acquired? It would be absorbed into its acquirer (could be Facebook, Google or another player) and it would leave SMS behind as the only truly platform agnostic messaging service. Given the cost of SMS, that isn’t a satisfactory option so what then?
An XMPP-based model would be ideal. XMPP is an open protocol and is supported by a dizzying array of apps and services. Unfortunately there aren’t many apps that are quite as easy to use as iMessage, Skype, GTalk (on Android) or Facebook Messenger. For users accustomed to being able to just open their app and send a message and have the authentication stuff handled using their phone number (WhatsApp’s identifier) or login credentials (the rest), there is a little more friction than there should perhaps be to make this an easy choice. I use an app called Imo, for example, which allows me to add a variety of XMPP accounts (all my Google accounts) but it feels a little clunkier than I would like so I don’t bother. I have WhatsApp and iMessage, after all.
Skype seems to carry a little overhead on a mobile device even though it works pretty well. That might be because I still think of Skype as a desktop app/service and it just seems a little too complex for an app I want to open quickly and use to fire off a message. iMessage looks and feels exactly like SMS and has the least friction when I use it but its not perfect. It sometimes doesn’t pick up a sufficient connection to kick in (and switches back to SMS) or doesn’t pick up my recipient’s iMessage identifier/s. I have a desktop iMessage app but that option isn’t available to anyone not using Mac OS Mountain Lion or anyone who is not a Mac or iOS user.
Google could present an almost ubiquitous solution in the form of its rumoured unified messaging service, reportedly code-named “Babel” but we will have to wait for that to actually be announced to determine whether it will be cross-platform and even platform agnostic (if it will run on XMPP or a similarly and widely embraced open protocol could do the trick). Google used to be very much in the habit of producing apps and tools for everyone but has been focusing more and more on its Android and Chrome platforms at the expense of everyone else.
If WhatsApp does fall to a purchaser and Google doesn’t come up with the goods, it really looks like Facebook and its partner, Microsoft, have a pretty compelling alternative from a user perspective. Between Facebook’s 1 billion+ userbase and Skype’s status as the messaging equivalent of MS Office, they have enough of a potential userbase to make an integrated messaging service both platform agnostic (in the sense of working on multiple platforms and devices but certainly not necessarily independent of the requirement that you be a Facebook and/or Skype user). Requiring you to be a Facebook friend or accepted Skype contact of the person you are trying to reach may seem like a limitation but the appealing effect of that is a lot less spam (direct marketers will have to stick with obnoxious Facebook ads to reach us – one of the less appealing and anticipated features of Facebook Home)!
For now, the WhatsApp flag flies high and strong as an independent option for us users but if that falls, where will we go next? How will we keep in touch with everyone?
I once swore by Evernote. I used it for everything. I used it to take notes, to collect scanned documents, receipts, bank statements and serve as a general reference archive for everything that caught my attention and that I want to be able to get back to one day. I still do much of that with Evernote today but that is more because I haven’t worked out how to do all of what I want to do without it yet. I’m getting close, though. Until then, Evernote is the app that is just slightly more convenient to keep using to remain in use.
Evernote used to be clearly superior to other options. It works fairly well on my desktop and I have a host of workflows that tie into it. My bank statements and assorted legal newsletters route into Evernote automatically. I scan all my receipts and store them in Evernote in case I ever need to find them again and I keep track of case reports and miscellaneous bits of data in there, including important data relating to my home and family.
I don’t use it to take notes any more. The apps are too slow to get going and unreliable enough to really not want to go there at all. All the documents I scan and store in Evernote go into a Dropbox folder too. I once contemplated using Evernote for my tasks too but Omnifocus is where I manage all my projects instead. I used the mobile apps all the time to capture stuff on the go. I still use them for that but not nearly as much as I used to, the apps are just too unreliable so it’s easier to take a photo with geo-location data and email it to my Evernote profile for storage.
Between Dropbox for file storage, Omnifocus for my tasks and short term reference and my plain text notes (synchronised through Dropbox), there isn’t a lot I really need Evernote for lately. The one thing keeping Evernote in my workflows is not knowing how I can export all my data into a coherent archive that I can reference later, if I choose to. I also have a couple niggling uncertainties around how I would capture and reference emails I receive (such as email newsletters) which I forward to Evernote automatically.
I can probably supplement a Dropbox file storage system with Yep and Leap from Ironic Software and integrate better into my growing Openmeta Tags use for my notes and documents. The cost of a bundle of all the Ironic apps is even less than my annual Evernote Premium subscription.
With all of this I find myself wondering what went wrong? When did Evernote become the service I use because I am more or less locked into it, despite it being the sort of service that eschews lock-in, in favour of common standards and formats? Is Evernote going to fix these apps, make them all work better or should I join the few travelling out into the desert in search of something a little more reliable and effective?
Google Reader, visually, is awful but its value is not its interface but what it does. Google Reader is the feed synchronisation engine that powers many popular feed readers and enables users like me to follow a variety of terrific blogs. It isn’t the only way to keep up to date on what is happening in the world but it is still a really good way to curate your streams and focus on the stuff you want to see more often.
There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.
I share Om Malik’s thoughts about these reasons Google gave –
I take issue with Urs’ comments about usage declining. It declined because the company put no resources into the product and took away social features that made it useful for many. It was a project that was orphaned because it didn’t fit into Google’s vision of a machine-driven reading experience. Despite minimal resources devoted to it, Google Reader was one of the better apps built by the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.
It is probably my second-most used Google service — after GMail — and I have always been befuddled by Google’s lack of desire to make Google Reader into a bigger reading platform. It could and it still can evolve into a Flipboard type service, but that would mean that Google would have to put resources and some real creative thought into Reader.
I’ve been using Feedly and Flipboard as my interface for Google Reader and they are far better than the native Google Reader interface. That doesn’t mean that Google Reader isn’t important to me and to how I keep up to speed on what is going on in the spaces I have an interest in. As Scoble pointed out, this is a real blow to the open Web and, to me, indicates that Google is just as interested in expanding its corner of the Web more than it is about encouraging a truly open Web. It may be that Google has just decided that fighting Twitter’s and Facebook’s inclination to develop more closed communities and infrastructures isn’t worth it and it may also be Google’s decision that there is simply more money to be made channeling users into the broader Google+ ecosystem. Either way, users are not the winners here, regardless of how you may feel about venerable RSS.