Google has once again updated it’s interface but this time it’s the compose/reply function. The purpose is obviously designed to try and simplify the message experience with a small popup window taking up the bottom right corner of your screen instead of your whole screen.
The key benefits that Google advise you get with it’s new experience:
Compose messages faster (less buttons?)
Make reply/compose simpler
Check emails as your are typing (distractions much?)
Minimise drafts to edit later
Compose two messages at once (ADHD for email?)
I do understand that Google loves to experiment and test new features on their audience but not yet sure on this update and how it might make Gmail more productive. With so many studies around over stimulation due to multiple digital distractions I’m not sure if this new feature is going to help Gmail users be more productive if you can’t block out the world when replying or composing a message.
It’s also not clear how this new feature might make Gmail easier or harder to use with a smaller laptop screen, as Gmail on laptop is a significantly different experience to Gmail on a 27inch monitor.
You can see below in the sample screenshot that a number of the compose functions are now hidden behind icons which will likely annoy power users and confuse new users to Gmail as they can’t find familiar functions.
Gmail’s new compose and reply experience
Some new Gmail features also announced that appear to be more exciting which are on their way which would actually improve their platform and bring it closer to MS Exchange are: insert event invitations, send read receipts, add labels to outgoing messages.
I’m not completely sold on the new platform update but feel free to have you say in the comments below if you think it is a positive or negative move for Gmail users.
In what looks to be a trend that appears to be ramping by business up as traffic patterns typically decline as the year ends. A product relaunch can be at times risky if users love your existing design/functionality or if you take away or hide popular features within a new interface.
Twitter Relaunch #letsfly
Twitter relaunched its platform with a new version of twitter “Fly” which is designed for a more common experience across Twitter.com and mobile devices. Their relaunch was focused on bringing everything under 4 new tabs but not everyone has responded positively to the radical change to the interface. Their new interface seems to bring them closer to a Facebook style interface but even with an improved search function the new interface has been found confusing by a number of their users.
YouTube interface Refresh
In what was an expected move YouTube finally flicked the switch and rolled out its interface across all its users bringing the interface closer to the other Google properties. The rollout was unusual for Google as it was not progressively rolled out but was done in a single update which was fairly risky for the company considering the size of the audience that could be impacted. The new interface brings the platform up to scratch with a new look and feel but also seems to make it easier for Channels and Google to maximise both their advertising revenue but also the branding and visitor experience as YouTube chases higher quality content.
Path upgrades to 2.0
One of the big upsets to the idea that a refresh could hurt your growth or revenues was Path, who after upgrading their platform saw a reported 30 fold increase in user sign ups. Their personal journal style platform offered new and improved lenses; greater privacy and less noise for their users which was a successful and welcomed refresh ending 2011.
WordPress goes Sonny
While it only appeared to be a minor update going from WordPress 3.2 to WordPress 3.3, the actual admin interface refresh too a large step forward. The new more responsive admin design offers better functionality for adoption to smaller screens such as tablets. The new liquid layouts and scaling media seemed focused on the growing audience of Mobile users that WordPress needs to cater for if it’s platform is to continue to grow. The media support gets a welcome boost as does the co-editing functionality and is certainly worth the update even with the increased number of sometimes annoying notification tips.
Google Toolbar relaunched
Google just recently rolled out a consistent black Google toolbar across a number of its platforms which made navigation more consistent for users across Google properties.
Google Black Toolbar
Google Toolbar relaunched (again)
Just as most users had started to see and accept the new Google black bar at the top of Google pages they introduced another Google bar within a few months. The new interface has now moved the navigation to under the Google icon and centralised the search panel across Google properties. The new Google menu is a bit more confusing way to navigate Google products and the quick links are surely going to be missed by most users and will change how you navigate within Google properties.
Gmail has been one of the slowest adopters of new Google features over the past few years but there has been a number of recent improvements including the overhaul started in July. While the navigation had a big upgrade the search functionality is still below expectations. The biggest issue for users is to get used to the new streamlined conversation view which strips out much of what was previously shown meaning searching an email thread can be more time-consuming. The biggest benefit for the mobile users is the elastic density which allows easy changing of display to suit any device automatically.
While it happened a few months ago Google’s blog platform got an update as part of the overall Google product refresh. The biggest elements to get updated was around streamlining the blogging experience but also improving the audience analytics and insights information for admins. Recently there has been the addition of the ability to publish your Blogger posts straight to your Google+ circles. There is certainly a fair bit more work needed across the Blogger network to match WordPress or Tumblr but it’s a good start to finish off 2011.
Color 2.0 tries again
Following on from what was a slightly disastrous launch, Color decided it was time to start again following on from the success of Instagram. The new app updates focus around a “visit” which also now allows for sharing of 30 second movie clips but also offers a visual timeline similar to the new Twitter/Facebook streams. The question is it all too little and too late with the new website being far too forceful to remind users to login to interact, and their mobile app does not work on a majority of Android devices.
Facebook Timeline rollout
Based on the growing amount of media its users are sharing online Facebook has finally rolled out its timeline feature for all accounts. This is not yet enabled on all accounts but is available if you want to upgrade your profile globally. Finally Facebook is learning its a global platform and not limiting features to it’s US users. Learning from its privacy failures in the past it now offers a 7-day review period before anything that appears in your timeline is made public. It will be interesting to see how many users fill in the blank spots in their timeline as more accounts enable Timeline. There has already been so many complaints about Facebook interface refreshes it will be interesting how warmly this overshare functionality might be accepted.
So it seems that a number of platforms have taken the time to allocate resources to updating their interfaces, how many will rollback functionality after user riots during 2012? Mostly it seems the interface updates revolve around making them more usable on mobile devices so will desktop users benefit from this continuous update process or will it led to more resentment and drop off?
Facebook is continuing to expand its new Messaging platform across its user base with my account being upgraded today to the new platform. This follows the preparation where all Facebook staff were moved from Facebook.com to FB.com email addresses earlier this year.
The expansion of the FB messaging platform also ties in with the upcoming WindowsPhone Mango update that allows for threaded conversations no matter if the platform is SMS, email or FB messages.
The key features of the new FB message platform
All your messages are together
See the full conversation history
Focus on message from your friends
Has Facebook simplified communication?
The other interesting aspect is that Facebook has killed off the need for a subject line but also allowed you to leave large conversation threads that are no longer relevant. The platform is also focused around your friends so any spam is automatically hidden and any bulk emails or unknown senders are moved to your “other” folder. While this is likely not going to kill of email overnight the simplified aspects is going to appeal to a large number of users but certainly fills the gap between IM and Email. Facebook email is certainly not suitable for business or corporate communication but does offer an interesting alternative to Gmail and Hotmail for personal communication.
Now you are able to receive emails as part of your Facebook conversions with your FB email address matching your public username. This is going to produce interesting results for those users that have created strange usernames who are stuck with this email for as long as they use Facebook.
You are able to then activate your Facebook email and you are ready to start receiving emails from non-friends on Facebook and also sending messages to non-friends on Facebook. It’s also a good idea once your Facebook email is activated to control who can send you messages in your account privacy settings.
You can now send to someone on Facebook to externally to any email address, but can also send the message as a text message if it is important. At this stage you appear to be able to attach any type of file to the message which will likely be locked down as it opens a massive security risk and potential flood of infected files and trojans. The other initial issue is that you can potentially attach any sized file which might be a feature but there is no guidance on your accounts email storage or send limits so best not use it to share large files just yet.
You can also add attachments, photos or video to any reply so could be easily expanded and improved to suit group collaboration and make planning events and holidays easier with your Facebook friends. The other items that will be eventually added to its message platform likely include the ability to link in Facebook Pages, Groups or Events into your messages easily.
The new FB message platform allows you to take a picture or video feature allows provides a functionality to turn on my laptops webcam and you can select between video and photos but only one can be added per message at this stage. The video quality appears to be fairly low resolution but it’s fast and if required you can replay the message or reset it before you send it.
The FB email platform is smart enough to automatically link the email you supplied to the name attached to their account. So if your friends continue to use “firstname.lastname@example.org” it will automatically show their real name James Smith in the message thread.
Facebook Message options
The new message platform in keeping with Facebook’s platform is fairly limited but also simple enough for anyone to use. To use the actions you select the checkbox next to the message and then select an option. The platform is not desired to deal with thousands of messages so remember to archive your messages regularly so your inbox doesn’t become overwhelmed. There is no guidance on maximum number emails you can store or total storage space your account is allowed. There is also the missing feature of being able to select multiple messages quickly to perform bulk actions but this feature will hopefully be added soon as more users start using the platform.
Facebook Message Search improves
Obviously a big factor with consolidating all your messages is you know need an improved search feature but the functionality lets the platform down. The platform consolidates your Chat history into your message thread but you are not able to search through your previous chats only messages and emails. This is a problem as chat and messages can sometimes blur and you can mix between the two but you cannot search Chats at this time.
When are looking at a conversation thread you are able to search for keywords but it doesn’t offer search as you type and also doesn’t highlight within the results where in the conversation the keyword is found. The search as you type feature is fairly common in Facebook but the highlighted text element is required.
What’s next for Facebook Messages?
I assume one of the next steps is further integration of messages into the Facebook platform but also looking to integrate an improved Facebook calendar/event functionality to match Google & Outlook Calendars. The other obvious step forward for the Facebook platform is the eventual roll out of their Facebook email marketing solution that links in with the Facebook Ads, Facebook Page analytics and even Facebook Connect.
Get started with Facebook Messages
If you want start using the new Facebook message platform you can enable it here but you might have to wait for your account to be added to the beta program or click here to learn more about it.
It seems that now that since Facebook has passed 500,000,000 users and topped Google as the #1 website in the world, much of the world has begun to turn against Facebook, which is a shame as it seems that data portability has finally started to get some attention but what has just happened seems almost backward. In the last day or so it seems that Google has taken the radical step to turn off Gmail data APIs to Facebook so your contacts can no longer be automatically handed over to non-Google platforms and services like Facebook.
It will be interesting to see if this will be expanded to cover other social media platforms like Linkedin, Twitter or FourSquare as they also do technically leave the users data in a dead zone which Google cannot use in its data mining. Wired.com seems to question some of the commercial motives behind the decision as well as the company that blogs like TechCrunch appear to have shown support for in the early moves of what looks to be a drawn out argument. As new Gmail contact policy will be rolled out of the next few weeks get in early and make sure you share all your personal and private Gmail contacts with every and any service you may ever have plans to use before their Gmail data feed is also turned off.
Ok so the last point is meant to be taken with a grain of salt as you should take some note of the concerns Google has about the use of data but always place your privacy first and don’t automatically share access with just any website that requests access to your Gmail contacts.
The announcement around the Gmail API blockade does place a question over any other social media platforms that you currently use that rely on the Gmail API to import your Gmail contacts to quickly find friends, family or workmates that are also using the platform. Google does make it sound like if the platform allows for data to be imported and exported then it should satisfy Gmail but this policy may also change as Google begins to see the commercial value of your Gmail contacts in its upcoming Google Me strategies.
Google tells you what to do
The biggest issue that seems to be missed by the initial media coverage is that Google is making the decision on how it’s Gmail users can elect to make use of their data they imported or entered into their contacts lists. It should be each Gmail users own decision if you want to share it, export it or delete it. The move does not set a good precedent on how Google views your Gmail contacts as it seems that they have seen a commercial benefit and have staked a claim on ownership and rights around who and how they can be accessed. The use of your data if it is in Gmail or Facebook should be your decision and users should not be involved in their parents public fight of social data. So Google and Facebook seem to be setting the ground work for what looks to be a nasty breakup fight in front of the kids and i’m sure it will just get worse and only the users will get hurt in the data protectionism battle ahead.
Issue places doubt in Google’s commitment to OAuth?
While the Gmail API has been extended to support authorisation via OAuth which is the industries open standard protocol which allows Gmail to have secure API authorisation between desktop and web applications steps like this place doubt in its commitment to OAuth and it’s development community if they are going to take their bat and ball and go home so quickly. As Michael Arrington points out maybe this is the beginning of a data war between the world’s biggest websites and will open platforms like OAuth slow their arms race?
There is no Google Places API!
Just as Google has been making noise over the issue of Facebook being a one-way user of its Gmail API, one of the long-standing issues has been the level of data accumulating in Google Places. Much of the Google Places data has been acquired by Google bots scraping it from across the web, via business owners entering information or from trusted data partners such as YellowPages. The issue is that initially when your Local listing is created the data was imported from YellowPages and then you can then make adjustments or updates as required, the issue is that this data is a one way road. If you correct an error in the YellowPages data it is not imported back to the YellowPages database so why is this issue not being raised as double standards around data access?
It’s easy to find a number of previous issues that have arisen when Google Places have removed data it initially displayed that scraped from platforms such as Yelp, so why the big issue around Facebook being a one-way street when Google Places is just as bad if not worse. Think about if Facebook decided that after you imported your contacts it no longer wanted you to speak to your friends who didn’t have a Optus mobile due to a commercial relationship it might have with Telstra and removed them from your Facebook contacts. There would be a massive outcry but effectively Google Places has done this in the past by hiding data it selected to import from platforms like Yelp as it appears to compete with Google’s commercial agreements with local data partners like Zagat. Again it appears that the choice has been taken out of the users hands due to a commercial benefit and if all is fair and transparent as claimed by Google the decision should be with the business owner if they select to import or display Yelp’s content and not with Google Places algorithm or commercial agreements.
Is all fair in love and data wars?
Just as there is no Google Places API and this is a one way relationship is it really fair to call out Facebook over its own selfish aspirations to be the centre of your social universe if Google Places is also a dead-end street?
Google has finally made the decision to publicly announce their rollout of voice calling and video chat from within Gmail. The feature requires the install of a plugin to make the calls from within Gmail but provides the initial benefit of free calls anywhere within the USA or Canada….
Does you email need to call you?
The problem is that now you cannot escape from distractions within even your email, as Google continues to add bells and whistles to their Gmail platform. The interesting point about it is that a whole lot of people don’t seem initially that excited, so has Google pushed a product that people aren’t wanting to use purely for self benefit? Like most people im happy enough to use Skype if I want to make a free phone call or I can pick up my mobile if I want to talk. The idea of click to call within Gmail seems to create more of a hassle than an added benefit for Gmail users.
Free calls until when?
Another issue I have is the vague statement that calls to the USA and Canada will be free for at least the rest of the year… and then what will it get revoked before Christmas or will it be the 31st December at 11:59pm? Launching a new VOIP product is great for consumers looking to save money but picking a random and uncertain time in the future where you will start having to pay seems a little disorganised…
Some of the notes on the post talk about its great if you are in an area that has bad reception. I would assume that would be likely because you are in an office and should be working and not making personal calls oh and it doesn’t mention the side issue of having to need a PC handy….
I mean great idea to promote the product as Gmail calling but it’s really Google Voice just inside Gmail, and the http://www.gmail.com/call redirects to http://www.google.com/chat/voice/ so why try to market it under a new banner it will just confuses consumers as they wonder if it operates differently to Google Voice and why do they need it.
Skype Works Better
I don’t see how using Google Voice inside Gmail is any more convenient that running the Skype plugin where you can click to call any number within your browser. No need to write down the number and type it into Gmail, Skype already has a click to call module that works great.
Skype is cheap enough
With all the issue around trying to get people who use the internet to pay for news/video/music why push down the already cheap rates to free, it’s not going to help consumers if Google Voice kills off all the other VOIP companies. The call prices between Skype & Google Voice for landlines is fairly slim in Europe with a saving of only $0.01/min which is not enough for me to worry on a Pay as you go plan, or you can just get a monthly plan and pay a flat rate if you call a lot using VOIP.
I mean give the product a test and download the voice plugin here but really it’s not going to change the world anytime soon and Skype is still the world’s leading VOIP product for a good reason, its simple and it works!
In what is a very obvious “head smacking” move Google has allowed users to fast track access to their accounts by a simple SMS recovery feature. The existing process of having to contact Gmail support is time consuming so anything to speed up the process of reclaiming access to your account is a great move forward.
This SMS feature may not get around the fact that people can guess your simple passwords, what is the answer to your secret question or your partner/mates can’t steal your mobile. It is a great move forward and could prove quite useful for AdWords/Analytics accounts as web developers often move on leaving companies without access to their accounts.
This would be a great feature for OpenID accounts and even Facebook with the rise in accounts being hacked. Google has made an interesting move forward but how does this integrate with Google Voice or Skype?
In a long-overdue move to catch up with Gmail, Microsoft has begun rolling out free POP3 support to Windows Live Hotmail users in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Japan, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. They advise that more countries will be coming soon, based on their past releases those who speak english or their staff can find on a map.
The much requested POP3 feature was only previously available for an extra $19.95 per year as part of their overpriced Windows Live Hotmail Plus. The issue was that many other email services offered POP3 support for free!
It’s been in speculation on blogs for a while that Microsoft had planned to offer POP3 access to all users. Well crack open your cans of redbull that day has finally arrived just in time for a large scale rollout of Google Apps Premier Edition.
Another amazing feature is a “Quick Add” moveable sidebar, that enables users to quick search for maps or addresses. Firefox users also have that feature when they highlight a word and right click and “search google for….” These kind of features often seem to be too slow too late, as many people continue to adopt Gmail addresses over the previously cool hotmail.com….