Friday, June 29, 2007

Google docs knocks of socks - but still no docks to OS chops

I've been traveling about for the last few days and with limited connectivity my online time has mostly been spent dealing with email and other coms rather than 'productivity' applications, so when I got back to my desk this morning and opened up Google Docs to check the progress of a collaboration I got a surprise - a brand spanking new interface.

(pic from ZDnet review)

That is to say that the home/file page has been revamped - the apps themselves remain unaffected.
It is an improvement on the previous incarnation. There is more detail in front of the eye and dragging and dropping has been introduced both of which cut down time and effort. However, as a long time heavy Gmail user the file list layout with its new chronology based view, fires my 'inbox recognition neurons' which is confusing as I keep thinking I'm looking at mail. To my mind it all looks a bit cluttered - although the ability to see file name, shares and access date without extra clicking or mouse movement is welcome. You can also now view the doc list by collaborator as well topic or time frame.
How long before we get the ability to define a 'group' for sharing? That would be useful.
'Folders' have now appeared, which is I guess merely a matter of sticking alternate interfacing on tagging of old; I've heard many a call for the introduction of folders to Google Docs, which I assume is a result of years of conditioning in the desk top construct - will that metaphor never die - and it looks like Google may have succumbed!

As I expected, a quick check of the blogosphere turns up a myriad of rave reviews about the genius of the system and congratulating the Google team for a job well done. Remember guys, the apps themselves haven't changed yet and Zoho and Thinkfree and probably a few others arguably have better offerings, albeit with a much lower profile. [hmmm - future post on the topic of Gmail as gateway drug to seizing the lion's share of the online app market]

So what everyone is raving about then is in fact not the functions of the 'office' apps but the file organization component - the File Manager of the Google OS if you like.
Now within the context of the 'online' application and the Web 2.0 this is fair, if over hyperbolic praise but lets talk a step back for a moment.
In the wider scheme of things, the state of the art in online interfacing has barely achieved things we used to see in Windows 3.1. In short, if 'Google Docs' was running as a desk top app, we'd all point and laugh. Of course, it is unfair to compare the two deployment contexts, at least until Web apps escape the browser - roll on Apollo/Air, Silverlight etc and the potential hybrid web/desk top app.

It is the liminal area between online and offline which interests me most and having made a start on replicating file management devices online I wonder when Google will switch some attention to the device. What I imagine is essentially for Google ( or Zoho, Thinkfree at al) to provide system hooks which allow an OS to treat the file management aspect of their service as a 'virtual drive'. Now if this 'virtual file system' could also play nicely with the OS to the extent that it could be used as a basis for document sharing from the machine, then I'd start to get really excited, but just being able to use the local power of a machine OS to manipulate online files would be a nice start.

For now, it is possible with some effort to get Google Calendar to sync with my desk top, and Gmail can now play nicely with POP3 etc but what I want is one easy to use method to get all the Google productivity and coms apps plumbed into my OS.

All of this raises some interesting questions which I'll probably get around to addressing in a future post but ... What percentage of online app use is taking advantage of the abilities to access from a 'borrowed' terminal? In other words, how important is it to keep online apps non-dependent on client-side capabilities? or When can we start to treat the Web as an extension of a specific device? or Can we throw all the required 'local' requirements/ setup metadata etc down the wire at runtime?

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Just fixing my Technorati links

Technorati Profile

Thursday, June 21, 2007

bmedia Presentation materials and links

Thanks to everyone for being such an engaging audience last night - it was a pleasure to talk to you all. If any one has any questions or wants to argue against anything I said feel free to email me or post a comment here. You won't offend me by disagreeing with anything I said, I welcome debate and am not too proud to surrender to a well reasoned argument - debate helps us all understand better.

As always with these things there are points I realize I should have made and other things I realize I should have expanded upon but time is always such a limited commodity. If any one can make it to the next Leeds open coffee we can talk further.

Thanks for some really interesting questions and conversations after the presentation.

As promised, the presentation (as a PDF) can be download from here:

Also, below is the reading list I recommend and also the list of Web 2.0 apps that are worth taking a look at to see if they can help you in your business. If you find any others you like, please post about them in the comments section and share with everyone else.

Reading List:


Shaping things - Bruce Sterling

WiKinomics - Don Tapscott

Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing - Adam Greenfield

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution - Howard Rheingold

The Laws of Simplicity - John Maeda

Ambient Findability - Peter Morville

The Long Tail - Chris Anderson


Ripe for use - Web 2.0 apps an SME could use right now:

Document Sharing and Archiving
Google Docs

Customer Relationship Managent

Blogger, Word Press, TypePad

Project collaboration


Meeting Coordination
Time & Date, Dopplr, Calendar Hub

File Transfer
Dropsend, Yousendit

Xdrive, Omnidrive

News/Feed tracking

Linkedin, odesk

Information Tracking/Sharing

Event publicity

Social Network

Office suite
Zoho, Thinkfree, Google Docs

YuuGuu, Social Text

YuuGuu, Webex

Skype, Grand Central

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Web 2.0 and the SME @ bmedia

Tonight I'm doing a talk at bmedia, (West Yorkshire's media, new media and technology network) on the topic of Web 2.0 and how it relates to the SME.
I aim to cut through hype and misunderstanding and unearth the trends that led to Web 2.0, extrapolate these forward and give some pointers as to how it all can or will effect the enterprise.

I'll post up the presentation on this blog after the event.

Web 2.0 and the SME - Exploiting the potential of the 'New Web' for business
Stories about MySpace, Youtube and the new range of Google products abound, but Web 2.0 offers the potential for far more than consumer and entertainment applications. Ian will discuss how the SME can and must take advantage of these new technologies and new ways of thinking in order to stay competitive.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Silicon Valley and Everywhere else

It has been an interesting month with a lot of exciting work with a lot of smart people taking up my time. I've had my head down and been doing some serious graft and hadn't really noticed the minor details like the fact that I'd bounced between three continents, changed my time zone 8 times and taken eating out with all meals accompanied by technical debate and napkin sketching to be the normal way to consume sustenance.

Then last week I had a reality check when I suddenly realized I was in fact doing for a living something I dreamed of as a kid.
So, what prompted this moment of clarity?

Well, I looked up and found myself hurtling down the 101 between Burlingame and Palo Alto in Silicon Valley in the back of a rented mini-van, MacBook balanced on my knee, hacking some last bits of code together for a product demo I was about to deliver at Stanford University!
Now I may have been doing the relatively easy job from the technical point of view of getting the Rails code of superstar hacker Dave and front end of ex-Hollywood SFX guy George to talk to each other - but that is beside the point! To a young computer obsessed kid growing up in 70s/80s small town Derbyshire, UK, these were almost mythical places and the thought of 'doing computers' for a living tantamount to joining Kirk's crew.

The irony of my working with distance shrinking communications technology and still feeling the gravitational pull of a specific geographical location (and I'm not talking about 'The Mystery Spot') is not lost on me. This is I guess partly to do with my own childhood fascination and partly to do with the fact that despite great work going on elsewhere in the world (and there is lots of it), nowhere else has quite the confluence of smart people, facilities and investment money in such scale.

Over the years of course there have been many examples of attempts to replicate Silicon valley elsewhere, and numerous ongoing debates about why this hasn't or couldn't or shouldn't work and I'm not going to get into that now. Suffice to say that as a tech entrepreneur and innovation consultant the cultural differences between the 'go for it' attitude that prevails in the Valley (and to be fair the US in general) and the risk averse over-caution I meet most often in Europe (there are always exceptions) are extremely vivid.

In Carbon, one of our passions is helping to cultivate a culture of encouragement for innovative thinking and doing, an attitude where a single failure is not perceived as a millstone that must be worn around the neck for public display for the rest of a career and an environment where start-ups, large enterprises, investment and education can all come together with an air of optimism, enthusiasm and excitement and really start to achieve something.
It is heartening that on this quest we are discovering more and more like minded people.

Who knows where these combined efforts could lead, but it would be nice to think that one day, some fresh faced kid from Mountain View CA, might grow up to blog about his adventures hurtling down the M62 in a rented hovercar, while hacking a 3D Holographic interface to a quantum computer driven back-end on their way to demo their product at The University of Huddersfield.