Google Waves Goodbye To Old Messaging

If you look at the ways we communicate online, you’ll find they are nothing more than fresh paint on archaic methods…some of which date back to the days of six-shooters and stage coaches. All of the innovations thus far have been in the form of bolt-on extras. It’s kind of like duct taping an iPod to an 8-track player then splicing headphone cables to the speaker wires. You still have an 8-track player. Think about it, email is a mimic of snail mail and IM is just glorified telegraph communication.

But it looks like the guys and gals at Google have decided to step up and do something for online communication that nobody has successfully done thus far. They scrapped everything and designed a system from the ground up to leverage all the web and modern technology has to offer for communication into a single tool. This tool is Google Wave. If you visit the site you will be presented with a video of the tech demo that lasts nearly an hour and a half. It’s well worth the watch.

So what is Google Wave and what makes it so special? That’s not an easy thing to describe. It’s partly a framework, partly a protocol, partly an application, and all wrapped in yummy bacon. In the video, one of the designers of Google Wave mentions that email was actually invented over 40 years ago…long before the advent of the internet. So the driving force was if email were invented today, what would it be like? I have to say that in this regard it looks like they are succeeding amazingly. They touch on things far more in-depth than I will here, but I will hit the high points.

The gist of the application side of Wave is collaboration. Take email, IM, blogging, forums, Wikis, Twitter, Flickr/Picasa, YouTube, and basically any Web 2.0 site/application and stir. Bake in Google’s think-tank for two years and you get one heckuva slick piece of coding magic. You can write a Wave (which is the term used for any type of communication) and add people to it. We won’t call them recipients. They’re more like participants. They can then reply or add or edit or privately reply not just to the message, but to specific pieces of a message. In real-time. No more seeing Hoser is typing messages forcing you to wait eleventy hundred minutes for them to finish. You see what they are typing almost character for character which allows you to go ahead and start formulating or even typing in a response.

Then you can drag files (pictures, movies, whatever) directly into the Wave which shows up almost immediately in their Wave client if they are looking at the Wave at the time you do so. In the case of pictures, you get thumbnails pretty much instantaneously while the full pictures are still loading. This makes for some really interesting possibilities. Given that this is a Google project, you know that the search is really nice. No surprise there. The surprise is this: it runs completely in the browser. But this doesn’t scratch the surface of what it can do. Oh, did I mention this will be open-source?

Yes, Google has already announced this will be an open source system and they are encouraging developers to create their own Wave clients and even server implementations. There will be a series of APIs to allow anyone to create robots (snap-ins) to connect Wave to other services. They show a Twitter robot, a blog robot, and even a translator that does…get this…real-time language translation for conversations. They want to see what kinds of amazing things other people can come up with to extend Google Wave even further than they have imagined. Oh, did I mention that the real-time updates work even if you have your own Wave server implementation? Yep, you get the same sweetness between Wave servers so it could be as universal as email. That’s where the Wave protocol comes into play.

I really can’t go into much more about this or this post will take four years to read. Go watch the video. Seeing it work is far more impressive than any simple text post could hope to be. I’ve seen the future…and I’m wearing shades.

iPhone or WinMo?

I have now been with an iPhone for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to toy around with the interface and let the new wear off of the novelty. It has also given me time to delve into a few of the productivity apps that one can get for free from the App Store. Why the free apps and not pay apps? Simple. Many of the pay apps are mobile versions of commercial software. Quality for those is expected to be fairly high. I wanted to see what the really thrifty could use.

First off, I really like my iPhone. If you frequent my site, then you know that I have used the AT&T Tilt since its release last year and I have had almost nothing but praise for it. I still do. It is a wonderful device for those who want to use a Windows Mobile phone. I still suggest changing the ROM on the Tilt to make it truly speedy and functional. What does this have to do with the iPhone? Well I decided to try out the Apple offering to see how it fared against my beloved Tilt. iPhone wins hands down. First off the device isn’t nearly as clunky as the Tilt. This is a big deal to me. I’m not a style hound, but I don’t enjoy walking around holding a small car up to my head to talk to someone.

As of the 2.0.2 Firmware update the battery life and signal reliability have been improved. I would say that it now rivals the stock Tilt for battery life. While it may be playing catch-up with the Tilt in the areas of signal and battery, it far outstrips the device when it comes to the screen. The iPhone display is absolutely beautiful. The touch screen accuracy and sensitivity are generations beyond the Tilt. The system works far more fluidly than I thought it would.

What about the lack of a physical keyboard? As many have said before me, after a little time with the touch screen, I don’t miss the tactile board and actually find I am faster on the iPhone. I used to struggle with the Tilt’s keyboard. It took both hands to use at all. The iPhone screen keyboard can be used one handed once you learn the distance to move your finger to hit the different “keys”. The autocorrect feature rarely makes mistakes unless you happen to be typing in slang. That does confuse it sometimes. Overall, however, autocorrect keeps you from having to backspace because you missed a key by a nanometer.

The GPS on the 2.0.1 firmware was terrible. I won’t even try to make an excuse for it. It downright sucked. Even the Tilt on a radio firmware version that took nearly 3 minutes to boot the GPS chipset beat the iPhone on 2.0.1 firmware. That’s is completely different on 2.0.2. The GPS literally finds you in a matter of seconds. At least that has been my experience. And let me tell you, my GPS completely stopped working the second day I had my iPhone. Firmware FTW!

I suggest buying a case for your iPhone if you want to keep it safe. I rather think the Speck ArmorSkin is great. It’s easy to deal with, gives you simple access to every button and port you need and is thick enough to help protect your expensive device from a small drop. A word of warning on the belt clip: Don’t use it. The plastic is flimsy and it doesn’t hold the phone securely at all. Just put it in a pocket and be happy.

What about the software? This post got long. I’ll write up the review on my software choices next week.

Mobile Life Without Corporate Systems

Lately I have been looking around at ways to separate myself from work specific systems but keep all the wonderful services. You know, all of those neat little things like email, calendar, contacts, file storage. Some of these things are painfully simple to replace but others are just painful if you don’t know where to look. But thanks to lots of surf time and reading unholy amounts of Lifehacker, I have managed to put together a near dream team of services that I daresay actually exceed most corporate offerings. Here’s what I use:

Email – Gmail is the way to go. They have some really great features from Labels to truly effective spam filtering. Add to that almost 7GB of storage and it’s comletely free…

Calendar – Google Calendar does a nice job of filling this role and it integrates with Gmail. There’s your web based Outlook/Exchange replacement. Oh, and you can have appointment reminders sent via SMS to your phone. Try doing that with a simple click in Outlook.

Contacts – I use Gmail’s contact list for this. It works great. Of course you can always use built in systems like Windows Address Book or Address on your Mac. Heck, you could just use your phone if you really wanted to but I find that the information kept in Gmail is more than sufficient.

File Storage – Dropbox is the winner hands down. Why? Because I like a system with a client that will automagically sync without any work on my part after initial configuration. Dropbox does that. Just set up your account and install the client. From that point on, just put the files into the Dropbox folder to have it sync in the background to their service and to every other computer you have linked to your account. Schweetness.

Notes – Evernote has a wonderful service. With clients that sync your notes to your Mac/PC/WinMo/etc system and OCR run on every image you send to them, Evernote stands above the rest for services rendered for the almighty price of free.

It takes a little time to get used to using these different tools if you are accustomed to the usual Microsoft systems and indeed you can integrate a number of these into Outlook if you really want to use it. But for the full use of all the features available, using the native clients is the way to go. And yes iPhone users, you can use all of these from the comfort of your mobile device save Dropbox.

Disqus Comment System

I saw an interesting tweet from Scott Beale over at Laughing Squid today about his new comment system. He moved to Disqus and he wanted some people to test it out. So I stopped over and left a few comments and decided to sign up for a Disqus account while doing so. This is a neat little system that lets you track your comments across all sites using this system for their comments. Your profile at Disqus is used for all of them and your clout (think karma) travels from site to site with you. This could both good and bad.

I do like the centralized storage and configuration for not only my comments, but all comments on my site as well. Everything is in one place and easy to deal with. The installation on a WordPress site is really straightforward. Just download and activate the plugin and you’re done. That’s the silver lining to this cloud. The cloud itself is that there is no way right now to import any existing WordPress stored comments into Disqus. You don’t lose them. They are still in the database. But since the plugin replaces the comments section on your site, they don’t show up any longer. Oh and did I mention Disqus supports Seesmic video comments?

I understand from my reading that they are working on an import mechanism and I am eagerly waiting for the release. There have been hints that it would be released this month so they better hurry…there’s only a few days left. I’m not overly worried about it for SBR because there weren’t all that many comments to begin with. Of course, part of my laid back attitude towards this has to do with their response for enhancements and fixes. All indications are they respond really really quickly. I’ve seen nothing but praise for their efforts to make their users happy.

Hey Comcast…perhaps you should have your techs study under these guys for a while. And while you’re at it, I think both Disqus and Comcast should head over to the Demo Girl site and read this. Why? There are links that are only available if you scroll to the very bottom of the page…things like HELP. Bad web designers. No cookie for you.

Evernote Goes Live

I was first introduce to the Evernote service by Leo Laporte. He mentioned it in a TWiT podcast and the concept intrigued me. Here is a service that will let you upload text, images, web pages, whatever into online notebooks that can be synchonized with desktop client software or accessed via web browser. The really neat feature of this service is the OCR. All notes are run through OCR so you can even search your images by typing any text that appears in the picture itself. Well, after a huge invite-only beta (much like GMail), they have gone live.

Free service with Evernote is still available. It will only allow for 40MB of uploads in a month and will not have priority access to OCR services. Storage allowed is still unlimited. There is also a premium membership which gives you the choice of paying $5 a month or $45 a year (a $15 savings). This service gives you 500MB of data uploads a month and first access to OCR services and other goodies like SSL for all data transmissions.

The service has been running along smoothly for the time I’ve had my account. I use the desktop client on both my Vista and Mac systems. Personally I love the clip tool of the desktop client that lets me select a box on my screen to copy into Evernote. This is wonderful for web clips. Then it’s just add a couple of tags and sync. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the next thing Google tries to gobble is Evernote. This is exactly the kind of information organization they stand for.

Hats off to you guys for a great product and here’s looking to a bright future.

Rewards Cards Overload

As I am making my daily journey through the blogosphere, I ran across a post on Lifehacker about streamlining your wallet. The idea has some merit. The gist is that you put all of the barcode numbers for the 9083742987 rewards cards you have on your cell phone so you can remove a metric ton of useless paper and plastic from your wallet or purse. It has some promise but I feel it is too cumbersome to fumble through my address book for all these numbers and then have to type them in or read them out to a clerk who is most likely bored with life in general. After all, I am not putting my phone in their hands. Continue reading “Rewards Cards Overload”