Posts Tagged Google

How Google is Useful

Recently I blogged about Orientating around Android Devices.   While I did mention the use of applications and services in that post, I didn’t call out any in particular.

However, this screen shot, demonstrates one really useful service, I have become increasingly fond of and reliant upon.

That service is Google Now


As a reasonably frequent traveller the information provided is succinct, timely and ultimately useful in assisting me plan, and schedule my actions.

As it covers a number of topics, including sport, useful local information, etc, and it is available on the desktop too – it is a pervasive, multi-device digital assistance.

Certainly in terms ecosystem and service, lock-in and increasing consumer dependency, I think Google Now, leads the field.

What do you think?


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Visual Magic with Word Lens

Google recently acquired Quest Visual – the developers of Word Lens – the incredible language manipulating app, that translated language in real-time while using input from the mobile device’s camera.

Word Lens

The app is currently available for free via Google Play.

To see how amazing it is – have a look at the video

It is currently available for Andriod, iOS and even Google Glass

For any traveller or language enthusiast this has a must have app.

And for Google  this plays very nicely into the Language and Translation service portfolio e.g. Google Translate

  • Have you used Word Lens?
  • What other mobile language tools would you recommend?


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Some thoughts on the latest G+ User Interface

Last week Google made a significant refresh of the user interface to their G+ social network system.

Google+ – UI update Introduction



There were obviously much comment made on the likes and dis-likes of the revised interface.

I see it as a positive improvement and also a stepping stone on to further service integration and UI tweaks.

The reason I see it as a “stepping stone” move, is the number of comments the perceived unused quantities of “white space” that have been placed into this iteration of the UI.


      I like the vertical left navigation menu that Google has introduced.

   What I’d like to see the options is

Like this:

G  More-3

So you can see | view Gmail in the same interface window (browser tab) as G+.

So perhaps the “whitespace” section could be preview of the GMail inbox | Google Docs,  or by using the GMail |Google Docs icon from the vertical menu you would use those services inside the G+ wrapper.

I would even suggest Gmail could deliver message notification inside the G+ stream, while still being able to filter into the inbox, the time | activity stream of G+ and Gmail message can occupy the same flow.

For example Photos are already well integrated into the G+ interface – so I don’t particularly see why others can’t be.

In fact both these  Photos lead to the same place.

Universal Menu – Photos G+ Menu – Photos
image image

So Google is duplicating its menu system across its “common” menu system and in G+  vertical menu.  I would expect to see convergence in this area.

I don’t like having to switch tabs to use these other Google services or that clicking on links would open in new tabs.

This is what Facebook gets right – all their services happen in a single browser tab.  Whether it is messages, notifications, other services all operate within a single browser tab.

I hope & think Google will come around to this way of delivering its services too.

What do you think?

Do you prefer multiple tabs or single tab for multiple services?

Would seeing Gmail messages appearing inside G+ appeal to you?

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More thoughts on the user experience in G+

Having been in G+ for a short while now, and joined in with a lot of folks on the G+ field trial, kicking the tyres and joining in on some of the various discussions about it.  I wanted to put down some more of mine own thoughts about this interesting platform.

For the uninitiated & curious this is a quick introductory video:

credits: Google


The obvious thing that most people notice is there space and cleanliness of the Google UX, which has sprung from this initiative of Google (Evolving the Google design and experience).  Of which I am a fan, as I mentioned in a previous blog post about G+.

Many observers have pointed out that the G+ UI is very similar in layout to Facebook, by using a central column of activity with adjacent switches and controls to help navigate the UI. I presume research on user interface design, indicates that best practise for an information flow format would be a central column feature with blank margins or edges to the browser window to draw in the eye to the core content.  Though in my mind it does leave a lot of unused space available in the browser, which could be exploited – perhaps for not for primary content but as supplementary content or additional control features.

However, in spite of this good stuff, I see the following limitations with the current (mid – July 2011) UX of G+ which inhibit my full participation in this platform.

You can only view one stream of activity at a time (a particular circle or the whole stream):


  • Compare that to most Twitter clients (Tweetdeck, Seesmic etc.) where there is a lot of flexibility in the number of columns on view combined with the Twitter list feature is a very powerful mechanism for tracking multiple activity streams simultaneously.
  • I am not sure the web UX of G+ will develop a multi-stream UX soon (I may be wrong).  Though I expect on the release of the API – 3rd party clients will provide this feature pretty rapidly.
  • Perhaps Google will allow users to create additional tabs|spots for favourite streams here would be a possible solution?


(For example, I already use the Google+Tweet integrated extension – so it can be done)

Circles are missing activity notification features:



  • Currently UI indicates the displayed stream by highlighting it in a red font.  But it provides no information about the status of activity in other circles|streams you may be interested in, therefore your decisions on where to view next are more pot-luck than driven by useful information.  This could be fixed by providing..
    • An unread count for each circle (though will that make it feel like email all over again?)
    • Give new post indicators (e.g. change of font colour of updated circles, or place updated circles at the top of circles list, blinking circle icon etc.)
    • Indication of new posts in a stream by a different background fill colour, like unread marks, but that fade on scroll or mouse hover.
  • Obviously, this is more applicable when viewing a particular circle stream, rather than your whole activity stream, but knowing what circles are active or dormant should be indicated visibly to assist your management of the G+  service.
G+ needs more than just Circles (in their current form):


  • Circles are great, they help out a lot.  They help channel, tailor and focus the conversation to an audience that grasps the tacit context and content around the information shared.  Also these are the early days of G+ – so we need to give Google a fair crack of the whip and respond to feedback etc.
  • However, my gripe is this. Circles provide a method to categorise or filter people and how you share with them, but not necessarily where content should be shared.  Or actually where to find that content again…
    • I can’t search for posts or comments from inside G+ (I know there’s Chrome browser search work around), but it’s not brilliant.
    • Utilisation of topic (hash) tags are missing.
    • All circles are private, there are no public equivalents.
  • I feel this leads to a random spray (scatter gun) of information and knowledge across G+ which users find hard to grasp and navigate.  Which is why I think we’re all mostly talking about G+, rather than other things. see this example
  • I’m sure Google will be working on this, but I feel there needs to be either an implementation of public circles or topic specific pages|groups.
  • Then not only does the individual user have the ability to post content in context or to the right audience, but community|shared knowledge actually has a conceptual container & residency.  Therefore if you’re interested in “X” you join the page|group about X, and as a consequence find the associated experts, latest information, debate etc. Then you can create your own related circle to be your receiving filter for that information stream.
  • To me it just seems to be something missing in G+.  Each one of us is creating our own circles of content consumers and creators, with very little reference apart from our own social graph.  Which seems fine for private or intimate level of social kinship. But at a community sharing level I think there needs to be a higher level of visibility on the nature of content shared or purpose for sharing. To build and cement connections in that community, as well to motivate, inspire and drive it forward.  Do you disagree?  Do you think G+ can seed such strong communities without that conceptual framework?

I hope Google does address some of these issues soon, as I feel a little reticent to fully engage in the platform, as at some level I’m not quite comfortable with this scatter gun approach to content sharing. I think this is partly because of the richness of the conversation factor within G+, it seems  that as a platform more deserving of quality discourse and sharing, so it feels important to do that in the place of most social value – and I can’t tell where that is in G+.

I feel it is more deserving than Twitter, because of fully developed conversation model (chronicled comments and stream),  and the removal of the character limit on the individual post or share.  And also more deserving than Facebook, because at the moment it remains free of commercial interference … whether that will continue?  That is probably unlikely as Google will need to monetise the platform at some point, and that’s bound to mean more than just Adsense links.

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My first thoughts on Google+

So I go where many of the leading technorati (an example list) have already gone…  played about Google +, drawn their conclusions & evaluations, then posted and shared their thoughts with many peers and watchers (at least the vocal ones).

So I won’t past comment on Google +’s evolutionary history or how it compares against the usual suspects.  If you need that information please visit your preferred search engine.

What excites and interests me about Google +   is the slickness of integration with basic and existing services that Google has delivered with this primary iteration of the service through general UI revisionGmail, Google Chat, Photos etc. are all plumbed in well (perhaps not exactly as people wish, but that’s why the feedback button is there).

They’ve combined these key services and nicely presented them in the revised Google UI – which provides sensible toolbar menu and workspace with simple clean lines and uncluttered space in the browser.  The top right-hand side being particularly useful with the constant presence of the notifications and share menu, along with the context|service sensitive help and setting options.  All this I’ve easily get used and start taking for granted immediately.

So I’ve realised that Google + is almost the sort of connected set of services and social connections where I could use and work everyday.   Until now, I’ve not had a visualisation of a connected web worker interface and services that flow and connect together so well as Google +.  Perhaps that means I’ve missed something somewhere, or only had fleeting interactions with such a platform available elsewhere?

So why do I think it’s particularly suited for supporting the workplace?

These are my call-out features that make it a potentially great Enterprise collaboration platform:-

  • Google chat conversations that remain active and sync’d no matter which Google service tab you have have active, keeping continuity of contact and context.
  • Google +’s Hangouts (video conferencing) present a step change for multi participant video chat services, with intuitive launch and privacy controls.  This will be an excellent service for remote teams.
  • Google +’s profiles are well done, with key controls and updates, to help viewers choose how they wish to interact with that person.  It’s certainly made me think Google account profiles, are an important digital business card as well as sign post to the rest of your digital identity.
  • Google +’s sharing and circles, are there to help drive adhoc collaboration and project activities forward. Helping people target conversations and activities to relevant individuals and groups. Combined with the notification & filter features, your attention handling overhead is reduced. So you can focus on updates when they come in, but otherwise dedicate your focus elsewhere and let things move on in the background.
  • Google has done a good job of the activity stream implementation so far, delivering different filters/views on your stream via the circles categorisation.  Activity streams are more effective than an email inbox in helping an individual track a large flow of data in a loosely coupled manner, as well providing a more flexible engagement and participation model.
  • Gmail and Mobile integration (Huddles – group texts) (primarily Android currently), are already well done and obviously be subject to further improvements in future iterations. It’s also all browser based so the form factor, OS or the resources of the end-point device are not so much a limitation of the service but help to extend it’s reach and serve mobile users better.

It’s not complete by any means so there’s a couple of key things to come that Enterprise will be interested in:-

  • Google Apps, the current Google Enterprise services, look a great prospect for integration with Google +.  It will interesting to watch how that implementation takes shape, and the security and identity features they put into manage privacy, identity and content publication needs.  They’re already done some implementation of dual accounts in the Google+ toolbar, and you can switch IDs see here: account switching
  • Google +  API, another great prospect to integrate both consumer services and enterprise grade application services.

So I’m going to be interested to see how Google + evolves, there’s certainly being no lack of expertise and feedback for Google to exploit to help it change Google +  in the right manner.  It’s certainly good to have a strong disruptive influence in the social networking market place.

For reference this GigaOM post is also a great summary of the potential of Google + as enterprise workplace.

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Favourite Google Chrome Extensions

When I was a Firefox user I wrote a post about my favourite Firefox Add-ons .  I’ve now been using Google Chrome for around six months, since the extensions (release blog post) came out their beta programme.   Though I had used Google Chrome before the extensions release, I didn’t consider it a fully functional replacement of Firefox until the extensions which function in the same manner as add-ons were on the stable release.

I use 16 extensions at the moment, and I’m very pleased to use several that have been successfully ported over from Firefox .

The main reason I chose to install/use an extension is if assists my productivity or connectivity with services and channels across the web.

Collaboration and Connectivity:

For Twitter I use : Chromed Bird

I may be try Brizzly (though the usage and support comment may not warrant that)

For Google stuff I use : One Number – checks gmail, google reader, google voice and google wave for new stuff.

(would be even more useful if I had access to Google Voice )

Though I use Google Reader for my feed aggregation I still use Feedly to read them, and the Chrome extension works very well.  I do like the fact Google Reader & Chrome integrate with Google Gears (or whatever it transforms into) to provide offline feed reading.

Shareaholic – The list is almost endless for what and where you can send and share things through Shareaholic .  It’s great once you’ve signed in, you can prioritise the key services you use, and then whenever you need to capture, send or share it’s just there.  Evernote , and Posterous are in my favourite services to use via Shareaholic .

Productivity and Efficiency:

This is area where I have most extensions in action or assisting me.

Browser sessions and bookmarks:

FreshStart – Cross Browser Session Manager – is an excellent extension, which utilises the synchronisation of bookmarks etc. with your Google account, to ensure your bookmark sessions or collections are shared across your set of device where you use Chrome.  I use this extension a lot to form collections of relevant or related pages and launch them on the same machine or work with them on another.  One of these collections is my set of pages when the browsers is launched.

I still use Xmarks bookmarks sync , to store an alternative back up of my bookmarks.  This is a duplication of the google sync, but useful if I need to get to my bookmarks on another browser (IE or Firefox).

Start up, Search, New tabs:

I use to the other Xmarks extensions (Xmarks Thumbnails & Xmarks SearchTabs ) to help enhance the search results page.

Xmarks Thumbnails – providing a thumbnail of the page is actually helpful in selecting which search result link I chose, giving added visual information & clues (not only text), which I’m sure the brain appreciated. So many of our judgement calls are done on visual signals, I think only text (same colour/font) actually disables some of that natural ability.

Incredible StartPage – a very useful extension to drive the  browser into your commonly used sites, access recent history and other bookmarks. It’s what I now use as the “new tab” default.

FastestChrome – is a must have!  Automatically loaded “next” pages for continuous scrolling, instant search and word definitions on selection or highlighting, more search engine options integrated into result and relevancy links in wikipedia.

(also search menu bar on search results page)

(instant definition lookup – and extensible search options)

One of the best things about this extension is how quickly you start to instinctively use the functions and features.

Task Management:

ChromeMilk – is the only option for me, providing all the regular RemembertheMilk functionality I use within the Gmail tab, but now accessible from any browser window, it’s simple and smart.

Behind the scenes & Utility:

These are some of the important stuff that many of us who use browser extensions just load up in default, so because they don’t appear on the extension menu bar, doesn’t mean they don’t count.

Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer (by Google) – does what it says on the tin.  Launches known document extensions into a preview mode, so that they are searchable and readable.  Very useful for example if you’re looking a help document in pdf format and just need to search out a key term without the hassle of downloading, and then finding and launching the file.

Adblock – again delivering a great service from behind the scenes, Adblock does all that nuisance pop-up and AD removal that you need as you navigate around the web.

IE Tab – allows you to display pages using IE in a tab within Chrome. For those oh not quite with it sites!

Wikipedia Companion – simply a full-featured mini-browser/lookup for Wikipedia.

Where can I find out more:

These are just my selection and opinion on Chrome extensions. Look at these links for more ideas.

and of course:

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Insight Client Event – Manchester Sept 9th 2009




A major set of vendors were present in Manchester to promote their products and services.  The focus was in small & medium business spectrum but there were elements that were relevant to the enterprise scale as well.  The vendors represented were also across the spectrum of the IT and computer services industry – memory and chip manufacturers, hardware manufacturers, infrastructure software to specialist application software vendors.

The most prominent stands (key sponsors) at the show being the Blackberry, Microsoft, Symantec and Sony, though as the host Insight was also well represented throughout.

Keynote talks were given on a number of current hot topics – Security (Symantec), ‘Recession proofing your IT department’ (Quocirca), Windows 7 (Microsoft) and Cloud computing (Google).

I attended both the Microsoft and Google keynotes – and you can find the my overview and conclusions on them here:

Microsoft Windows 7 Keynote

Google Cloud Computing Keynote


I wonder if this moment in time cross-section of service (software, hardware, services) providers reflects in some ways the roll-call or roster of the early-millennial IT market at the end of that era?  With the economic and delivery models of IT evolving towards utility based industrial-scale services, and businesses keen to reduce cost, complexity and overhead, perhaps this combination will precipitate some sort of consolidation and simplification in the range and breadth of service providers (even in the SMB market) – rather like the reduction of motor vehicle manufacturers during the period between and post the 2nd World war, as a large-scale industrial players absorbed, out sold and out played smaller less nimble providers and manufacturers.

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