Google Docs, ODF and Data Portability

Consider the code below to display a line of text in HTML:


<style>
.paragraph-text {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
</style>
...
<p><span class="paragraph-text">Here is a test line</span></p>

Now let’s say, we see some developer write it this way:


<style>
.T1_1 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
.T1_2 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
.T1_3 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
.T1_4 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
.T1_5 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
.T1_6 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
.T1_7 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
.T1_8 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
.T1_9 {font-family: Arial; font-size: 11pt; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none}
</style>
...
<p class="P1">
<span class="T1_1">Here</span>
<span class="T1_2"> </span>
<span class="T1_3">is</span>
<span class="T1_4"> </span>
<span class="T1_5">a</span>
<span class="T1_6"> </span>
<span class="T1_7">test</span>
<span class="T1_8"> </span>
<span class="T1_9">line</span>
</p>

What would you say of the quality of the markup above?

Continue reading Google Docs, ODF and Data Portability

Google and innovation – take 2

About a couple of years back, I wrote about how Google had a tight integration between its various services, and how Yahoo lacked it.

However when I made that entry, Google had very few services and Yahoo had lots of them. In fact, Google was primarily a search company and Gmail and Calendar were just new arrivals in the scene.

However now that Google has already been Yahoo 2.0, it's time to look at Google's offerings again and see how they have fared.

The first impression is that Google has done tremendously well. Although they have acquired several companies in the last couple of years, they have been very quick in integrating these applications with their portfolio. Orkut, Gmail/Gtalk integration, Gmail/Google docs integration, Google Mashup Editor are some examples.

However on second thoughts, it looks like there is a lot that is still to be done.

What kind of integration can we expect?

  • You bookmark resources in various services
    • Starring entries in Google Reader
    • Starring posts in Google Groups
    • Starring Google search results
    • Noting down items or clipping entries in Google Notebook
    • Indicating your favorite books in Google Books.
Why is there no single 'Google bookmarks' service?
  • Social network everywhere
Mail and IM are inherently social applications. However with the new Facebook revolution, a social network revolves around everything we do over the web. Google already has its own social network. How well is this integrated with its various services? More on Google Reader social network integration.
  • Presence awareness everywhere
A related expectation is presence awareness in various Google services. GMail has a tight integration with GTalk. Why is a similar presence awareness not available in Google Reader, Google Docs etc?
  • Uniform look and feel
Google has been doing very well here. However, some bit of work is required on sites like Orkut and Youtube.
  • Attention profiling
Google has a log of your search history. However, I guess it would be interesting to integrate this data with your mail interactions, your Google reader trends, your group activities, interactions on Orkut, sites you browse etc.

It is a complex problem to solve. You don't know what the various interaction points between the various services are or what the various dimensions are for these applications. However, we learn some of these over time. For example, it looks like social networks and attention profiling are here to stay. So if you are building an application, ensure that it is integrated well with some social network and also takes into account the attention information of a user.

Search results and relevancy

Search engines suggest alternative keywords when you mistype keywords.

I was looking for a Wikipedia article on Liskov substitution principle. I came across this when I was reading about Design By Contract elsewhere and the article had 'mistyped' the phrase as Lyskov substitution principle.

I first entered it in my Firefox Wikipedia search engine plugin and got no results. My next target was Google and this is what I got:

Not knowing that I had mistyped the phrase, I did not click on the suggestion. I was in fact surprised that Wikipedia does not have an article on this!

Then I searched in Yahoo and this is what I got:

Wow! I had indeed mistyped the phrase and Yahoo turned out to be intelligent in guessing what I was interested in.

Google's approach is like: 'I guess you have made a mistake, but I am not sure, here is the result for what you typed. However, I think you are looking for this.' Yahoo's approach is: 'I guess you have made a mistake and this is what I think you are looking for, if you are interested in search results for only what you typed, click here.'

I am not sure which approach is better, but I definitely like Yahoo's approach because it saves me a page load and a click.

Google, Google, more Google

Google released spreadsheets recently. (Ok, now the world is not quite excited about Google releases).

But I am one of those guys who tries out anything that is thrown at us. I registered for the limited test of Google spreadsheets and tested it out today. And for the first time I felt that Google is losing its standard. They have done a good job no doubt, but it still needs a lot of work before it can be really used.

I could see some bugs and lots of usability issues. Some petty features that we see in full fledged spreadsheet applications are missing. For example, I miss the drag and populate feature where you write some numbers and then drag the pointer down from the last cell and see the rest of the cells populate automatically. I also miss the drag and move feature, wherein I can drag a cell's value and populate some other cell, there by performing an implicit cut/paste.

Am I asking for too much? I don't think so. For regular users of spreadsheets, I don't see an application like this suitable. The number of cells is far too limited (2000 cells). There are no graphs available. Lots of other important features are missing.

So now the question is who is Google targeting? I am sure Google has a definite agenda in mind. There could be 2 possibilities (may be Google is aiming for both):

1. Google is trying to build web applications and wants users to try it out and once they are stable you package everything together and sell an appliance that can help host these services in your enterprise (Software As A Service – SaaS). So users can use these from their browsers without requiring to install anything, but at the same time data remains behind the firewall and so is safe.

2. Google will provide API access to the spreadsheets so you will be able to manipulate your spreadsheets from other applications, and be able to send values, recalculate certain fields and get the calculated columns.

Now this is interesting!

Ok, so does that remind you of Ananya? It sure does! 🙂

And what is Google upto next? Google Presentations? Google Web Designer? If you ask me, I should say a full fledged development environment that can work out of a browser, full with syntax validating editors, inbuilt compilers, databases, web-servers and code sync utilities is something really cool to work on. That way, software is easy to maintain and also this ensures that people are using the same version of the products for development and thus eliminates some common problems faced during software development. Is anyone listening?

Thoughts about Google Notebook, Google Co-op and people tagging in the enterprise

Time advances, so does technology. So although a lot of ideas are hovering in my mind and I have been updating myself with the happenings in the software world, I somehow could not find time to compose a blog entry and share my views. Work has kept me busy like never before.

So let me try and consolidate everything into one entry here:

First and foremost, Google. Whew! These guys never stop (Yahoo, wake up!).

Google released the Google Notebook some time back. I have been trying this for about a week now and it is quite satisfactory.

Let me start with the pros and then go to the cons.

The tool is a quickie. Clip it and click on Add Note and you are done. It cannot be simpler (unless they provide some keyboard shortcut like Ctrl-Shift-C to copy and paste in Google Notebook). You can add your own notes or edit existing ones. You can clip images too! The search is there as always (almost taken for granted when it is Google 🙂 ).

It also allows us to make private notes or make notebooks public.

And now to the cons…

The first is a security issue. As some people are mentioning, the ease of use of this tool may tempt users to clip private data from intranets and store it in Google's servers. And Google has the right to index it.

There is absolutely no meta-data attachment. No tagging! :O (How can people forget tagging in the Web 2.0 world?!)

It is not easy to relate articles. The best way to do this is to create a new section and put everything under it, but this will tire you soon.

There is no export feature. This is a big threat. You start clipping things and you are tied to Google possibly forever!

Ok, we now proceed to the next application Google released -> Google Co-op.

Google Co-op allows users to customize the search results that Google generates (does that sound like Eurekster Swicki?).

The interesting feature here is the extensibility that Google provides in specifying topics of interest, the keywords, links etc.

And what does Google get in return? Lots of meta-information. How nice it would be, if people give you a list of words that fall in a particular category? Google will definitely relish this!

With the hopes that Google does not turn bad, let us enjoy the cool features that they provide and the competition that they face. Competition enables innovation and that is good news for end users.

Some other things that I heard recently: People tagging in the enterprise. This reminds me of a discussion that I had with my mentor some time back.

Let us suppose that I have a list of contacts in my Sametime list. How will I categorize these people? By their teams? Well, may be so.

But someday, I would want to send a mail to all people who are active in some particular community. Or I would want to know the set of people who I have contacted for a particular purpose, which is not necessarily related to their present team. Now is it possible for me to get this view of the users?

People tagging is all about this. Here is a paper from IBM that talks about people tagging in the enterprise.

The concept is simple, but extremely powerful. The idea is to tag people, the way you tag links in a bookmarking tool. Once you do that, you can find all people who belong to a particular tag.

Tagging is central to almost all resources today and will soon form part of the filesystem. (Heard of semantic filesystems?). The line between the functions/services provided by the operating system and the services provided in the internet will diminish and will result in the emergence of the first generation of Web O/Ses. Soon, Web O/Ses will be THE O/Ses.

A departing thought. Today I saw an alert in my mailbox that talked about the next generation web. Wonder where this article is from? Deccan Herald! I don't know how many of them noticed it, but this is news that the semantic web is catching on. The article talked about how Google threw unexpected results for (mostly technical) words that had more than one meaning and how semantic web can help solve this.

Whoa. Enough for today. 🙂

Google, Yahoo! and innovation

Google recently released “Google calendar“. Time and again, Google reminds me of Jeremy Zawodny's blog, Google is building Yahoo 2.0 – Google trying to re-build what Yahoo and others have built, but provide one killer feature that makes it irresistible.

Ok, if you search for comparsions of the Yahoo and Google services, you are bound to get thousands of entries. I don't want to do the same here. But there are some things that I would like to highlight from my own personal experience.

I have tried out a lot of the Yahoo services. Same is the case with Google. Although Yahoo has a lot of features, the innovation seems to have stopped. The mail, address book, calendar, note services are still in the pre-Web 2.0 phase. (Yeah they have been promising a new look and feel, but where is it??? I am waiting). Google on the other hand started off in the early Web 2.0 phase, and has added some product or the other to its portfolio, not to mention adding petty features to existing products.

Another striking difference has been the kind of integration that exists between the services. Yahoo started with lots of services. Each service was on offer individually, least bothered about what other services offer and how the 2 could be related. For example, Yahoo's calendar service seems disintegrated from Mail. Then there is a briefcase service to store files and attachments. The chat service is different; there are different kinds of searches. There are different kinds of bookmarking services. The list goes on and on.

Contrast this with Google. Google started off providing services one after the other, carefully keeping them tightly integrated. (Is this slow poison? 🙂 Get users to use one service and lure them into the rest?) Google seems to be building a 'single page interface'. “For all your requirements on the web use Google.”, that's what they seem to say. You can use the calendar from the mail interface, your chat logs are in your mail. You have ample space to store all your mail (you don't need a briefcase), the search is always there no matter where you are, search something, if you find it interesting save it, label it and search for it later.

This does not mean Google has done it all right. There is a lot still left to be done. The ultimate aim seems to be – get me all my information on demand – get me the information, wherever I want it, whenever I want it, get me only the information I want, and all the information I want, instantly.

All this translates to: A great expectation from Yahoo's new service. Do they have this kind of service integration? Or is it just old things in new clothing? I am waiting.

Google blog search experiments

.

I searched for the string:
“web 2.0” (collaboration or ajax or blogging or blog or blogs or wiki or rss)
in Google Blog Search and this is the result I got.

The links in the search results differ only in their '#', which means that they refer to the same page but different positions in the page.

In blogs, is it a good idea to have such links or is a single result enough?

All your data is ours, but, but wait, what about privacy? contd…

I had recently blogged about privacy concerns with regard to storing data online. And this is what I found today: Do you trust Google?

Among the various things that the article mentions I found these interesting:

* Google working with scientists to make available data related to human genomes. (Now who is going to gift me Google Story?)

* Google providing personal data based on RFID tags.

What is Google upto?!

And now copyrights are fighting with technical evolution

Pardon me for the title. I am not on either side of the balance. Let the law decide who is right and who is wrong. But this one really seems interesting.

This is a continuation of the blog Patents – A boon or a bane, that I wrote recently. And this time it is to do with Copyrights. Without delaying any further let me tell you what I am talking about.

I am talking about the Google Print lawsuit and all the hoopla around it. Google wants to digitize all the books in 3 major libraries of the world and many publishers don't want that to happen.

The ones on Google's side say it helps people in easily searching for collections. You can search for each and every word in each and every page of each and every book that the library has. Seems great for a techie, but the ones against Google say, “It is against the law. Google cannot copyright anything without the prior permission of the publishers. If Google can do it to books, it can then do it to movies, audio and whatever it wants!”

And there is another take of the whole story. What is Google trying to do? Is it trying to grab the data (may be personal) of each and every person? (That is what sounds like the – Aim of Google). How will you feel if someone owns all your data? Is Google a silent killer? (At present it does not seem like one and this seems like a merciless extension of the Google story).

Let's wait and watch.