Google Ads and Rampant Fanboyism

Let me preface this post by saying that I am both a happy Google user and a happy Facebook user. I’m not writing this post to pick sides. I think Google is a great company and I am a satisfied user of their many services. That said, I feel the need to share my observations of crackpot Google+ users that I have seen time and time again.

This week, Google edited their Terms of Service and have plans to launch new product-endorsement ads incorporating photos, comments and names of its users. Facebook rolled out the same thing not long ago, but in typical Facebook form, they made every effort to keep it quiet from its users. I do not want to participate in this new form of advertising on either platform, and I have edited my settings to disable it on both sites.

I find it hilarious the amount of Google fanboyism that exists on Google+. I like G+, but a disproportionate number of posts that I see there are about G+ vs Facebook. It never ends. If the posts are not about that comparison directly, just wait because every comment thread is almost guaranteed to quickly turn into it. It’s reached the point of absurdity and I can’t take it anymore.

A user can write an innocent post about kittens, and within a day, someone will come along and comment completely out of nowhere that “Facebook sucks.” I’ve even seen users post graphs and statistics that claim that Google+ has more users than any social network on the planet. That is absolutely and completely untrue. Yet, their crazy users actually post these falsehoods in the hope that any day now, it may actually be true. I have also read countless times where a user comments that, “Nobody uses Facebook.” Oh, really? Over a billion people use Facebook, including nearly every person that I know. Get your heads out of your asses.

Google+ users take every opportunity to bash Facebook at every turn. I’m not defending Facebook and their repeated privacy offenses, but it is hilarious to see the comments on the many Google+ articles about news of this new Google advertising usage. Google+ users are actually writing that this is an awesome feature and are wowed by how cool it is. Give me a break! When Facebook makes any change to its Terms of Service, Google+ users embark on a Facebook bashing rampage. However, when Google takes nearly the same action, their users praise it as a great feature. Come on!

Below are some actual quotes that I have copied/pasted from comments on various Google+ posts that broke news about this new product-endorsement ad usage:

“Google did it right.”
“I would really like this feature.”
“Not so bad if you’re looking to get circled.”
“I’ve elected to keep this option on.”
“I’m totally okay with the new terms.”
“This is a problem…how?”
“This can be very powerful.”
“Better than Facebook.”
“I’m ready for a Google world!”

I rest my case.

Google Plus Revisited

Six months ago I wrote a blog post where I said that I was giving up on Google Plus. I appreciated the service, but was tired of feeling like I was the only person using it.

I wanted to write a follow-up to say that I’ve been using it again. I’ve actually been using it pretty regularly for the past month.

Over the summer, Google revamped the mobile app for G+. It is very well done. The interface and performance of the app are top notch. Post scrolling is beautifully implemented. The polished fade-ins of posts and images make it feel alive in my hand. It was this new G+ app that drew me to begin visiting Google+ on a regular basis again.

Google also revamped the G+ website. It’s incredibly snappy. It has a clean interface with plenty of whitespace. I like what they’ve done.

I’ve started posting to G+ regularly again. When I have something witty to post to Facebook or Twitter, I’ll usually pop over to G+ and post it there too. I rarely get much feedback, but I figure it’s still worth my time to post there anyway. I think it’s a good service and I want others to use it, so I’m happy to make my contributions to the cause.

Posting photos on G+ is a better experience than on Facebook. Uploading is a breeze. I have more control over what is being shared with my friends when I upload and tag photos. I like the slick way that pictures and albums can be dragged and reorganized. I also like that my pictures are displayed larger and wider than on Facebook. It has been reported that the quality of the images being served are actually higher too. I will agree with that assessment.

I’ve also found myself re-sharing posts on G+, which is something I don’t normally do. Occasionally a cool site like Wired will post a great story and I’ll share it. Google+ handles this quite beautifully. It feels like it’s made for this type of action and I don’t feel as though I’m annoying other users by doing it. I’ve also been regularly posting links to my new blog posts, which I only do once in a while on Facebook or Twitter, depending on the subject matter.

I do have one small gripe. The animated GIFs I can do without. I wish people wouldn’t post them. I don’t fault Google for allowing them, but I wish I could disable them somehow. One or two every now and then isn’t so bad, but when I see three or more on a single page, it starts to become annoying. For some weird reason, a lot of people are fond of them. I don’t know why. You’ll never catch me posting one. (Never say never, Craig.)

The information I get from G+ is more along the lines of Twitter than Facebook. Instead of the majority of the posts that I see being from friends and family, I see a collection of interesting people and sites that I follow. G+ still has a way to go as far as average user adoption goes. I’ve circled lots of power users, but I only know about five people in real life who post to the site on a regular basis. Still, that’s four more than there were six months ago.

User numbers aside, I have come to really like Google+. The service is quite mature. Solid. The site is fully baked and ready to serve.

Despite all of this G+ affection, I still like Facebook very much, despite its flaws. I’m glad that we have Facebook as a ubiquitous service that practically everyone uses. For a social network to become the standard, that has to be the case. While I’m not wishing for Google+ to dethrone Facebook, I’m glad that it exists and that we all have a worthy and powerful alternative.

Sparrow Has Flown the Coop

If you haven’t heard already, Sparrow was bought by Google. Sparrow is a popular email client for Mac OS X and iOS. I had read rave reviews of Sparrow and happily paid $10 to purchase the program. I have been a satisfied user for a long time. On the Mac, Sparrow is a pleasure to use and feature-complete.

I wrote a post not long ago about my thoughts on Sparrow for iOS. I complained that there is no option to disable the automatic loading of remote images in email messages. That feature has never been implemented, and I can’t figure out why. I even wrote the Sparrow team via Twitter and asked them to add this feature. Despite my plea, that feature was never included in any of the subsequent releases.

Last week, Sparrow announced to the world that they had been bought by Google and that they were abandoning further Sparrow development. Google apparently hired the team for their talent, not their product. The folks at Sparrow said that future development of Sparrow would cease immediately. I grew angry at this news and deleted the app from my phone. I felt that I had good cause to do so. The lack of an option to disable remote image loading is a glaring oversight, and with no future updates planned, the option would never be added. I went back to using the native Gmail client for iOS.

I am, however, keeping my Mac version of Sparrow. I really love using the desktop program. And as I said above, the desktop version is truly feature-complete. I am satisfied with the current version as it is today.

I admit being a little bitter, having purchased this software, that Google swept in and effectively shut it down. I will say that I am thrilled for the Sparrow development team for their success and high profile acquisition. They earned it. But this whole debacle stings the community that made Sparrow a success in the first place. It rubs me the wrong way.

Could a Google-branded desktop email client, based on Sparrow, be in the works? We shall see. Personally, I doubt it. Sadly, Google has a history of acquiring clever startups and shutting them down.

Google Voice’s Shoddy MMS Rollout

I have been a longtime user of Google Voice. It is an excellent service with many great features. I’ve written about it before, but today I want to rant about it’s lack of a key feature — MMS text messaging. Hello, Google, are you listening? I complained about this back in early 2011.

My patience has run out on waiting for Google to implement MMS. I use Google Voice as my primary texting messaging system but as such, I still cannot send or receive pictures in my text messages.

Granted, I personally think that text messaging by definition should not involve multimedia content like photos, but the fact is that real users expect and demand it. I’m tired of explaining to people that I cannot get texts with pictures. When someone texts me a photo, I receive absolutely nothing on my end. I have to ask people to use my real mobile number, or send the photo via email. It confuses people that I have to give them two phone numbers.

I was reading a blog post that the Google Voice team wrote back in October 2011 where they announced that MMS was finally being rolled out. Fast-forward six months later to April and I just received my first MMS message with a photo this week. I received a text message that read: “MMS Received.” I had to then check my Gmail account to read an email from Google with the picture attached. I think that is an acceptable way to make this work and I don’t really have a problem with that methodology. I was thrilled! But my excitement was short-lived.

Here is the kicker! According to Google, this half-assed MMS system will only work when the person composing the text message is a Sprint customer. Say what?! That is completely and utterly inexcusable! It’s bad enough that I still cannot compose my own MMS messages, but now I can only receive them from users of only one phone company? Come the hell on. I literally only know three people who use Sprint. Useless.

I want Google get their act together and make MMS work fully across the board for everyone. At the same time, the Google Voice iPhone app needs a complete do-over. It’s ridiculous that a company with such vast resources and talent has not made this happen.

Giving Up on Google Plus

On January 27, 2012 I wrote what has been my last post to-date on Google Plus: “This is my peace out post. I’m not going to use Google+ anymore. I’m going to use the other networks; the ones that have actual users.” Sure, that was probably a little harsh, but I wanted to vent the extent of my frustration with its users, or lack of.

I was quick to get on Google+ when it launched last summer on June 28. In fact, thanks to an inside invitation from my friend Thomas, my account was active the following day on June 29. I jumped on it. I added family and friends to my G+ circles in a frenzy. I sent out email invitations for others to join as well. Over the following weeks, the uptake from my friends was slow but steady. Posts began to trickle in. I began posting to Google+ regularly, on par with Facebook and Twitter.

Technology geeks flocked to Google+. For the first few weeks, I heard endless excitement and praise about it in the tech press. For a time, it was all the rage. I know several high-profile users who went so far as to abandon their traditional websites and blogs to post exclusively on Google+. For some, it was the new sliced bread.

Now, I’m not here to tear down Google+. It does have many great features, including granular privacy controls, editing of already-posted content, video hangouts, large photo displays, and more. The ingredients of a great social network are there. However, it is still lacking a key ingredient — users. Without a critical mass of users, any social network, no matter how well put together, will not make it in the long run.

I currently have a total of 55 people in all of my combined circles. Within my friends and family circles, I have 22 people. Of those 22 people, only two of them ever post anything. That is a literal non-exaggerated fact. Only two people out of everyone I know ever posts a single update to Google+. As such, there is really no reason for me to bother posting anything either. No one ever logs in to read anything that I post there. Once in a blue moon, Thomas will comment on something I’ve written, but one person commenting on a post here and there doesn’t make it all that worthwhile. When compared to the broad community experience of Facebook, there is no comparison.

Google+ has strong potential to be valuable for keeping up with important people that I have in my “following” circle. Within that circle, I keep a lot of tech heads, photographers, and other online celebrity types. When I view my stream, I am able to discover valuable information and conversation around an array of topics. That is fine and dandy, but I can do the same on Twitter and Facebook. In fact, every single person that exists in any of my G+ circles I already have on either Twitter or Facebook, or both. Google+ doesn’t offer much more than I am not already getting elsewhere. I will shamelessly add that Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, follows my account on Google+! While that is exciting, he has never written me, nor does he have any reason to.

When Google Buzz had its botched launch in 2010, I avoided it. In the two years of its existence, I never used Buzz one single time. Buzz wasn’t popular at all. I had no interest in posting status updates to an empty void where it would never be read. I was already happily using Twitter, which Buzz never came close to in popularity. Google eventually killed Buzz in late 2011.

Unlike Buzz, Google+ does not look like it is destined to fail. However, from my perspective, it shares a similar problem as Buzz in that hardly anyone actually uses it, so far anyway. As of the end of 2011, Google reported that G+ has approximately 90 million users. That number shows impressive growth from the time it was launched in the summer, but I imagine that the number of active users is but a tiny fraction of that sum.

The future of Google+ can go either way. I’m certain that Google is betting on its long-term success. After all, they seem hellbent on promoting it wherever they can. The company recently began rolling Google+ results into their new “search plus your world” initiative, something I can’t say I am personally very happy about. In the end, time will tell. Google has deep pockets and if they are dedicated to advancing their social network, I’m sure it will eventually make inroads into the Internet psyche. Until that day arrives, I’ll continue to post exclusively to Facebook and Twitter.

Google Voice for iPhone Needs an Overhaul

I love Google Voice, but their iPhone app is in need of an overhaul. Since November 2010 when the app finally made its way into the App Store, it has never been updated to my recollection. It certainly works as advertised, but there are plenty of features that I would like to see added or expanded. I’ve used other free texting apps that have had better interfaces and features, but I choose to use Google Voice because the service is better. I like the ability to send text messages directly from the website on my computer and maintain archives the way that Google does well.

Before I get into my list of features I want in the iPhone app, I would like to point out a glaring omission with the Google Voice system as a whole. That omission is that MMS texting is not allowed. If anyone sends me a text message that includes a picture, I receive absolutely nothing. No notification, no bounceback. Absolutely nothing. I don’t know why this isn’t fully supported. It couldn’t be a storage issue since Google owns enormous properties like YouTube. The amount of data to manage MMS messaging would be less than a drop in the bucket of the data management for YouTube videos. At the very least, I wish Google would deliver me the text portion of a MMS message with an “attachment not included” warning. Get on this already!

Back to the iPhone app. For some unknown reason, composing text in landscape mode is not supported. I most always lock my phone in portrait mode, so it’s not a huge deal for me, but not everyone uses it the way I do. Landscape mode for the Google Voice app is surely needed, especially for people used to typing in that fashion.

There are no zero options for notification sounds! The only sound the app makes is the generic iOS default notify ding. I’ve used the TextFree app in the past and it had a dozen or so options for notification sounds. This would be a very welcomed feature for Google Voice. The fact that it doesn’t exist already is outrageous. This is one of my biggest complaints.

The font size for text composition is entirely too small. If I compose a brand new text message, the font size and window for typing is just right. However, when working in the inbox timeline of a text thread, the font is really tiny, and replying is done in an incredibly small window. I would like this to change. I would even like to see some font size options in the app settings. In fact, the entire interface of the app could be a lot more attractive overall. I’m calling for a complete overhaul of the user interface.

I use the Google Voice app a lot during the course of a day and I feel like the app is a battery and resource hog. I have no evidence to back this up, mind you. It’s just a hunch. At times it can feel a bit slow and clunky. I don’t know what could be done about this, if anything, but I can’t get past the feeling that the app is making my phone work harder than it should. This issue is the least important in my wishlist and for all I know, it isn’t really an issue at all, but I had to toss it in at the end.

I’ve never used Google Voice on an Android phone so I can’t comment on that experience. I do love the service as a whole. I just wish the iPhone app would receive the overhaul it desperately needs. Get on it, Google!

Google Voice on the iPhone

I’ve had a Google Voice account since mid-2009. I’ve leisurely tinkered with it on and off since I first signed up with the service. Just recently, I’ve started using it much more than I ever had before. The reason for my renewed interest is that Apple finally succumbed and allowed the free Google Voice app for the iPhone into the App Store. The new app, officially from Google, is rich and feature-complete.

In August, I wrote about the awesome TextFree iPhone app. I’ve used it for a while now and definitely would recommend it to replace the expensive text plans from the mobile carriers. I even paid $5.99 for a year of ad-free use of the app, which I think is well worth it.

However, last week, the free Google Voice app suddenly appeared in the App Store. I immediately downloaded the app. Calls to my Google Voice number will automatically ring my phone, and all text messages are displayed through a push notification. It’s pretty awesome. I don’t intend to replace my voice calls with my Google number, but I do intend to use it exclusively to replace native texting. Make sure you disable the forwarding of texts to your actual mobile number in the preferences to avoid being charged for texts by your carrier.

With Google Voice, all text messages are saved and can be browsed in a web interface that looks and behaves like GMail. That is an impressive feature that TextFree doesn’t offer. I hate to abandon TextFree, but I find Google Voice to be incredibly slick, and the app to be more responsive overall. It will be my exclusive means of mobile texting from now on.

Glaring Omissions in Gmail

Gmail is the best web-based email that exists today. It still carries a “Beta” tag, which is absurd, but I digress on that point. I use Gmail daily for all of my mail and communications. Google has slowly introduced some great new features to Gmail over the years. That said, some of the new features have been downright silly. With that in mind, there are two glaring omissions in Gmail that should have been added long ago.

First: I want there to be a user setting to define a default font for composing messages. I don’t like to send messages in the generic font, which I think shows up as Arial on most Windows computers. I like to choose Verdana or Tahoma as my outgoing font. My problem is that I have to highlight my text and change the font from the pulldown list after I compose each and every message. This is annoying. I want to choose a setting in my Gmail preferences to always compose in Verdana, unless I choose otherwise at the time of writing.

Second: There needs to be a method to sort messages by size, or another easy way to single out large attachments. I have written Google in the past and begged for this very feature. Currently, you can only do an advanced search on your mailboxes and check a box that says “Has Attachments”. Within those search results, there is no indication of any attachment sizes without viewing each message individually. It would be to Google’s own benefit to make it easier for users to spotlight giant messages, since deleting some of them would probably result in less storage and backup that Google would have to worry about on their end. It’s ridiculous that this wasn’t a feature from the start.

While on the subject, it would also be nice if they would add the ability to remove attachments from messages, while keeping the message itself, but that isn’t a feature yet, either. Oh well.