Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Facebook Goes Back to School with New Universities Page

As millions of students are trudging back to the classrooms this August, Facebook is returning to its roots: colleges and universities.

Just in time for the back-to-school season, the company has partnered with Context Optional to build a Facebook Page of resources and information for new and returning students and their families. Students can find out about publicizing events, engaging with their larger campus community and distributing their own content on this page.

And at the outset of the school year, Facebook is also partnering with a ton of big brands to bring students great discounts on everything from new threads to gadgets to dorm supplies. The company has joined with Eddie Bauer, Modcloth, Newegg, Alice.com and a slew of other companies to offer special price cuts and packages for students.

So far, the Universities on Facebook Page has tabs for student government, school sports, college newspapers, community, deals and more.

“It is great that administrations and administrators are involved,” wrote Facebook communications intern Arielle Aryah in a note on the page, “but we have noticed the need for more content created by students.” Aryah continued to write that Universities on Facebook will “help students and campus organizations such as school newspapers, sports teams, student governments, dorms, clubs and classes learn how to take full advantage of all the site has to offer to publicize events, distribute content, foster community and encourage school spirit.”

The Page will give best practices on how connect and communicate with various individuals and groups around campus. Aryah and the rest of the Facebook team hope the Page will “extend the impact of your message far beyond an event, a group, or a wall post by itself.”

Students and families of students, check out Facebook’s new page, and let us know what you think of it in the comments. Do you think this tool will help interested college students become more active and engaged on campus?

source: http://bit.ly/abKHtw

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gmail Voice and Video Chat Comes to Linux

Google has released a highly-requested Gmail feature for Linux users: video and voice chat.

Ubuntu and other Debian-based Linux distributions are supported, with RPM support coming soon. To try it out, download the required plugin at gmail.com/videochat.

The release may be good news, but it leaves a sour taste for many Linux users, since it took Google nearly two years to release this feature for Linux. Yes, it’s nice to finally have the feature, but it won’t change the oft-heard notion that Linux is just an afterthought to Google.

source: http://bit.ly/95Adkc

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Picasa 3.8 Released

Picasa 3.8 doesn't add too many features, but there are at least two reasons for updating to the latest version: Face Movie and batch upload to Picasa Web Albums.

Face Movie is a movie presentation centered around one person. 'As the photos transition from one to another the subject's face stays aligned in one focus area, creating a unique viewing experience,' explains Picasa's blog. Just select one of your contacts from Picasa's sidebar and click on the create Face Movie.

Picasa 3.8 makes it easy to upload multiple albums to Picasa Web and change the settings for the existing albums. You can delete multiple albums, change their visibility, save space by changing photo size or disable syncing. Go to the Tools menu and click on Batch Upload to access this feature.

Google's photo manager also added a surprising feature: integration with Picnik, the online photo editor acquired by Google this year. Why would you use a slow and limited online service to edit photos stored on your computer, when you can use Picasa's image editing options? Picasa's help center explains: 'Use Picnik's exclusive editing features to apply effects, stickers, and frames to your photo. You can also crop, and adjust the colors of your photos right in your browser. When you click on Edit in Picnik, your photo will be transferred online. Apply the desired effects then click Save to Picasa. You'll have to option to replace your original photo or create a new copy on your computer.'

In Windows, Picasa uses an Internet Explorer object to display Picnik's Flash site. I had to click on two Internet Explorer script error messages before uploading a photo to Picnik.

Unfortunately, most Picnik stickers and touch-ups require upgrading to Picnik Premium. Why would Google charge users $25 a year for this service? I remember that Google made Blogger Pro, Picasa, Keyhole's Earth Viewer (now Google Earth), Urchin, Sketchup, FeedBurner Pro/MyBrand free after acquiring the products.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Apple Launches “Try Before You Buy” Apps

Apple’s just opened up a new section of the App Store. Called “Try Before You Buy,” it lets users test drive a limited selection of apps before purchasing them.

Unfortunately, this trial period doesn’t apply to all the paid apps in the store — not yet, at least. For now, the section only contains the freemium, “lite” or ad-supported versions of apps whose full versions are in the pay-to-play section of the store. If the app doesn’t have a free version already in the App Store, it won’t appear in Try Before You Buy.

You’ll still have to download and pay for the full versions of these apps if you want to test or try the real thing; most of the free or lite apps are pared-down versions with less extensive feature sets.

You can find this new section under the “Free on the App Store” heading. The section currently holds 98 apps, including the “lite” renditions games such as Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown, Metal Gear Solid Touch and Labyrinth 2 and free adaptations of apps such as Moodagent and AccuTerra.

We’re not sure yet whether other paid apps will be added to this section for limited-time trials. But we’re fairly certain that a “try before you buy” policy might be an effective deterrent for would-be app pirates, the actions of whom have apparently cost the App Store around half a billion dollars. Many of the cracked or illegally shared apps were reportedly downloaded because the user didn’t have the option of making a truly informed purchase decision. They couldn’t use the apps, even for a brief test drive.

In addition to taking a bite out of piracy, we’re thinking the section was added to allow Apple’s smartphones to remain competitive (or at least to present the appearance of competition) with Android OS devices. The Android Market has a liberal returns policy; apps can be purchased and returned for a full and automatic refund for up to a day following purchase. And as we know, that competition is much needed as Apple moves into Q3 and Q4 this year.

What do you think of Try It Before You Buy It? Shameless ploy, or interesting opportunity? We welcome your opinions and thoughts in the comments section.

Source: http://bit.ly/9GWO3R

Lessons Google Can Learn From Wave’s Failure

Google Wave officially fizzled yesterday, following just over a year of exaggerated hype and underwhelming performance.

From a practical standpoint, ending Wave development makes a lot of sense; why invest work hours and resources into an end product that isn’t being adopted and hasn’t met expectations? However, as we noted yesterday, speed in which Wave (and we promise, this is our last pun) wiped out is worth reflecting upon.

Why did Wave fail and how can Google learn from this experience?

Wave started its life amidst a ton of hype, which, we’ll admit, Mashable played a role in encouraging. Buoyed by a brilliant demonstration at Google I/O in May 2009, the anticipation for end users was already in full effect by early summer.

I recall last June, six or seven weeks before I started work at Mashable, having dinner with some friends who had just attended a local user group meeting that included overview of Google Wave from some of the attendees of Google I/O. The invite-only public beta hadn’t even started, yet it was already worthy of local group discussion.

The hype reached a crescendo when invites were first released on September 30 with everyone and their brother clamoring to get access to the new service. Then we got access, and the problems started.

Lesson 1: Keep Expectations in Check

The first lesson that Google or any web application developer can learn from Google Wave is the importance of managing expectations. Because the hype window started four months before Wave actually launched, the idea of what Wave was easily exceeded the reality.

Phrases like “radically different approach to communication” and “e-mail 2.0″ were bandied around, along with buzz-word laden phrases like “paradigm-shifting game-changer.” But in reality, Wave turned out to be a collaborative real-time editor with an IRC menu attached and an in-browser macro creator.

That isn’t to take away from the technical achievements of getting those components to work in the web browser, but it seems that Wave was really more of a convergence of longstanding ideas rather than some huge realignment of real-time group communication.

Yes, the tech press is partially responsible for over-selling Wave, but ultimately, Google set the tone by playing coy and teasing Wave as the next big thing. “The next Gmail” was a common phrase. That set major expectations, and it was clear as soon as Wave launched in public beta that those expectations were not going to be met.

Lesson 2: Make Your Product Clear

Clearly defining what your product is goes hand-in-hand with managing expectations. From the very beginning, Google seemed unsure of what Wave was and clueless about how to present it to the public.

For instance, it took a third party to create a video explaining Google Wave for many people to actually understand the central points and aims of the service.

Google is usually very good about making its products easy to understand. Gmail, for example, was instantly recognizable as web email. Google Docs was quickly seen as an online tool for creating and sharing documents, AdWords as paid search keywords, etc. However, with Wave, the concept was never drilled down to a simple metaphor. And no, “a wave of information” is not a clear metaphor.

Lesson 3: Launch When Ready

Still, even with unchecked expectations and an unclear overall product, initial interest and demand for Wave was extremely high at the beginning. The invite-only frenzy was reminiscent of the early Gmail era (the first few rounds of invites in the spring and summer of 2004) and people were really eager to see what the fuss was about.

The problem was, invites were very, very slow to roll out. In fact, the service only lost the invite-only method two months ago. To add insult to injury, the group that could have most benefited from Wave, Google Apps users, never got access.

Staggered invite releases can make sense for certain product launches. It made sense for Gmail, considering the amount of storage each user was getting (relative to the other webmail services at the time) and consideration for scaling and spam issues. The same can be said for Google Voice. However, for a tool like Wave, which is by definition a collaborative tool, it really needed to be launched to a large audience.

It may not have been feasible for Google to push Wave out to the entire world on the first shot, but there is absolutely no good reason it took nine months to go from initial invites to open access. Not when you add four months of hype in front of the initial launch. Had Google waited to make sure it had the resources to scale and support Wave or to bring it to Google Apps users before launching the product, the company might have better capitalized on the early hype.

Web applications are moving so fast it’s just not reasonable to expect people to still care about your product after the initial frenzy of publicity and attention. The only time this kind of strategy can succeed is if the end product is totally worth waiting for. Hulu, for instance, got away with launching softly in late October of 2007 and then going live to everyone in February 2008. Why? Because in the end, having free online access to new and old television shows from the major networks was worth it.

Lesson 4: Have Real Value

Above and beyond the issues with strategy and marketing, our biggest problem with Google Wave was that it just didn’t offer any real value.

First, it required creating a separate account that wasn’t linked to your other Google or Google Apps accounts, which made adding in contacts and sharing Google Docs files more difficult that necessary.

Then was the problem with noise and managing groups and access control lists. Then there was the initial kludginess of the collaborative real-time editing set-up.

Simply put, Wave just wasn’t a very good product in its final form. Even after the API and plugins were released, the features were never really structured in a way that made it overly useful.

In fact, we would argue that the best thing to come from Google Wave was the acquisition of the EtherPad team. EtherPad is an example of how to build a useful and value-adding web application. The fact that EtherPad clones sprouted up after Google acquired Appjet is proof of just how useful the app continues to be.

But as for Wave, even after all the hype, it ended up being hard to understand, annoying to use, and ultimately not very functional.

Learn From the Past

Hopefully Google will take a long, hard look at the decisions made in during Wave’s development and deployment. Ultimately, the decision to take the best elements of the service and push them into already existing services makes a lot more sense than trying to create something new.

As Google has also seen with Buzz, finding success isn’t as easy as just slapping a Google logo on a product, especially when the primary audience is regular users (as opposed to early adopters).

However, success is a lot more likely if expectations are managed, product definitions are clear, launches are well timed and the end product is ultimately providing value.

Why do you think Google Wave flopped? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Source: http://bit.ly/9ESgzJ

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Google Wave to Be Discontinued

Google's blog announced that Google Wave, the innovative communication platform released last year, will be discontinued.

'Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don't plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects. The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave's innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began.'

Google Wave has a lot of interesting features, but the interface is confusing and difficult to use. While many thought that Google Wave will reinvent email, Google's service combined an online document editor with an instant messenger. Google Wave allows you to create 'live' documents that are edited collaboratively in real-time, but it's more than a conversational version of Google Docs. It's based on an open protocol, so you can edit a wave using multiple services. It's extensible, so you can build gadgets and robots that add new functionality.

Google Wave had a lot of potential, but Google didn't manage to build a compelling user experience and define some use cases for the application. Instead of building a general-purpose interface for Google Wave, Google could've used the platform to create multiple applications with clearly-defined goals: a new version of Google Chat, a new version of Google Docs, a brainstorming app etc.

Now that Google Wave is discontinued, some of its feature will be added to other Google services (Gmail, Google Docs), but the platform will vanish. It's clear that Google doesn't want to invest in niche services, which is a big opportunity for startups. 'We want to do things that matter to a large number of people at scale,' said Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, in an interview.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gmail Now Lets You Save Attachments to the Desktop via Drag-and-Drop

Saving dozens of e-mail file attachments to your computer just became a hell of a lot easier.

Google has added a new feature to Gmail: the ability to save file attachments by simply dragging-and-dropping them onto the desktop. If you hover over the file icon or the “Download” link for any attachment, you’ll notice the new text prompting you to drag the file to your desktop to save.

We just tried out the new feature, and we have to tell you: it’s really as simple as it sounds. There is one caveat to saving file attachments via drag-and-drop, though: the feature is only available in Google Chrome.

Google has been adding more drag-and-drop functionality to Gmail in recent months. Back in April, Google launched the ability to add attachments to e-mails via drag-and-drop. In May, Google gave Gmail users the ability to add images to emails via drag-an-drop.

Source: http://bit.ly/c1PDPY

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Google Multiple Sign-in, Now Available

Google is rolling out a feature: signing in to multiple Google accounts simultaneously from the same browser. When you go to the Google accounts page, you might see a new option: 'multiple sign-in'. If you don't see the new feature, it will probably be enabled soon.

After clicking on the 'change' link, Google informs that this is an advanced feature and that it will only work for Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Sites, Google Reader, Google Voice, App Engine and Google Code. When multiple sign-in is enabled, a drop-down is displayed next to your email address at the top of the page, so you can quickly switch to a new account.

'If you use multiple sign-in, the first account you sign in to will be your default account. If you visit other Google products that don't support multiple accounts after you've signed in, you will automatically sign in to your default account for that product. If you sign out of any Google product while signed in to any account, you will be signed out of all your Google Accounts at once.' (Google help center)

When you enable this feature, the most significant change is that you'll see a new drop-down next to your email address in Gmail and other supported Google products. Click on the drop-down and you can sign in to a new Google Account without signing out from the previous account.

Another change is that Google's URLs include a different number for each account: http://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/, http://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/, etc.

Google's help center explains that Google's services didn't allow you to sign it to multiple accounts at the same time using the same browser because Google uses sign-in cookies that only let you sign in with one account at a time. Obviously, you can use multiple browsers, Chrome's incognito mode, IE8's 'new session' feature, multiple profiles, but the new Google feature makes things easier. Now you can read your messages from two or more Gmail accounts by opening Gmail in multiple tabs.

There are some known issues related to multiple sign-in: this feature is not available on mobile devices, Google Calendar's gadget doesn't work properly in Gmail, you can no longer use offline Gmail and offline Google Calendar and the 'note in Reader' bookmarklet only works for the default account.

main article: http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2010/08/google-multiple-sign-in-now-available.html