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I noticed something when I tried out two apps (Mingly and Cobook) this morning – they each immediately asked to connect me to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter during their onboarding process. And, by using my Gmail as the starting point / authentication, they connected me to G+.
Microsoft is conspicuously absent from this. I’ve noticed this many times in the past but when you onboard yourself in two contact-related apps in the same morning and there is no Microsoft anywhere, there’s something going on that’s important. I wonder if this will change with Office 365 – I hope Microsoft is building a trivial to use oauth to O365 so it’s easy to connect to, along with a good sync API.
I was trying to think of other authentication that would be helpful to me in the context of my contacts. Almost everything else I use is based on either my email address or auth with one of these four services. Hmmm.
So far Mingly feels basically the same as Gist but Cobook seems different than anything I’ve used. I have no idea if I’ll keep using either of these, but like many things in the themes we invest in, I love to play around with new apps for a while and see if it sticks.
Over the past month I’ve been systematically cleaning up my social graph. It took me a while to figure out how I wanted to do this, as I’m a very active user of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Google+ along with a bunch of applications that leverage these various social graphs. Historically, I’ve been a very promiscuous friender, accepting almost all friend requests.
While this strategy worked fine for me for Twitter (since I didn’t have to do anything, and could deliberately choose who I wanted to follow) this didn’t work for any of the other services. Specifically, Facebook had become basically useless to me, LinkedIn’s activity feed was pointless, Foursquare scared me a little, and Google+ was just a cluttered mess.
As I used each of these services daily, I thought hard about how I was using them and what I was doing. I realized that I was using Twitter ideally and no changes were needed. I broadcast regularly through Twitter, which connects to Facebook and broadcasts there as well. I consume content in a stream throughout the day from about 600 people who I follow. I unfollow someone periodically and add someone new periodically. The tempo works fine and I have my Twitter activity feed up on my Mac all day long.
Facebook was more perplexing to me. Ultimately I decided to orient around my activity feed and started unfriending anyone who I didn’t want to see in my activity feed. Given the current Facebook infrastructure, these folks will still “subscribe” to me (same as Twitter follow) and anyone who wants to subscribe to me can. Unfortunately, the UX for unfriending someone Facebook is horrible, so it’s a tedious and long process. I’ve decided to unfriend 10 people a day which means I’ll be done in about 200 days. I realize that once I’ve got this done I need to adjust my security settings to reflect what I actually want to share. That’ll happen at some point.
LinkedIn was easy – I just decided to ignore the activity stream. I’m remaining promiscuous at LinkedIn with two exceptions – no recruiters and no totally random people. LinkedIn continues to be the best way for me to discover professional connections to people I want to reach and the wider the network, the better.
Foursquare was the hardest to figure out. I rebroadcast Foursquare to Facebook and had a very uncomfortable experience this summer with someone pretending to stalk me on Foursquare. While it was a prank, I never found out who did it which caused me to quit Foursquare for a few months. I get too much value out of Foursquare as a historical record (I love 4sqand7yearsago) so I’ve just decided to aggressively unfriend anyone who I’m not close to. Once I get this done, Facebook done, and my security settings right, I’ll be in a happy place.
Google+ is more dynamic right now as I figure out how I really want to use it. I’m finding the integration into Gmail to be very interesting and I expect my use case will change as they roll out more features, like they did today. For now, I’m using it much more like Twitter.
As I’ve been cleaning this up, I realized that I have a bunch of awesome friends. When I look at my friends lists in apps like RunKeeper and Fitbit, I smile a big smile about who I’m connected to. Most importantly, I realize that all of this technology is enhancing my relationships, and it reminds me to be deliberate about how I use it.
Recently my partners and I spent some time discussing three of our recent investments – Spanning, Yesware, and Attachments – which are each applications built on top of Google Apps. Specifically, they are built for Google Apps and available in the Google Apps Marketplace or the Chrome Web Store.
Each company is going after something very different. Spanning is all about cloud backup. Attachments is all about getting control of your email attachments. And Yesware is “email for salespeople.” However, they have one very significant thing in common – they are all deeply integrated into Google Apps. In our thematic definition, they are in the Protocol theme.
The Google Apps ecosystem snuck up on us. We have all been hardcore Google Apps users for the past year and are psyched and amazed about all the easy integration points – both into the browser and the various Google Apps. In the past, we would have been more focused on “email as a datastore”, which would have resulted in multiple platforms, including of course Outlook / Exchange and IMAP. However, the pace of iteration on top of Google Apps, and the ease of integration is spectacular when compared to other platforms.
Notably, when the choice of building for Outlook vs. Google Apps comes up, many people who I know comes down strongly on the side of building for Google Apps. Their mindshare for cloud based business apps far outpaces Microsoft. A decade ago, Microsoft made a huge push with Visual Basic for Applications and the idea of “Office as a Platform” and – while plenty of interesting tech was built, something happened along the way and the notion of Office as a Platform lost a lot of visibility.
Theoretically Microsoft’s huge installed base of Outlook / Exchange users should drive real ISV integration interest, but the friction associated with working with Microsoft seems to mute the benefit. And – if you’ve ever built and tried to deploy an enterprise wide (say – 100,000, or even 1,000 seat) Outlook plug-in – well, I feel your pain. It’s possible that with Office 365, Microsoft will re-energize focus on Office as a Platform, but I haven’t seen much yet.
While Google has been building this all very quietly, I’m extremely impressed with what they’ve done. Companies like Yesware are able to release a new version of their app to all users on a weekly basis. For an early stage company that is deep in iterating on product features with its customers, this is a huge advantage. And it massively simplifies the technology complexity to chose one platform, focus all your energy on it, and then roll out other platforms after you’ve figured out the core of your product.
I expect to see versions of each of these products expand to work with Microsoft – and other – ecosystems. But for now, the companies are all doubled-down on Google Apps. And I find that very interesting.
This is a note from your Gmail tech support person (my life in a parallel universe) just trying to help with whatever frustration you are having today.
Over the weekend I noticed that my iPhone (which had recently upgraded to the latest iOS (5.0.1) was now regularly giving me an error from within the native email app. A little box would pop up and tell me that my Exchange Password was incorrect. I use Gmail, but use the Exchange connector on the iPhone (as recommended by Google). Until recently, this was working just fine.
I entered my password 100 times or so in a fit of stubbornness. It worked every now and then. However, when my iPad started borking with the same error message, I decided to figure out the problem.
My search “gmail iphone exchange password incorrect” turned up some interesting stuff. I quickly figured out the problem what the Google Captcha. Apparently the Microsoft connector logs in but then borks on the Captcha which is never surfaced in the connector. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to unlock (or disable) the Captcha in Google Apps.
It seems like Google could fix this on their end without waiting for Apple. Just don’t toss up the Captcha whenever an iOS device hits Gmail. My guess is a recent push on Google’s side broke this as I didn’t notice a real iOS upgrade correlation. While at first I thought it might be iOS 5.0.1, I realized there was a few day delay, pinning the issue most likely back on Google.
Either way, my near term frustration has once again vaporized and I can resume ferociously emailing on my iOS devices.
I’ve recently discovered two awesome tools for helping me manage my contacts in Google Apps. One is a TechStars Boulder company called Rainmaker and the other is a Paris-based company called Kwaga that has an app called WriteThat.Name.
I’ve got a large address book in Gmail (> 11,000 contacts). I get numerous new inbound contacts on a regular basis from people reaching out to me and Google automatically puts their email address in Google Contacts, which is cool. However, it doesn’t put any additional info – either from the email body (which often has contact info in it) or from other sources like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook – which often has a lot more contact info, including a photo.
Let’s start with WriteThat.Name. Once you tie it to you Google account, it automatically scans emails, parses out any contact info it finds, and automagically adds it to the contact record. I’ve been looking for this for a very long time (over a decade) – I’ve never understood why Microsoft didn’t build this into Outlook. Sure – there have been plenty of plug-ins along the way, but nothing that “just worked” invisibly in the background. WriteThat.Name does – beautifully. After using it for a week for free I paid for it. I met the CEO Philippe Laval at lunch the other day in Paris and gave him a big hug. Do yourself a favor – try it.
The next app is Rainmaker. This is from one of the TechStars Boulder teams from this year that is just killing it. You connect it up to your social networks and your Google account. You can then selectively, or in bulk, “make it rain” on your contacts where Rainmaker will use all the magic it can to enhance your existing contacts using whatever information it can find. Like WriteThat.Name, this information is going directly into your Contact database, enhancing it dramatically.
While there is a lot more that can be done, both of these applications make good on the promise of “my computer being smarter than me.” I find that I spend almost no time in my Contacts entering data and updating it any more. All the stuff I need is there – all the time – and I can call, email, IM, chat, txt, or whatever I want without having to search around for the info.
One last hint – before you crank up any program that you give write access to your Google App data, make sure you use Spanning Backup to backup your Google Contacts, Calendar, and Docs data (we are investors in Spanning Cloud Apps, the company that does Spanning Backup.) While I’ve had no issues with either Rainmaker or WriteThat.Name, better safe than sorry!