Category Archives: Google

Google+: New & Improved

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Participating in the Google+ field trial reminds me a lot of my recent CR-48 pilot experience: Googlers are listening closely to feedback and quickly making adjustments to improve user experience.

I published some initial thoughts about Google+ yesterday. Since then, Google’s already enabled some feature enhancements, so a follow-up post is in order. For more about Google+ feature set, see this Google+ Project article.

Late yesterday, Google+ rolled out two very welcome enhancements based on user feedback:

  • Revising how limited distribution posts can be shared.
  • Revising post stream algorithm to ensure that highly-commented posts don’t crowd out other posts at the top of user streams.

I’m delighted by what Google is offering in Google+ thus far, and excited to see how it evolves. I love that Google is listening to users and demonstrating sensitivity to privacy concerns and data portability… Google+ feels like the anti-Facebook!

Other things I love about Google+ so far:

  • Open internationally from the outset: Some of my favorite people live outside the U.S. and my Google+ experience wouldn’t be as fun without them!
  • Not just rank and file Googlers are interacting with G+ users, but executive level folks are also accessible, as this Bits column notes. Sure, it’s PR, but it’s still cool.
  • That my posts can be as public or as private as I wish.

Some enhancement requests I’ve submitted since my last post:

  • As my follower list grows, it’s becoming more time-intensive to identify users not already added to circles. Would love to have a 4th link on the Circles page, something like “Followers not in your circles”, to help me identify them more quickly.
  • I love the Android app!! As an SGS2 user, I’d love for the app to offer the option of a black background (theme), to minimize battery drain due to the super amoled screen.

Will continue to post my thoughts about Google+. So far, I’m impressed!

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Initial thoughts on Google+

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A few days ago, I started hearing buzz about a new social networking service called Google+. I was able to join via a Twitter friend’s invite, and have been using Google+ for about two days.

My initial impression after logging in was…. um, okay. But then I realized that social networks aren’t any fun without one’s friends, so I got busy inviting friends and adding those already on Google+ to my “circles.” A few days in, I have to say I really like Google+ a lot. Cool features, granular privacy controls, interesting ways to interact with friends, family and acquaintances.

Rather than reiterate Google+ features (which you can read about here), I’d like to note what I like about Google+:

  • User Profile: Easy to set up user profile and user can share only as much (or as little) as you’d like. I can share details with my circles, with extended circles (my friends’ circles), or broadly with any web user. Google has left that decision up to me, and I appreciate that!
  • Stream: The post stream is reminiscent of FriendFeed in that you see posts from folks you’re following. If you follow a wide variety of people, your stream will be more diverse and interesting than following just a few users. You can choose to see a Stream from everyone you follow, or select a specific Circle to only view posts by those users.
  • Post settings: I can decide on a post-by-post basis who can view the post. It can be public (viewable by anyone on the web), limited to those following my friends, as well as limited to my circles, or even individual users. Nice granularity!
  • Circles: Easy to determine what level of access other users have to my posts by using the Circle feature. I can set up private circles for close friends and families. I also have a circle set up including folks I interact with on Twitter, as well as another circle that includes folks I don’t know well but find interesting.
  • Android App: App is available via Android Market as well as online via forum.xda-developers.com (handy for folks outside the U.S.). For an initial release, the Google+ android app is surprisingly full-featured and fun to use. I’ve set most notifications to be pushed to my phone rather than my inbox filling with various types of Google+ notifications. I’ve seen a few comments about high battery use with the app, but I haven’t experienced any unusual battery drainage with Google+ android app running on my unlocked SGS2. (Also see my SGS2 review here.)
  • Interaction with Google employees: Google+ is a lot of fun and an interesting social product. I love how Google employees are accessible and interacting freely with G+ users.  Makes Google+ even more fun!

Some ideas for feature enhancements (I’ve submitted all of these to Google via their “Send Feedback” feature):

  • Stream (post) order: Let users determine which posts they want to have “bubble” to the top of their streams. Right now, posts that receive a lot comments, shares or +1s automatically move to top – this approach “crowds out” other equally interesting posts by less popular users (similar to the Scoble effect on FriendFeed). While I can “mute” any post to stop seeing it again, I’d prefer posts appear chronologically in my stream (newest at top). Note: Googler Kelly Ellis posted a video today mentioning a new algorithm will be implemented this weekend, to instead give higher ranking to posts from friends. Sounds like a good improvement, although I’d still love a setting to enable me to always see newest posts displayed at top.)
  • More granular ways to monitor posts: A noted above, I can mute a post so that it no longer appears in my stream. However, there are some posts that I want to go back to later, to read new comments. I’d love to see a new option added under the “Stream” listing, called “Monitored Posts” or something similar, to see new activity on posts I’ve commented on, shared, or +1ed.
  • Make Google nav bar at top persistent: Google+ provides a Google navigation bar that offers easy access to other Google products like Gmail, Calendar, etc., as well as a Notification Alert (that turns red when user has notifications). Currently, if I scroll down, the Google nav bar disappears. Instead, I’d love to see it persistent, so that it remains viewable at top of screen even if I’ve scrolled to bottom of a Google+ page.

I’m delighted with what Google is offering with its new Google+ product and enjoy using it. Kudos to Google for hitting it out of the park on this effort and to all the Googlers involved!

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook has arrived!

Last year, I applied to participate in Google‘s Chrome OS beta project. About a week later, I was amazed and delighted to find a free CR-48 on my front porch. I used the CR-48 as my main computer for 6 months, and enjoyed it. It was fun seeing Chrome OS evolve over time and I enjoyed the experience. (For more on the CR-48, see my previous posts here, here, here, and here.)

Fast forward to last week, when a Google email arrived offering the Arctic White Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook for $499 via Gilt.com. While I thought $499 was a bit pricey for what’s essentially a netbook, I went for it. It arrived today!

My initial reaction to Samsung Series 5 Chromebook:

  • Gorgeous, solid hardware
  • Lovely white lid, adorned by Chrome logo
  • Responsive, easy to use “island” type keyboard
  • Love the matte screen
  • As with the CR-48, the cap-lock key is replaced by a search key
  • Long battery life (10+ hours)
  • 100MB Verizon 3G data per month free for 2 years (with opportunity to buy add-on data on a month-by-month basis)

 

I can see taking the Chromebook with me when traveling or when I want to work at a café – no worries about losing precious personal data if it’s lost or stolen. It’s small, light, and very portable. I enjoy the full screen view and find it fun to use.

Would I recommend Chromebook to friends? Sure, it’s easy to use, low maintenance, and super portable. Because Google is aggressively improving Chrome OS, using it becomes even more enjoyable over time. I expect the price will drop after it’s been on the market for a few months, and come Christmas may be priced to make the perfect holiday gift.

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48): One week in

Just a quick update in my ongoing series about using the CR-48. View earlier posts here: Initial observationsa few more observations, and discovering developer mode.

Since my last post,  

I’ve burned through my free 100MB of Verizon. 3G. Attempted to set up add-on data plan online (to tide me over until my free 100MB allotment resets next month), Verizon web form accepted my information and then displayed a “call Verizon” page. Called Verizon to buy add-on data: Long, painful process to finally get transferred to a Verizon employee aware of the Google CR-48 program and special pre-paid data offerings. In all fairness, it’s a new program and Verizon is likely in the process of getting front-line staff trained. Still, wish it had been a smoother process

Continue to use the CR-48 as my primary personal laptop. Surprisingly, the adjustment has been smoother and more pleasant than I expected. After enabling developer mode and installing the developer OS update, the trackpad responsiveness issues seem to be resolved. 

Squashing bugs: I figure if Google sent me a free laptop on the condition all I need to do is use it and report bugs, I’ll do my best to get them feedback on my experience. I’ve found some bugs but since data is saved to the cloud, even those requiring a rude shutdown haven’t really been an issue. It’s a nice experience.

I’ll continue to blog on my CR-48 observations — leave a comment if you have any questions.

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48): Discovering Developer Mode

After being surprised and delighted to receive a Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48) a few days ago, I’ve been blogging about my CR-48 initial observations and day-to-day experience.

Yesterday, I decided to try out Developer mode after reading an article on ChromeOSSite.com. It’s an easy process, essentially flipping a switch located in the battery compartment, rebooting and a few other steps (outlined by ChromeOSSite.com here). When I first rebooted, I was greeted by an unnerving screen that declared the OS unverified. Clicking on this screen took me to screen explaining how to re-load the OS (the provided url mentioned loading the OS onto a thumb drive and re-installing). OOPS!

All I needed to do was to remain on the initial boot-up screen following reboot. By waiting at that screen several seconds, the system beeps a few times and then boots into the user log-in screen (as expected). Whew!

My understanding is that developer mode enables:

  • Shell access & other geeky fun: As I kick around in the CR-48, I may want to delve more deeply — developer mode enables this exploration
  • More frequent OS updates: The “normal” (non-developer) mode provides a beta experience. As soon as I rebooted into developer mode, a new OS update was downloaded — perhaps an OS version closer to alpha than beta?

So far, the Developer OS version seems slightly faster than the beta. The OS still struggles with pages containing Flash plug-ins and chugs a bit when trying to load several bookmarks at a time. But hey, it’s beta (or perhaps even alpha), right? Bugs and rough edges are to be expected…. just part of the experience.

I’m still surprised that I haven’t needed to revert to using my Vaio (aside from a short time on Friday). I’m finding the Chrome OS user experience enlightening in just how much I live on the web.

I haven’t yet used the built-in Verizon 3G connectivity, and may try this out today away from home. I love that 100MB is provided free monthly, but a little concerned about how quickly I could burn through that. Luckily, Verizon has included an unlimited day pass for $9.99 in their CR-48 data plan offerings.

I’ll continue to blog on my CR-48 observations — leave a comment if you have any questions.

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR48): A few more observations

I was thrilled to receive a CR48 notebook a few days ago, and have used it intensively for the last day. (See my initial observations post.) It’s an interesting device and I’m finding it enlightening as it’s making me aware of how I extensively I use the web.

As a baseline, I should describe how I’m using the CR48 and the laptop it’s (temporarily) replacing.

  • Usage: Home power user. Because my job requires use of business and technical apps not available on the web, I would not be able to use a web-only notebook for work.
  • My own laptop: I have a Windows7 Sony Vaio Z laptop that I love — it’s small, light, and still feels powerful despite being 1.5 years old. After a hard drive failure last fall, I’ve preferred to use web apps (rather than installed apps) whenever possible. That approach saves me from having to maintain current version of installed apps (since a web app will always serve up the newest version), and frees up hard drive space. I use Google services extensively, especially since I’m an Android mobile user (HTC EVO, which I also love!).

Now, a few more Chrome OS observations:

  • Mouse-less: I use a laptop’s trackpad and keyboard extensively, rather than using a mouse. I find the CR48 supports this use case well — there’s even an interactive onscreen keyboard help to provide guidance about keyboard shortcuts. (I think the CR48 probably supports using a mouse, but haven’t plugged one into the USB port to check.)
  • Web vs installed apps: If you rely on installed apps for computing, you won’t like the CR48. Since I have a preference for web apps over installing additional software onto my laptop, the CR48 feels like a natural fit for me.
  • Singular focus: On my Vaio, I’ll generally have multiple windows open and more than one window displayed at any given time. With the CR48, I can have multiple tabs open but only one is visible at any time. I’m finding I really like this singular focus — it’s less distracting.
  • User experience: Despite the CR48 processor being slower than my Vaio (and thus I wait a bit longer for several pages to open at a time), I’m finding the CR48 to be fun to use. In fact, I used my Vaio for a few minutes last night, and found that I missed using the CR48!

I can definitely see using the CR48 as a lightweight mobile notebook. I also think there’s an interesting (and almost polar opposite) use case for the CR48 as a net device used by less tech savvy folks to check email, reading web pages, etc.

I’ll continue to post observations over the coming weeks. If you have a specific question, please let me know in comments and I’ll do my best to check it out for you.

Initial Hands-On Impressions: CR48 (Google Chrome OS notebook)

Today, I heard the UPS truck drive up, the thud of a package on the porch, and wondered: Is this something I ordered from Amazon or could it be the ever elusive CR48 Google Chrome OS notebook? I’d signed up several days ago to participate in this Google pilot and hoped against hope I’d be picked.

Well, I got lucky! Thank you, Santa… er, Google!

Here are some initial impressions — I’ll post a follow up after I’ve used it more –

Set-up:

  • Physical set-up: Open box, slap on the battery, plug it in, turn it on. Easy!
  • OS/Software Set-up: Set-up wizard started out easy, but came to a screeching halt when my WIFI password kept getting rejected. Not sure if it’s due to my router being set to WPA2 security, the special characters in my looooong password (!), or if I just flat out kept typing it wrong. I finally got the WIFI password entered and accepted, and moved forward with the set-up wizard. It was a little nerve wracking at that point since the set-up sequence requires Internet connection to be enabled or you cannot continue.
  • Password entry tip: Clicking on the tiny icon next to the password field will change the password display from ***** to the actual characters you’re typing in.
  • 3G Connection Set-up: When I first tried to activate the Verizon 3G connection, I kept getting a web page error stating some page elements were not secure. Thankfully, a few minutes later an update notification was pushed to the browser (little orange ball next to wrench in browser toolbar). After that firmware update installed and CR48 restarted, I was able to successfully complete the 3G connection set — 100MB free monthly from Verizon for 24 months.
  • Fun fact for Chrome Canary users: The Chrome browser in Chrome OS supports side (as well as top) tabs.
  • Embarrassing fact: When I signed up for the CR48 pilot program, I expected it to be a fairly routine beta program where the hardware would be shipped, tested by user, then sent back. From what I can tell, Google is shipping the CR48 to beta testers to keep. Very cool! As a Portland, OR store used to advertise, “Free is a very good price!”

Hardware (keeping this part brief since the notebook itself is a prototype — Google won’t put this hardware on the market, but rather license Chrome OS to hardware makers):

  • Trackpad: Like herding kittens! Yikes, this thing has a mind of its own. I set it to the most sensitive setting, and that helped some. Still…. oy. Also note, trackpad seems more accurate when using tap to click rather than clicking, not sure why.
  • Rubberized finish: I like it! It feels nice and looks good (albeit minimalist).
  • Screen: 12″ and easy to read
  • Size/weight: It’s about the size and weight of my Vaio Z (a thin, light laptop). Comfortable to use on my lap or at a desk.
  • Speakers: Remarkably decent.
  • Hardware specs: See gdgt.com for CR48’s detailed spec list

OS/Software:

  • Chrome OS = Chrome browser: What you see is what you get. If your data is generally stored in the cloud (especially using Google services), you probably won’t mind that the OS user interface is simply Chrome browser. However, if you use Outlook or Microsoft Office desktop apps, anticipate an adjustment period.
  • Software settings: Click on the Chrome browser wrench to access your network settings, set time zone, review/update privacy settings, set home screen, etc.
  • Software user experience: Seriously, if you’ve used Chrome browser, it’s cake. If your stuff is stored in the cloud, even better!

Some interesting apps:

  • Twitter: The excellent Tweetdeck desktop client has a Chrome web app counterpart available for download. It works well and provides an easy way to view and post tweets.
  • NPR: Apparently similar to the iPad app, attractive layout and easy to use.
  • AOL You’ve Got News: News aggregator. Nice UI.
  • USA Today: Another great news app.
  • Write Space: Full screen writing app, great for journaling.

There are lots of apps in the Chrome app store, so I’m sure I’ll find some more keepers as I continue to explore Chrome OS.

If you are interested in applying for the CR48 Google Chrome OS pilot program, you can apply here — my impression is that Google is shipping these out in waves, so I don’t think it’s too late. If you’ve already applied and are curious how many CR48 have been shipped / are shipping to a certain, here’s a great tool.

Despite it’s prototype status (and thus inherent rough spots), I’m enjoying the CR48 and Google’s Chrome OS. Will be interesting to see how it evolves over coming weeks!