31 May

Google Goes Offline

Google GEARS. Now we’re talking. I’ll watch how fast this makes it into Google’s own web apps, email and calendaring being the obvious candidates. Now Microsoft can feel threatened for good reason.
However, and that’s really ironic, right now browser-based apps are way more costly in system resources than well written desktop software. Yep, you read that right. If, like me, you have two browser windows open at all times with half a dozen tab each, several of them loaded up with web apps, and add up browsing session protection on top of that, you’ll end the day with Firefox eating 250+MB of RAM and performing noticeably more slowly, even if you have RAM to spare. (BTW don’t get the impression that my virtual desktop is a mess – my main screen is a 24″ at 1900×1200, I have a 19″ CRT on the left and a 15″ laptop on the right and things are pretty neat and tidy, thanks. I just have a bunch of different things to juggle during my typical day.)
I should give IE7 a try to see how well it handles the load, but Firefox after a day’s worth of web browsing + Salesforce + GMail + Basecamp and whatnot begs to be closed and restarted. Offline support with extra browser extensions and all that caching is only going to make it worse. A decade later, the browser wars are not over.
Of course everyone is eagerly waiting to see what Salesforce and Google are going to do together. Because I’m an ancient fossil in my mid-thirties, that gets much more my attention than Facebook gizmos. Come on, who cares about most of their college buddies once you have a family? Anyway, GEARS is not the first javascript offline library, but that it comes from Google can make a world of difference.
Updates: additional info on Evan_tech; Google Reader first dog food software.

21 May

While Yahoo Smokes Its Pipe, Others Do Real Work

I haven’t heard back from Yahoo about their intent with Pipes so I’ll assume they’re just screwing around and having fun (which I guess is a somewhat valid statement about Yahoo as a whole – can Semel close the door after him when he leaves?). To see applications that actually show some business potential, read From Web 2.0 to Work 2.0 and look at this RSSBus+Proto demo.
The problem with business mashups is to find data sources that are clean and specific enough. We manage lead generation in SFDC (did I mention how much I love Salesforce.com since we started using it six months ago?) and use data from sources such as Hoover’s, LinkedIn or Google queries, but that stuff is too unstructured or imprecise to support automation. Short of human oversight, you’ll often end up with Garbage In Garbage Out. Garbage leads means your reps will ignore your SFA and you don’t want that. So we have custom links in SFDC that pop up queries from various sources, and the rest is grunt work.
Proto’s expense demo works because the data is already structured and it’s part of any corporate workflow to tag and review expenses one entry at a time (aka “stop entertaining your girlfriends at the company’s expense”). Expense management was one of the first applications on the intranets emerging a decade ago. I’d like to set up mashups based on things like keyword density to support editorial workflow or competitive research, but so far I haven’t seen very convincing tools so far. From an automation perspective, screen-scraping is not going away anytime soon, and again, there’s only so much you can automate without actual AI semantic understanding
Here’s something that business web app providers should do that would be a boon right here right now: enable web queries directly from Excel as opposed to forcing users to do time-consuming manual export jobs. Excel has been a hybrid web/desktop client for years but we’re still stuck downloading CSV files which, if you think about it, is a pretty sad thing to do in this day and age. I have to spend way too much time shuffling and massaging data around to get the information I need.
A broader point is that relying solely on browser-based authentication to grant access to online apps is a huge lock-in. It’s shutting out desktop apps that don’t know how to navigate within HTML interfaces to get to the data, just like it’s shutting out, say, WiFi phones from making Skype calls from the local Starbucks. I’m all for paid online services, but please don’t serve them within a web ghetto.

14 May

Introducing MarketingCharts.com

One of the things we’ve been working on lately is our new site MarketingCharts.com. We are still getting rid of some kinks and have some UI improvements coming, but the site should already be quite useful as it is. Need fresh, updated marketing metrics (about online and offline stuff)? Drop by, check the data out and download the stuff you need for your next presentation, it’s in Excel format for your convenience.
Right now the online charts are in gif format. We’ll probably add some Flash-based online charting component at some point but we wanted to get the ball rolling and see what kind of data users would value most. Anyway if you let a new site manage its release, it will nag you constantly with its squeaky voice: “but I’m not ready, you need to fix me here and improve me there and test me some more.” Hey baby new site, get out in the world already and learn by getting bruises on your knees!