Accepting Google

Jeff Atwood (Coding Horror) correctly points out that when we refer to search engines, we are really only referring to one – google. With its easy to use, efficient and most importantly effective search functionality, there really is no reason to use another search engine.

Jeff raises a couple of valid points. With no viable competition, where is the incentive for them to improve the functionality.  It’s pleasant to see that google still invests time and money into improving features including the ability to personalise your search results. However, the question of how long they will keep doing this is worth asking…

The more interesting point that Jeff raises is:

“I’m a little surprised all the people who were so up in arms about the Microsoft “monopoly” ten years ago aren’t out in the streets today lighting torches and sharpening their pitchforks to go after Google.”

My view on this is straightforward. Yes, google is a monopoly on the search market. There is no viable competition. Yes, it possibly uses this position in the market to push itself out more and more to the masses.

However, the reason microsoft got into the bad books (at least for me) is that while it provided (or provides) fantastic software – it doesn’t treat its customers fairly. Budling Internet Explorer with windows is fine IF it also bundled Netscape/Firefox which was/is a strong competitor and the only reason people did not use them was lack of experience / knowledge of the option.

The reason google is successful is because it is the only viable choice. There is no other option. If Internet Explorer had no competitor. Then, its fine to include that exclude the others.

Then there is the unfairness in how Microsoft priced the products in relation to the number of issues / bugs that were in the product. Not to mention the feeling that, as customers, you were paying for the privilege of beta testing software.

As a software engineer, I am well aware of the issue around bugs. They are present, and always will be. That’s the nature of software. The issue is not just the number of bugs that are present in software shipped but also the amount of time it takes to resolve them.

It’s not the monopolisation of the market that “got them”. It was their attitude. The monopolisation of the market was the tool used to get them. Kinda like Al Capone being arrested for Tax evasion instead of all the other crimes he commited since that was the only way to get him.

Bad Google

I stumbled across a post by a Mark Ghosh, an unhappy orkut user which covers a very basic and age old security flaw within Orkut, a social networking site similar to Facebook / MySpace which is now owned by Google.

Google, one of the largest corporations in the world went through and acquired a whole bunch of online communities and this is all fine. However, should a company of this calibre not be more careful about associating with a website that has such a silly but serious security flaw. A flaw that could probably be resolved within an hour of work. I appreciate that there are probably numerous other issues that the site has…

However, if the security of the site is not given any priority, how can we, as the masses place so much trust into an organisation that we trust to perform our searches, store our emails (GMail), our files(Google Docs) and trawl through our websites to make it searchable and available to the masses?

In all honesty, if Google cannot allocate enough resources to at least fix security issues within its products, perhaps, they should at least shut them down to limit the damage hackers can do to legitimate users.

Sure, if someone falls for a scam and accidentally gives out their password, they end up paying a price but having zero control over being able to resolve it is unacceptable. A user should be able to change their password and know that someone who had your old password can no longer log in…

Building A Website

Most people would think that building a good website is straightforward and it was. A few years ago, when the web was still relatively new, it was easy enough to put together a designer and a developer and you could get a reasonable website as the end product.

However, in the modern age of websites, this kind of a websites simply does not cut the mustard. It is of course adequate, but simply feels a little lacking.

There are several websites that I have recently come across that excel in design – they have fantastic design but when it falls down when it comes to usability or functionality. The websites of some graphic design agencies are prime examples of this.

On the other hands, we have highly functional websites with a wide range of features and functionality. The website might even be attractive but fails terribly in terms of usability. sourceforge is a very good example of this. I used to use it a lot a few years ago but its usability has gotten worse in the last few years, not to mention the fact that it seems to have slowed to a crawl. I still use sourceforge now and again to look up pieces of software but I don’t look forward to it.

Then you have the rare gems, that are exceptionally usable and functional. Google is an excellent example of this. Note however, that the design of google in minimal.

Having worked in the web for numerous years and having used more websites than I could possibly count, I strongly feel that the medium that is the web is heavily under-utilised.

Facebook is a good example of some of the good things you can do with web. Things just feel a lot more natural. If you take the news feed, you can hover over an item to see the menu at the top right that lets you set your preferences for that particular item.

Same with your wall, hover over an item on your wall, and you see a menu option, click on it and you get relevant options.

This is a simple and minor thing. However, this brings in the concept of context and I think that context is largely ignored in all applications. However, it should be easier and much more useful to have context sensitive commands / functionality within websites.

Now, If facebook was to take it one step further and allow you to right click anywhere on a news item and then choose one of the options, that would be even better – save me from moving the mouse to the menu.

Another excellent thing Facebook has done is provide the ability to comment on most things that someone does. Social interaction can take a website from zero to hero in an instant. How can you allow your customers / visitors to interact with each other. Even better – Can your website integrate with Facebook and allow your visitors / customers to use the interaction capabilities of Facebook to drive your site further?