GMail is really cool. I mean REALLY cool. There are products you hate, and never use; there are products you hate, and use because you have to; there are products you use regardless of their shortcomings, because they have features you want; and then there are products that are so close to perfection they are no longer a product, but an extension of your work/play.
GMail falls into the last category. It has an intuitive user interface, and makes great use of emerging web technologies, like XMLHttpRequest (aka "Ajax"). I like GMail better than Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Mail.app, or pretty much any mail program I've used to date, and I've used a lot of them. And what's more, it's free, it stores more mail than I would ever need to store, and I can access my contacts and messages from any browser, anywhere.
Google Groups falls into the third category - it has it's pros and cons, certainly, and while I'm not a big Usenet guy (I used to be, until AOL added Usenet access and it all went to h3ll), I find it to be the most effective option, for me. Plus, again, having roaming access to your subscribed groups is an advantage.
Google search falls into the third category, through no fault of Google's. Quite simply, this is the fault of a) trying to search the unimaginably massive contents of the internet, and b) unscrupulous website maintainers doing their best to sneak their way up Google's search rankings and ruin your search experience. I think Google search is by far the best out there, and I think significant technological improvements to the web in general, such as semantic tagging, are the only way that Search is going to improve - and maybe not even then.
Add to all this Google's ever-growing list of features - maps, image search, phone listings, math & unit conversions, weather, you name it, Google's got it, or it's in the works. Google is the all-singing, all-dancing God of the Internet. The only things I can think of that Google needs are more GMail-like personal features - a calendar, bookmarks, to-do list, notepad. Partly because I've seen how good Google is getting with web applications like GMail, partly because the solutions that exist currently aren't as good as they could be, and partly because these are the kinds of things you want to be able to access from anywhere, not just from home.
What I would really like to see is a fork of Firefox, a sort of Googlefox (G-Fox? Sounds like a rap name...), that gives me Google's everything-search close at hand (not just a little web-only search up in the corner), that uses GMail as my web client and Google Groups as my news client, and, assuming they put together my wish-list of features above, integrated those as well. At first I was thinking of a Google Portal - I know, I know, let me explain. Not a silly hodge-podge portal like Yahoo! or any of the millions of its clones, but a true personal portal; not a page full of ads, horoscopes, and jokes-of-the-day, but a real *me* page. Give me a Google search box, an RSS feed of my GMail inbox and my Google Groups, a compose button for each, my selected Google News sections, my Google Alerts, my local weather, my blog, my photos, and so on. If they'll keep track of my bookmarks, let me do a personalized search using my bookmarks as a reference to personalize results.
But then I thought, no, Google would never build a portal. It's against everything they stand for. Google is all clean interfaces and uncluttered pages, not something a portal page is suited for, even an extremely well-done one. Then it hit me - okay, Google doesn't have to do it. They can just offer the services, and let the OSS community build a FireFox browser that uses the Google features. Keep the great services and data mobility, and give you access to all of it at your fingertips using the Google browser, or, if you're on a public/work machine, you can still get at all of it the old-fashioned way. Plus, this lets you keep Google with you everywhere you go on the web, telling you about new mail, offering you related links, and so on.
It's funny - I would happily have Google follow me everywhere I go on the web; yet that's exactly what I, like many others, have strived to avoid with Microsoft. I beg one company to do it as I beg another company to stop. Go figure...
I was just thinking, and I'm sure I'm not the first to think it, and, more than likely, it's even already being done. But just in case it isn't, here's my brilliant idea.
I'm a huge Jabber fan. I love it. Decentralized, open-source IM - open source at it's finest.
I'm also a huge VoIP fan. If one network can take the place of many, that reduces costs for consumers, and allows service providers to focus maintenance and R&D dollars on one network, providing greater reliability and new and wonderful services (in theory, of course.)
The problems with VoIP, as with any emerging technology, are many - however, I highly doubt this will stop it from giving the Baby Bells a serious run for their money if they don't hop on the VoIP train real quick. The cell phone companies are already seeing that they need to stay agile in the market, and are working on dual-mode 3G/WiFi phones.
I think the cell companies are taking slightly the wrong tack here, however. If I were a mover and shaker in the cellular tech world, I'd be screaming at the top of my lungs for 3.5G to be straight cellular internet service, with VoIP being one of many services offered over that connection. Instead of having all of these various cellular voice technologies and a half-assed data connection slapped on the side, seperate your technologies and focus your efforts. Build a stable, reliable mediumband wireless connection, and build phones to utilize that connection with a variety of features, which are entirely up to the phone - VoIP, instant messaging, video conferencing, web browsing, and so on. Leave the features up to the phones; just provide a general-use connection for those features to utilize, and make it the best connection you can manage.
But that has nothing to do with my brilliant idea. I've gone off on a bit of a tangent, so I must reel myself back in.
My brilliant idea is a Jabber-style, decentralized, open-source VoIP service, using standard VoIP technologies (*cough*unlikeskype*cough*). Let anyone who wants to set up a VoIP service set one up just like they would a Jabber service; call people on their JoIP address, like you would IM someone at a JID.
Then, just as Jabber servers can install gateways to connect to other networks (AIM/ICQ, MSN, etc.), allow your JoIP server to install a gateway (which would require hardware support, of course) to connect to another network - the PSTN.
Now, here's where business and technology mix, as they so often do. That PSTN gateway requires a phone line, and that phone line costs money. You can restrict it to local calling only, which grants you a fixed, unlimited-use monthly bill. If someone in Florida wants to make a call in California, they make the call, and, like Jabber, their client connects to their server, their server connects to a server in California, and if the person they're calling is at a PSTN number in California, the local server in California connects the call via PSTN gateway.
So how do you cover the costs involved with a PSTN gateway? The JoIP server operator offers free JoIP-to-JoIP service, and if the user wants to make JoIP-to-PSTN calls, they pay a minimal monthly fee. The server operator has agreements with other operators to pay them by the minute for PSTN calls connected from their server. They could charge enough to pay for their PSTN line(s) and still make a profit, and monthly fees could STILL stay FAR below those of services like Vonage. And if you don't want to pay the fee, you don't have to, and you can still communicate with countless JoIP users across the world. And if you want to run a JoIP server with out going through all the hastle of setting up a gateway or setting up agreements with other gateways & charging users monthly fees, you can set up a JoIP-only server and leave it at that.
Maybe it'd work, maybe it wouldn't, but it's an idea, anyway...
How the Game Industry can Save Itself
How the Game Industry can Save Itself:
- Screw the publishers. Direct-download, baby. Appeal to the broadband connections of the world, use *them* to get a title off the ground, instead of letting the publishers use *you*. Publishers are middle-men. Distributors are middle-men. How much is Xbox live? Everquest? City of Heroes? Galaxies? World of Warcraft? GameSpy? How much would a gamer, who probably spends $1000 a year on computer hardware and software, pay per month to be able to download all the games they want? I'd pay. I'll bet anyone with a broadband connection and a lust for games would pay.
- Open-source, baby. The open-source model is good for innovation - no, it's GREAT for innovation. But it's a difficult model to make money on. But the gaming industry has it in the bag economically: what's the big deal in gaming? Why is the Xbox so popular? Why is Unreal Tournament so hot? Multiplayer. The gaming industry needs to be Linux, EverQuest, FilePlanet and Enemy Territory combined. We're hearing every day now that multithreading is the way of the future. We're hearing every day that Open Source is the way of the future. We're hearing every day about brilliant new games being built by one development house on another development house's brilliant game engine - look at Unreal 3! How many games are already planned to use it, and look how far away it is, time-wise. Open-source your physics engine, your graphics engine, your AI engine. Split them up and set them free. Let the community tackle the multithreading problem as a whole, and tackle it once, and benefit from it forever. Then use the community's engine(s) to build better games with better performance with less development time and expense.
- Forget demo's, give them games. Bear with me here, here, I know it's painful to think about, but just bear with me. How much was Wolfenstein: Enemey Territory? Not a penny. It was a free download. And players downloaded it in droves, even though it weighs in at over a hundred megs. And they played it. And they still play it. Why was it free? Because they couldn't get a decent single-player game working, so they scrapped it, left it as multiplayer, and gave it away. And it was instantly popular. Burn your copy protection schemes; stop trying to stop the pirates, you never will, and you're throwing money away in a losing game against an army of hackers in their bedrooms who can break a copy protection or serial number scheme overnight. GIVE IT UP. Take the opposite tack that ET did: give away the single-player game. Multiplayer is where it's at; single player is just a really long demo. Give the single-player game away, and charge a minimal, recurring fee for multiplayer. It's easy to protect multiplayer gaming with a secured, authenticated gateway. Let them play LAN games if they want to, let them direct-connect if they want to, but if they want to find somebody to play with, they have to pony up. And hey, bundle it with your game downloads. Be GameSpy, only without the part where it sucks. No ad-infested software; if you pay, you can play with us; if you don't, you can play with yourself - no pun intended, of course.
Once the games get off the ground, and they've proven themselves to be a winner, or at least a good shot at a winner, THEN get them onto store shelves, but don't make a big deal about it. It's just a way for dialup users to get your game, or for users to get a hard-copy manual, or what have you. Selling boxes can't be your lifeblood - because there isn't enough to go around, and innovation is being strangled to death in the process.
New Interface at Neophoria