Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Office 365 and Google Docs

Microsoft has just announced that its Office 365 service has left its beta test version and is now fully available as a paid service. The Redmond giant was clearly inspired to do this by threats to its core Office business from Google Docs and Google Apps, so how does it compare with its Californian competitor?
Well, at first glance there doesn't seem to be that much between them. Both offer full email along with word processing, spreadsheets and presentations through any web browser, and both offer powerful collaboration features. Being based on the well established Sharepoint platform, Microsoft offers a deep integration with their desktop office software. Google on then other hand has a wealth of third party systems which integrate with it. You can sync contacts and email with your mobile from either - Microsoft's is probably slightly better, but unless you have a Windows phone you'll have more options for mobile access to your documents with Google.
Office 365 starts at £4/month, more than Google Apps at £33/year, and Google Docs and Mail are free if you don't need the enterprise features.
So Microsoft is clearly putting a serious contender out there for cloud services. For me, Google’s open platform which means there are lots of third party apps which integrate with it still gives it the edge. However for businesses who are dependent on Microsoft Outlook and the rest of the Office suite and don’t wish to make a massive cultural shift, Office 365 is a great way of getting some of the power of the cloud without having to change or risk too much.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Why Facebook won't put Google out of business

I came across this interesting and well argued article the other day suggesting that Facebook could very easily put Google out of business. The reason, argues the author (Ben Elowitz, who is someone who knows a bit about online publishing), is that Facebook's treasure trove of social connections and 'likes' means it can place ads which are highly targeted to the user's tastes. Google can't do that, it can only target what you search on, so online advertisers will desert Google for Facebook, and its linked search engines, Bing and Yahoo!

Whilst its certainly true that being able to target the user's exact tastes provides an offering that must have advertsising professionals salivating, there are a couple of problems with this argument. The first is that, despite Mark Zuckerberg's talk about the social web and that in future you will follow your friends' recommendations rather than just searching for keywords, there is still a massive need for the ability to search on stuff that your friends might not know anything about. And while we'll start seeing the Facebook search function expanded from just friend searches soon, the company whose name has given us a verb meaning 'to search online' is not going to go away in a hurry, even ignoring it's Johnny-come-lately '+1' button. And where there are search results, keyword marketing (especially if it's informed by a user's search and click history) is still a very powerful tool.

But still, if this were the only thing in Google's arsenal, I'd be inclined to think Elowitz might be right. But I think the one thing missing from his argument is where Google's looking to expand, which is 'The Cloud', or running your software applications through a web browser rather than on your computer. Google is really leading the way in this. The Google Docs and Google Apps service has really pushed the boundaries, making it possible for the first time to have a serious business computer that only has a web browser on it (in fact, Google has just released a computer which is exactly that). Yes Microsoft has similar apps, but the thought leadership is really coming out of Mountain View. And Google's marketplace is also allowing innovative third party Cloud software providers to hook into Google Apps and get the marketing boost that goes with that.

With lots of Cloud software users, we are likely to see that users will spend an increasing proportion of their working life on Google, alongside the increasing proportion of their personal life spent on Facebook. And with lots of users using a service for a lot of time comes an opportunity to target marketing at people that Google knows quite a bit about.

So I would say that yes, we are seeing the rise of Facebook, but don't sound the death knell for Google just yet!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Is the UK's mobile internet too slow?

Have you ever tried to get online on your smartphone on a city commuter train and watched your connection grind to a halt despite a strong signal as everyone else does the same? Or tried to do anything serious online from an intercity train? Or even tried to browse the web in an out of the way place? You probably don't need me to tell you that mobile internet access in the UK can be patchy, to be polite.

Some new research by eBay, quoted in this article by Startups.co.uk, goes so far as to say that this is costing the UK economy around £1.3bn a year in lost e-commerce sales because people simply give up trying to complete their transactions.

It certainly can be extremely frustrating trying to do anything online if you're using a mobile. Apart from the general slowness of mobile connections, the mobile user experience on a lot of websites is lacking.

While smartphone screens are beginning to have a good enough resolution to make regular websites readable, the design of the sites themselves often make them very hard to use on mobile devices. Often, especially if you have fat fingers like me, you need to zoom in just to use the navigation. And frequent page loads combined with slow connections can make you give up on some sites as the loading bar sits stationary again...

We still have a long way to go before these amazing little devices in our pockets give the same experience as a proper computer with a proper network connection. The way we're going to get there is by companies like eBay who stand to make the biggest gains, and the consumers who are queueing up to use their services, pushing the network operators better connections. eBay have made a formal complaint to Ofcom, which is a start. A supposedly high speed connection taking a minute to load a page just isn't good enough. But there also needs to be a responsibility on the web design and development community to think about how their sites will be used on a mobile, and to push their clients to this mindset as well.