Protect Yourself

Given the recent security breach at Twitter I’ve been rethinking all my passwords across the social web. I am now using a password management tool as well to help me keep it all straight. If you are interested in the goings on with Twitter and the Google Docs fiasco, I’d recommend taking look at, The Anatomy of the Twitter Attack, on TechCrunch. I’m not providing any sort of in depth commentary only because it is well outside of my space, but I would urge everyone to think about their own password strategy.

A Little Social

I noticed something a little different the other day as I was browsing my feeds in Google Reader — a new “X people liked this” icon and link.


The thing that is interesting is that the link then exposes you to the usernames of those who liked the post. It is easy to add yourself to the “I like” list too … just click the “Like” link under the post text. This is a lot like the simple functionality one sees in the activity stream on Facebook.


The other thing that Google Reader is doing is let you follow people. I am assuming this is less like Twitter and more like being in a Delicious network. Instead of overtly broadcasting that I like something to the whole Internet I can review the things people I am following are marking as interesting to them. This is an important step into building some strong link relationships between smart people and the content they consume. By following people in your network I think it will be easier to build a personal recommendation engine of sorts. If I trust someone enough to follow them then I am guessing I find their conversations interesting — and in this context the conversation starter is the fact they’ve shared something they appreciate.

Since I mentioned Delicious in this context I wonder if people will latch onto the idea the Reader environment could be a better place to pass along content? I don’t yet have a sense, but I am betting if Google added a “bookmarklet” type thing that would post content into the reader environment this could be successful. I don’t use Google Bookmarks much, but if they integrated more easily with the networks I am bound to establish in Reader I might.

A Month with Gmail

Last month I decided to really kick the Gmail tires and see what it could do for me as a more enterprise like email client. I was able to easily make changes in the settings to make it appear as though I was sending mail from my regular PSU account and not from gmail … it was also really simple to have my PSU email forwarded into gmail. I used several of the Google Labs features to make the environment work even better for me — the ability to easily integrate Docs and Tasks has been the real winner and has changed my workflow. On top of it, the whole notion of Labels and Stars you can turn your inbox into a very powerful solution. The other thing I absolutely loved was the easy integration with google talk. I very rarely open an IM client but did find it really useful within the gmail context.

This could be another one of my failed experiments and I’ll be back to my Apple before too long.

With all that said, I think I am heading back to Apple Mail on my laptop and on my iPhone. Why the change of heart? This weekend I traveled to visit my sister in Easton, PA and my parents in Bloomsburg, PA and decided not to take my laptop along, instead relying solely on my iPhone. I can honestly say I didn’t think I could get it done with just the iPhone, but for 95% of what I needed to do the iPhone was terrific. Its that last 5% of my work life where it falls down.

For the first time in close to a month I found myself missing the client like feel of Mail app as I struggled with sending and receiving from the mobile gmail site. I do have my gmail coming into the iPhone Mail app, but when you do that you miss out on some of hte easy things the web client gives you and it doesn’t handle the return address correctly. I also found that the web client was flaky at critical times and the controls are a little close together. Just this morning I typed a long email in the web client on the iPhone and thought I tapped send, only to notice I tapped another link that pushed me out to the other google services. I just can’t afford those kinds of mistakes.

So, at the end of the day I’ll be heading back to the client based life in Mail app and will probably not be using gmail for work any time soon.

Kicking the Gmail Tires

I have to say that I am falling deeper and deeper into the google universe these days. Not sure if it is the right thing to do, but the combination of all the Docs features and their overall simplicity has me spending more and more time using them for everything. One of their tools that I’ve always admired but didn’t use too much is Gmail. My wife lives in it — she constantly has it open on her MacBook. It is her only email client and she swears by its functionality. Between that and a conversation I had today I decided to take another step into the cloud and forward my work email into Gmail. I know it may sound crazy, but I am really digging it — so far.

This could be another one of my failed experiments and I’ll be back to my Apple before too long. But so far I am finding a few things that I really like. The first is the overall customization of the platform itself. I can do lots of interesting things to make the space look and react the way I want it to. I have it set up with multiple inboxes so messages from certain people get their own little space … they still flow into my inbox, but this gives me the ability to highlight certain people more easily. When I combine that with the filters and labels I get a nice way to keep certain messages well organized.

Multiple Inboxes

Multiple Inboxes

I am also already finding that the mobile access simply kicks ass. The gmail interface on the iPhone is killer … I can do all the same stuff I can on my iPhone and then some. It reformats for iPhone on the fly and it is speedy over the 3G connection. I haven’t tried it on Edge yet, but I do know at least one other gmail user on edge and he seems very happy with it. The search is available and that is one thing the on the iPhone cannot do. I can also create a simple button that points right to my inbox and replace the standard Apple button on my iPhone menu. I do lose notifications, but without push email here at PSU it isn’t a big deal.

Speaking of notifications, the ability to install something as simple as gmail notifier is a major bonus. Without having my browser open I can see what is new and I even get a little heads up display (a lot like a growl notification) that gives me a peek into what is new in my inbox. I’m already finding I am less distracted by not having my client open all the time.


Finally, I have it set to send with the return address being my psu email address so it looks like it is actually coming from me at PSU when appropriate — and if I want to send it from my gmail address there is a little drop down menu that lets me do that. Easy. All in all I am digging it for now. I’ll keep trying it out and see where it leads me. Anyone else gone this route?

Chrome is Fast

Last night I spent some time with “the not ready for prime time” version of Google Chrome for Mac OSX. I didn’t think I’d like it on any level, but have heard that it is really fast using the Google tools. I can say that it is fast, really fast when using the Google suite — Reader, Docs, Calendar, and iGoogle. All were noticeably faster than what I am used to with Safari. After playing with this early build I am already convinced Google is on to something with a browser that is optimized for web applications. I know for a fact that I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in Chrome once it when it gets a bit more stable.

Better than Expected

Better than Expected

I’ve never been much of a Firefox fan, so the idea of using a non-Safari browser hasn’t really been high on my list. But if Chrome continues to progress and if the features continue to develop I’ll use it quite a bit. I’ve stepped away from using Office except for very rare occasions so having a faster and more feature rich browser to live in Docs is very appealing to me. This could essentially be the space a good portion of my productivity and collaboration happens — especially after Google Wave comes along.

If you’ll indulge me for a minute there is one thing the notion of a browser built for specific purposes reminds me of … an idea I had over ten years ago — a browser built to support education. It seems insane now that we’d need such a thing, but back in 1998 bandwidth was scarce and the level of interactivity was very low (unless you embedded a bunch of shockwave pieces). What I was thinking about was a client application that had all sorts of standard functionality built in that a simple text file could unlock. If you needed to do complex in-browser activities, the browser itself had the functionality and the text file would simply provide the content and the context to let it happen. All the tracking would have happened on the client side and be pushed to the server when a network connection was available. Seems hilarious now, but it seemed to make so much sense at the time. I know it is funny, but lots of ideas look silly after progress … I wonder if all the stuff we are hyped about now will look insane in 10 years?

Horizontal Contributions

Since I am thinking in a very Google Wave like mode I thought I’d share another thought related to the tectonic change that platform may inspire. In the days after watching the video of the Wave demo I’ve been finding myself thinking about how much of our online cnversations we are missing. In the Universe the Wave has led us to conversations happen in lots of places, but are instantly available in one central place — the Wave client. What I mean is that I can start a Wave, embed it in a page, and let people contribute from all over the place. The power in what I am understanding this whole thing to look like is that these contributions are not only available in the context of the submission (perhaps a comment on an embedded wave on a blog), but also in the original Wave. What I am pulling from this is that I can, via my Wave client, revisit my social contributions in context without revisiting all the sites. Just this idea has me really spinning.

So if I apply this to the notion of the traditional blogging platform I can see where this could be really important. Here at PSU we promote our Blogs at Penn State as a publishing platform … one that is powering new forms of ePortfolios. Last summer while working with Carla Zembal-Saul we explored and shared the idea that the portfolio is more than a single person’s thinking, but also a place to engage conversations. So if we look at the fact that someone commenting enhances my own artifact, then shouldn’t we think about the comments we leave elsewhere as part of our overall evidence as well?

If I think about it, lots of times I stumble across an old blog post someone created that I’ve commented on at one point and I’ve forgotten. Sometimes I read those comments and think that I should have a way to move that content back into my own space — even if it means I can only review it out of the context of the original post. With all that said, I’ve been thinking about what I’ll call horizontal contributions. In a vertical sense we contribute original posts in our own space and people comment on them. Then if I show up at your blog, I can contribute a comment in that same vertical sense. In a horizontal model I have some sort of tracking that allows me to see not only all my own posts, but also my comments across the entire web. This would give an opportunity to gather these as further evidence of my overall contributions online.

This isn’t Wave specific per se as there are third party commenting engines that do stuff like this — if everyone on the social web used them. I’m not promoting a tool like Disqus for general use, but in an environment like ours we could easily replace our MT commenting engine with a third party one. It would be integrated into the templates so it would be invisible to users. What would need to happen is shibboleth integration, but we’ve done that before. I think it is something we’ll explore … and if we do I’ll be sure to share what we find. What do you think about this thinking? Crazy talk or is there something to it?