How getting locked out of Gmail made me kick the Google habit

I learned a hard lesson last week. A lesson which began with me getting locked out of my Gmail.

After reading about Matt Honan’s nightmare last summer, I had migrated all of my online communications to GMail, under the security promise of its two factor authentication. The two factor authentication lasted all of 2 weeks, because it was more trouble than help. Between Chrome and my accounts across three machines and two mobile devices, I was spending more and more time logging in rather than getting any work done.

Still i was secure in the belief that Google would flag me off on unusual activity on my mobile. After all thats what they had taken it for. I was never more mistaken.

On the afternoon of Thursday the 28th of March, when I tried to login to my Gmail I was greeted with a simple error message “Sorry. Your account has been disabled”. First step panic – has someone gotten in and deleted my account? Breathe… No. The message said ‘disabled’. Next step support.

google-problem-signing-in

Except Google doesn’t make it easy. After getting into the having trouble signing in page, Google took me to through a flowchart asking me all the issues I was facing. Except that a four step form which ends in a message which says

If you’ve been redirected to this page from the sign-in page, it means that access to your Google Account has been disabled.

Umm! I know that, what do I do to resolve this issue. At the very bottom of this page, Google has added a link – “Review the TOS and contact us”. I am not reviewing anything right now, so I jump straight to the form.

The message on the form is not inspiring “We’ll follow up with you only if we require more information or we have additional information to share.” The question is even worse – “Describe what happened when your account became disabled” – I tried to login? Is that a suitable answer. Anyway I filled in a response and got the standard boilerplate on submission.

I was locked out – of my mail, of my analytics data, of my Adsense earnings (Yes I had earnings!), my Youtube account and my Reader account. I was very annoyed about all of them except GMail. No access to Gmail was a disaster.

Once I was over the initial stress, I cleared my head and through the situation through. My data was safe across multiple local backups, but I had to ensure i did not lose new data. I spent the rest of the day changing my email ID in a lot. and I mean a lot of places. A simple post on facebook informed my friends and family, but I had to change the email Id across 2 banks, the Income tax authorities and a bunch of non google services.

This was not the end of the issue though. On Monday morning (when I checked again) I was able to login again. First thing I did is change my password and setup a auto forward to my other mailbox. I also assume that only access to the account was blocked, because I had received mail over the course of the 4 days I couldn’t log in. After auto forwarding my mail, I also moved my must use Google services to an alternative (now primary) email.

Too big to fail?

Google announced today that they have extended Google+ apis to allow developers to build one click logins to various sites. Google Maps runs mapping across almost all smartphones and feature phones running in the world today. Android devices do not work without a Google Account. Google Analytics is the de-facto solution for website analytics.  Google reader defined the RSS market. Google has crawled our internet and probably has more information on our webpages than it shows us in search results.

Given the status that this company has built which started as an archiver and indexer of all knowledge and has know extended to a keeper of all knowledge, Google has become too big to fail. Let me state an example.

Google at its heart is an ad business. Sometimes innovative, but these days mostly arrogant & people ignorant. Given this intention – the primary focus of the Maps product has been to provide an basis for the publishing of local ads. Suppose that Google decides that local advertising is not working, not delivering the profits it should. Google may decide to close their maps product or stop updating it. What is the result – a market vacuum. It is not correct to say that there are other vendors in the market. Google’s free mapping product has reduced the marketshare of these specialized mapping companies. Will they be able to fill a void left when Google suddenly decides to stop.

This is a real fear. Google is no longer an American company. It is a global company which happens to be headquartered in the USA. It must be answerable to the whole world and not with its current attitude.

So, what should one do

While this experience has left me wary of Google and it’s products, that does not mean that I will forswear the use of technology and internet enabled services. Having said that, I think it is vital that people consider some basics about services online

  1.  Don’t get an email account and services linked to the email account from the same provider. This is what caused me the most amount of problems. I did not want to juggle multiple email accounts and so all my vital services (Mail, Reader, Analytics, Adsense, Adwords) were tied to one email Id. So when my Gmail account was blocked, my entire Google account was blocked. Because I had Analytics and Adsense setup to be accessed from an alternative Google Id, I was not in too bad a position.
  2. Host your own email – While not a solution for everyone, as far as possible, get a hosting service and setup and run your own email server. Most service providers provide you with IMAP and POP3 access which ensure your mail is accessible everywhere. ( I recommend my host MediaTemple for a clean, painless service and excellent support). Don’t like the interface? route the mail into Outlook’s interface using the external email settings option.
  3. If the data you store in a product or service is critical – pay for the service. My issue with Google in this case is that, it’s primary business model is not its services but its advertising. What that means is that Google is free to change its priorities even where people may be paying customers. For example paying for Gmail does not free you from ads. It only gets you more storage. And that too only up to a limit.When I pay for a service like Evernote, or Dropbox – I have some measure of a service guarantee, in that the companies primary business is what they are selling, and they are not going to stop providing the service because they have changed their priorities.
  4. Backup, Backup, Backup.Wise words under any circumstance. In my view until a file exists in three places, it doesn’t exist at all. Getting locked out of Gmail meant I could not get at new mail. However my old mail existed on a archive on my mac, so i still had access to my vital communications and records.
  5. Look for the support options. Before you buy, check your support options. I’m not deliberately bashing Google here, but the fact is, that of most online service provider (including the big 3) Google provides the least human support interfaces. Both Microsoft and Apple have support contacts, and also have very active support forums – where company support teams provide active help. This is also true for services like Dropbox. Google fails miserably on the support front.

So on the whole, did Google completely lose a customer here – maybe. I still retain my use of Google Analytics and am still a member of the Adsense programme. Search is still Google. But will I keep any of my core data there anymore – No.

Tech Tip : Password revealer in Internet Explorer 10

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 10 to users of Windows 7 in the last couple of weeks. A new feature in the browser makes it very easy to check your password for correctness before clicking the login buttons. When you start typing in the password field, a small icon (looking like an upside down u on top of a dot) appears on the right end of the password field. Clicking on the icon, reveals your password for you to check it. The password only appears while the mouse key is held down.

Password Revealer feature in Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer 10

If you click out of the password field a couple of times, the icon does not appear any more. I don’t know if the last bit is a bug or a feature, but my opinion is that it is a nod to security.

The stats behind Pinterest [infographic]

Another Infographic; this time from Wishpond, a team which provides a platform for social contests.

As Pinterest continues to grow, more businesses are looking for an opportunity to share their users scrap-booking space. It seems to be a great platform for targeting women with children as 80% of the users of Pinterest are women and 50% have children.

Apparently people also prefer associations with brands more on Pinterest, with 43% versus 24% of Facebook.

Wishpond Infographic on Pinterest users

 

Myntra.com appoints new strategy director

From Medianama.com

Kompalli will be setting up and leading Myntra’s Corporate Strategy and Business Analytics team, which will be responsible for developing Myntra’s overall strategy.

So basically, they had no strategy on doing business so far? This seems to be the unfortunate state of e-commerce startups in India today. Mind you, Myntra is doing some active consolidating recently.

Do caching plugins on WordPress really work?

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbWordPress is one of the most popular CMS platforms in the world today. Many blogs ( including this one) and journalistic sites run on WordPress. WordPress works by dynamically pulling content from a MySQL database and presenting it to users in a theme.

This dynamic nature is one of WordPress’s greatest strength – as it separates the sites look from the dynamic elements driving the site. However it is also this greatest strength which can cause a popular site to struggle.

As more and more visitors come to a site, the server has to work more, establishing connections to the database for each page called, using up more server resources and generally slowing down the site for new users, thus becoming a problem.

A popular solution for this is the use of a caching plugin. Caching plugins work by creating a static (HTML) version of the page the first time it is called. By keeping this page available for future visitors you can, theoretically, reduce the load on the site. I say theoretically though, because in some load tests I ran last week, I saw that the caches may not work.

I am currently running a self hosted WordPress installation on a Media Temple Grid Server. I am running a light installation of WordPress with 5 plugins. One of these plugins is W3 Total Cache, which is one of the most popular plugins in the WordPress.org plugin repository.

Setting up the plugin however is not as simple as installing it from the WordPress repository. And it is here that I step back to question the necessity of the caching plugin. WordPress is known for its simple 2 minute install, this caching plugin had me spending almost an hour setting it up, and I still wasn’t sure it was done right.

The setup first involved me having to install a PHP caching extension to my server. This had to be compiled from source. Post which I setup the plugin, by reading through (thankfully) copious documentation provided by the plugin author. My first setup was woefully incorrect as it immediately started causing server errors on my site. My backup plugin started taking 15 minutes to zip a 100 mb directory.

Once I had corrected the issues and setup the caching plugin again, I did some tests using a service called Blitz.io. Surprisingly my results were better without the caching plugin activated than with.

Blitz tests called rushes work by rushing a test site with a number of concurrent users over a set of seconds. I ran tests with a rush of 1000 users over 120 seconds.

Without the caching plugin active, I had an average response time (time taken to load first page) of 635 milliseconds, with a 21.37% timeout and a 1.7% error rate. This timeout number had me worried and I was hopeful the cache would run better. However my first run with the cache activated had my response time go up to 913 milliseconds with a 21.7% timeout and a 1.77% error rate. I reset some setting on the cache plugin and my response time went down to 827 milliseconds but my timeout rose to 27%, while error rate was consistent at 7%. The caching plugin was not able to reduce my timeouts and I also saw that the period the caching plugin was enabled, my host was using more resources.

In my view (at least in this current situation) caching should be a function of the hosting provider more than the CMS platform. Hosts like Media Temple, WPEngine and even WordPress.com dedicate a lot of effort to building caching into their products.

For non-technical bloggers who have chosen to have their blogs outside of WordPress.com for access to more themes and plugins, having the host take the responsibility and pain of handling caches is a better idea.

Considering the important nature that caching plays in a content driven site, it may also be considered that the certain basic caching features be built into the WordPress core. By building it into the core as a feature, it would also be easier for non-technically inclined users to use the feature.

Link : 64-bit Firefox for Windows should be prioritized

The Mozilla foundation is de-prioritising the development work on 64bit version of Firefox for Windows. This is a good article which points out why not, while also explaining the benefits of 64bit browsers. It does make me think however – that browsers these days are fundamentally broken.

Source: Ars Technica. | 64-bit Firefox for Windows should be prioritized, not suspended