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.

Lost in translation

 

A short while ago a popular YouTube video showed how Google Translate allowed a couple of girls to call an Indian restaurant, order in hindi, and get the correct order absolutely as required.

I decided to play that game a little further and took a sentence in english and translated it across multiple languages using Google translate. Translations were done in a chain with the last translation back to english. Taking a hint from Google’s video, I decided to continue in the same vein and order the same menu.

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Original English”] Hello, I want to order food to my home. I want two basmati rice, Two fish curry, very hot and spicy, three of the potato samosas. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

I first translated it to Hindi, and then immediately translated it back to English for the following results:

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”English to Hindi Translation”] नमस्ते, मैं अपने घर के लिए भोजन का ऑर्डर देना चाहता हूँ. मैं दो बासमती चावल, दो मछली करी, बहुत गर्म और मसालेदार आलू के समोसे की तीन चाहते. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Hindi to English Translation”] Hi, I want to order food for your home. I basmati rice, the fish curry, very hot and spicy potato samosas to three. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

So the reverse translation broke the chain almost immediately, however I decided to continue with my experiment. I chose to do a few jumps, choosing every second language on the list from the beginning and ending with english as the final translation.

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Hindi to Afrikaans”] Hi, ek wil om kos te koop vir jou huis. Ek basmatirys, die vis kerrie, baie warm en geurige aartappel samoesas tot drie. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Afrikaans to Armenian”] Hi, Ես ցանկանում եմ գնել սնունդ ձեր տանը: Ես basmati բրինձ, ձուկ Curry, տաք եւ կծու կարտոֆիլի samosas երեք. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Armenian to Basque”] Hi, etxean janaria erosi nahi dut. I basmatia arroza, arraina Curry, patata beroa eta pikantea samosas hiru. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Basque to Bengali”] হাই, আমি বাড়ীতে খাদ্য কিনতে চাই. আমি basmati ভাত, মাছ কারি পাউডার, গরম মসলা ও আলু samosas তিনটি. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Bengali to Catalan”] Hola, vull comprar aliments a la llar. L’arròs basmati, curri en pols de peix, la papa calenta i picant samoses tres. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Catalan to Chinese”] 嗨,我在家裡買食物。香米,魚咖哩粉,辛辣的土豆咖哩角三。 [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Chinese to Czech”] Dobrý den, koupím jídlo doma. Rýže, ryby kari, pikantní bramborové kari tři. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Czech to Dutch”] Hallo, Ik koop eten thuis. Rijst, vis curry, pittige aardappel curry drie. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

[TBS_BLOCKQUOTE source=”Dutch to English”] Hello, I buy food at home. Rice, fish curry, spicy potato curry three. [/TBS_BLOCKQUOTE]

 

So, even though key parts of the menu translated through (the rice and the fish curry) all context around it was lost. Not that I was expecting it to last, it is not fair to expect such clarity from machine translation, but it was fun to do.

Google Malware warnings – Acting Up

It seems Google’s service wherein it protects you from suspicious site and malware generating site is acting up, As of 8:15pm India Time today all search results (Including Google.com, Microsoft.com, and Apple.com) are being highlighted as sites that way harm your computer. The safe browsing diagnostic page meanwhile does not seem to be working -¬† It seems like a gear fell out of the Googles :0. Initially¬† I thought this may have been a glitch with the Gmail Offline I had just installed, but then my brother and father complained that they probably had viruses on their machines, and the same problem, But my MacBook and Linux Machine had the same problem so there is something going on…

Has Google lost the ability to Innovate?

For a word that is almost synonomous with digital search, infact when you are looking for some information related to anything you more often than not ‘Google‘ it. ‘
But for a company that has grown to the size of a towering behemoth it seems more and more apparent that Google may have lost the ability to innovate. beyond a few core products and competencies the Google stable has yet to produce a product that can change the world the way Search did.

Google Search – Did Google invent search? No. I believe Google redefined the paradigm that was search. To search for a website, meant to search through multiple engines or directories, to see what offered you the best product for your needs, Google said, No! ” Lets actually index the keywords in the data, so you actually see the content being searched for.. This was the birth of Google, a company destined to be called Gogoole ( if i havent missspelled that)

Google Adsense – What is the point of any world pervading business empire, if you cannot be making any money out of it. This was where Adsence came in. Adsence was different – in a world where you were bombarded with ads from apples to online casinos, adsence offered a bit of sanity, not just to publishers, but also to viewers. In a world of nonsence advertising,users were seeing ads that finally made sense to them, advertisers had a new concept of payment – per click and they could see how users actually used their ads. Actually adsence was not a new idea.. Google may have polished the technology but the idea was Old..infact Google were reluctant followers of the PPC model

Gmail – Is Gmail an Innovation? Well in the day when all providers were giving you 2 MB of space Gmail gave you 2GB and growing, It was unheard of and it integrated google search and some of the best Spam filters out there and it was good…

 

and it was right there that Google first stumbled, Gmail has yet to come out of official Beta, in what has been Invitation only since 1st April 2004 to a public beta of 4th April 2004, it could be the longest April fool’s joke in History. On June 5th 2008 Gmail Labs was introduced as a new feature that allows users to test new and experimental features of Gmail… hmm is’nt Gmail still officially an experiment.

Now in 2008 Gmails competition has beaten it in my opinion, Hotmail and Yahoo both offer large attachments, Storage you are not going to run out of and a searchable interface that while fast can knock the socks of the elementary Gmail Interface – thats right I dont believe the Gmail Interface is great, it is in need of a serious ovehaul.

So what else did Google Innovate…

Docs…Nope that was Writely

Analytics…Nope that was Urchin

Picasa…Nope another Purchase

Youtube… Need I go onn

Sketch Up …@last software