A(nother) cool web 2.0 site

OK, this one might go into the ‘cool but pointless’ category or it could be the greatest thing to hit the computing cloud, I can’t decide which and I guess that only time will tell.

There appears to be 2 ways to move into the true on-line world and I think they differ in their point. The approaches are:

  1. Integrate your desktop with your on-line world (not a desktop machine, but your compute desktop)
  2. Migrate all the functionality on-line

Desktop Integration

The integration approach (taken by Xdrive) allows you to open a Windows Explorer window that looks just like any other- except that the drive you just opened (cunningly called X: ) is nowhere near your local area network. This allows you to run all your local, desktop applications and save documents and files to the on-line storage. The advantage of this approach is that you have pretty damned good integration with your desktop. The disadvantage is that if you use multiple local machines, you have to make sure that they are all set up identically if you wish to duplicate the experience- for example ensuring that all the applications are installed on each machine.

On-line Functionality

On-line functionality takes everything away from the desktop and runs in its own little world. Meebo takes this approach- so all your IM contact details, your chat logs etc are stored remotely. This has the advantage that everything is going to be the same no matter what computer you use to access the functionality. The downside is that (currently) most apps focus on a single piece of functionality e.g. IM or Calendar or file managment

Unfortunately, what all of this means is that many of the apps are simple re-packaging of what you can already do, just not do it on-line. This means that every on-line desktop provider I have tried (Xdrive, GMX, Omnidrive) has a folder for ‘My Music’, ‘My Photos’ etc and I have no way of taking my data from the on-line applications off-line (though you could argue why would I want to- it is just the Generation X insecurity in me)

And then I came across Jooce (www.jooce.com) that gives the whole world a shake upside down: What Jooce does is create a complete desktop, just like your main desktop, but it does it inside a browser. So now you can file your documents away nicely or just leave them on the desktop.

As I said as the start, I have no idea if this is the coolest thing to hit the way we use computers or a total waste of time. In my mind, the key to creating a cool Web 2.0 app is to try to break down what we use a computer for and then either identify something totally cool that you never knew you needed to do or make something that you do already available in a new and interesting way. I don’t see Jooce doing either of these, but I can’t deny that when I saw that I had the ability to rotate a picture on my desktop it made me smile with glee.

Jooce Desktop with a rotated picture

Jooce Desktop with a rotated picture

But then small things always did amuse me… and a good job too.

Take foot, place in mouth

So a little more digging and suffering with web storage, in particular Omnidrive just shows how dangerous it is to say anything. The minor teething issues I was having with getting Omnidrive to work turn out to be probable symptoms of something far worse: In the words of Dr McCoy; “It’s worse than that, Jim, it’s dead”. Well maybe not quite dead yet, but far from the glowing reviews that Omnidrive has received from Techcrunch, extremetech and many others, the truth for the average user seems far less rosy.

Matthew Ingram wonders if Omnidrive is heading for the deadpool, which my current experience appears to back up. Wandering around the various forums and chat rooms seems to indicate that all is not well in the Omnidrive world- there are many technical issues and these are not being solved mainly because of financial difficulties. And yet most of the complaints seem to be coming from people who have paid for storage. This raises a puzzle in the Web 2.0 world: How to make money from all the tech developments? I am worried when something like on-line storage can’t make it work: surely that has one of the simpler business models and if they can’t make it work, then what hope is there for something like Meebo that has no obvious revenue stream.

So for now at least, I have to have 1 foot in with the big guys- I’ll use Xdrive for on-line storage, becuase even though it may be flaky from time to time, it seems to be the best of the bunch.

So, now the list looks like

  • IM: Pidgin/ Meebo
  • Web Mail: GMX
  • Online storage: Xdrive

And the rest stay the same

What I use (2)

Six months ago I posted about the various pieces of (mainly web) software that I use. Well, in this world of rapid software development, six months is a long time. Not least of which is because I am slowly catching up with the rest of the world as to what is the latest ‘cool’ app. I am still using the same personal social network (Facebook), professional social network (LinkedIn), photography site (Flickr), bookmarking site (del.icio.us), travel site (Dopplr) and calendar (Google Calendar) but I have now made some decisions, expanded in other directions and discovered some new apps. So, here goes with the new things that I am using:

  • Web mail: GMX. You may not have heard about GMX, but they have been dominant in Germany for years and have recently made their service available to the rest of the world. Now I know that there are lots of people who rave about Gmail and Yahoo has fought Hotmail/ LiveMail (or whatever brand Microsoft has given it this week) to be the biggest webmail on the block, but I have tried ’em all, and so far GMX is knocking them all out the park: IMAP, slick UI, fast response and no adds. Damn this is good. Oh and it can collect all your mail from all your other accounts. Just about the only thing it doesn’t do is a WAP interface, but smart phones are just downloading mail straight to your phone, so that is not as essential
  • Instant Messaging: On a desktop I have been using Adium or Pidgin, but I really like the way Meebo works on the web. The thing about IM is that there is no need to have a desktop client, because how can you chat if you don’t have an internet connection? So it would seem a perfect case of a web app. As far as I can make out, the only down side is that you can’t encrypt the conversation (e.g. with OTR)
  • Online storage: Originally there was Xdrive, then AOL bought it and it still offering the best deal (5GB for free, as opposed to Yahoo’s 30MB) but Microsoft’s Live Spaces is coming up hard on the rails. I am trying to stick with an alternative: Omnidrive. When it works it is just great: only 1GB storage, but that is OK for what I need. But I keep having issues getting it to work on my Windows machine- it works magnificently on OS X (seriously, the UI is so good it is yet another reason to switch)
  • RSS reader: Last time I didn’t know whether to go with Yahoo or Netvibes. Well, Netvibes won, but I still miss some of Yahoo’s functionality. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all

There may be more, but with those three (GMX, Meebo and Omnidrive) I think that I am starting to see a trend: the big players (Microsoft, Yahoo and Google) all offer the same functionality and all in a one-stop-shop. So why I am using all sorts of odd little players and not just stick with 1 offering? Many, many reasons including truly picking the best of breed, supporting the little guy or just trying to be different. But probably the main one is just trying to stick one to ‘the man’: It is possible to survive in America without sucking up to the blandness of corporate ubiquity- Dave Gorman proved it by driving coast to coast (with a few, OK a lot, of detours on the way) and making a film and book about it; America Unchained is well worth the read. Mind you, Dave also attempted to live exactly according to his horoscope, so maybe holding him up as a role model is not entirely a good idea.

In the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I can do be independent.

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