Gmail IMAP and Mac Mail: Houston, we have a problem

Glad to hear I’m not alone…. here, here, and here. I’m posting the link in entirety for emphasis and to point out once again that Google has a lot to answer for with the spastic approach to end user support featuring negligible communication, cryptic “maintenance” messages, and most significantly, contact on their terms only.

Ironically, I am using Apple Mail primarily because the fear of my gmail account getting blown away is terrifying (over 15k messages) so my desktop mail client gives me a backup of the message store.

This is at least my third mention of a problem between Gmail IMAP and Mac Mail, but I’m raising it again because many others have the same issue and I believe resolution is near. Switching from my hosted Exchange server to Gmail’s IMAP service has worked well in general, but for no apparent reason it just tanked for me about three weeks ago. There were no changes in my environment, nor to Mac Mail and I suspected something changed on the server side.

I spent the next several days doing my own testing and isolated the issue occurrence only when Mac Mail was running. No other client caused the delivery delays and constant message caching I was witnessing. My next step was to share my information directly with the Gmail support folks and over the past three weeks, I’ve written well over 1,000 words to them presenting the evidence in detail. It probably shouldn’t have taken that much effort, but I really don’t mind because I believe I finally got their attention on the right information. Here’s what they said:

“We are aware of this problem, and our engineers are working diligently to implement a solution for all users. We apologize for any inconvenience this issue may have caused.

In the meantime, during the course of our investigation, we’ve identified specific technical circumstances that would allow us to implement a fix for your particular account by placing it under maintenance for up to an hour. You’ll be unable to access your account during this time. Please respond to this message if you’d like us to implement the fix, and also please provide general timeframes and dates during which the maintenance of your account would be least inconvenient.”

I provided them with the OK to take my account down and then proceeded to have no e-mail access for appproximately 18 hours… not the 1 hour I was told. I actually didn’t mind because that tells me all the more that there’s an issue between Gmail IMAP and Mac Mail. Unfortunately, I saw no change in the mail behavior after the maintenance, which was reinforced by the next message from the Gmail support team:

“We regret that your account will require additional maintenace in order to resolve this issue.

Please note that your account will be placed under maintenance again starting at 5:00 pm Pacific Time. We’ll make every effort to complete the maintenance as soon as possible, but please note you won’t be able to access your account for several hours while it is under maintenance.”

I set up a time for that maintenance (yesterday), but didn’t see the account go down. It was just under maintenance a short while ago for a brief time, so I’m hoping that the issue is now resolved. If so, I anticipate a note from the support team indicating it is. If I’m correct in my premise that there’s an issue that’s more global than just my account, I expect it will get quietly fixed on the back end although I’d hope for some public information to come from Google. Needless to say, I’ll be happy when it is resolved. I can avoid the problem by keeping Mac Mail closed and using the web or other clients, but I like to have choices about what clients I want to use.

[From Gmail IMAP and Mac Mail: Houston, we have a problem]

Microsoft launches its alternative to Amazon’s SimpleDB

It was long thought that open source would represent the biggest challenge to traditional database vendors, but fast forward to today and the law of orthogonal technology innovation kicks into high gear as hosted databases go from a “wouldn’t that be pretty cool” to very real offerings.

Microsoft has begun signing up testers for SQL Server Data Services (SSDS), a forthcoming service that will allow customers and developers to host their data in a Microsoft-hosted database. So what is (and isn’t) SSDS, exactly? [From Microsoft launches its alternative to Amazon’s SimpleDB]

While the idea of taking down Oracle’s database business is indeed appealing to me, I doubt that will be the outcome of both SimpleDB and SDSS (seriously, why the hell can’t Microsoft acronyms as product names habit?) because for the time being the core enterprise software market is still oriented around on-premise offerings.

However, two interesting things have happened in recent years… I can’t think of a single company that has built a new product or company on a BEA stack or with an Oracle database or any other proprietary software stack. Open source technologies get their fair share of attention but if you were to poll 100 startups that have formed in recent years you would find a significant number of them are built on Amazon Web Services.

Secondly, non-relational database technologies are making inroads into the traditional enterprise market. StreamBase is one example, founded by one of the fathers of relational database technology, Mike Stonebraker, the company has been focusing on complex event processing in financial services. SimpleDB itself is another example, representing a dramatic departure from relational database systems.

These services are starting to make their way on to enterprise desktops and just like was the case with open source we can expect that enterprise osmosis will bring them into IT. Salesforce.com is also playing a role in this as well with their Force.com offering, which combines data storage with application development tools.

I haven’t seen any acceleration of Force.com in the marketplace, but this is probably less about the technology and more about the peripatetic approach to marketing it, which certainly hasn’t been helped by their identity crisis that drives the confusion around what name is it being called this month.

Give it a couple of years and I strongly believe that big enterprise IT shops and systems integrators will be enthusiastic users of these new hosted infrastructure technologies if for no other reason than the cost of building with them and maintaining them as needs scale is a fraction of on premise infrastructure.

Ask.com To Become Search Site for Women

My first reaction was WTF, but this actually could be a winning strategy. However, just being a search site for women isn’t enough, they have to figure out a strategy for building community around women. In the final equation this just proves that being as good as Google isn’t enough to beat Google, as is the case with most competitive struggles.

In a dramatic about-face, Ask.com is abandoning its effort to outshine Internet search leader Google Inc. and will instead focus on a narrower market consisting of married women looking for help managing their lives.

[From Ask.com lays off 40 in makeover as women's site]

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…

Check out this snapshot of Techmeme today. As is typically the case, Google scratches it’s left ear lobe and an entire industry of bloggers kicks into gear dissecting what it means. The NYTimes claims it’s a Microsoft Sharepoint killer while Allen Stern declares they are going after pbWiki. The AP wire report, which also runs in the NYT has a somewhat different view of this, calling it a website builder. Rafe Needleman makes the observation that it’s a nice wiki even though Google never uses the word wiki. TechCrunch also calls it a wiki and quotes a Google exec calling it a “Sharepoint killer”.

So what do we know for certain: it’s a wiki and they are targeting Sharepoint. What is not said? Sharepoint is much more than a wiki, it’s probably more accurately referred to as a portal, and the wiki features are acknowledged by MSoft to be very weak. Microsoft does feature wikis from both Socialtext and Atlassian as add-ons for Sharepoint, lending credibility to the notion that they don’t see themselves as competitive in the wiki space.

Google could in fact take on Sharepoint but it’s going to take a lot more than a better wiki to do it. For starters, I would make Google Sites an OpenSocial container, which should not be too difficult given the fact that the same people were involved in both projects.

Google Apps is in total a threat but at some point Google is going to have to do something more meaningful than the bits-n-pieces act. Dan points out that Google is fighting the stigma of offering lightweight apps, but as long as they fail to release numbers such as how many companies are actually paying Google for premium apps, it’s unlikely that the market will take them seriously. Businesses are not moved by the notion of free apps because buying an application really isn’t the barrier companies face, it’s supporting users and meeting requirements.

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FriendFeed Accelerates?

I’ve been getting a lot of FriendFeed notifications about new people subscribing to my feed. Based on anecdotal comments from people I have talked with, it appears I am not alone and that makes me wonder what is happening that is suddenly causing a bump in activity. Could it be Facebook’s own efforts to do something similar raising awareness?

FriendFeed is like Facebook’s news feed. But it’s more of a dynamic conversation among close friends about what they’re up to all over the web — and not so much a social network.

[From Friendfeed, the best software for conversations, raises round and launches publicly » VentureBeat]

Gaphing Social West

200802071320.jpg Last year I last-minute dropped in on the Graphing Social Patterns conference here in San Jose. It was the first generation event and Dave did an outstanding job pulling it together.

I rarely come away impressed by conferences insofar as the content, usually value the meeting up with folks far higher. While GSP has much of that, I also found the content to be top shelf all the way. It’s not that I’m so much smarter than everyone else or so jaded as to suggest all conferences are the same, it’s just that at most of the conferences I’ve been to in recent years there is a reluctance among the speakers and panelists to be self-critical or revealing.

When conference content falls in either “stating the obvious” or “shamelessly self-promoting”, well I pretty much end up in the lobby or hallways having my own conference agenda. GSP was not like this at all and it is with much pleasure that I highlight the next event is March 3-4 down in San Diego and like last year, NewsGator is participating on the agenda again.

If you are interested in a cutting edge discussion about viral adoption of applications, monetization via social ads, user behaviors, content control, and the API of the social graph, you must register for this event.

UPDATE: Here’s a discount code you can use for 30% off the list registration fee: gspw08spbl

Reuters Opens Calais Web Service

I am surprised this didn’t get broader attention, it sounds pretty cool. Basically, as I understand it what this does is enable the creation of semantic data within web pages, blogs posts, or any other kind of content by tagging it as you write it. In much the same way that hyperlinks establish a “relevancy relationship,” this will enable better search relevancy by tagging key words, such as people names.

Something else struck me about this initiative. Reuters has made a significant investment in what we would generally call semantic technologies over the years. Calais is kind of like Amazon Web Services, minus monetization, in that it opens up to external developers the same technologies that Reuters itself is using.

The Calais Web service enables publishers, bloggers and sites of all kinds to automatically metatag the people, places, facts and events in their content to increase its search relevance and accessibility on the Web. It also lets content consumers, such as search engines, news portals, bookmarking services and RSS readers, submit content for automatic semantic metatagging that is performed in well under a second.

[From Reuters Releases Open API for New Calais Web Service: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance]

How Much Money Are Facebook Apps Making? Not Much Apparently

VideoEgg has announced that its ad network for Facebook applications – eggnetwork – has pulled in around $1.5 million in ad revenue over the past five months.

[From How Much Money Are Facebook Apps Making? Not Much Apparently]

This doesn’t surprise me at all. My almost year long affair with Facebook has enlightened me to many realities in this network.

Very few FB apps are what us old timers would refer to as applications, they are more like interactive games and gadgets. Video, music, and images are well mined out at this point and FB users don’t have much of an appetite for consuming content within Facebook. What FB users seem to do a lot of is consume the meta-content that other FB users are creating through their interactions with FB.

For the apps that actually do things, well none of them are all that good when compared to alternatives. Clearly there is value in having these apps in one place, but eventually the development platform strategy has to go beyond the goal of locking users into the platform.

For all the talk of viral features in FB, the fact remains that the most popular apps are still the early apps that benefited from scarcity and an ability to spam your entire friends list with invites.

Triers vs. users. The favored past-time for a vast number of FB users is adding apps to their profile pages, not actually using them for anything. In fact, profile clutter is now so much of a problem that FB released a clean up tool to deal with it.

I am skeptical of the move to enable FB apps outside of FB primarily because FB apps are themselves pretty primitive compared to what is capable in other frameworks. Now this is not to understate the value of the backend network, but getting back to that issue of these apps not being very good when compared to standalone alternatives, it’s pretty hard to drive adoption when the apps themselves are unappealing.

Users in general show little appetite for applications that feature advertising, even in Facebook, so while advertisers may salivate at the notion of driving CPM/CPA in Facebook, I think this goal will remain illusory. As the creative folks get more clever about how to insert brand and ad payloads we will likely see a shift here, and I am also not suggesting that all advertising is bad either. But in the end if we end up with incremental improvements in clickthroughs and other interactions, when compared to traditional forms of online advertising, well how valuable is the platform then?

I realize that much of what I have just written flies in the face of accepted wisdom, and RockYou and Slide both just raised big $$, as well as Facebook itself, but I would caution anyone that private company valuations have never been a proxy for broader mainstream market success. I do believe that gold is indeed in them thar hills, but mozying on up with a couple of picks and shovels and dreaming of riches without understanding the intricacies of what it takes to be successful will probably just result in fool’s gold.