Google Offers [Beta]

As the internet has grown and Web 2.0 has emerged, a number of new developments have hit the web. Amongst these has been the development of “Perpetual Beta”, but what does it mean? According to leading Web 2.0 spokesman Tim O’Reilly, Perpetual Beta is a key facet of the growth of web 2.0 and is defined as:

Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often’, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time

Google who are synonymous with cutting edge web applications and even more synonymous with betas. Ever since the start of Google there have been a number of Google Betas that have ended up being fully -fledged web applications, these have ranged from Google search, GMail, Google Maps, Google Chrome, Google TV and many more.

Google Offers

In January 2011 the multinational company launched a new service called Google Offers which is currently only available in a limited number of metropolitan areas within the United States. The idea of Google Offers is to provide subscribed users with an e-mail with a local deal of the day. They then have the opportunity to buy that deal within a specific time limit (usually 24 hours). Once enough people have made the purchase, the Google Offer is triggered and users get a discount.

This isn’t a new idea, one of the leaders in this field is a company called Groupon;  Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in more than 565 cities around the world. By promising businesses a minimum number of customers, Groupon can offer deals that aren’t available elsewhere (for more on Croupon try reading a fellow classmates blog post). As a result of Groupons success Google attempted to buy the company in November for $6 billion. As a result of that failed buyout Google set about creating its own service called Google Offers. In addition to the features offered by its competitors Google has also introduced a new element to the coupon subscription game, as Google Offers displays deals on a map (integration of Google Maps) and allows users to pick bargains based on location and compare competing deals within the service. Google has also integrated it into a number of other web 2.0 services including Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Google Buzz and e-mail sharing options. Below is a video on how Google see the system working…

But how does this new beta service from Google stack up against the idea of “Perpetual Beta”? According to Watson (2011), successful beta services have a number of common features, how these features relate to Google Offers is shown below:

  • Release early and release often: As with many new products, their are often growing pains. To alleviate some of these issues Google as it has done in the past with previous services has released a streamlined service that is only available in 5 locations. Then Google will continue to be add features/releases as the service grows using agile and iterative development techniques.
  • Engage users as co-developers and real-time testers: One of the main reasons Google has limited the availability of the service to just a number of towns is to allow them time to get the service right before making it national and global. By using a small sample audience and real life testers to start off with Google is able to assess its users behaviour and statistics to make informed product decisions that will allow for a better rounded service.
  • Instrument your product: One of the major advantages of a web 2.0 based system compared to a desktop driven environment, is that the service provider is able to compile statistics and capture what users are saying about your product  in order  for the provider to create a better system and a far more user friendly driven environment.
  • Incrementally create new products: Theres a saying “What version of Google are you running?”. Google has made a name for its self by launching products in beta and then gathered  significant feedback from users, which is then used to incrementally added new features which are done in such a way that the user unlike a desktop OS is unaware what version of the web 2.0 service that there running. New features will almost certainly continue to grown with Google Offers.
  • Make operations a core competency: Google has become far more than a search engine, and its management of data to day data has played a large part to its success and its able to utilize what information it gathers to its users. Google Offers is no different as it uses many facets of Googles business and makes Google Offers seem a collaboration of current Google products – while finding a niche and need within the market place.

As Google continues to grow its online business, it will inevitably continue to utilize a “Perpetual Beta” approach as a way to make its products better and faster for its users. As its does so it continues to move away from one of its competitors:

 “Microsoft’s business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google’s depends on everyone exploring what’s new in their computing environment every day.” (Wainewright, 2005)

This statement alone in my opinion shows how Microsoft, once the leader of IT on the planet is being overtaken by its competitors as they embrace new technology.

As for the electronic coupon idea, the pool of services in this domain is starting to get crowded, with Google entering the market and Facebook having launched Facebook Deals to connect users and local businesses with discounts, all this competition can only mean good things for there users. For a more im depth review of the coupon services check out this infographic.

Further Reading:

Google Enters Coupon War

Google Offer Sneak Peak

Dropbox… A Software Above The Level Of A Single Device

As Web 2.0 becomes more and more ingrained into our every day lives, theres a growing need for our information and documents to be available on any device we use throughout the day. According to Web 2.0 expert Tim O’Reilly the emergence of web 2.0 has enabled users to know longer be limited to a PC platform. O’Reilly goes on to say how web 2.0 has enabled this device flexibility and despite it not being a new phenomenon its more of a realisation of the true potential of the web platform, and how you should design your application from the get-go to integrate services across handheld devices, PCs, and internet services.

Mobile Cloud Computing

As for myself, i could use my MacBook, iPhone, a Windows Desktop or an iPad at any point on any given day. One way i try to keep all my information together is via Dropbox. Dropbox for those of you who are not familiar with it is a Web-based file hosting service – A Cloud Service. The idea is simple – you save files such as documents, photos, or videos to a folder on your computer – Mac or PC – and the files automatically sync to any other computer or mobile device you use – you can also share any folder with a friend. It was started in 2007 and has since grown to 25 Million users, whats even more impressive is the fact that Dropbox reported 4 million users in January of 2010 and 1 million users in April 2009, thats a substantial increase in users – and a clear sign that Web 2.0 and Cloud computing is becoming part of mainstream culture.

Dropbox - Device Flexible

But more importantly Dropbox is a prime example of a “Software Above The Level Of A Single Device” is succeeding in today’s web driven environment. Dropbox is currently offered on 7 different devices (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, Blackberry, iPhone and iPad), by developing the software to work on an abundant number of devices, not only does it open up the number of possible users but also allows users to access there data anywhere by virtually any means. According to Watson (2011), in order for these pieces of software to be successful on a magnitude of devices they often have a number of key characteristics in common, below is these characteristics and how Dropbox echoes them.

  • Design from the start to share data across devices, servers and networks: Dropbox was designed to work within a web browser or via the official app, as smart-phones have hit the mass market Dropbox grew and has develpoped device specific applications. And there not stoping there – according to a recent press release: “Next up, it will be TVs, cameras and even automobiles”, said Drew Houston, CEO and co-founder of Dropbox. “It’ll be everything with an on switch,” Houston said. “Literally, anyone with an Internet computer or phone can find Dropbox useful. That’s really all walks of life.” (Drew Houston – Dropbox’s Chief Executive, 2011)
  • Extend Web 2.0 to devices: Dropbox not only has a standalone app on all aforementioned platforms, but also has a fully working website for computers and mobile devices, allowing users to get hold of their data from even more devices.
  • Use the power of the server to make the devices smarter: With very little storage space provided on modern phones, Dropbox and its servers have enabled users to carry around their information and data without taking up precious space on there phone. Furthermore from a desktop standpoint, the service has enabled users to get rid of those pesky flash pen drives that often get lost or damaged.
  • Leverage devices as data and rice media sources: One of the features Dropbox pushes the most is how the service can enabled mobile devices to data-capture sources for photos, videos, audio, and text and how easy these are too share with friends and family. This was mentioned during the recent press release: “The company is working on a lot more in the photo space, and today released a new version of its iPhone/iPad app that enables people to mass upload photos to Dropbox. In the future, finding a way to sync and manage photos among a variety of photo services from iPhoto to Picasa seems a natural next step.” (Drew Houston – Dropbox’s Chief Executive, 2011)
  • Work around limitations in input and display: With such a wide variety of offerings on numerous devices, Dropbox has considered the different hardware limitaions of each device and  applied extra effort on interaction design to optimize customers ability to use your service.
  • Enable data location independence: Dropbox’s killer feature as your all aware by now is its ability to allow users to seamlessly keep data synchronized across a magnitude of devices and allows users the opportunity to have accesses to their information 24 hours a day.
Dropbox is an exceptionally example of how “Software Above The Level Of A Single Device”  can work if done correctly. Creating a piece of software that is not device or OS specific will enable uses to make use of the huge array of devices on the market, while also allowing users the ability to manage, share and maintain data from anywhere.

Rich User Experiences

Being a Mac user for a number of years now, i have rather become expectant of applications providing me with a rich user experience that satisfies not only the functional requirements (eg: Word Processing, photo editing or music management), but i also expect a level of aesthetics via the graphical user interfaces.  This attention by the software manufactures to a rich user experience is becoming more and more apparent in a browser based application. Typically a web application is considered to have a path of page based interaces that are often associated with slow click and wait interactions(Watson, 2011), this is changing and its all thanks to the growing emergence of Web 2.0.

According to O’Reilly one of the key patterns of web 2.0 is a rich user experience, the idea is that users like my self want a aestichally pleasing GUI-style application experience so why not bring a web based applications with rich user interfaces and PC-equivalent interactivity. One of the first applications to do this was Google’s Gmail service, this didn’t occur according to O’Reilly until 2004 when Google launched there Gmail webmail service – more on this later.

One of the main reasons towards this shift was the emergence of the next wave of coding platforms such as AJAX, which have allowed for the creation of these rich user applications. But when i first heard the term all i thought of was Ajax of Amsterdam Football Club, so below is a small summary of what the platform is, for those who are not aware.

AJAX (or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is a group of related coding methods that can be combined to create client-sided web applications. By using AJAX to create such pages the website can be fast and dynamic, this means that the web pages are updated asynchronously by the exchanging of small amounts of data with the client sided server. This results in the updating of  parts of a web page, without reloading the whole page, while classic web pages are typically required to be reloaded in order for content to change. This ability to change data without having to reload the page is similar to the impression the user gets from using a desktop application and thus allowing for the emergence of GUI-styled web applications, one such application as mentioned earlier is Gmail:

Gmail as most of you are aware is the tech giants free webmail, its allows users to do almost everything that a stand alone application such as Outlook or Mail does but it is based within a web browser. There are a number of features to Google’s Gmail application that make it a great example of providing the user with a rich user experience, below is a summary of what these user face patterns are and how Gmail meets them:

  • Combine the best of desktop & online experiences: the Gmail service not only offers a desktop style interactivity but also a fast performance with no visual page reloads. While doing this it is able to provide a access to any device at any time, anywhere… something the web is exceptional at.
  • Usability and simplicity first: Google strive on making there application simple and easy to use. and they have done the same with the Gmail interface, it meets all of Nielson’s heuristic design approaches for the web as well as providing the user with a common interface that is the same as its desktop alternative.
  • Matching the technology to to the usage requirements: Gmail is able to provide users to ability to access there email from a huge range of opertaing systems, platforms, devices and broswers, by using the correct coding techniques… in there case AJAX.
  • Search over Structure: Just like you would expect with a desktop equivalent a web application of any magnitude should have a search facility to speed up data retrieval…. luckily Google are the pioneers of online searching so as you would expect Gmail features a fully fledged Google Search, that makes finding those old emails a breeze.
  • Adaptive Personalization: Just like a desktop and most desktop software, Gmail provides the user with a vast range of personalization options ranging from; backgrounds, themes, signatures and many more. This gives the user a feeling of ownership, just like a personal computer of desktop app.

As the Gmail example has shown using web-based software no longer means sacrificing the quality of the user experience and as a result  the power of data-rich, collaborative, networked applications are coming closer to their full potential as a result users can expect a more compelling user experience with over featured software becoming a thing of the past. Furthermore web applications provide the option for greater collaboration (another web 2.0 pattern) between peers and a reduce in the need to have a single machine that can perform a task.  Finally web applications that utilise a rich user experience can not only expect a migration of new users but also provide a higher user satisfaction and competitive advantage as many of these services are free and never require updating and outlaying of further funds, even when extra features are added to the service.

Despite this want to move to the web, a growing trend is to actually make these apps seem like a desktop application, for example there are now a large number of site specific browsers that even provide the webiste with an icon in your dock and a direct link to the web application. Personally i havent used this for Gmail but i have a Fluid “Facebook” broswer that allows me to contain my “Facebooking” to one application. This trend can be seen in two ways:

  1. People arnt quite ready to let go of there desktop yet, or
  2. The move is already made and they want to gain access to the service faster.

In my opinion with the emergence of HTML 5 and the continuation of other web based presentation code, dynamic websites are only gonna continue to grow and the transition from a desktop interface model to an online model will inevitable continue. What do you guys think?

Links:

Web 2.0 Patterns

Gmail Interface

AJAX – W3 Schools