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

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

Innovation in Assembly…. Google Maps

Google Maps is a web mapping service provided by tech giant Google, it provides many map-based services, including the Google Maps website and many of the our day-to-day websites and applications, over 350,00 infact. Google offers the service, called an API (application programming interface) to developers to use free of charge as long as its not for commercial use. 

Firstly what is an API, according to Wikipedia:  its a particular set of rules and specifications that a software program can follow to access and make use of the services and resources provided by another particular software program that implements that API. Secondly why would Google hand the keys over to there software to complete strangers? To answer that question its important to understand one of the key patterns of Web 2.0 according to O’Reilly, who states that “Innovation is in Assembly”, in laymen’s terms this means when commodity components are abundant, you can create value simply by assembling them in novel or effective ways… Like online maps. This approach to snap on services allowing  companies the ability to beat there competition by  harnessing and integrating services provided by others. Google as you would expect is making money on this service just like there world renowned search engine. They do this in two main ways:

  1. Sell ad space on the service. This is done in two different ways: 1) using Google’s acclaimed AdSense engine that places advertising that is related to the topic the user has searched for whether that is in a search engine or a geographical location. Option 2) was introduced in 2010 and allows companies to pay Google to have their brand logos inserted into the map as part of the icons. 
  2. The second way Google Maps makes money is buying selling the service  to enterprises who pay for the rights to use the Google Maps API behind protected logins and intranets (which is currently against the free terms of service).

But its clear that Google Maps didn’t just succeed just because it was making the Californian based company money, the application successful met some of the best practices in application statergy, as outlined by Watson (2011):

  1. Google offered API’s for its service
  2. Google Maps has exceptional design by remixability (flexibility), this was actually stumbled upon my Google who found that there map service that was being created at the time was being hacked and in-fact made into a mashup. Google changed their business model… and the rest is history i guess.
  3. Google included developer support (tutorials), and allowed for analytics of there map service, this ensured that they followed the API best practices theory for uptake.
  4. Google Maps used/uses already existing standards meaning devlopers could use the tool without learning a new coding language.
  5. Google managed to build its business model (AdSense) into the API.
  6. Google is Google Maps biggest customer – be your own customer

As mentioned at the start of the blog, Google Maps API is used around the world in hundreds of thousands of applications and websites, you would almost use it everyday, and thats what makes API’s and Google’s one in particular so usable is it flexibility.

Further Reading:

Google Maps Mashups

How Google Makes Money

Googles Business Philosophy

O’Reilly – Web 2.0

Google’s Person Finder

Over the last couple of months there has been a series of natural disasters across the globe that have caused devastation on nearly every continent the human race resides upon. As these disaster take our homes, destroy cities and take loved ones from us, social media is being used as a tool in the reporting, clean-up and finding of people in these terrible disasters. Social networking sites such as Twitter are used as a way of pushing live news updates around the world (via the #tag, example). The collaboration of these individual micro blogs containing snapshots of information provided family members with reassurance, but also the wider community an incite into what was going on in the minutes, hours and days after such a natural disaster. In a generation where newspaper sales have decreased, more and more people are harnessing the collective intelligence of social media to provide them with an overview of what is going on.

Below is a infographic from Mashable on how social media is used in general with an emergency…. Click to find out more:

Social Media Emergency Infographic

How Social Media Is Used During Emergencies

But it’s not just these large social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook being used to combat issues raised by natural disasters, large corporations are helping a hand in the relief effort of a natural disaster, once such example is Google, who hours after the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Christchurch and now Japan have set up a service to find relatives who may be missing due to the disasters.

Google’s Person Finder:

The website uses collaborative techniques to allow families to  search for a missing persons or on the other hand for a missing person to put their details on the site in order to be found or to relieve the stress placed on the family members. During this weeks earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Google aided the Red Cross who were initially overwhelmed with people using its Family Links website, which helps track people during an emergency. Within a couple of hours Google stepped in, launching a version of its person finder tool for the earthquake, Person Finder: 2011 Japan Earthquake, the tool can be used in Japanese or English.

Google People Finder Home Page

Google People Finder Home Page

Although an application like Person Finder has greater value than most traditional web applications it is still able to meet one of the 8 core patterns of the evolution of Web 2.0. According to Tim O’Reilly this core pattern, which is one of 8 is based around the ideal of enriching the user’s experience. Google’s application is a great example of harnessing collective intelligence as more people use the service the greater number of ‘someones’ will appear on the application. This combining of the records enables the user to find exactly what there look for; a family member.

As we start to have a greater understanding as to ways of using web 2.0, a greater number of social media collaboration tools will be used in a variety of situations that intertwine within our daily lives. Google’s person finder is just one of many that have changed the way we deal with emergencies and most importantly as a tool in aiding the finding  of  what means most in live.. our loved ones.

Want more on how Social Media has helped during the Japan earthquake then try these links:

How Twitter & Facebook Helped

Vital Lifelines

People Turn To The Web In Times Of Crisis

Alternatively:

How To Follow The Japans Disaster Online

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