Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New UI For Google Groups

Two people I follow on Google Buzz, Andrew Maxwell and Chris Lang posted about Google Groups new user interface. Which finally got me off my duff to take a look at it. I had been wanting to revisit Google Groups as a possible service to provide for our JANO members to share information. Then around the same time that the transitions to new infrastructure for Google Apps I noticed that Groups was showing up in the pull down of the navigation menu.

So this morning I created a test group to see what all the fuss is about. Sure enough, the interface is very simple to Buzz and or Google reader. See the pic below for the screenshot I took.

Looking pretty good to me. I haven't actually sent a reply to my post so I'm not sure how it threads, but it does look very much like buzz.

But as is typical with Google, there are a few minor oversights, lack of thought, or...well, I'm not sure what the word is. So I got to Google Groups via the link from the screenshot above. On the right side of the page there was a link to try the new google groups ui. So I clicked that and the first thing to show is a section to select some profile information. What puzzles me is the options to Google Profiles. I selected those and it does seem to fill in my profile picture, but I'm not sure from where that profile picture is coming. The reason why I'm confused is that this is my google apps account and google apps does not have google profiles. I do have a profile here on blogger, and one one picasa, etc., but not a neohawk.org domain profile that I have for my google account.

Of course, being daft I clicked on the links to "google profile". And what do I get? This.

Now, I knew that was going to happen. I play around with Google's stuff a lot so I knew what page would be staring me in the face. My complaint is that I also run a google apps domain for a non-profit and I can guarantee you that this will confuse some of my users. And by definition that will impact their willingness to participate in any Google Group I set up for them. They naturally wonder whether this is really a service that can be trusted. It starts the whole process with a question which is not what you want for a organization's new discussion group.

The other thing I noticed after noticing the groups is that on the roles and permissions page for "groups" within the google apps has this line at the bottom.

If Groups (user-managed) service is activated later: The selected access level setting will include additional features. Learn more

That got me to thinking. First off I am on straight up Google Apps, not Google Apps for *. Which means that I don't have access to the "user-managed groups" they link to, so this message is completely superfluous. Though I understand it's supposed to be both an add for upgrading. At a minimum though, it should be a dismiss-able message since I have no intention of upgrading neohawk to a paid version of Google Apps.

But more importantly, the more I thought about it, the more I realize it is absolutely wrong for Google to insert menu item in to my google apps navigation menu if I do not have control over access to it. Google groups is not one of the service I can control from the control panel, even just to turn it off. I just double checked the dashboard and Google Groups is not included in the services you can tick on and off for a domain.

As I have posted repeatedly, is that while this is not an issue for me on Neohawk, it is an issue for me on the JANO domain. I consider this a lack of attention to detail, and lack of thinking through how some organizations use the service. And Google repeatedly makes these mistakes. To be blunt, if I'm an IT administrator for a serious organization I'm not switching to Google Apps. Too much of its offerings are beta quality an not thought through.

The flip side of that though, is that changes can and do come fast and furious. Okay, so not fast and furious, but they can and do make improvements continuously. For example, I took a look at Google Sites early this year and deemed it unusable for my purposes in regards to JANO, but just six months later I'm getting ready to launch a new website for JANO powered by google sites. And the whole change to the same infrastructure as Google accounts is a huge win in general.

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