Saturday, March 12, 2011

A few complaints about Google

Regular readers of this blog may be under the impression that I like Google. I've praised Android and Google Apps fairly heavily. So I thought I'd balance things by mentioning a couple of peeves. Here's where I think Google needs, uh, improvement.

1. They need a good search engine

I don't know if you've ever used it, but Google has this "search engine" thing that's positively awful, and getting worse. The thing frequently comes up with results that have nothing whatsoever to do with your queries - I don't been irrelevant results that were found because they contained your keywords anyway, that's understandable. I mean results missing the actual words you're searching for. Google has a habit of thinking "Hey, this guy's searching for something unpopular, that there's only seven sites in the entire world covering, but if I just miss out one of his words, I can get seven million results for him! That's better, right?"

No, it isn't. That word you missed out? That's the one we added to the search criteria so that it wouldn't come up with the seven million results irrelevant to our search. Thanks Google. Oh, and if your problem is that nothing's coming up, maybe we, the user, would prefer to know that no site in the world has information on that particular error message (for example) than waste time on hundreds of different sites trying to figure out why they came up in the search results.

Also awful - the instant preview thing. They introduced it towards the end of 2010, nobody likes it, it's useless in practice ("Oooo, this site has a brown color scheme - that totally tells me that the site is going to contain useful information!"), and it comes up in an inconvenient way when you do nothing more than attempt to give your search results focus.

How do you turn it off? You know, I've been setting up an additional blog, to be announced soon, and I may make that one of my topics. Clue, though, it's not easy to do without destroying other potentially good functionality (the easy way? Disable Javascript), but there's more complicated ways that can be used to target instant preview itself.

Interestingly, Bing also has an "instant preview", but Microsoft, to give them credit, obviously had some logic for putting it up and spent some time thinking about it before releasing it. Specifically, Bing's version actually shows readable text rather than a thumbnail. I'd still rather have it come up only when I specifically ask for it, but I can foresee a time when I'd want to use the Bing version. I can't say the same for Google's.

2. This Google Apps "account migration" mess

Google recently made changes to the way they handle logins, apparently in an effort to centralize everything. In the process, they've broken Google apps logins for the sites that supported them, so they've announced a "migration" system whereby Google Apps accounts will be supported by the centralized login thingie. New Google Apps sites have the new system in place already, but older accounts need to be "migrated".

What's actually being migrated here? Just the ability to log in. But it's never that simple, because some systems in the past allowed Google Apps logins, and those systems that allowed Google Apps logins, but weren't part of Google Apps, theoretically might have information that the users themselves want kept private from their Google Apps administrators. Indeed, this is the rationale behind the migration thing, because otherwise there's no need for it, Google could have just switched everything on automatically.

The long and the short of this is that it's a mess. Google has identified the problem, but actually provided no ways for users to fix the issues. I'm told I can't migrate my own account at Harritronics (I am Harritronics!) because Google Apps has identified these "private accounts" on the Interwebs somewhere, but the tools Google says exist to tell me where they are do not exist, and as the ability to log in with the Harritronics account to these other sites is broken anyway, I couldn't do anything about it if I wanted.

Add to this a complete lack of honest information on what's going on and why, and, well, the result is a mess. At this point, there are things I simply can't do because the migration philosophy has made it impossible to do. I can't, for example, manage my phone using the web-based Android Market because I can't log in to it - my phone is tied to my Harritronics address. Until the migration, I'll not be able to log in to the Android Market site using it.

Google could fix this fairly simply: when it comes up with the "conflicting accounts" thing, it could, rather than requiring a system administrator to use a tool that doesn't actually exist, simply automatically send an email to the users involved. That email could offer the user the ability to go to a website that does support the user's log in (because nothing does right now), and from that site allows the user, for each of the affected services, to either switch their "existing" account to a regular Google account, or to switch administration of the account to their "migrated" Google Apps account. Programming involved? I suspect not a great deal.

Instead they're content to let it fester, largely because I think the truth is they don't actually want to admit they broke anything in the first place.

Still love Android and Google Apps though.

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