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Thanks Google for being so (un)helpful


I usually tend to be a big fan of Google: I use many of their services all the time, I love the innovation they endlessly bring to the Web and the technology in general, and -while I could hardly believe in the “Don’t be evil” joke- “the Google story” has to be one of my favourites when it comes to reading stories of small, garage-born startups becoming extremely successful companies.

Among other things, what has always impressed me of their services is the reliability, together with the excellent performance and the minimalistic but functional design, as well as the great integration across their products. But lately I have been adversely surprised by a few things, that got me wondering what’s going on with Google, and whether something has been changing lately.

First, there’s Gmail. Once upon a time, I used to use the web interface a lot, especially since I moved all my email accounts and domains over to Google Apps a few years back and started using the Docs & Calendar apps as well; it was innovative, with the threaded view and the labels in place of folders, making it easier and less overwhelming to process the inbox and organise messages in a more meaningful way. It already had the best spam filters around and, coming from Google, it naturally had the best search experience ever: you could just archive all your mail and perhaps not even bother organising it, knowing that you could find any message quickly with just a few relevant keywords. And then, also thanks to a new ajaxy UI it was fast! Very fast, faster than any other mail service I had tried before.

Over the past year, I have been using a desktop client rather than the web interface to access my email accounts, so I haven’t really been up-to-date on Gmail’s development and on new features. That was until I read a few blog posts on the new Priority Inbox feature, and I decided that I had to give it a try. With the desktop client of choice (Apple Mail) I was tired of having to re-scan my inbox often and manually filter out useless crap to remain with a few important messages worth reading, plus other messages I wanted to read later (thus the need to frequently re-scan the inbox). I am now back to using the web interface full time, and am loving the Priority Inbox combined with third-party add-on OtherInbox, so it looks like my inbox is now behaving as it should.

But I can’t say I am loving the performance though! I can see that Gmail has grown up a lot in the meantime, and it now has lots of interesting Labs features, but while the spam filters and the search experience are still great, the whole application has become a lot slower than it used to be. How come? It looks like I am not alone on this, as the web is full of users complaining about the performance of the service, with some saying Gmail has become unusable for them, and others even suggesting to revert to the HTML mode instead… which means giving up all but the essential features of a web-based email client. A quick search also shows that Google have been aware of this issue for quite some time now, but while they promised to be on it and that it would be fixed soon, it doesn’t look to me like Gmail is once again as fast as it used to be.

Gmail’s performance issues aren’t the only thing that has been disappointing me lately. A few days ago, I finally took the time to find out how to migrate to my main Google Apps account all my data associated with the various Google services (such as Analytics, Feedburner) that were previously unavailable to Google Apps accounts, which is the reason why so far I had to keep a separate “regular” Google account for these services alone. I was happy to learn that I could now merge these accounts, as it kind of sucked having to keep separate accounts with the same company but … OMG! Google couldn’t have made it more difficult! Not only was I surprised to see that not all the services can be migrated from a regular Google account to a Google Apps account, what’s more… almost each service that can be migrated requires a different procedure! This is surely not the great integration I meant above. The way Google has been handling these different types of accounts for this long is IMHO just plain ridiculous. As if this were not enough, it took me a while to find some relevant information on the matter on Google Apps help pages, which in most cases are unbelievably unhelpful.

Cherry on the cake, earlier today I was trying to access the Analytics profiles that I had migrated yesterday from my regular Google account to my main Google Apps account. It worked fine all of yesterday, but today it decided to greet me with this:

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Of course, no additional information or helpful explanation of what caused the error, or what steps I could take to fix it, if there’s anything I’ve got to do. Looks so much Microsoft, doesn’t it?

After a quick search, the only mention I could find about a possible fix was on this page, in which a Google employee suggests to visit another page (LOL, a Google Docs spreadsheet), where I am supposed to enter the email address with the promise that the issue will be fixed within 24 hours. It smells weird, but the user is listed as “Google employee” on the help pages so -hopefully- it shouldn’t be anything spammy.

I haven’t tried yet -I will in a minute- but regardless of whether or not this will actually fix the problem, I haven’t yet found the reason behind it (did something go wrong during the migration? if yes, why did Analytics work fine yesterday?) and generally speaking, Google help pages and support are surprisingly useless or, in the best cases, pretty difficult to navigate to find the relevant information one’s looking for.

Google may be acquiring tons of companies every year, but I don’t think they are going in the right direction with regards to products integration and customer support. C’mon, Google, fix it!

Update: Something wrong really is going on with Google! Not only hasn’t the issue with the Analytics profiles been fixed yet, tonight I went into my Feedburner account to change some settings and my feed had gone! The weird thing is, the feed itself still seems to be working, but the “My feeds” list in Feedburner is empty. I am pretty sure this still has to do with the migration – I also transferred the feed settings over to my Google Apps account.


© Vito Botta