Tag Archives: Gmail

browser categorical imperitive data portability email ethics extensions Facebook firefox forwards Google Google Maps how-to linkedin Mozilla smart address bar social networking Thunderbird troubleshooting user interface design usability

Three Reasons to Go Get Firefox 3.

Firefox 3 is officially out, so go and get it.  Wondering why you should be excited about a new web browser?  Here’s three quick reasons why you should got get Firefox 3 now:

1.  It is much, much faster when it comes to complicated javascript, AJAX, and multiple iframes.  I don’t have any benchmarks on me, but I do some pretty intense stuff with Firefox and the improvement is immediately apparent.  This is very important because even normal web browsing is becoming pretty intensive, from Google Maps to Gmail to normal blogs with 100 widgets plastered on their sidebars.

2.  It’s even easier to manage add-ons and downloads.  The real power of Firefox is the ease of creating and installing extensions, and the interface has been improved making it easier to find new add-ons.  The download manager has been polished as well, which should help end the old “where did that file go” blues.

3.  The smart address bar is very cool.  I almost never have to finish typing urls anymore…  and it gives me immediate feedback on typos as well.  Hopefully this will put a damper on lame business models like typosquatting.

The Ethics of Web Apps, or, Ever try to get a list of your contacts from Facebook?

Jagged path Even before I worked at Google, I was pretty impressed by the “don’t be evil” motto.  Not that I think any company is perfect or that anyone can hire only saintly employees – but it’s impressive when anyone recognizes the ethical implications for what we do as programmers and web developers.

Now that I work there, I can tell you that everyone really seems to take it to heart (disclaimer:  this is my personal blog and I am not representing my employer in any way).  At this point, you may be asking, “programs are just lists of instructions, web sites are just products, what’s the ethical dilemma?”

I’ll give you an example.

I’m a big fan of Facebook, I think they’ve really done a great job building a social networking system, and it’s been very useful for keeping up with friends all over the world.  But I also have an account at LinkedIn, and Flickr, and Yelp, and an address book in Thunderbird, and another on my iPhone, and…  you get the picture.  So I’m trying to collect all my contacts together in one system (Gmail) so I can just import/export to keep all these different social networking systems up to date.

But Facebook doesn’t have a function to export a list of contacts and email addresses.  What’s more, they’ve apparently actively blocked attempts by developers to build systems to do it and disabled people’s accounts.

They are, of course, not legally obligated to let you export your contacts.  And if I were building a social networking site, it probably wouldn’t be the first feature I would implement.  But ethically, I think, they should do so.  Why?  We can refer to Kant’s categorical imperative or Jesus’ golden rule:  They should build open systems because they would like other systems to be open.

They certainly take advantage of the openness of other systems, allowing you to import contacts from Gmail.  Google’s social networking site, Orkut, will happily export your contacts, and I don’t think that’s an accident.  The engineers and product managers at Google make conscious choices to do the right thing.

But wait…  am I really asking them to make it easy for their users to take their data and go over to a competitor?  Isn’t that a bad business practice?

It’s possible, but beside the point.  I’m sure you and I could think of plenty of things that are profitable but morally repugnant.  What’s more, I don’t think it is a bad business practice at all.  I think that the walled garden approach is a sign of desperation rather than innovation.  Orkut is not the only one that lets you take your data with you – LinkedIn allows exports, for example.

Paul Graham wrote a really interesting post about this recently:

When you’re small, you can’t bully customers, so you have to charm them. Whereas when you’re big you can maltreat them at will, and you tend to, because it’s easier than satisfying them. You grow big by being nice, but you can stay big by being mean.

If you’d like to read more about this subject and see what some developers are doing to make your data more portable, check out DataPortability.org.

Tricky little issue in Gmail – how do you find the original sender of a forward?

DSCN9755 I ran across a confusing issue in Gmail and I’d like to share what I did to resolve it.  It seems that Gmail won’t show you the original sender of a forwarded email by default in many cases.  Here’s how I found the issue and what I did to correct it.

My wife and I have a shared blog that automatically sends out updates to subscribers via Feedburner.  Feedburner is a great service if you have a blog, and you can use it to subscribe to my feed and get updates when I write on this blog as well.

When friends and family reply to an email from Feedburner, it goes to my email address and I need to forward it to my wife so she can read it too.  I use Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client so it’s easy to set up a filter to do it automatically (look under Tools –> Message Filters).  But when the forwarded email showed up in my wife’s Gmail inbox, it showed only me as the sender – with no mention of the original sender, so she couldn’t tell who was replying to our blog.

Gmail does let you see the original full text of the message – there’s a little down arrow next to Reply with a menu that includes “show original.”  Email headers are hardly user-friendly, though, so that’s not a very good solution.

It turns out that Gmail shows the name of the forwarder, not the name of the original sender, on forwards that are sent as an attachment.  If the forward was sent inline it’s easy to see the original sender in the body of the mail.  By default, Thunderbird sends forwards as attachments and I think Outlook has a similar default… in any event this is pretty common behavior.

To fix it from my end I went in Thunderbird, to Tools-> Options and selected the Composition icon.  Under the General tab, I changed Forward Messages to “Inline.”  This does the trick.

It would be nice, however, if Gmail made this a little more apparent in the user interface.  Maybe saying something like “[forwarder name] forwarding from [original sender name].”  Or it could be worked into the way conversations are viewed as threads.

This may not be a very common issue, so it might not warrant a change to Gmail, but it’s a small enough usability tweak that it might be worth it.  Hopefully you found this post helpful.