Someone on Skribit asked “How has Google changed your workflow?”
Two ways to interpret that question: what impact has Google in particular had on my workflow, and what about “cloud computing” in general?
I have to admit, I’ve handed over the keys of my personal privacy to Google. As Scott McNealy says, “Privacy is dead, deal with it.” Of course, David Brin beat him to that by a number of years with The Transparent Society. Just another bit of evidence that science fiction authors are the advanced planning department for the human race.
So I use a Gmail address as my primary email. (I still have a Georgia Tech email account on our local Exchange server, but it’s buggy and unreliable. I actively discourage people from using it. Once we get Zimbra spun up later this year and unplug Exchange, I’ll try focusing on my GT account again.) I also have a Mindspring address that I keep for nostalgic reasons (I have a 3-digit account number from 1994) but, honestly, I’ve begun wondering why I bother anymore. I have to keep manually rummaging through spam there, and Gmail figures it out automagically.
Moreover, I have other email addresses that I’ve handed over to Google using Google Apps for Your (My) Domain. (Hereafter “Google AFYD”, since Google couldn’t come up with a decent name for the service.) My ‘digitaldixie.com‘ domain is hosted by Google; other than a couple of trivial Web pages, I keep multiple accounts active there, as well as multiple mailing lists that I use for internal and external use. (If anyone knows of a decent mailing list manager in the cloud, please tell me, because Google’s is minimal to the point of foolishness.)
When I stopped using Exchange, I unplugged from the campus calendar, going 100% Google Calendar. I use a combination of SpanningSync and Mark/Space’s MissingSync to keep that synchronized with my Palm Treo 680. (No, I don’t have an iPhone. Yet.) My admin and my wife have read/write access, certain other people have read-only access, and the entire world has read-only access to “free/busy” information. It works. Someday I’d like to see better Exchange synchronization (I have multiple calendars, but Google will only sync one with Exchange), so I haven’t fiddled with that yet.
Obviously, I use Google for blogging, given where you are reading this.
Much of my Web site hosting for www.stephen.fleming.name is done with Google AFYD. When I used to run my own server, I hosted several friend’s sites out of my living room. When I permanently shut down my server (anybody want to buy a copy of Mac OS X Server 10.3?), I transitioned them all to Google AFYD, and they all seem happy enough.
I have mixed feelings about Google Docs. I have been collaboratively editing a business plan for one of my companies with people scattered across the country using Google Docs (the old Writely), and it’s adequate, but I find PBwiki to be friendlier and more flexible. And Google Presentations was just a mess when I tried it; apparently, it’s gotten better, but if I needed something like this, I’d use Slideshare.net.
But Google Spreadsheets is priceless. I keep budgets and grant request information in that, where multiple members of my group can edit it, and we each always have the current version. Bliss. When we had a dozen scattered/busy people reviewing nearly 200 applications for the TAG Top 10/Top 40, we survived by keeping everything in a Google Spreadsheet. Next year, I want to pipe information from Wufoo directly into the Google Spreadsheet without manual cut-and-paste… if any Wufoo ninjas are reading this, email me!
Meh. I can’t use GoogleTalk without booting Parallels on my Mac, and I don’t care enough to bother. I’m of the age where I live on email, not IM.
Moving to the Cloud
So I use Google services a lot. More generally, the question can be interpreted as “How are you moving to cloud computing?” And the answer is “As quickly as possible!”
The core of much of my daily activity is now on a collection of PBwiki sites. Interactive collaboration sites that you can set up in 30 seconds, and your colleagues can start using immediately with zero training. Hosted securely and redundantly so that I don’t have to play sysadmin. Fabulous.
We’re beginning to keep all our VentureLab documents in PBwiki, and it was invaluable when having to go through 66 shared projects to develop an annual report last month. But it’s not just for business, though. I have used free sites for personal projects… when we were going through the complexity of downsizing from a 6000 sq. ft. house to our new 3000 sq. ft. home, my wife and I shared a simple PBwiki with our realtor, our home stager, our house painter, and a few other people to make sure that the myriads of things to do got appropriately divided and conquered. We pulled BarCamp Atlanta together with a PBwiki. And our neighborhood book club uses PBwiki to share ideas about new books, as well as a calendar of meeting times and locations.
I tested Google Sites (former JotSpot) when it was released last month, and basically yawned. PBwiki is faster, more capable, and more accessible outside the “walled garden” of your Google AFYD domain. And we are site-licensed for SharePoint 2007, but I still find it horribly clunky and painful to use. The only reason I publish anything at all on SharePoint is the CorasWorks plug-ins which make it possible to extract a subset of structured data and publish it to the world.
I started using Amazon S3 a couple of years ago (whenever it was released) via Interarchy. I use it for the Web hosting tasks that are not a good match for Google AFYD — primarily my filesharing site at http://www.stephenfleming.net/filesharing.html.
I experimented with selected S3 offsite backup with Interarchy’s NetDisk option. That was adequate, but the world really changed when I discovered JungleDisk. Now my S3 bill has gone up dramatically, but I figure that my data is safe unless Amazon disappears. If Amazon goes away permanently, it means that the Internet (and the U.S. economy) has experienced a catastrophic event so terrible that I no longer *care* about my backups. Or, possibly, about breathing.
Mint and Quicken Online
I’m currently experimenting with both Mint and Quicken Online, running them in parallel since the first of the year. I don’t want to have to remember which computer I last used (or my wife last used) to update our Quicken file. Again, pushing stuff into the cloud, in this case with services that Google doesn’t provide (yet).
I guess I’ve surprised myself in writing this post with all the stuff I’m doing with the “cloud” in general and Go
ogle in particular. I realized just how important connectivity had become a few weeks ago when Comcast broke Internet access for a big chunk of Atlanta. No mail, no blogs, no wiki, no calendar, no Twitter… heck, my wife and I both found ourselves connecting through our Treos just to get our connectivity fix. Maybe I should worry…