Gmail Browser Cache Full Voodoo

Logged into my Gmail account today, and its got a big, red banner across the top which says, “Your browser’s cache is full and may interfere with your Gmail experience.” (Gmails FAQ on this)

Well, thats an interesting statement with lots of implications.

As a software developer, your job when diagnosing problems is to be an investigator. To figure out why something is crashing or why something is slow requires collecting of evidence, analyzing the evidence, and ultimately trying to apply that back to the bug and symptoms. Sometimes, unfortunately, problems are hard to investigate, and even some pretty smart developers can come up with what I would call voodoo explanations. It used to be that people sometimes ran into “compiler bugs” or “optimizer bugs”. But these days, when a developer claims its one of these, its usually a pathetic, last-ditch effort to explain why his code is not working. The compiler bug is just pretty darned unlikely. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw a bug that was actually the compiler’s fault. I’m sure they exist, they are just realy rare. The reason they are unlikely is because there is so much code exercising the compiler that there is just a huge amount of testing on it. If there were a bug, lots of software, not just yours, would be broken.

Gmail’s claim that my browser cache being full also sounds like voodoo to me. I searched around to see if there were any other products claiming performance woes due to the cache, and I can’t find any. I also can’t find any support articles from Microsoft. Now, I could believe a turned off cache could cause problems. But logically, it doesn’t sound right to me that somehow the cache being full is the cause of Google’s troubles. The cache, when full, should rotate out the old content, and new content gets cached. Its a pretty simple algorithm, and if it were broken, wouldn’t most other web applications be suffering as well?

So, gmail, whats the nitty gritty? Do you have empirical evidence? Prove to us this isn’t voodoo engineering!

Lookout Lives

I read the following post over at Gordon’s Tech. Its a nice post with nice things to say about Lookout, but it’s kind of depressing to read! Nobody has died here!

So, its been a long time coming, but its about time that I post a little ad for MSN. :-) If you want to know about the future, you’ll want to read this.

On the surface, I can see why people feel that Lookout’s “time has passed”. Lookout is definitely no longer the focus of our team, and if you are a Lookout user, that seems bad. But let’s not pretend that Lookout was better than it was either.

Lookout was a great first generation indexing tool. It was great because it helped solve a real world problem in a reasonable way. In particular, I think it was the first tool of it’s kind which really focused on Outlook first. This was the mind shift which was hard for many search products. Focusing on email-only seems too narrow for many. But Eric and I both think that for a lot of users – outlook is the operating system. You can agree or disagree, but its with that mindset that we built Lookout.

MSN recognized the value of Lookout and bought the product. Users wondered if MSN would re-brand it, or use it as its base for new products, or something else. Some think that MSN killed it. But that is far from the truth. What we decided to do was to leverage the Lookout knowledge, experience, and themes to help build a better product. MSN was already loaded with technology which could easily implement the features, and they would have gotten a lot of it right even without Lookout. But bringing in Lookout seemed like a good way to increase MSN success.

At the same time, Lookout couldn’t have survived on its own. Fast search is much bigger than just Outlook, and frankly, should be in the operating system. The fact that it is not should be (and is) a bit of an embarrassment to all of us at Microsoft. (Note: For those that would ding Microsoft, however, please note that Linux doesn’t have search either! It seems obvious now, but search as a feature of the OS was not obvious.)

In the end, for Lookout to survive, it needed to evolve. And while the exact code of Lookout may not exist in its original form, I think the themes, vision, and future of Lookout very much does still exist within MSN + Windows Desktop Search.

Where things stand now is that most Lookout users have already switched happily to MSN + Windows Desktop Search. It has a lot more features, better indexing, and a better UI. At the same time, I do know that a lot of users think MSN is too heavyweight to replace Lookout. And that seems to be the primary reason for people still using Lookout. We know that. But do you think we like it that way? NO WAY!!! :-) We’re fixing it. We have the technology, and more importantly, we have the desire and passion to do it.

The focus on hard-core Outlook integration is continuing as MSN goes forward. I wish I could say these features had made the cut for the first draft of product, but they didn’t fully, and I think that is why some users still prefer Lookout. But as I sit here looking at what is coming from MSN, I can honestly say with conviction for the first time that with the next rev of MSN, there is just no way any users will want to continue using Lookout. The new version of MSN rocks – its so much better – and its not too heavy. And users should also be delighted to know that we probably couldn’t have built this product this quickly from a startup. We needed MSN’s help.

Overall, it’s great that MSN bought Lookout. It’s not the same code as Lookout, and it’s not even the same developers (they are much better than we were!!), but the theme of Lookout is absolutely still part of MSN, and that may have been the most real value that Lookout ever had.

Google Desktop Beta Review

Today Google unveiled its latest beta of the Google Desktop. This is a pretty neat product! They did a nice job of incorporating a few of their already published tools (including Google Desktop Search and Google Deskbar), but they also added a lot of other neat stuff, like the Google Sidebar and Outlook Integration.

Sidebar
The sidebar is a nice idea. The concept is taken utilities such as from Desktop Sidebar, which has been around for a while. But it integrates very well with the Google properties, including email search, web search, web history, picasa, and weather.

So far, I’m liking it quite a lot, and not minding the screen real-estate it consumes. I do plan to remove it, however, because I must remain loyal to my own team :-)

Outlook Integration
Always interesting to me is Outlook Integration. For the first time, they’ve introduced an Outlook addin for email search! The good news is that its there, and that it even opens up search results in a UI for Outlook with a simple Lookout-like window! The bad news is that its so primitive, you probably would rather stick with MSN Desktop Search or Lookout. Google’s interface doesn’t have the ability to drag&drop, right-click for actions, filter results, select columns other than the 3 they’ve selected for you, view types of results, etc.

But this does show promise! Google finally understands that not everything is best suited in a web UI.

Word-wheeling
Another cool feature to their search is that they’ve added what we call “word-wheeling” to their deskbar. This is a blatant steal from MSN’s product. As you type, it instantly searches the local index for matches on what you’ve typed so far. This gives the user great feedback to visualize results quickly. Great!

On the improvement side, though, I think the feature has UI trouble. First, the window opens in a variable-size. So with each keystroke, the window bounces up and down making it difficult to follow. A fixed sized window would be better, even if there were whitespace. Further, the results in the window are desktop search results. But as soon as you press enter, the desktop search results disappear, and you now see web results, with a new single link to try to find the desktop results.

As we’d expect, Google is anxious to push the user into the web. But when the data is on the hard disk, this creates a few extra clicks.

Spyware
One thing that really bugs me when I install software is when the software changes my desktop settings without asking me. Google’s product automatically changed my default search engine to Google, so that in IE, the “Search” bar now goes to their site. I did not ask for them to do this.

KarmaOne

I replaced all my Google Ads with KarmaOne ads today. KarmaOne is an interesting jobs network where bloggers (like me!) can help promote jobs that may be local to them, and that their blog readers may actually enjoy. You can read KarmaOne’s description of how it works.

I’ll definitely post here if I ever have success with them. I’m not counting on any success, but I like the model, so they are now part of my ever-increasing-popularity blog. And, if you are reading this blog, you probably know me and are living in Silicon Valley. So, if you find it interesting, let me know!

Google Breaks Relevance with Scholar

My first Google Search today:

scholar.png

The problems are many:

1) The results are not relevant

The first result is an article titled, “Present Status and Marketing Prospects of the Emerging Hybrid-Electric and Diesel Technologies…” isn’t an exact match. Sure, there is “hybrid” in the title, but this is absolutely not a product comparison.

The second result isn’t really about hybrid cars at all. Its something about the Department of Public Works Garage Vehicle Acquisition Policy.

The third result, and probably the best of the bunch, talks about Hybrids in general, but again is not a comparison.

2) The results don’t work!

Clicking on the first article lands me at a Google error page stating, “Your search – author:”Burke” intitle:”Present Status and Marketing Prospects of the Emerging Hybrid-Electric and Diesel Technologies t” – did not match any articles. ”

The other two articles are PDF, which is just hard to deal with, doesn’t fit within the screen size appropriately, and is difficult to search.

3) Google’s native results are better

The regular old web search engines include reviews from Motor Trend, Edmunds, etc. Much much better.

Conclusion
This is sort of like Donald Trump’s Apprentice with “Street Smarts vs Book Smarts”. The fact is, that Google results are best served by real web pages rather than this scholarly stuff.

It will be interesting to see how long Scholar stays up top. From my perspective, Google just broke the relevance of their top-placement result by putting this in at all. Why not just let the scholarly articles sort to the top like any other web page? If they are linked to a lot, and have the right keywords, promote them. But why artificially boost junk?

Social tags for regular email?

This morning during my usual drive into work I had an idea. Its probably a horrible idea, but I find myself enamored with it enough for the moment that I’ll post it here.

Tags are pretty cool. For those that don’t know, “tags” are an organizational mechanism where multiple users can “tag” items with keywords which are important to them. For example, I may look at a picture and tag it with “yosemite”, while someone else may tag it as “camping”. Both are relevant, and both can be used for others to find the picture in a meaningful way later. Using both tags (and then weighting the most frequent tags) makes for a dynamic organizational tool where each user “votes” with their tags for how to organize. I’m probably fumbling on the exact definition, but thats some of it.

Some site which use tags well include del.icio.us, rojo, and gmail. It should be noted that traditional apps like Outlook have really had tagging for years, although they’ve buried them in the user interface under “categories”, and there is no way for multiple users to contribute.

Idea
So, what if in email, we had a way to associate tags with an email? Each user could “tag” the email, which would send an additional email to the other recipients of the email which would just contain the tag itself. Their mail clients would absorb these tags and automatically add the tag to the user’s database.

This could be acheived using a simple X-header, perhaps
X-Tagging: foo

Why?
This would work fantastically well inside the corporation. A large email thread might be about the “3.0 release”, about a feature called “funk”, and also about the “schedule”. Each of the recipients of the thread would receive it, and tag it as appropriate for themselves. However, all of the other recipients of the thread would also have *their* emails tagged with the other user’s tags. Now, any of the folks could search or pivot-view their email with the distributed tags.

I’m sure this idea is not new.

GMail – false positives in spam

A few weeks ago, I started forwarding a big chunk of my mail to gmail. I just needed a web-based email system so that I could read it remotely better.

Overall, I like it quite a bit. I think there are a few UI nits, like the reply button being surprisingly well hidden, but its a good product. I even get a lot of spam, and Gmail seems to have the best spam filterer I’ve seen. It blocks all the bad stuff.

But today, I discovered a real problem. I’ve been suspicious for a few days that I wasn’t getting all my email. I just hadn’t heard from people that I knew were writing. At first I thought my forwarding was messed up (how could gmail miss this badly, right?) But today I discovered that its gmail falsely accusing my friends as being spammers.

I took a look at some of the emails that were filtered by gmail, and they look pretty innocuous. And they are from my friends/family directly – not from mailing lists or the like.

Beta.