Google Ate My Brane

After visiting Google for the Summer of Code Summit the other week, I thought I might actually try out some of the web services they’ve come up with, rather than just sticking with search and maps, and see if they did anything for me. To my surprise — as a certified hater of webapps generally — a couple did.

Writely, the web-based word processor, was kind-of interesting, but in the end didn’t work for me. The potential killer feature for me would’ve been SubEthaEdit or Gobby -like interactive collaboration, which seems like something Google ought to be able to do with their whacky AJAX techniques. Unfortunately, it seems to just be some sort of automated merge-on-commit, which does nothing for me.

What I’d really like as far as online document editing goes, is actually to be able to do Gobby-like editing of (moinmoin) wikis, rather than having to deal with advisory locking. I poked a bit further at that, and I suspect it ought to be possible to hack something up by using a tool like editmoin to edit wikipages with an editor rather than a webbrowser, and using gobby to do the editing, via a sobby server hosted on the same site as the wiki. It ought to be possible to automate all that complexity using an application/gobbymoin mime type; but I didn’t get anywhere because sobby seems to require IPv6 support. Oh well, maybe some other time.

I’ve played with GMail and Google Talk before, with minimal impact. GMail is kind-of nice, but I like to be able to read my mail offline, so whatever. It is useful as a backup email address if my regular one goes down though. Google Talk doesn’t seem to handle voice/video under Linux, so it’s just a Jabber server. Which is fine, since I hadn’t ever actually gotten any of these whizbang IM things setup. What’s less brilliant is that Gaim is a bit of a pain when it loses connectivity, which happens everytime I suspend my laptop, which is everytime I stop using it. But I need GMail in order to even try some of the interesting Google services these days, so whatever.

Google Calendar isn’t really something I expected much of. Sure, it’s a calendar app, but I’ve never gotten much use out of appointment diaries or planners or whatever anyway. Having it be web-based actually changes that a bit though, since it makes it trivial to publish to other people, and that even makes a calendar a little bit useful for me too. Having it be able to send reminder SMSes is also neat, at least now I’ve worked out how to default that behaviour to off… Oddly, though, I’ve found I’m getting more value out of it in listing things I’ve done rather than things I’ve got coming up. I guess it’s nicer to have a list of things you’ve actually done, rather than a list of things you should have done (but often didn’t), or a list of things you’ve got to do…

But the real winner is definitely Google Reader even if it’s still in Google Labs, rather than even being “beta”. While I’ve tried some aggregators in the past, none have remotely grabbed me, and I’ve been tending to just remember the URLs for the blogs and webcomics I like, and type them in when I’m feeling bored. That has the benefit that it limits the number of each I read, but the drawback that I waste time typing URLs and waiting for pages to load even when there haven’t been any updates. The keyboard interface to Reader is pretty pleasant, with the only drawback I’ve found a slight lag in loading entries at the start of the day. Having it be in my web browser is perfect, since I generally want to follow a few links from blog posts anyway. It’s also made it easy enough that I’ve added a few feeds from real newspapers (or news channels), which is probably a good thing as far as balancing my take on what’s going on in the world.

There’s a couple of downsides. One is that a lot of webcomics don’t have RSS feeds, or, if they do, don’t seem to include the actual comic, just a link to it. I don’t think there’s much of a reason for that — there are a few blogs I read that include ads in their RSS, so that doesn’t seem difficult to handle, and I can’t see any other potential objections. Also annoying is that posts that get aggregated on multiple planets (such as Planet Debian and Planet Linux Australia) show up multiple times, though admittedly I pretty much expected that. Probably the major downside is that it’s so easy to read stuff that I keep adding feeds to it, though…

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