I think Google’s Notebook offering is just another confused attempt at market acquisition in one more idea that’s been abused heavily on the Internet – bookmarking and notes. This, along with their recent string of application releases has really brought my kettle to a boil.
“Google Notebook Labs” has just released a firefox extension (whatever happened to the just plain, good old, Google Labs is a mystery). This extension’s download page is where you get taken to when you signup on Notebook – if you do it with Firefox, that is. The perception that I got as an end-user when this happened to me is that the whole Google Notebook concept is a Firefox extension and just that! I don’t know if that is the intention that Google has, really, but that’s what it looks like to moi.
Anyways, on with my review of Google Notebook and why it sucks.
Let’s start with the Firefox extension. Here’s a list of things that I dislike about it:
- Architecture: Google created a single sign-on architecture quite some time back. This, is what lets you sign in to all (well… most – Adwords is a notable exception) of google’s offerings using the same “Google account”. The architecture is based around storing of a central cookie that is used by all of Google’s services. This works well in most cases but is quite problematic when you take the same architecture and apply it to a rich interface, like the Notebook Firefox extension.
The problem is the extension depends on this cookie for its functioning. The Google Notebook Firefox extension has no way for the user to specify their Google account username and password. So the only way you’re going to get this Firefox extension to work is by logging into your google account in your Firefox browser. Clicking on “Open Notebook” simply opens a small popup window which fetches the google single sign on web block when you’re not signed in. This is the first login-required Firefox extension from Google and I had expected better.
This problem is especially compounded for users like me, who are forced to use more than one google account. Even more so, when you are not logged in and try to “Note This” and the login box pops up; even after logging in correctly, the extension doesn’t go ahead and complete the Noting operation. You’ve got to do it again.
- Usability issues: Most functionality appears to be happening inside a web block, actual rich functionality is mostly absent in the extension. This makes the extension a bit slower in response compared to what one would expect. Yes, it’s web based, it’s cool, but what’s the point if it’s not really lightning fast; especially when I’m using it to take Notes.
- Bugs / Problems
- Installation: Upon install it asked me to restart Firefox (this is a bother that I’ve become used to), and on restart it emptied out my session. All my pages that were stored in my session by Session Manager came up saying (Untitled). This, I’m definitely not used to.
Everytime I sign in to google notebook, it asks me download the Google Notebook firefox extension. I don’t think that’s a good thing to do to your users. I don’t know if this is caused by them or my Fasterfox has cached the Google Notebox first time signin process, your mileage may vary on this one.
- “Note this” wipes out site formatting: Noting anything from a website by the advertised select and right-click operation works abysmally as per my expectation. It’s slow, and it wipes out all, yes all formatting, CSS styling, pictures that are not URLs and applies a standard googlish look to it. Not desirable, not expected and extremely tacky. My grabbed notes should look the exact same as they were when I took them.
- “Note this” adds bookmarks: Right clicking on a page without selecting anything and saying “Note This” just creates a bookmark note. Content on the page is not copied. Makes me wonder what the point of it all was? I could have just added a bookmark on to Digg or Del.icio.us, right?
- “Note this” doesn’t always work: So what does one do, if he wants to copy the entire page into a note? Ctrl + A, right click and say Note this? Nope, nada, zilch, not working either. I tried it on a NEO Binaries page, and all I got was an extremely innocent error saying, “Error creating note.”. I hate error messages that don’t have the courtesy of telling me what the actual error was. I suppose that goes along with the whole Google spiel of “It’s simple, and it just works!”. Well it doesn’t, not for me.
- Clicking on maximize in the extension opens a new tab in Firefox. Clicking on Help opens a new window. They’ll probably say it’s by design. I think it sucks!
The Google Notebook Service
As for the the actual Google Notebook offering, it’s got it’s own set of problems as well:
- Publishing: So I can publish my notes. And what’s the point of that when I get a URL that looks like this: http://www.google.com/notebook/public/06758462020617548695/BDRdQSwoQ6qDM6LMh. What? I’m supposed to remember that? Or send it to someone? Aside from the fact that it looks like the most lame page ever created, I think exposing pseudo blogging features without actually providing any, is just a waste of time, effort and marketing might.
- Usability Issues:
- It’s slow. That’s what it feels like when they don’t tell me what’s happening in the Ajax. Show me something, some sort of progress or activity.
- It’s not attractive to look at, at all. The way it functions leaves a lot to be desired. Compare it with Google Reader for example.
- The My notes and the other notebooks move up instead of the tab shifting down. Why create a tab bar effect in the first place?
- Missing features
- Search!: Google is a seach company. Whatever they do, whatever offering they launch, however much money they make, they must remember this: they are a search company. And when they show messages saying “Search will be available in a few days”, they’re asking for it.
- Tagging / Categorization: So I’m supposed to search, and only search for my notes in my Google Notebook. I’m not supposed to label, tag or categorize them. No fair. I completely agree with Michael on this.
- Blog this???: Shouldn’t I be able to create notes and then easily publish them to my blog on Blogger? Especially when they are services by the same company? Doesn’t it make sense? I mean, c’mon guys, get your act together. Fine, you already have that store, edit and publish interface in Blogger. But I’m creating notes here. I want to publish these notes on my blog (and not on your lame URL with weird numbers and symbols).
Did nobody actually think of this at all?
- Email Integration: In published Notebooks I can email a link to whomever I want to. How? By using my offline mail client. I don’t know how that makes sense to any person who uses GMail. I use Gmail. I have a Gmail account. I use the same account to login to Google Notebook. And yet, I must use (insert favorite rich email client here) to send a link from my Google Notebook as email. Sounds crazy to me.
- Confusion?: First Google bought Blogger. Then they came out Google Bookmarks. Then to top it all of they released Google Pages. Now they release Google Notebook with functionality that has bits and pieces of everything. It totally confuses me as to where they’re going with all this. I only wonder how the casual user is supposed to comprehend all of this.
- Competition is better: The competition is way ahead Google in almost all aspects as regards Google Notebook.
Take a look at:
Scrapbook: A top pick Firefox extension, it is something which beats eSnips, OnFolio and now Google Notebook at their own game. And it’s free, fast and respects the way my notes look.
Del.icio.us: Yes, the true-blue original bookmark sharing service. I think it’s way ahead of Google’s attempts to enter the market.
SyncNotes: Yup, our own SyncNotes is way ahead of them in the actual Note taking, publishing and sending departments as well.
Google Notebook is definitely not the robust and kick-ass kind of offering that we’ve become used to come out of the Google stable. Instead its a confused attempt to enter late into one of the most heavily crowded spaces on the Net. That too, Sideways.
Are we looking at the first chinks that are beginning to appear in Google’s shiny armour?