Monday, February 7, 2011

Google Accounts

So after many (many!) months of teeth gnashing, I finally was able to migrate my Google Apps account forward so I can actually use it for software outside of Apps. The stumbling block in the process, no surprise, had been me all along.

Basically, I elect to pay the mighty Google $50/year to host a myriad of services on my behalf for my personal domain . I have moved into this model because, frankly, Google's bells and whistles make it far more attractive to me than self-hosting my own content. It's not that I couldn't do it - after many years of, in fact, doing it I've accepted the inevitable and moved into the cloud.

I'd like to pretend that there is a good pro/con argument for this but there probably isn't. Let me pretend though:

  1. Cloud hosting means that essentially nothing is ever down.

    Yes, I know that you could probably do a search and find some combination of circumstances when one of my online services wasn't available, but I can't identify any personally. I can very definitely point out circumstances previously when in order of relative occurrence my ISP was down for maintenance, my hosting box/software therein was broken through some combination of upgrades and random circumstance, and my DNS provider themselves had issues.
  2. The platform naturally evolves. That is, the in-place upgrades that occur en masse in the cloud magically cause new features to emerge on my hosts.

    So when Google adds some new RSS standard output - it just magically appears on all my sites. Online forms automatically migrate over to use the new CAPTCHA architecture. When the new iOS upgrade comes out for my phone and breaks Safari browsing, within hours the whole architecture evolves to support it cleanly. Without me jumping through hoops or generally being conscious of it.
  3. Everything plays together nicely.

    So on my workstation, I export a JPEG out of Lightroom. Picasa grabs the image and inherits the caption automatically. It recognizes most of the faces therein without my involvement. I manually tag the last person as I'm anal. Picasa is smart enough to recognize the embedded Geotagging. I decide the photo should be in my baby's photo album so right click Add To -> The Baby Journey album. The album is already set to automatically sync so transparently the image is uploaded to Picasa Web Albums which sends out notification to the people who have either subscribed or whom I have designed previously of wanting updates (mostly people not on facebook). Picasa updates my Google Contacts so when I browse my address book for a particular person (say Jon Stewart) I can see all of the photos he is in, including the most recent. Because Picasa has RSS feeds, my twitter automatically is updated with the new photo as well my non-email using cousin has it show up cleanly in his Google Reader.

    My involvement in all of this is minimal. I enter a caption once in Lightroom. I add the photo to an album. I tag one person who was missed out of the 19 who were recognized. Nothing about that is onerous - everything just flows and works.
  1. I have no idea who is doing what with my data. If I was seriously concerned about privacy (or zee Germans in the night) then I would have grave concerns about all of this. Literally my phone will tell you where I am within a couple meters in pretty much real-time. From my photos alone you can see where I was when and given that I'm OCD you can infer my patterns pretty transparently. I have enough publicly available information about me that you could analyze me ten ways to Sunday, and with private access to my email/calendar you can see just about anything of consequence. Really, I'm on genealogy sites so how hard would it be to find my mom's maiden name?
  2. I don't have a unified copy of my data for backup purposes. Now, I certainly have copies of everything in every system - my email syncs offline, my blog posts are available locally, my photos are on my hard drive - but the full unified experience really is only available online so a catastrophic event would cause me some short term grief.
Having done it both ways, I do personally believe that cloud hosting is the best solution for personal / small business hosting. There are exceptions to the rule - need for data privacy primarily or need for specialty software - but overall it's pretty attractive.

Now all this being said, my latest spot of drama was all caused by the seemingly infallible cloud architecture, or at least the human factor involved with it (read: me). When I initially switched over to Google Apps there were a small number of online applications that wouldn't work with this but bizarrely required the free gmail account - Picasa was one, Latitude was another. So I cheerfully signed up for a account, set it to forward to my account and then set my gmail to alias as my as well so everything played nicely.

What I didn't realize is that the Google architecture was smart enough to recognize that there was a potential conflict between as an alias and as a formal account so when they did the big upgrades so my Google Apps account would "just work" with Picasa/Latitude, my account was not upgraded. I kept getting a weird message when I signed in saying my account hadn't been migrated due to an address conflict.

Meanwhile, I cheerfully continued making things worse my alternately signing into one or the other account (although fortunately being entirely consistent depending on the app) which ended up spreading my data evenly between the two.

Finally it occurred to me that there had to be a fix and sure enough Google even had gone so far as to include an embedded youtube video with the error message that walked me through the whole explanation in painful detail. I've since removed the alias, the account migrated OK and now I'm starting to switch over the individual apps that were tied to my free account.

To give a practical example of the stupidity of this all, I now have a situation where my Blogger account is tied to my account and can't be removed, and the only way I can post to my blog was to invite myself as a contributing editor. I'm not sure how a person fixes this (would welcome any outside thoughts) but is irritating to say the least. I suspect in the end I'll have to export out the posts, create a new blog, and import back in the posts. If that's the worst glitch that comes of it all, then that's OK. :)

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