Mind Blown: Transfer your Google Voice from one Google account to another

A few days ago I spent some time cleaning up my address book, but I forgot that there was one additional place where it was a mess, Google Voice.

I had a Google Voice account tied to an older gmail account which I had set up before Google Voice was available for Google Apps.

That meant that my Google Voice account also had a completely separate contacts list which meant incoming calls & SMSs were often not identified, even though I had that person’s info in my other address book.

I was pretty sure I was stuck with this, when I decided to search around, and boom, I found (via Google of course) a “I want to transfer my Google Voice number to another account” page:

I clicked through the form, and then it forced me to be logged-in to both accounts in the same browser, and not even 5 minutes later my account was transferred.


Hitting the Reset Button on my Address Book Contacts

This is by no means a brag – more of an embarrassing admission — that up until yesterday I was in the 9,000+ range of contacts in my address book.

It was years in the making, starting with Eudora (I still miss that app), then Outlook Express, Outlook, and then some Google/Plaxo/BlackBerry sync magic, Linkedin imports, iPhone contacts, etc — all resulting in a messy address book with lots of dupes, out of date contacts, and bloat. I would guess maybe 1/4 were actually accurate, if that.

Along the way I tried a bunch of “scrubbers” and ran Google’s find & delete — which only served to create more of a mess.

Then while watching a video stream of the Le Web conference (or maybe it was another conference) in the summer of 2011, I saw a presentation for Evercontact (fma Write.That.Name) which looked pretty interesting.

It worked by connected to your gmail/Google Apps email and based on the data in the signatures of inbound emails, would update your contacts in google contacts with the new info. So I switched to using Google’s contacts manager as the canonical source of all my contacts, and during the course of that last year+ it has updated hundreds of contacts and kept things up to date.

But what I starting noticing over time was that my iPhone apps that needed to use my address book were either super slow or crashing completely. Auto complete in the gmail app was painfully slow to the point of being a problem.

So yesterday I did a quick backup of all my contacts, and then went to delete everything !

What I found actually was that Google only allows you to delete 250 at a time. It does that pretty quickly, but if you want to delete more, you can actually use their old v1 interface which allows you to delete many more at once:

After erasing them all, I imported in only the ones that Write.that.Name had updated, and I’m now using their Flashback tool to scan prior emails for other contacts.

Next, I’m testing Rainmaker, which looks to complete other relevant contact info for your contacts based on your Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook.

I must say, it’s like a good spring cleaning, and obviously these days between Facebook, people’s blogs, Twitter, Linkedin, etc — it’s pretty easy to reach people even if they aren’t in your address book.

UPDATE: A couple of years in, and I’m super happy with Evercontact. I get these moments when a call comes in and my phone already recognizes them because Evercontact added it to my address book automatically. Magical!

Eight Things to Fix in Offline Google Mail

Way back when, I used to use Google Gears to run gmail in offline mode in Firefox – usually when on a plane without wifi. Eventually Gears was retired, and a while after that, Google released a chrome app called Offline Google Mail that looked to do most of what you could once do with Gears.

I know I can install Thunderbird or run Mac Mail to do email offline, but I like the idea of using just my browser and not installing or running other client apps.

So on a recent trip Virgin America had non functioning wifi, and on the other leg it just barely worked. So I figured I’d put Offline Google Mail through it’s paces. What I found was pretty lacking and I took some notes 🙂

  • 1) This is a biggie. It won’t work if you are offline ! WTF you may say ? “Offline” is in the app name. Yes, but to make it work, you need to first launch the app while you are online and then keep the browser open. Otherwise you see some version of the screenshot above.  This seems like something that has to be fixed — as you never know when you might need offline access, and certainly don’t want to have to plan for it.
  • 2) Reply-all always CCs me the sender. Small thing, but annoying to have to remove yourself each time if there is more than one person on a thread.
  • 3) native spell checker doesn’t work.
  • 4) can’t force plain text mode in reply, you get stuck in this visual/rich mode which I’m not a fan of
  • 5) no option to send & archive, which is my default in gmail
  • 6) A biggie. It doesn’t detect the email address (i use multiple ones) to which the email was sent to. Unlike desktop gmail – which replies from the account the email was sent to
  • 7) When I click save, it picks a different time zone than my machine’s. Maybe that’s a gmail/calendar thing — but causes confusion.
  • 8) Another biggie. It doesn’t download attachment or images, clicking “show images” doesn’t do anything. Would love an option to include attachments.

Too bad it’s not open source — could send in patches 🙂

Anyone else have a better setup or recommendation ?

I see other complaining too:

Native VS Mobile Web Apps & Ideas for Gmail Mobile Web App

I was at the excellent GigaOM Mobilize Conference 2010 last week as we, Automattic, were a sponsor with our WordPress for iOS app.

At the conference there was an interesting panel about mobile web apps VS native mobile apps.

My gut feeling re: this debate is that we are at a place in mobile that is similar to where the web was in early 1994. In 1994, you had very rich desktop clients such as AOL, Compuserve, and others that delivered a great web experience. And you had this Mosaic browser that just got ported to Windows, that everyone was raving about but was clunky, a bit buggy, and served up pretty plain looking web pages. Fast forward a few years, and we all know how this story played out.

I think that the mobile web apps vs native client debate will play out in a similar fashion — in that the mobile web will come to dominate native clients in much the same way — it’s a matter of time — but it’s probably a good 2-3 years out. Also native apps today are moving into games and video that require a big local storage component, and since mobile networks can’t stream fast enough, and today have terrible latency issues, I don’t see how mobile web apps will compete in the short-term for that category. But the advantages of mobile apps — fast iteration, no need for specific hardware testing, instant feedback, built on open source stacks, etc — that’s a winning combination.

This prediction is coming from someone who has invested a ton of time in the WordPress mobile apps, and I still sees plenty of value continuing to invest in native apps for at least the next 2-3 years. It’s also very possible that a hybrid approach will emerge, where it’s a native app embedding a mobile browser, and just using some of the native hardware capabilities and processing power, but in essence a 95% mobile app inside.

So in reference Gmail — after the sessions I was chatting with a few people, and on twitter a few folks were asking me which mobile app was the best. My response:

Re: those asking what the best mobile web app is: to me hands down it’s gmail. Local storage, fast, and better than the built in iphone mail

For context, I use Google Apps for all my email — both work and personal, and have been using Gmail mobile since it was a BlackBerry app back in 2007. With my type of work, I live in email a good chunk of my day.

Scott Eblen who works at Google on Gmail mobile then kindly reached out asking about any suggestions to improve the service. Since I can’t quite fit that into 140 characters, I though I’d blog it. Here is my take on Gmail mobile – the web app – used mostly on my iPhone4 using mobile Safari:

The good:

  • It’s fast and efficient — I use it probably 90% to triage email — erase, star, label, and archive, and about 10% for actual composing and replying
  • Since there are no iTunes approval waits, or extra device testing — the team seems to be iterating very quickly. The new buttons and new placements have improved a ton in the last month. The new feature for moving inside a thread is wicked — wish desktop Gmail had that feature to be honest
  • The local storage feature is great — even offline I can load up recent messages, and it adds to the overall snappy feeling of the web app
  • Related to the local storage item, the web app, unlike many others, loads up with the icons, buttons,etc already loaded
  • The main pane scrolls without showing the location bar now — hard to describe but you’ll notice it when you use it
  • Search rocks, and was the #1 reason I started using it instead of the built-in iPhone mail

What Can be Improved:

  • My number one issue — I can’t choose which email account for sending. It defaults to my ‘default’ which covers me 95% of the time, but wish I could switch to my other accounts
  • Related to the above, would be nice if it matched my account based on the email address that it was directed to. Regular web Gmail does that
  • When I switch between wifi connections or 3G, I sometimes need to reload the page. Refreshing within the app just spins ( happens much less often then it did a few months ago )
  • More of a UX thing with mobile, but I’d like to see better options for inline replying and cutting & deleting. Might be an HTML5 limitation, but a smarter way to select and delete would be helpful
  • Would like to see phone numbers automatically highlighted and clickable for a call. Bonus points if it can launch the google voice native or web app
  • Would like to see some way on the iPhone for Gmail to have access to local hardware capabilities like the camera and GPS. Android OS already supports this, and the HTML5 spec does as well.

So that’s my take — looking forward to seeing what the Gmail team does next. And keep an eye on WordPress in the mobile space — some exciting stuff in the works.

Google Apps and Gmail Fix “On behalf Of” Issue

When I switched to Google apps for my personal email back in January 2008, my #1 wish list item was to:

* Fix the “on behalf of” issue. If you use multiple email addresses, gmail and google apps are easy to setup to receive those emails. But when you send out using those non gmail/google apps addresses, certain recipients – especially those using Outlook – will see a “on behalf of email@gmail.com” in the “From” field.

This past Thursday, Google announced that they had fixed this issue, by allowing you to send out from your domain’s smtp server, thus dropping the “on behalf of” portion.

This is good news 🙂

I’ve been using Mac Mail and Thunderbird for a while in conjunction with google apps, so after tweaking my settings, I decided to try a few days of just Google apps for all my email accounts. Here is what I learned:

The good:

  • Love having just one single inbox
  • The Archive button is even more useful for work emails since the volume of email for me is pretty insane on most days

The bad:

  • The signature feature is pretty weak. You can’t set it per account, and you can’t have different versions. I did find this Firefox add-on, Black Canvas, that looks promising — but it doesn’t seem to work in google apps right now
  • If you rely on the google built-in mail fetcher to retrieve email, you’ll be waiting 20-60 minutes for new email – which is a problem. The work around is to have your other accounts forward all you email to your main gmail or google apps account, that way it shows up instantly
  • Address book issues. I haven’t sync’d my contacts with Google contacts yet, so finding an email address is a bit clunky. I have everything in my OS X address book sync’d nicely with my iPhone right now, so I haven’t gone down the Google contacts road yet — plus I’ve heard some stories of problems of late, so thinking I’ll wait a bit
  • No Gravatar support, so i can’t see the avatar/photos of the people I’m emailing with. I tried my colleague Jon Fox’s greasemonkey script but it’s not working — could be again b/c I’m in google apps. Would be nice to see Google support the Gravatar service, and other avatar services, natively ( Google folks, feel free to contact me if you’d like to chat about this )

Wish List:

  • While google apps email search rocks, I actually miss my desktop client search feature where as I type I see results. In general I think google could do a better job with search on email, such as having “did you mean” based on my index, and better snippet highlighting, as well as some kind of live results
  • Native iPhone app. The safari/mobile web version is getting better, but you can’t top the speed of a native app right now

Search / Sync Tip:
If you’ve been using a desktop mail client via IMAP like Thunderbird for your other accounts, google apps/gmail won’t have any of your sent messages. I find that I’m often searching for emails that I’ve sent, so this was something I needed to address. What I’m testing right now is a way to copy my sent messages into google apps. I loaded up all my accounts and the google apps account via IMAP in Thunderbird, and then started copying my Sent Folder messages from my other accounts into my google apps sent-mail folder. So far it seems to be working, and syncing up nicely.

Very promising so far. If I can get the signature issue sorted out I’d be happy and may switch to this setup for all email.

I’m also testing out an interesting desktop/web hybrid app called Mailplane on my colleague Andy Peatling’s suggestion. Their tag line is “Mailplane brings Gmail to your Mac desktop”. I haven’t used it enough yet, but it integrates nicely with your OS X address book, growl for notifications, and in beta is gears/offline support as well as HTML signatures. Checkout their 2 minute video overview for a good summary.

Apparently My Family is Secretly Making Gmail Better

A few months ago I switched from gmail to google apps for personal email and subsequently also moved over a few of my family members.  Little did I know that these family members have been secretly working on new cool gmail features as part of Google’s “Labs” effort.

Take a look at what appears at the bottom of my google apps email settings page 🙂

And joining the “Bar-Cohen Family Mail team” has many benefits:

The team
We work on lots of different things: making email better, faster, and more fun, and developing new ways for users to share and communicate with each other. We take on hard computer science problems — like making large amounts of Javascript run insanely fast on different browsers, storing and scaling petabytes of data, and ridding the world of spam. And Gmail is like a start up inside Google. You can build and ship new stuff quickly, and enjoy all the great benefits Google is known for.

Gotta love it !  🙂

Switched to Google Apps for Personal Email

Over the holidays I was testing Google Apps and except for a small false positive spam issue with google alerts — I was really impressed.

The reason I was testing it was to see if I could replace my gmail account with one of my own email accounts, using my own domain — but running on google apps. Google Apps essentially allows you to use all the Google services like email, docs, calendar, etc — but using your own domain (i.e. myname.com).

The main motivator for me was to have a permanent email address that had great web interface, and also pop/imap support for a desktop client.

My old personal email setup:
* hosting: running on my own server
* Spam: using SpamAssasin to filter out spam. It worked fairly well but required some maintenance overhead of keeping up with new versions and tweaking the spam’s whitelist was a chore
* Webmail: the default Squirrel webmail was good, but not amazing
* Search: using Thunderbird for search when you had gigs of email was tough, and webmail search was OK

My move to gmail:
Then in July 2004 I signed up to test gmail and was amazed. I was tired of endless mailboxes/archive rules/folders of the Outlook/Eudora/Thunderbird world. Gmail had:
* awesome search
* no folders ( but simple & powerful labels )
* virtually unlimited storage
* killer feature — the threaded view which I’m amazed hasn’t been copied by every mail provider (and conversely i’m amazed gmail doesn’t offer a non-threaded view for people who just hate the threaded model)
* really solid spam protection

In addition to gmail’s great features I found that I needed a google account to use i-google, google reader, google webmaster tools,etc and I quickly found myself just using the gmail address as my person email address, and forwarding all my old accounts to the gmail address. ( since then google has changed the google account setup so you can use a non-gmail address for google services )

I can still easily call up the Gmail welcome email:

You’re one of the very first people to use Gmail. Your input will help determine how it evolves, so we encourage you to send your feedback, suggestions and questions to us.

I recall emailing in and saying that they should support domain mapping so you could have email@yourdomain.com. Fast forward a few years, and google now has that option. I quickly set it up on google apps, made some DNS changes and was up and running in no time.

Google Apps
I’ve been using google apps for about a month now, and here are a few observations:
* the free version I’m using is perfect for my use. They do offer premium options of larger organizations.
* everything you would expect with gmail you have with google apps – including docs, calendar, etc
* the mobile blackberry app for google apps works great
* with the calendar there are some extra features for people “on your domain” to always have access to your calendar
* outside services that provide a way to grab your gmail address book ( such as facebook ) do not work with google apps – this could be considered a good thing for some people 🙂
* moving my gmail emails to google apps was relatively painless. Details & lots of discussion at Scott Hanselman’s blog.

WordPress.com Support:
If you have a blog at WordPress.com and are using a mapped domain as I now do with this blog, you can enable Google Apps for that same domain. Details are here in our faq.

Wish List:
* Fix the “on behalf of” issue. If you use multiple email addresses, gmail and google apps are easy to setup to receive those emails. But when you send out using those non gmail/google apps addresses, certain recipients – especially those using Outlook – will see a “on behalf of email@gmail.com” in the “From” field.UPDATE: Now fixed.

Pretty much a no brainer. If you love gmail, want your own domain, and like having the safety to know that you can pop/imap your email, and move it at any time — google apps is a great choice.

Google Apps email flags Google alerts (sent to gmail) as Spam

I’m playing around with google apps, and one great feature is the ability to import in existing gmail accounts – all email messages and even labels.

One thing I assumed was that no messages from my gmail spam folder would be imported – and that turned out to be true. But after the gmail import I noticed a bunch of message in the new google apps account’s spam folder. On closer inspection they were all legit messages including google alerts sent to my gmail account. A bit convoluted, but if this is still making sense to you, it looks like google apps email hasn’t white-listed google messages.

Odd, no ? See screenshot below showing google alerts for a stock I follow, MVIS:

google apps flags alerts as spam