cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

Two major new products in my "spaces" - April 1, 2004

Today, April Fools Day, we had big news in the two spaces in which my company's products are competing: aggregators and email. When I first started downloading the news in Jyte, I was fearful that the competition for Jyte and my soon-to-be-released IMAP email product was going to be much tougher than it was in March. Kinja, I learned, had been featured in the New York Times technology section, while Gmail was giving away the same amount of storage we want to sell. Uh-oh.

Once I had read through a number of reviews, however, including the rampant speculation of what might be April Fools' jokes, I was more confident that my products still held a substantial lead given their respective attributes. Sure, Kinja and Gmail are decent products in their own right. But despite their winning marketing statements these products fail to fill what I have discovered to be major consumer needs.

Let's start with the biggy, in more ways than one: Gmail. When we first heard rumors of Google's 1 GB mailbox, we heard that it was an IMAP mailbox. Google's claims that, with Gmail, "you can search through them for information anywhere you are, whether that's at home, in the office or in an Internet cafe" to the IMAP diehard might at first seem like the mother lode; after all, IMAP is famous for the ability to synchronize the email folders on all your computers, and even access them from a remote site. And the reason most ISPs don't offer IMAP is simple storage space limitations - with IMAP, all emails are kept forever on the server, even though copies might be downloaded to several machines.

But, no IMAP, not even POP3, for now. So the user still has to maintain an Internet connection at all times to search through the vast stores of emails on the Google server. And if Gmail goes away: well then, all your precious data is lost. With IMAP, copies can be simply kept offline. Most importantly, you have to use the same web-based interface to compose messages, meaning that you must keep a fast, reliable connection in order to keep your in-process gems. It's not the way I work, and it's not the way a large number of users work. I'd like to keep drafts accessible on- and off-line. I'd like to be able to pull up that cell phone number my friend emailed me without having to go online, even in the car when I get lost or stuck in traffic.

The key here is that we are still dependent on the existence, and speed, of our Internet connection to access our information. Even with wifi and broadband connections these things should not be taken for granted. This week Comcast "upgraded" our broadband connection. For some reason this has made it 20 times more slow. I have to refresh several times just to open a website. Thankfully, my email files sit safely in my synchronized folders, available to me to search with my cool Bloomba search function, anytime. (unsolicited plug: Bloomba is really great, you should check it out)

Now for something completely (not) different: Kinja. Kinja has a cool logo, some great PR, and nice people working behind it. Someone mentioned that it was a year late in coming out. For something so carefully developed, I was certain Kinja would solve some open problems (that we're hoping Jyte will ultimately be recognized as solving): the ability to create consistently refreshed custom keyword searches through both blogs and news, the ability to read news on and offline, the flexibility to change the way you communicate your favorite news with your friends, clients, and colleagues.

Kinja's main point of differentiation seems to be the editors, who pore through blog postings to assign categories and "best of" lists. Yeah, that's cool; Boing Boing is doing something like that already, but maybe not by the same people.

I think that the blogosphere could REALLY use some editors, so that part is great, as is the ability to make your own "lists" of favorites to share with friends. But you can't choose which articles to feature, so how do you know that your lists are populated with relevant things? It doesn't work for business purposes.

The other part that almost got me excited was the focus on blog newbies. The idea is that Kinja is going to introduce the world of blogs to people who are scared of blogs, making it easier for them to find blogs that interest them. Why that is possible with Kinja and not Technorati or Boing Boing or Pubsub or any of the others...I'm not sure.

From my research, the only way blog newbies read blogs is if specific posts are either (a) recommended to them by very close friends, who are already reading the blog; or (b) returned as results to searches for keywords on Google or another mainstream search engine. Non-bloggers just don't go looking for good blogs. Most of them don't even know what blogs are (trust me, I've asked a lot of people!).

I won't use this as too much of a marketing ploy; but I will say that even following the release of these cool new products I, for one, am still waiting for the answers to many of my needs as a user of aggregators and email. I'm still watching these spaces.

Please see my disclaimer about the use of "space" to define a market segment.