Red Duck Studios

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gmail: 5 Years Later, Should Microsoft Be Worried?

5 years ago today Google played its best April Fools joke ever. It announced a new web based email service that would let you search your mail with the same search power you use to search the web. I'm sure at the time yahoo, hotmail and other web based email services saw it as a joke. "Google doing email? but they are just a search engine right?"

Today we know Gmail is not a joke. Its by far the best web based email platform. People like me will even argue that its the best email client period. Now you can even host your domain with google apps and use Gmail across your entire organization for free along with docs, calendar and other google products.

Google is changing everything and you either get it or you don't.

So why do people still pay for Outlook?

Because they don't get it. Do you?

EDIT: Google posted about this a day later, here's the link.

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Google AdWords Interface Beta Announced

Today Google announced on the Adwords blog that they will be accepting new people into the beta to test the new AdWords Interface. If you work in AdWords a lot like i do you know this updated interface is a long time coming. I manage a few large accounts with thousands of keywords and struggle with the current AdWords interface on a daily basis. Its just to slow and unintuitive.

The new interface however is packed full of helpful AJAX features to reduce page loads and increase productivity. In line editing is enabled for almost every element on every page. Graphs have been added to track the performance of your campaigns from inside AdWords. No more switching to Analytics to see how your campaigns have been doing, its all built in to AdWords now.

You can sign up for the beta and check out some interesting video's at the New Adwords Interface site. It's unclear at this time if managers using the My Client Center (MCC) will be able to take part in the beta. I signed up using both a managed and un-managed account to find out. Once I have been accepted I will do a better review of the new features in the beta.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gmail Labs: 10 Features You Can't Live Without

Late last year when Gmail Labs was enabled for hosted domains the great email debate ended for me. The features available with Labs transform Gmail from an already amazing email client into a highly productive and free alternative to Outlook. Here are my 10 favorite Gmail Labs features in no particular order. To enable these features in your gmail look for the labs link in the top right corner.

  1. Offline - Allows you to access your mail when offline. Great for those times when your flying or on the road. Requires Google Gears.
  2. Tasks - Adds an easy to use but highly productive to-do list to Gmail. My favorite part of this is that you can create tasks from an email message. When viewing a message go to "More actions -> Add to Tasks". This will add a task with a "related email" link that will take you back to the message. I use this as I'm reading my mail each morning to flag messages I need to come back and respond to later in the day.
  3. Superstars - Add additional star icons to gmail.
  4. Signature Tweaks - Moves your signature to before the quoted text when you reply to a message.
  5. Canned Responses - Create templates for common emails you sent out.
  6. Default 'Reply to all' - Another favorite of mine. Replaces the default "reply" button with "reply to all". Never forget to reply all again!
  7. Forgotten Attachment Detector - We have all done it. Typed up a long email and hit send without attaching the files. This feature will alert you of this when you hit send as long as you mention something related to attachment's in the body of the message.
  8. Send & Archive - This is a great time saver for those that respond to a lot of mail. Sends your mail and then archives the conversation with 1 click.
  9. Undo Send - Stop a message from sending. This feature will give you a 5 second window to cancel that embarrassing email you regretted as soon as you hit send.
  10. Vacation Time! - Set a start and end time for your vacation responder.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Import/Export your filters in Gmail

This is a great new feature just announced on the Gmail blog. It is good news for me seeing as I have been using Gmail exclusively for email for as long as I can remember and my list of filters is pretty long. I had always wondered what i would do if I lost my filters and had to look at all my mail in my Inbox. Good to know i have a backup now should that ever happen.

There is more we can do with this feature though other then create a backup. If your organization uses mailing lists for incoming mail you can now create sets of filters for each list and share them among your users. Now everyone can have the same filters and labels setup across your business. This should make training new users much easier for those wise enough to be using Gmail in their office. Of course this assumes your lucky enough to already be using Gmail and in your office and not Outlook like most people.

Once you have enabled Import / Export in your Gmail labs settings page navigate to Settings then Filters. Next use the check boxes to select the filters related to the mailing list then click export at the bottom of the page. Now save the file and send it to the other people that are on the list (or just send it to the list!). They can now import your filters into their Gmail account and will have the same setup as you.

It may seem like a small feature, but its importance from an IT management perspective is great. This is leverage for all those out there trying to convince the higher ups to switch to Gmail/Google Docs over Office. It will allow you to lower your setup times for new users and make training them much easier. How could they argue with that?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Old Book, New Rules, Still Relevant.

Keven Kelly has been releasing his now classic book New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies for a Connected World in blog form for the past month or so now to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of its initial publishing. For anyone who has not had the chance to read it you should check it out. Its very interesting to see how the things he talked about in the book 10 years ago came true in a big way.

He's still on chapter 1 and makes 2 posts a week so grab the feed and you can get caught up.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Custom Designs For Webstore's

My latest project has been implementing a clients custom eCommerce design into the WebStore platform. Anyone who has ever had to do this I am sure share's my frustration with who ever at Amazon built these templates. The lack of ID tags in the template makes re-styling the parts outside the widget panels using only CSS an arduous process. So that leaves us with a few options, Try to adapt the design to the generic amazon template, or hide the original template and then build our own using javascript and CSS. Changing a clients design because of constraints with the platform usually don't go over well, so i went with the 2nd option. Luckily Amazon expected this and makes information you need available in JavaScript variables on each page (you will need to turn this on for each page in the page settings). They also provide some handy javascript functions to make use of, though i have not seen them documented anywhere. I found them with firebug , which will be your main development tool for this type of work.

The 2nd problem i ran into with working with the Webstore platform was my development environment and where i would host the files used on the site. Amazon provides a file browser that you can upload files to for use in your webstore. But these files just get thrown into an images/ folder with no organization. On a large website that could have thousands of images, CSS, and JavaScript files this is not a good way of doing things. My client already had a linux server so i decided to make use of that as an external repository for files i used in the webstore. I set this server up as ( points to the webstore) and created my file structure for images, CSS, and js files there. The major benefit to this is that now you can work with the files via FTP with your favorite text editor instead of having to constantly work inside the Template Manager of the webstore UI. It also allows me to host custom scripts and databases (accessed via AJAX) on the static server that can can not be hosted on the webstore platform. My client eventually plans to move off the webstore platform to his own shopping cart system, so this way also allows me to build the site in a way that can be moved to a new location/system when the time comes without loosing to much work or having to redo everything.

Speaking of the Template Manager UI for Webstore, I have a few tricks for working with it as well. First make sure you have a copy of the code in you HTML widgets on your computer. I have had them bug out on me before and i lost changes i had made. What i do is for each page in the webstore i modify i create a folder on my system for it. then i make a file call head.htm and put anything i plan to put in the <head> section of that page (using the page settings) in that file. Then i create a file for each widget i may use on that page. I do all my coding in my text editor on my computer and when im ready to see the changes in the webstore i just copy the code into the widget. If anything should ever happen to your webstore template you should then have all the code to rebuild it just with copy/paste and because all your content files are stored on an external server you will never loose them because of a problem with Amazon.

In Short:
  • Host your css, images, javascript, and external scripts on a external webserver if available. You should try and put this server under a subdomain like but it could be any type of web hosting.
  • Keep a file for each section/widget of your webstore you modify in the template manager. Do your coding in your text editor and then copy the code into the widget when you ready. never modify the code directly in the widget editor or you risk loosing your changes.
  • Javascript is your friend. Their will be parts of the amazon template you do not want and can not remove with CSS alone due to the lack of ID tags in the HTML. This is where you will need to perform a little DOM magic and remove these elements with javascript when the page loads. My system has been to write an initPage() function for each page i need to do this on which does all the processing and edits. Then in a widget on the page i use an addLoadEvent(initPage()) call. When the page is loaded the initPage function gets called and renders the page.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Putting It Online

My one and only new years resolution this year was that i would try and become more social on the internet. I have been involved with computers and the internet for a lot of years now and have watched this whole social network/blogosphere world grow into what it is today with out really getting to involved. I never thought anyone would really be interested in what i had to say. That and I never wanted to put myself out there on the internet, I always liked keeping a low profile.

Well those days are over. Its obvious to me now that this new media world is not going away and its time i start to embrace it. This blog will be the start of that.

As for what kind of topics i'll be posting on, I have not decided. I have a ton of technical articles i want to write, but i may post those on a separate blog with a more professional theme. For now this will just be my personal blog for posting things in my day. Lets see where it goes from there.