New Yahoo!Mail, still a distracting mess

Yahoo!Mail shows two ad images. The one on the right flashes.

After a wave of nagging emails telling me to upgrade my old, barely-used Yahoo!Mail account, I clicked the button.

Yahoo! says mail is now faster: “up to twice as fast”. It doesn’t say what it is twice as fast as, presumably the old Yahoo! Mail.

While it may be faster, Yahoo!Mail is still way slower than Gmail. You don’t need to look far to see why. The application loads two colourful, flashing advertisements.

Flashy – and I don’t mean that in a good way

Not only does this slow Yahoo!Mail to the point of making it almost worthless – at least when compared to Gmail – the ads are distracting. I cannot focus on reading anything complicated or difficult when there’s flashing graphics on the right-hand edge of my screen.

Oh, and the advertisements displayed are totally irrelevant to my life. I’ve seen research which says readers are more forgiving when the advertising they see is relevant.

Yahoo!Mail offers a number of features that are clearly better than those in Gmail. Unlimited storage and being able to attach up to 100MB files to an email are huge pluses.

Pain barrier

Yet none of this matters a jot, if the application is painful to use.

We all understand service providers need to make money. Advertising pays for the mail service. But Gmail manages to do this without turning email into a battleground.

I’ll keep the Yahoo!Mail account for emergencies.

Wave bye bye

Good riddance to Google Wave.

I never understood what the fuss was about.

Wave may have been clever programming, but it didn’t do anything other applications already did better. Google has better tools for most Wave tasks.

It did instant messaging although Google already had one and a half tools that do the same job very well.

Wave did communications. Why bother when Gmail is so much better?

Wave was a collaboration tool. Who needs that when collaborating on Google Docs is so easy?

There was a social media twist to Wave, but Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are all simpler to use and way more polished.

Wave had a bad user interface and was difficult to use.

More importantly, it was difficult to understand what was going on and what one was supposed to do.

When Outlook trumps Gmail

Three months ago I tested Gmail. My plan was to spend a week running all email through Gmail on my desktop, laptop and hand-held computers.

I wanted to move all my email accounts on all my systems through a single application as a way of simplifying things.

In practice it worked well. Routing my Gmail, POP3, Google Apps and Yahoo accounts through one in-box made sense.

Seeing the same messages through the same interface across my three systems made sense. The experiment was so successful I stayed with it for three months.

There was one small problem with Gmail: integrated search. It is easy to search Gmail messages. Email search is faster and more efficient than Outlook search tools.

I missed not being able to search Word and OneNote documents, text, HTML and email documents from a single, central location. But I figured this was only a minor irritation.

Then Windows 7 came along, with improved integrated search. It is noticeably better than Vista search and it works better with Outlook 2007. So much better, that I’ve reinstated Outlook 2007 as my main mail hub. I can use Outlook 2007 on my desktop and laptop, but not on my Palm hand-held.

This hardly matters, the Palm not the best device for writing email – though it is good for reading emails. And anyway, I suspect my trusty old Palm TX is not long for this world.

Update: I forgot the other bonus. Outlook 2007 integrates nicely with OneNote while it is a pain moving messages from Gmail to the application.

Gist beats Xobni tackling mail, Twitter overload

Gist cuts through the deluge of incoming mail, tweets and other messages.

It sorts, highlights and presents important material in a simple format.

After one day of using the application I its potential. Gist may become a lynch-pin. But I’m not  convinced I’ll use it long-term. Here’s why:

Gist works with Gmail, Google Calendar, Outlook, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Salesforce. The software is a free web-delivered or cloud application. There’s a paid subscription version in the pipeline.

Gist smart than Xobni

Like Xobni, Gist digs through mail and organises information, appointments and correspondence. Unlike Xobni it pulls together a range of information sources.

That’s smart, mail is only one of a number of channels people deal with.

Gist displays data on a dashboard where you can quickly see what the software decides are your most important messages. You can also view the information by contact name.

Gist analyses your contacts then ranks them based on the number of communications with each person. The idea is to help you automatically filter out noise and focus on the most significant material.

Gist simplifies

In practice, it works, but only up to a point.

Here’s what it does well:

  • Gist does a great job of pulling together incoming material from different sources. I’m testing it with Gmail, Twitter and LinkedIn. Between the three I may have hundreds of incoming messages each day —  these are mainly tweets. Putting them all in one place is helpful.
  • My contacts have been automatically ordered in a league table, with the most important at the top. The list is good, but not perfect. The people I work with are on the first page, but there are people on the page who I don’t know well.
    And I’m not impressed to see Gist’s TA McCann as my most important contact.
  • I don’t use Salesforce and I haven’t yet tried Gist with Outlook so I feel a fraud for including this under the what Gist does well heading, but the software appears to integrate smoothly with these applications — which will certainly make it a powerful option for those people using either product.

Here’s what’s not so great:

  • While Gist is good at finding your important contacts, it can’t decide which material from those contacts is important. In my industry there’s a lot of chatter on Twitter and the occasional gem. Material from LinkedIn contacts is not vital, but most incoming mails are vital. I’d like to tell Gist to give mail more weight than tweets — perhaps I can do this and I just haven’t found out how.
  • I still feel deluged. It is easier to get at some of the important material. I could use Gist instead of Tweetdeck. Gist is a better way of checking LinkedIn updates than the RSS feed I use. But Gist is not going to replace my mail inbox soon.

Better than Xobni

Gist is better than Xobni. The last time I looked Xobni only worked with Outlook, although it can pull information from Facebook and LinkedIn. Gist adds Gmail and Twitter putting it way out in front.

Xobni integrates with Outlook, but the composite screen is cramped on my desktop display and hard to view on my laptop. Gist on the other hand is browser-based (although there are integrated versions) and is easier to read.

Lastly, I found Xobni was slow to use and I suspected it slowed down Outlook — although I couldn’t quantify this.

How I set up my personal email address

1: Gmail

Getting a Gmail address was easy as I already had a number of existing accounts. I’ve decided to forward everything from everywhere to a single Gmail account and gradually stop using old email addresses.

If you don’t already have a Gmail account, just hop over to gmail.com and sign up – you’re late to the party so you won’t great choice of available names. This doesn’t matter as nobody has to see your Gmail address.

2: Domain name

Again this was straightforward, I chose a .co.nz name because New Zealand is a small country with an uncrowded domain name register which made it easy to get the domain name I wanted. It cost NZ$40 to own billbennett.co.nz, but New Zealand names are renewed annually which is a pain.

3: Host

My existing web host was good enough. There’s a minor technical problem which causes problems elsewhere, but the one I use isn’t expensive and the company is easy to deal with.

I pay NZ$130 a year for 100MB of storage and plenty of bandwidth. You don’t need much of either to handle an email account, so opt for the smallest possible hosting plan unless you aim to use the service for something else.

4: Set-up mail account

My host uses a program called Cpanel. It allows me to manage the site through a web browser. I opened Cpanel and clicked on the Mail icon. A list displayed with a number of options, I chose Add/ Remove/ Manage Accounts. From here I added the email account bill@billbennett.co.nz.

You need to set up a password and a quota at this point – which is an amount of storage space to set aside for email. I’m not planning to keep email on the server, but during the testing stage I set aside 2MB of storage. This was a good move, because I hit a minor snag.

5: Redirect

I struggled  finding out how to redirect email traffic from my host using Cpanel. That’s because I used the Email Domain Forwarding option. While this looks like the right tool – it isn’t.

I then tried, incorrectly, setting up forwarding from Cpanel’s built-in Horde web mail program. The correct tool to use at this point is cryptically listed in the Cpanel/Mail menu as Forwarders.

Here you need to click on Add Forwarder and then enter the new email address followed by the Gmail account where you plan to receive your mail.

6: Tell Gmail about your new account

I did this by logging on to Gmail, clicking the Settings link at the top right of the window and then on the Accounts tab. Here I added the new address, verified it, then made it the default.

It’s a good idea to test your new email address at this point. When I did this I had some problems with the redirecting and found my emails sitting in the Horde web mail inbox on the server at my host.

Now, my next job is to make sure the new address appears everywhere online. This will take some time to fix. I made a good start by Googling my old addresses, but there are hundreds of instances so it’s not going to happen overnight.