Gmail and mobile service related news

There has been an accumulation of minor activity about Gmail recently.

Email art

Gmail Outage

On 11 December 2012, many Google accounts experienced Gmail unavailability. I did not have experience any problems in Arizona. Gmail was definitely offline for at least 45 minutes, when I checked the official Google Apps Status page.

According to GigaOm, continuous deployment was the problem, and Gmail went down during a routine load balancing update. The GigaOm article is good. It includes a two-page PDF document later released by Google, with a detailed explanation of the incident.

For future reference, I suggest bookmarking the Google Apps Status Dashboard. Despite the “Google Apps” page name, the information is relevant to consumers as well as Google Apps business customers. It lists time and cause for disruptions in Gmail and many other Google services.

Verdict of the Herd

There is an unofficial Is Gmail down? service which culls data from multiple sources. It reminds me of an informal version of Herdict, the “verdict of the herd”. Herdict collects and publicly reports on global incidents of filtering, denial of service attacks, availability, and overall internet infrastructure reliability. Input data is crowd-sourced.

Herdict reports on website inaccessibility regardless of cause. After aggregation and trend analysis, it can be useful for gauging regional blockages of websites known for activism and possibly subject to politically motivated internet censorship. “Is Gmail down” is not intended for anything beyond the convenience of the public, though that is always appreciated! It is not crowd-sourced, nor does it give a comprehensive real-­time map of global Internet health. In contrast, Herdict does exactly that. The collected information can even be broken down on a more granular level.

Herdict access service I like the Herdict badge. You can put it on your website to support Herdict activities. Just click on the sheep-shaped image to get one. The Herdict real time interactive map is fun to watch, and its RSS feed is available for free to anyone who wants to use the data. Herdict is run by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society of Harvard University. 

Minor URL format change

This is the first instance I have seen of change in the typical Google help page URL structure. It is usually Pythonesque, with format
hxxp://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2753077

including one or more numeric identifiers. The new Gmail Known Issues Help landing page URL is
hxxp://support.google.com/mail/bin/static.py?hl=en&page=known_issues.cs

It is a more human-readable and descriptive URL!

POP3 versus IMAP

POP3 and IMAP give the ability to download email even when you are offline. They seem to work like desktop widgets. In the context of Gmail, they allow you to download messages from Gmail to your computer, then access them with other, non-Google programs such as Microsoft Outlook or (Apple?) Thunderbird. There are three protocols that allow this, POP, IMAP and SMTP.

Netscape logo

Netscape

I recall using SMTP at work, and POP, in the days when Netscape Navigator was my browser. Google recommends using IMAP instead of POP3:

POP is prone to losing messages or downloading the same messages multiple times, IMAP avoids this through two-way syncing capabilities between your mail clients and your web Gmail.

More free services taken offline

Google Calendar Labs

Google recently announced, as part of the regular “cleanings” i.e. shutdown of valued services, that new usage of Google Sync will be discontinued. This includes syncing between Google Mail, Calendar and Contacts via the Microsoft Exchange Server on all mobile devices, effective 31 January 2013.

Google recommends CardDav as a replacement. CardDav is an open protocol for synchronizing. It combines

  • IMAP for Gmail and
  • CalDav for Google Calendar, with limitations when used for Apple iOS devices.

Some Google Calendar Labs features will be permanently discontinued, as well as Calendar updating via SMS. IMAP and POP are relevant, but mostly curtailed to Google Apps, or via CardDav. Google Apps is transitioning to a primarily fee-based service for small businesses, enterprise and non-profit organizations.

Artwork

The Gmail image is a fine example of fan art work. It is an original creation, by bio-informatics expert, Professor A.J. Cann. I sense Mac design involvement, which the curious reader may confirm by clicking on the image, as it leads directly to Flickr.

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