Unraveling Obfuscation

ob fus cate – 1. to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy 2. to make obscure or unclear

Archive for May, 2008

GMail Tip, and an observation

Posted by Todd McKinney on May 12, 2008

Gmail

I just helped my wife through this one, and I thought it might be potentially helpful to someone out there using GMail and having this issue. The problem that we ran across is that a draft that she had saved was “sort of” vanished. In the summary view, you could read the first line of the mail, but when you open the draft it’s just a blank screen. Puzzling. Turns out that it’s a “known issue”. The latest and greatest version does this, apparently if the draft is saved without a subject. GMail has it written up as a problem they know about and are working on, so I expect it will be fixed pretty quickly. The workaround is to use the old version of gmail that is linked in the help topic on this issue.

So, that’s the tip, now for the observation. I’ve used gmail a lot over the past couple of years. It’s a really useful application. There are many, many good things I have to say about it. It does sometimes feel a little spooky, however, to depend on something that only exists on some server that I can’t see across a network I can’t control that is being run by people I don’t know and have never even directly dealt with. The simple fact of the matter is that it can be torpedoed at any time for any number of reasons and there’s not really much I can do to work around it.

Mini-Rant

Upgrading a web application is supposed to be easier than bits on a desktop. I agree with the basic premise. The ease of pushing out some new release in the age of the web application still comes with a pretty heavy burden for testing and validation. I guess it’s still not nearly as big a deal as releasing MS Office from a test perspective, but still, there is a lot of havoc and grief that can be caused if you release something with some goofy defect and you’ve got millions of users depending on it. I guess the reason that I felt compelled to write this is that I obviously wasn’t the first person to come across the “all my hard work is lost” feeling of having a draft vaporize. Enough people have been stranded by this problem to have it bubble up pretty close to the top of the known issues list, and I’m sure that a lot of them had a more painful time of it that I did. After all, someone had to hit this thing when there wasn’t any help doc to point the way out.

Anyhow, to anyone responsible for day to day operations of web applications like this, first of all thanks. I know how difficult it is to be in a position where the thing has to be kept running all the time, and your effort should be commended. Also, you already know this, but please be thorough when you test your application. It’s really painful for a lot of people when you mess things up, even a little bit. Just because it’s easier than releasing something like MS Office doesn’t let you off the hook. In my view, it makes it a bigger deal. Look, you’ve got it relatively easy compared to a lot of product teams that have to be painstakingly thorough before they release something. It’s not asking too much for you to get it right.

Ah, well, at least the price is right. Probably why it’s still in beta after half a decade.

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