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Google Services Bugs and Usability Issues That Spoil My Holiday Spirit – Part I

Carsten Cumbrowski
Carsten Cumbrowski
Google Services Bugs and Usability Issues That Spoil My Holiday Spirit – Part I

It’s the end of the year and I have a little gift for Google for the year 2008. It’s a summary of issues and bugs I found in the various Google services, free and paid ones as well. Some are fresh and triggered this post and some others are older where I already send a feedback to Google in the past.

Google is obviously not used to deal with people and their best people for web usability must all be busy with the organic web search page. Okay, it is not easy to manage all the different new services and offerings that are partially in-house developed products and partially products and services that were acquired over the past few years. However, fundamental mistakes and errors should not happen, even under those circumstances. I was lucky today to bump into a whole chain of bugs and usability issues with Google’s Picasa, Google Checkout and Gmail. I also include some older issues, including ones with other Google services while I am at it. It comes down in total to SEVEN usability issues and FIVE real bugs for Picasa and Google Checkout alone.

It’s a long post, broken down into multiple parts and it is primarily written for Google.

If you encountered the same, similar or completely different issues, feel free to use this opportunity to let Google know about it by commenting to this post via the form provided at the end of this post.

Let’s start from the beginning. I have a regular Gmail account with an address at the gmail.com domain. This is an old account, which I created when Gmail was launched. I also have an account for “Google for your domain”, the hosting service provided by Google.

This is a service I pay money for. I also have a Google Picasa account with via my “Gmail.com” account and not my hosted one (Cumbrowski.com).

Google Picasa

I paid on December 28, 2006 for the upgrade to 10 GB for the Picasa account (free account has 1 GB limit), which also seems to automatically upgrade the storage for my normal Gmail.com account (I have to wait 1 day to be able to verify that. Explanation follows). The upgrade was purchased via Google Checkout.

I have today over 2 GB of pictures in my Picasa account. Okay, so far so good. I received over one month ago a friendly email from Google, which reads:

Subject: Google paid storage renewal notice (10 GB/yr for $20.00 US)
November 5, 2007

This is a friendly reminder from Google that your paid storage plan with us will renew soon. Here is your information:

Account: Carsten.Cumbrowski@gmail.com
Plan: 10 GB for 1 year paid storage
Price: $20.00 US

The renewal process is automatic — no action is required. We will charge your card on Dec 28, 2007.

Of course, we want to be sure we only charge your card if you are interested in renewing. If you would like to cancel your paid storage, you can do so by visiting the link below and selecting the basic plan.

https://www.google.com/accounts/PurchaseStorage

Thanks,
The Google Team

P.S. Need to update your credit card info?

1. Sign in at https://checkout.google.com
2. Click “Edit payment methods”, then click “Enter new billing information”
3. Click “Add a New Credit Card”.

Yeah, I followed the p.s. advice and specified a new credit card back then and after that forgot about it until weird things started to happen today (December 30, 2007. Note that today are two days past of the 1 year subscription period).

The first weird thing was that I was not unable to update any description for any web album. Every time I pressed save, an error screen appeared (bug #1). I had some problems with Picasa Web before and thought that they might use the holidays for an upgrade. I looked for any notes etc., but did not see anything.

Then I launched Picasa for Windows on my PC. I wanted to upload a bunch of new images for some of my galleries. There I got the error message that my quota was exceeded.

Huh? I did not recall seeing anything on the Picasa website and I did also not receive any email today or yesterday regarding the expiration of my quota. Furthermore, wasn’t it supposed to renew itself or did I read the email from November 5th incorrectly?

I looked again on the website and looked and looked and then saw something weird in the footer in tiny letters and only on the private overview screen with ALL galleries.

You don’t see it anywhere else, not within the galleries, the public galleries overview and not even on the settings page. The message could not have been hidden any better. I guess the users are not supposed to see it or something like that (usability issue #1). Well, the message made clear that the automatic renewal did obviously not work and my storage expired without any warning or notice (bug #2). Luckily for me, next to that message was also a link to upgrade the storage.

Google Checkout

I clicked on the link and was taken to Google checkout. I was using Internet Explorer and the screen I got looked like this (bug #3).

Notice anything? Right, the checkout button is disabled and it does not show any billing and payment information. There is also not even an error message that indicates this issue (bug #4). A link to update the billing information is missing too (usability issue #2).

I had to abandon the checkout process, which was a dead end at this point anyway and went to my Google account to check my Google Checkout information. I did specify payment methods and billing and shipping information and as you can see on my purchase history, it worked before, even with the updated credit card.

I had a hunch and loaded up Firefox to go through the same process. This time the shopping card shows a payment method and also the checkout button is enabled.

I completed the checkout but I still have the same problems as before. The storage is also not upgraded and nothing indicates that there was an upgrade purchased and pending (usability issue #3). The Picasa page shows friendly the link to buy just another upgrade. I don’t think so.

Okay, it stated that the upgrade of the storage will take up to one day, but I thought that in my case the upgrade is more of a renewal rather than a new upgrade. I mean my Picasa albums use up already over 1 GB of the extra storage (usability issue #4).

Google Storage in General

It seems that even though the subscription expired and I did not pay for the additional storage that Google did not delete any of my stuff. I hope that it is really the case and not just look like it. I will find out eventually. I started thinking about what could be happening with my Google Hosted account and storage when it is due to renew (I need to check that right away).

This experience did not increase my confidence into Google. If Google wants to get serious about this potential market and make people feel comfortable to use the storage and web enabled applications without fearing for their data, this does certainly not help, on the contrary.

P.S. Another Picasa Suggestion

I have some additional suggestions for Google Picasa, but will only mention the most critical ones to keep it short.

Show the file name and resolution of an image in the galleries and detail pages. Show the information right beneath the image in a smaller font or at least in the tooltip of the image if you hover over it. Also show it in the tooltip if you organize images of a gallery. This is easy to do and helps a lot for several reasons. A) De-duping is easier, which is a manual job anyway, since you do not provide much help and tools to prevent it or clean it up. B) I often use descriptive file names for images. This is helpful if you don’t have the time to enter the same again manually for the description or tags.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!
Carsten Cumbrowski

Update 1/1/2007: It has been two days now since I renewed my storage upgrade and 4 days since Google was supposed to renew the subscription automatically. My paid for storage is still not available to me . So much for the plans to clean up and update my online galleries. 🙁

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Carsten Cumbrowski

Carsten Cumbrowski

Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and ... [Read full bio]

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