Tuesday, November 22, 2005

gOFFICE Revisted... Again

I finally got around to calling gOFFICE tonight to ask all the questions I had come up with after exploring the site further and thoroughly reading both their Terms of Use Agreement and their Privacy Policy. (See my previous posts here and here for my past comments on gOFFICE).

I spoke with Kevin Warnock, who is the founder and CEO of Silveroffice, Inc. (the makers of gOFFICE.com). He was more than willing to answer my questions and also had a couple for me.

One of the first things I wanted to talk about was my concern about the following paragraph in their Privacy Policy:
Sharing Information with Strategic Partners

We may enter into strategic marketing alliances or partnerships with third parties who may be given access to personal information including your name, address, telephone number and email for the purpose of providing you information regarding products and services that we think will be of interest to you. In connection with strategic marketing alliances or partnerships, we will retain all ownership rights to the information, and we will not share information regarding your social security number or other personal financial data.
To me, this paragraph states that Silveroffice has the right to give out the email addresses and telephone numbers of its registered users to third parties, who can then spam and telemarket those users. I am perhaps hypervigilant about spam and telemarketing, but thus far I have managed to avoid spam in all my email accounts (except for one which was receiving minimal spam for a while but has since stopped), some of which I have had for five or more years. Of course, I have not managed to avoid telemarketing, but I do not wish to sign up for anything that could potentially increase the volume of calls I currently receive (I am in the Do Not Call registry, so I get very few calls, but I believe that registry excludes companies to which you have "knowingly" given your phone number).

Kevin assured me that it is not Silveroffice's intention to spam or telemarket its users. The creation of the Privacy Policy was sort of a hasty affair and the text of it was a conglomeration drawn from other sources (such as other privacy policies), so its scope may be broader than necessary. He said he will remove this section from the Privacy Policy, perhaps as early as tomorrow. I will be sure to check back on that. I suppose it really concerns me because even if that is not their intention currently, having that in the privacy policy allows for it take place in the future.

Another question I had for Kevin concerned the phone number field that is required when signing up for an account with gOFFICE. I am aware that I could have put in a fake phone number (as Kevin pointed out and which had occurred to me when I first went to sign up for an account). However, what is the point of having a phone number requirement if anyone can fake it? Why have it there at all? I understand the requirement of an email address because most companies (and gOFFICE is no exception) send you a confirmation email prior to authorizing the account. This prevents companies from creating accounts for users and other such problems. Kevin's response was that they will probably be taking out the required phone number field in the next release/update of gOFFICE.

I then brought up the issue of the seeming link between Google and gOFFICE. My main issue is the Press page which contains "A sampling of web log (blog) entries that include the word gOffice". I realize that that statement alone implies that they were simply looking for the word "gOffice" regardless of context. However, it bothers me.

In my opinion, and from what I know of my own skimming tendencies, users probably look at the first 5-10 things in a list and then the last one or two. The very first blog listed is entitled "What is Google?" and the last one is "What is Google up to?" Further, the other four blogs mentioning Google occur within the first 10 blogs listed. Based on this placement, users are more likely to notice it. Kevin was a bit hedgy in response, saying that when they initially created the blog list, there were very few blog posts about gOFFICE to choose from. He also mentioned perhaps including a statement somewhere on the site clearing up the fact that gOFFICE is not affiliated with Google, although I do not think I will be holding my breath for this one. :)

As a last question regarding my curiosity about the Google/gOFFICE link, I asked about the origin of the name "gOFFICE". The answer I received was that Silveroffice would leave me to "speculate" as to where the name came from.

So I guess I will chalk the gOFFICE/Google link up to a marketing strategy. Google is a household name, and I can see why anyone would want to encourage the idea of an affiliation between Google and their product. And afterall, Silveroffice did buy the domain name before Google could snatch it up, so whether or not I agree with it, the link is there.

I think that covers the concerns I had about the site. Now on to my other questions.

Since I did not sign up for an account, I have not created any documents or PDFs. However, Kevin informed me that currently you can create a document, convert it to a PDF, and save it to your hard drive. So, I could have experimented more with the site than I have so far. I believe he said this option will be disappearing shortly, so if you are interested in checking out gOFFICE without signing up, act fast!

PDF files are apparently very easy to create using gOFFICE (as far as I understand it since I have done this). You type up your document, click on a button, and voilĂ ! A PDF! What a nice feature!

I also inquired about the upcoming spreadsheet and presentation capabilities. These have been given various predicted release dates - I think I saw April, then Summer, and now November. Kevin said that these features are working at Silveroffice headquarters. However, they do not contain all the features that Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint, and similar products have. Silveroffice has been holding back on releasing them because they want to be sure that the features are sufficient and work properly first.

This is also where Kevin asked me a few questions, and I had to admit that I just want the Spreadsheet option for list-keeping reasons, not advanced mathematical computations. I just find it so much easier to keep lists of things like articles I have read or want to read in a spreadsheet rather than a word processing document. The appeal of gOFFICE to me is that it is available anywhere the Internet is available - my office, the reference desk, and my home - and I would love to be able to access word processing, spreadsheet, or other documents anywhere without having to carry around a floppy, zip, or portable USB drive. Kevin said that Silveroffice had not really considered the possibility of someone being interested in the Spreadsheet capability for purposes other than mathematical computations (perhaps I am the exception rather than the rule, I do not know). They are having a few difficulties with the mathematical computations and are therefore hesitant to release the Spreadsheet option.

I think that pretty much sums up the conversation. I hope that I have not misrepresented Kevin or Silveroffice in any way. The above information is correct to the best of my knowledge and memory of the phone conversation (I can see why reporters like tape recorders!). Hopefully Kevin or someone at gOFFICE will read this and post any comments, corrections, or updates necessary.

I am looking forward to trying out gOFFICE and perhaps even signing up for an account (with a fake phone number of course!). This product really could be a great one for libraries to use, particularly smaller libraries who may not have the funds to purchase Microsoft Office for all their computers.

Lastly, thank you to Kevin for taking the time to talk to me and answer my many questions. Silveroffice is definitely concerned about what their users think and want!

Perhaps when I have time I will create a summary of this rather lengthy post so that all of you who do not feel like reading it (I do not blame you) can see a shorter, bulleted list version.

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