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productivity

How Many Google Passwords does it Take...?

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From driverless cars to poignant doodles, Google seems all set to conquer the world – if you can manage to log in to its platform, that is.

The Google home page is one of the world’s greatest user interfaces (UIs). At a moment in Internet history when other companies had encumbered their search products with slow-loading, ad-heavy pages, Google went minimalist, objective and editorially pure. So why is it that a company that so clearly gained its initial foothold through a great UI has followed this act by creating one bad UI after another?

Over the past several years, as Google’s come up with several enterprise applications, its UI problem has only multiplied. Its corporate package, known as Google Apps, offers centralized Google Mail, cloud storage on Google Drive and real-time collaboration with Google Docs. Google’s also taken over YouTube, whose channels are well-worn branding devices, and its web analytics tool is now used by over 51% of Fortune 500 companies.

Yet, through all this enterprise-friendly progress, Google’s been awful about creating corporate identities. That’s especially true of the interface between multiple corporate identities and/or personal Google accounts. Here’s what we mean:

  • There’s virtually no interface between Google Apps logins and regular Gmail logins. In fact, logging into a @business account through Google will often get you kicked out of any other Gmail accounts you’re logged into in the same browser. Yes, we know there are several “apps for that.” But Gmail’s native multiple sign-in settings aren’t even available for all its products – Google Analytics and Chrome’s App Store, most notably.

  • Even within Google Apps, the only way to group your team together so that, for example, all of marketing can access your Google Analytics account, is to create a separate email alias. Every member of the team will then need to know the username and password for that alias to be able to get into Google Analytics as a single user. If every member of the team is on Google, you can sometimes add them as individual users (depending on the product), but that’s inapplicable if your team includes a contractor or remote worker who isn’t on Google Apps.

  • There’s no way to tell if a business email address is a Google Apps user or not. And if it’s not, there’s no way to collaborate with someone at a different company or a private address on something like Google Docs.

  • There’s no way to add multiple addresses to a single account. So, for example, I can’t come up with any way for Google to recognize that jim@prialto.com is the same as jim@gmail.com (which are both powered by Google, by the way.) Even Evite and LinkedIn have this figured out – and they’re only powering one app at a time.

  • To top it off, Google does a poor job of explaining its password processes or any available workarounds. Each Google app appears to have its own set of rules for logging in, and those rules change often. Google doesn’t announce these changes or how to work with them. Instead, APIs, Google-dependent apps and consumers are all forced to figure it out with trial and error. Most Google users have had to cobble together a series of hacks, while others are literally left wondering how to log in to any given product account.

The reasons behind this awkward login game are threefold:

  1. Google’s acquisitions outpaced its development of a unified authentication layer. The result is that every app does its own thing. Some try to coordinate account management with the others, while most have a hybridized login system.

  2. The convergence of consumer and enterprise-level technology has thrown Google for a doozy. Google was starting to dominate the private consumer market for email, video and cloud collaboration when it realized it could sell the same package to companies for a better rate of return. So now it’s trying to merge the two into one umbrella Google+ account. That approach seems to insist that your professional world be tied directly to your personal one. I’m sure both marketers and the NSA’s PRISM program appreciate the efforts to tie everyone’s personal and professional information into a neat package for their disposal.

  3. Google’s focus is shifting. Instead of making its consumer products operate seamlessly, Google is spending its energy trying to make its platform the basis for your whole company. Improving integration between private and enterprise Google accounts would conflict with the company’s own goals to some extent.

The end result of all of this is an ironic waste of time for a company as focused on productivity as Google. In fact, Google’s ever-changing password policy is actively shutting out secure, efficient password management solutions. For example, Google allows companies to enable a SAML layer (for login through a company’s secure single sign-on identity system), but hasn’t enabled it for mobile devices or APIs. So large companies are unable to implement this layer of security over Google’s haphazard account management process.

Much ink has been spilled on speculating how Google is plotting the end of the password. From rings to funny faces to password pills that mix with your stomach acid, everything is reportedly on the table. If only Google had been as logical, methodical or even diabolical in its plans for unified password access as its plans for mapping the world or producing wearable computers! It’s certainly difficult to figure out why the company that brought us the world’s best search algorithm can’t create a sensible, secure login process.


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