As the author of the new book — Google Apps Administrator Guide — it is difficult for me to write this article today, but the hallmark of the book is its blunt examination of Google Apps and how to get the whole mishmash of applications working in unison across an entire domain. I believe the book is a fun, honest and informational read that doesn’t kowtow or ass munch.

Speaking of kissing ass… we’ll get our lips around that matter in a moment… and I’m not talking about the Google PageRank scandal that is blistering the tongues of blog wags everywhere.

My disappointment with Google has many monster heads but a single monstrous core: Google are lousy at providing end user technical support even for those who pay for their service.

If you have ever had a problem with Google Apps, or your private Gmail account, you know of the horror of which I speak — there’s no one single way to reliably get an answer out of Google to solve your problem.

The Google Groups dealing with Google are understaffed and poorly maintained and watching the rabid calls for help from end users who are — basically ignored by Google — does not bode well for the future of the company despite their current stock price because customers are the core of their business and ignoring the wants and desires of those who pay to use their service speaks of the old Evil Empire inelegance of the Microsoft of yore.

My current problem with Google Apps had been ongoing for over 10 days as I tried to get help from the official Google support channel for adding a domain to my Google Apps account that refused to verify.

Google admitted the process was broken on their end, but they had no idea when, how or why the matter would be resolved and they were unresponsive to follow-up inquiries. To leave me and the matter hanging without an end in sight makes one wonder who is minding the technical support store at the Googleplex? The answer is people like me and other volunteers are manhandling the unofficial Google tech “support line.” Some of us do it offline. Others do it online in the Google groups and in blogs.

A few even write books! Yesterday, I deleted the problem domain Google couldn’t fix and I closed my tech support ticket. I gave up. I went away. I let Google get the best of me by not serving my worst problem. One of my readers recently sent me an email that said, “Google needs to get off their vibrating, gold, bidets and solve my problem!” Ah! Now it’s time for some Google anal examination! Here’s the lowdown on Google BidetGate as we enter the realm of the rear:

Free perks range from gourmet meals at the company cafeteria to bathrooms equipped with digital toilets, where the seat temperature and bidet pressure can be controlled with a remote. “They have created a Willy Wonka effect,” says James E. Pitkow, CEO of Moreover Technologies, whose former company, Outride Inc., was purchased by Google in 2001. “Engineers want to work on the coolest problems with the smartest people.”

The Washington Post described the perks of Google bum cleansing this way:

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — To understand the corporate culture at Google Inc., take a look at the toilets. Every bathroom stall on the company campus holds a Japanese high-tech commode with a heated seat. If a flush is not enough, a wireless button on the door activates a bidet and drying.Yet even while they are being pampered with high-tech toiletry, Google employees are encouraged to make good use of their downtime: A flier tacked inside each stall bears the title, “Testing on the Toilet, Testing code that uses databases.” It features a geek quiz that changes every few weeks and asks technical questions about testing programming code for bugs. The toilets reflect Google’s general philosophy of work: Generous, quirky perks keep employees happy and thinking in unconventional ways, helping Google innovate as it rapidly expands into new lines of business.

I wonder if the rumor I’m satirically starting right now is true: All Google employees wipe their bums with Bearer Bonds when they’ve finished dumping their business? More evidence of the strange Google disconnect between service and support is evident in last week’s bizarre and confounding rollout of IMAP support for Gmail accounts.

If you read the Google mail support group you’ll see a lot of people are having trouble setting up IMAP in their offline mail reader or even getting IMAP added to their accounts. I have been waiting since last Wednesday to have IMAP added to my main email address. First Google said on their blog it would take “a few days” and then those days turned into “a week” and the timeframe has now become the fuzzy and foreboding “soon.”

I have a feeling Google did not think out its IMAP implementation very well and they’re paying for it now with lots of problems trying to get it to work right on a large scale. Meanwhile, as Google ponders, the people suffer wondering for answers and wanting reliable technical support on a predictable basis: Is asking for help and actually getting it too big a log to chop?

Meanwhile, as Google poops, the rest of us are left fiddling for answers by writing books for each other and answering reader inquiries and providing informal online support in order to fill the technical support vacuum that Google values less than automatic ass washing.


  1. Google probably does more with the information. Yahoo is bad for getting help. Microsoft is best of three bad choices.

  2. The company that gives the best tech support to common end users will always do well. MSFT has spent a lot of time and money in the past making sure the pathways for getting help fast were clearly marked.
    If you’re asking someone to use your product — for free or not! — there needs to be a level of expectation and excellence set by the company. You want users to believe in you, buy into your idea, and if something goes wrong, they need to be reassured you will immediately work to set them right.

    1. Microsoft recently helped me remove a virus from my computer. My symptom was that I couldn’t update through WindowsUpdate, and they have free (FREE) support setup for that.

      I had to jump through a few hoops and mis-fires, but the support guy got my problem solved. I’d go to them before Google if possible.

      1. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Todd, and thanks for the comment and welcome to Urban Semiotic!

        Over the last couple of years I have noticed a steep decline in the quality and support for Google products. MSFT are huge, but they do have precise avenues for helping you get a solution in place at a quick pace.

  3. What a shame, especially when I know how enthusiastic you are about their product – even going to the extent or writing a book to help people use and implement their product.
    Do you think it is a case of going to fast, too quick and just not having the infrastructure to support it?
    They are getting a hell of a lot of bad press at the moment – if they do not start solving these basic issues and problems and start providing *customer* service – their perceived arrogance is going to cost them customers , market share and eventually their jobs.

  4. Hi Nicola!
    Yes, I am a big Google supporter and you can read our past reviews and news here:
    When I can’t get help from Google, and I have supported them so much that I wrote a book about them, I do shudder to wonder how the non-book authors get treated.
    I think Google are getting a little arrogant and cocky. They’ve been in “beta” so long they really haven’t have to set up foul lines and any sort of context for accountability when it comes to fixing stuff on a person-by-person level.
    They can simply say, “What do you want for free?” and brush you off — but now that they’re charging for features, they need to have clear lines of support — which they sort of do — but there is no way to follow up promptly or to get any sort of satisfying ongoing update on the status of your problem and that’s a problem.
    Google, I fear, risks becoming the new “Evil Empire” — and that’s what you earn when you don’t coddle and love your end users while tracking them and saving their every movement online. You become the new monolith, the new bogeyman, the new monster under the bed and people need to enemize what they once loved when they are spurned.
    Google needs to have “the buck stops here” people assigned to every technical matter no matter how small. Right now Google “elevates” your trouble up the chain — but you never where or know who or know the why of your current ticket or who owns the responsibility for making you whole again in the end.
    I agree their Press is terrible right now and that’s all their fault. They risk losing their darling status.
    I care not about PageRank, but for those who do, those users are FURIOUS and when people get that angry and feel their livelihoods are being messed around with unfairly… they begin to look for alternatives and ways out and new solutions to old problems.
    Google can’t sustain its incredible monetary growth forever and that first, far-falling, correction will be intimately telling when they look around and wonder where all the gold bidets have gone…

  5. I must admit that the “golden bidet” vision of them now alongside the lack of basic support and negative perceptions is a long way from the feel good factor of the nerds in the garage making good.

  6. Money changes everything and everyone on some level, Nicola, and that fact is hard to accept sometimes. Many of us try to be money-neutral, but others are too kept by the glitter and the high interest rates on their new bank accounts to run from the lure of comfort in all aspects. I think a modicum of suffering is necessary in every life in order to give it meaning.
    I must say I had some OUTSTANDING technical support from Google concerning my Custom Business edition search:
    The fellow I was working with was on-target and interested and extremely smart and persuasive. Gosh! If only all tech support from Google were like that, they’d have a real winner of a company in every aspect!

  7. Hi David,
    Sorry to hear about your pathetic experience!
    To say the least, it was not expected from an organization like Google but well, what you are getting is much more ‘real’ than the mere ‘expectation’.
    Hope they will do something soon!

  8. Hi Katha!
    Good to see you again! I hope you are doing well.
    Yes, today was a hard lesson for me to face the reality that getting reliable support from Google cannot be bought or begged. It seems to be entirely by chance if they will respond and fix your issue or not.
    The continued “screaming” going on this morning in the Google Group concerning Gmail IMAP is just painful to read. No one from Google is responding. People are shouting into the wind and into that good night and getting back the echoes of their own voices.

  9. It’s always lovely to have you company, Katha! I hope India is treating you well.
    Yes, it’s painful to see so many calls for help go unanswered. I’d stop reading the Google group, but I keep hoping there will be an official updated posted from someone at Google!

  10. Hi David,
    I think everything happens in life for a reason, somethings are not as pleasant as others – well, this too shall pass!
    I wish your problems get solved quickly!

  11. I remember the same thing happening when google introduced blogger beta – the help groups were full of people screaming for help and receiving no answer .
    When you are paying for a service ( as opposed to one that is free to use ) there is now an expectation that there will be technical support.
    I do hope that your hopes are not in vain.

  12. Thanks, Katha!
    I can usually figure out how to get things fixed on my own, but there are some Google things that require their intervention for fixing.
    So I sit here and wait… for my IMAP to show up… 😀

  13. Nicola!
    Right! Give it away for free and let the users support each other. That whole interaction changes, however when people pay for search engines and more Gmail space and Google Apps.
    Perhaps I was spoiled by my Google Custom Search experience? Did I expect too much for too little? I don’t think so. I want all my Google support people to mirror the behavior of the Custom Search group because that is the sort of hand holding you expect and demand from the new Evil Empire!

  14. UPDATE:
    One of my “Google friends” read this post and comments stream and is trying to escalate the matter for me.
    I replied I’m sort of beyond the point of caring anymore…

  15. I think you nail it on the head there with your comments about expectations.
    I suspect that google may have underestimated peoples expectations for a service that they have to pay for.
    Your expectations were raised by a very positive experience and now other departments have failed to live up to that.

  16. Hi Nicola —
    Yes, I think you’re right! A lot of online support from tech companies is “thank you for your message, now go away!” 😀 And they really do hope you’ll just go away!
    I’d wager any Google Apps user — paid or not — would expect to be treated fairly and on time when it comes to getting their broken stuff fixed because Google made the offer of services and we accepted their offer of performance and reliability.
    I consider that exchange at least a moral covenant, if not a legally binding one, where people expect broken things to get fixed quickly and for Google to be at least as upset as we are that stuff isn’t working…

  17. UPDATE:
    I guess the thing that concerns me the most from a being hurt point-of-view is that I have put all my communication eggs in the Google basket based on the faith of my previous technical support interaction.
    Realizing that if I were wholly dead in the water — as I sort of was for 10 days with a Google Apps domain — means I die a slow and creeping death on the Google vine with no way out except to drop the service.
    That concerns me.

  18. That would worry me considerably …… hope you have everything backed up properly !
    I also hope you can, if needs be change formats easily if you have to.

  19. Hi Nicola!
    Yes, spreading around the risk is now becoming more important. There’s no way to backup your Gmail — having IMAP is a start, though, if it ever gets installed on my account. 😀
    Changing hosts is a little more complicated, but doable. I’ve already re-ignited several other older web services to to make sure I know what they offer and what I need to do to move services if it comes down to that.

  20. I print off mail now – anything I need to keep – I guess you have far more than I do and that is not practical for you – or good for the planet.

  21. Nicola —
    Oh, I print all day long. Sometimes it’s just easier to read in your hand than in pixels.
    I’m using Postini now with my Google Apps setup — so that service archives the last 90 days worth of mail in case something goes immediately missing or Gmail goes kablonkey.
    My Inbox now has 25 gigs available — so the purpose and the temptation is to “bind you in” GApps by saving everything and deleting nothing. That’s smart on Google’s side. They store your mounds of data and they own your ideas in the ethereal sense because moving 25 gigs to another service is not an easy task.

  22. Interestingly, Google in Ann Arbor does have all the perks–but also doesn’t pay very well.
    (new college hires start in the $30s, which isn’t much for Ann Arbor.)
    This is the AdWords location–infer what you want from that.
    I was very frustrated with the lack of support for Google’s webmaster tools–it took me a while to actually accept there *was* no support other than the forums. And most of the forums seem to be people randomly shouting for help.

  23. Hi Bug Girl —
    Thanks for your detailed experiential comment!
    I buy advertising on Google — and the only time I really get any sort of “support” is when my Ads get rejected. One of my sites —
    — always gets denied because “United” is in the title and I guess that word belongs to United Airlines and no one else.
    I always win all my rejection appeals, but I hate being criminalized by the Google robots so repeatedly when I’m not doing anything in violation of their TOS. I buy less advertising because of that irritant.
    You’re right you really don’t get any sort of direct support for any of the free Google services from Google unless you really try hard and stay on them every 36 hours. Usually another experienced end user will step forward to offer help.
    The Postini Google group does have Postini people there answering questions, which is nice, but not likely long-lived once they have been assimilated into “The Google Way” and the vibrating bidets are installed. 😉
    It’s funny there’s still a disconnect between Postini and Google because they tend to point at each other when it comes to MX problems when they are both now each other. From an end user POV that is incredibly frustrating because we get caught in the middle of an acquisition rollout and fall victim to turf war blaming.
    Even the specific Google tech support tendrils that paid Google Apps customers get isn’t really vibrant. It appears Google takes the weekends off when it comes to addressing tech support matters — so make sure you only break down M-F… and that doesn’t include Friday afternoons…
    I want my problems to be as important to Google as they are to me, but that means they need more tech support resources.

  24. That’s a fine observation, kartik mistry!
    I keep thinking of Google as the new Microsoft — but I think that’s wrong. I think they’re behaving more like the new Netscape and, if you have a memory like me and many of my professional writer brothers and sisters, that is a scary comparison.
    For those of us who loved the Netscape web browser and wanted to write about it and celebrate it — you had to deal with the same sort of distant “we can’t be bothered” attitude that Google now assumes in many areas.
    Netscape felt they owned the world and if you tried to get information out of them or insight or some kind of clue about the future that you would agree to keep secret and legally binding — they scoffed at you and rolled you over to get a better bite of your soft underbelly as deadlines and daylight loomed darkly ahead of you.
    Their arrogance quickly out-gained their profits and then, suddenly, Netscape became nicer and proactive and interested in giving you any help you needed to cover their wants and desires online and in print.
    Many of us authors and writers took great glee is feeding Netscape back the same crappy, cold, gruel they had slopped on us for so many years.
    Their haughtiness led directly to their demise and burning effigy.

  25. UPDATE:
    Google informed me just now the problem I was having with my MX records verification has been fixed on their end. I’m not sure how that can be since I deleted the domain from my account. If I feel like experimenting, I may add back the domain and test it out.

  26. I’m afraid I can’t help but think back to your defense of Google a year or more back now when I commented how I had totally failed to get any kind of response from them after the implosion of my gmail account, don’t say you weren’t warned 😉
    Although it surprises me that, considering they probably know everything about you, you don’t get a little bit of special treatment … I guess the best that can be said is that at least there is no bias in their mistreatment of users 😉
    And I’ll stick with the yahoo mail (unlimited storage) that I set up when the gmail vanished.

  27. urbanspaceman —
    I do not remember any Google defense now or then and if you quote back anything I said I’m blaming it on database corruption! :mrgreen:
    You’re right I was surprised at the quiet response I received from the Google. I didn’t invoke my Google Apps author status until my first follow up message. 😀 That generated an internal Google response that was proactive and admirable because that person was trying to push the matter forward on their end — but the response to me was they wanted to call me on the phone to explain the situation.
    I could read the technical thread about the problem and I saw the problem was on their end with no resolution mentioned and I replied I didn’t really have time to chat on the phone while writing three books in four months — I was just looking for a date when the problem would be resolved.
    Then the weekend hit and everything went dark.
    I cancelled my tech support request and removed the domain in question from Google Apps.
    Then I wrote this article.
    Then a “Google friend” of mine got involved after reading the article.
    Then I got a couple of follow-ups on my original ticket even though I had cancelled it.
    Just now I went into Google Apps to add back the domain I deleted — only to find it had already been magically added back for me!
    I re-enabled my MX records for the domain and now we sit and wait with Google Apps… “verifying”… as we have been sitting and waiting and waiting and waiting… and I guess I’ll have to keep updating this thread so we know if the fix actually worked or not.
    I’m glad you like Yahoo! I still find their mail interface awfully slow — but I do admire their “unlimited” email offer. Now if they’d only give us free IMAP they’d really be interesting! 😀

  28. UPDATE:
    Google IMAP works great on the iPhone!
    Google IMAP, however, does not work well at all with Apple Mail 3.0 in Leopard. If you do a lot of filtering and labelling of your mail, the labeled messages do not update their status when read from your Inbox in Apple Mail — so you have pits and pockets of “unread” messages you’ve already read and processed. Clunky.
    So… I’ve gone back to the “web only” interface for now and hoping the 2.0 web version will be more pleasing and effective without being too blue like the new, awful, non-Google, Docs interface.

  29. UPDATE:
    I reported the MX records were not updating and now I see the domain has been reset in my Google Apps Dashboard and when I click on the “Activate” link nothing happens.
    I guess they’re still working on it.

  30. UPDATE:
    At 12:39am I received an email from “The Google Team” informing me there was still a problem on their end and that no timeframe for resolution was available.
    We are back to where we began with this matter two weeks ago!
    This problem with adding domains is troublesome because, for me, that feature is the core of Google Apps.
    You used to be able to add and delete domains at will without a single problem and, in my experience, “verification” of MX records took less than 20 seconds and never more than half a day. Waiting over two weeks is just sad.

  31. UPDATE:
    What a difference six months makes! I’m now having trouble with my Google Custom Search Business Edition. I’ve been going back-and-forth with “enterprise support” at Google and they’re not listening and not getting it and they try to spin on their heels so the onus is entirely on me for providing proof of their errors… even though I have repeatedly already done so.
    All they have to do is recreate a page with their code and their “fixes” to see the problem but they won’t do it.
    They want me to continue to troubleshoot for them and I’m tired of beta testing something I am paying for so I’m retiring out of that endless loop as well.

  32. Ding Dong the Wicked Netscape is Dead!

    We are thrilled to learn of the final demise and ultimate death of Netscape — even though it is only in browser form and not a company any longer. Netscape, as a company, was one of the most arrogant entities

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