Google Means More Than Search

This is the second segment of our "Defining Google" series. That means we’re going to continue checking out some of Google’s other online services. If you missed the first part, then I strongly urge you to stop for a moment and take time to read it. Yes, it’s that important because this segment is its continuation.

As I promised in the previous article, this article will cover the following online services, desktop applications, and web platforms: Google Maps and Earth, Google News and News Archive, and Blogger and Picasa. Then I’ll name a few other Google features that are worthwhile.

Furthermore, in the upcoming final segment of this series we’re going to discuss what Google is up to, what we can expect in the near future, particular business-related rumors, and we’ll point out the various giant contributions that Google seems to be trying to make to humankind that look very promising and really challenging at the same time. In a nutshell, that’s what to anticipate; make sure you won’t miss it.

Now that we’ve refreshed our memories we’ll begin reviewing those services!

Google Maps and Earth

Google Maps is a free service application that’s able to design, implement, generate, and ultimately deliver navigable maps. The cream of the crop feature of this service is the ability to zoom in and out, and the ability to search for particular addresses, cities, countries, tourist attraction zones or even intersections and hotels!

This classic feature of delivering navigable maps via satellites is implemented by various other sites that are running on the Google Maps API. Developers can integrate and customize this aforementioned Google Maps API for their own needs free of charge. This is a really amazing feature that can make your website more interactive and useful.

(Fort Lauderdale, FL – “Map” view as seen on Google Maps.)

Google Maps is just like its Google Earth successor, which is a standalone virtual globe desktop application, but we’ll cover it in more detail a bit later. Google Maps provides three types of visualization modes: map, satellite (in some cases aerial), and hybrid. Additionally, we could include the traffic and street views, but they don’t stand out as much.

(Miami Beach, FL – “Satellite” view as seen on Google Maps.)

It’s worth pointing out that the “traffic” visualization mode works on the basis of real-time actualization; it refreshes. It’s really helpful when you want to get ahead and haven’t got the patience or time to face traffic jams. Oh, and the Google Maps API can be customized for pocket PCs via GSM integration, as well as for any Java-capable phone.

Google Earth, as I mentioned earlier, is a standalone application that simulates a virtual globe. Originally it was developed by Keyhole, Inc. and it was called Earth Viewer. It works on the basis of superimposition, which means that it places images obtained from satellites, GIS (Geographic Information Science) 3D, aerial photography, and so forth, onto a navigable, zoom-able, and searchable virtual globe.

There are three distributed versions of Google Earth: a free version that lacks some of the advanced features, the plus version ($20 per year) with additional features (high resolution printing, GPS integration, customer support, and higher download speeds), and the professional edition ($400 per year) that’s intended for commercialization.

The most amazing feature of Google Earth is the “digital elevation model.” It basically allows for the recreation of 3D real-life topography (terrain structures). With this, one is able to view several 3D views of various mountains and such. It’s fun!

Furthermore, since August, 2007, Google Earth was extended with a tool called “Sky” and it is capable of delivering astronomical images and various views of stars, constellations, galaxies, and animations representing the depiction of planetary orbits.

All in all, both Google Earth and Google Maps are amazing features that are worth trying out and becoming familiar with. Ultimately we can get the most out of them. They can be very useful, but also so much fun.

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Google News and News Archive

Simply put, Google News is an automated news aggregator. It acts like a feed reader and gathers syndicated web content; in our case, that’s a ton of news. It might not be a service that stands out, but in specific scenarios it turns out to be very useful.

There are various other versions of this aggregator for different languages and regions; enumerating isn’t required because new ones are added on a frequent basis. Nevertheless, the most dominant is the English one, which has a basis of more than 4,500 sites for “news sources.”

News is categorized, but this is complemented by a really powerful search engine. Each of the articles have a short summary, roughly the first 200 characters or so.

Check out the attached screen shot below.

(Latest Google News “Business” section with additional “Market Summary.”)

As of June, 2006, this service was expanded with “News Archive Search.” This is a phenomenal feature when the timing is right and you really need something from the past. Many of the news dates back 200 years or so; there’s a different search engine with an additional time-line so you can dig through the archives with ease.

(Google News Archive – a few news items about “Bonaparte Napoleon”)

Users have the ability to customize the way they prefer viewing the news, such as which topics are higher priority and which are unimportant. They can also opt for a feature called “alerts,” which automatically sends alerts to your email or via an RSS feed each time an article comes online that meets your criteria. Oh, and you can configure the “look and feel” of the front page, how many articles per page, and so forth.

All in all, Google News provides a neat and efficient way to keep an eye on what’s happening in the world by tracking the latest news. Additionally, it is possible to broadcast the feeds in "text-mode" via your mobile phone (faster access, less data to be downloaded). It deserves recognition.

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Blogger and Picasa

In a nutshell, Blogger is a blog publishing system. Therefore, it is an easy to use content management system specifically designed to maintain online journals (blogs).

This blog publishing tool was developed by Pyra Labs back in ’99; they’ve constantly improved the system and turned it into a success. In 2003, Google acquired Pyra Labs and later on in 2004 they bought Picasa too.

Starting in 2004, Blogger was redesigned to incorporate Picasa. Blogger came out of the beta stage in December, 2006. This also brought new features, label organization, drag-and-drop template editing, as well as a complete migration to Google’s servers. Everything is good!

(Screen shot of Blogger’s main page)

We also cannot forget about AdSense integration. AdSense is also run by Google and it is an ad serving program. It’s one of the easiest ways to generate revenue from running a blog. Another interesting feature is that Blogger allows the creation of “group blogs,” which means multiple authors for the same blog.

I’ve mentioned Picasa, but what exactly is it? It is a freeware software application that automatically locates and organizes all of your pictures on your computer. You can keep track of your images, search for lost ones, make albums, but also manipulate pictures – add effects, fix common issues, zoom, and make slide shows, too.

Picasa is incorporated in Blogger based on Hello. Hello is a new application from Google that lets you share high-quality, full resolution pictures with your friends via the World Wide Web. It works like instant messaging software. Additionally, it is very secure because the data transactions are encrypted (128-bit AES). Oh, and it’s free!

(Picasa2’s main interface after a quick image retouching)

Summing these up, if you are looking for freeware image organizing software, then make sure you don’t forget about Picasa. Who knows, you may eventually benefit from some of its “outrageous features.” It’s a really fast utility, jam-packed with features and outstanding aesthetics. Everything is so stylish, so beautiful, and so efficient!

{mospagebreak title=Taking Another Break}

Taking Another Break

We’ve come to the end of the second part. Throughout this segment we covered Google Maps and Earth, News and Archive, and Blogger and Picasa. You should be familiar with these services and I think that you’re really anticipating the final part of this series.

Now that we have finished describing these chosen services, as we promised, we’re going to discuss the phenomenal contributions of Google to human kind, their overall involvement in numerous challenging projects, and we can’t forget about trying to foresee the future. As always there’s a lot happening at Google!

During this and the previous article we focused mostly on online services and desktop applications, but Google is more than that. It’s a company giant that controls the largest amount of fiber optics, therefore it is able to ship and install a data center anywhere in the world with fiber optics. Google redefines our world. But it’s even more!

Throughout the upcoming segment we are going to clarify some of the widely spread rumors. What about the Open Handset Alliance and the Google Phone, aka GPhone? What’s up with them? What kind of potential impact could these phones have once released on the market? What about the competitors? Yes, Apple’s iPhone…

Last but definitely not least, I’m sure you’ve also heard about Brad Fitzpatrick, founder of Live Journal and chief-architect of Six Apart. Well, right now he works for Google. Isn’t it a coincidence that now people are talking about the possibility of Google developing a set of APIs that could manipulate the social graph and link together all of the social networking sites? Can we connect the dots? Social graph?!

And then, what’s the most challenging yet fabulously promising project at the same time, which could affect all of human kind? Stick around and you’ll find out!

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