We all know about Google’s terrific and colossal search engine. If you were to ask anybody with access to the Internet what Google is about, you won’t be surprised if s/he replies instantaneously, “It’s a powerful Search Engine!” Indeed. And we all love it.
But Google is more than that. The company’s mission is to organize the immense amount of information available on the web and make it universally accessible and useful. Fulfilling such a demanding goal is a true challenge. As a result, at the time of writing this article, there are at least 75 online services, web platforms, desktop and server applications maintained by Google, which redefine the way we spend our time online.
It’s such a shame that the vast majority of the aforementioned features are unknown to most. According to statistics from Hitwise® Intelligence that were taken in May, 2006 (quite old, I know), Google is clearly dominating with their search engine compared to the rest of their domains. The attached table below shows the relative popularity of Google’s sub-domains compared with each other. So, please, don’t misinterpret the results!
(Courtesy of Hitwise Intelligence— source: here.)
The purpose of this multi-part article is to shed a bit of light on Google, point out and cover some of its not so popular features and services, and ultimately we’ll try figuring out what Google is up to for the future – how it contributes to the world as well as how it keeps revolutionizing the World Wide Web. I will finish my series with a few predictions.
In this section we will cover a few features of Google. It’s important to be familiar with them because they are very useful and can improve the quality of our time spent online. Additionally, they deserve recognition because of the energy (money, human work and creativity) that goes into their development.
Google started incorporating particular acquisitions from third parties. A prime example of this is their integrating the huge volume of Usenet archives into Google Groups. A more recent example is “shelling out” $1.65 billion for YouTube, an online service that needs no introduction. Other important ones are: Blogger, Urchin (turned into Google Analytics), Writely (turned into Docs and Spreadsheets), Earth, Picasa, Keyhole Corp., etc.
Now that your awareness is raised and you’re pretty interested, let’s name those few that we’ll discuss in detail: Google Analytics, Google Apps, Google Book Search, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Google Earth and Google Maps, and Google News and News Archive. Of course, we can’t leave out Blogger, Picasa and GMail.
In March 2005 Google acquired Urchin — a company that was providing online monitoring and web statistics. They have renamed it Google Analytics and right now it is a freely available service to anybody that has a Google account (which is also free).
This service is designed for webmasters. It brings a significant amount of features to the table: fast implementation, keyword and campaign comparison, custom dashboards, AdWords integration, trend and date slider, ecommerce tracking, funnel visualization, site overlay, email reports, and GeoTargeting, just to name a few.
The only drawback that we could think of is the lack of real-time actualization. The statistics are updated once every 24 hours. However, for most of us that’s acceptable.
(Google Analytics Dashboard for a monitored website.)
All in all, Google offers quality and sophisticated solutions for webmasters so that they can “spend on marketing, not on web analytics.” Analytics is easy to use, which is a pro for novices, without sacrificing high-end in-depth features, which are required by experienced professionals to improve their website.
It all started on October 16, 2006. That day, Google combined two services: Writely and Spreadsheets. Recently, on September 16, 2007, a new product was added to the online web-based office suite that’s for presentations (by Tonic Systems).
Right now, Google Docs is a free, powerful web-based office suite that sports online collaborative technologies — editing a document simultaneously by multiple users, as well as sharing and storing documents. The limitations are 5,000 documents, 200 spreadsheets, and presentations below 10MB.
Google Docs accepts most of the popular formats (doc, xls, odt, rtf, ppt, csv, etc.). Its GUI really is a Microsoft Office and/or OpenOffice.org look-alike. The toolbars, menus, and buttons are neatly organized just like you’d expect from an office suite. You can choose the persons with whom you’ll be sharing your documents and such.
A tremendous benefit of Google Docs is the ability to export into PDF format. This is a really huge advantage because you can do this from anywhere in the world with Internet access. It’s a “sort of” replacement for my Open Office.org Portable Edition.
The only drawback is the lack of enhanced security and protection. By default it does not use an encrypted HTTPS protocol but you can opt for it, so that’s great. Additionally, most of the users neglect the amount of time they are logged into their Google ‘unified’ account (it’s the same account for each of Google’s services); this can be exploited and results in a potential threat to security. Be careful with sensitive data!
(Control Panel of Google Docs)
In my opinion Google Docs is a really powerful alternative office suite for users without top-notch expectations and sky-high requirements, because it is web-based and you can access it from anywhere in the world via the Internet. What’s even more is that it is free; you won’t pay a nickel, and the ability to collaborate and work on documents with various users at the same is a real advantage.
This service was launched back in February 2006 and it was called “Gmail for Your Domain” during the beta stages. As the development progressed many other features were added as well and the service was renamed Google Apps, mostly because it features web applications and office suites like Docs and Spreadsheets, Talk, Calendar, etc.
There are three types of accounts: Standard Edition (free), Premium Edition ($50 per user account per year) and Education Edition (free to accredited colleges, universities, etc).
The main difference between these is the email storage per account. With the free editions the storage space for each account is akin to the Gmail accounts, which is around 4.6270GB at the time of writing this article, but it’s still counting. For the Premium paid edition the ceiling is 25GB (with more on the way) per account.
Additionally, the standard free edition lacks the ability to manipulate your infrastructures with APIs, no 24/7 phone support or other third party services, and it’s not guaranteed for 99.99% email uptime. Hey, we can live without these!
(Google Apps Online Dashboard)
Summing these up, if you have a domain(s) I don’t see why you shouldn’t use this amazing feature, especially since it’s free. During the early beta stages it was unclear whether it would remain free or not. Anyway, the setting up process takes a short amount of time (setting up accounts and adding the required DNS changes.) Try it out!
Google Book Search
Formerly known as Google Print, Google Book Search is a really useful tool that allows users to search for specific keywords in Google’s huge digital database. The search engine goes through the full text of the indexed books and then, similar to a de facto search engine, it reports the results. Then you pick the book of your choice.
The most important feature is that Google limits the number of viewable pages as well as prevents the user from downloading and/or printing copyrighted material. Additional watermarks are also added. However, public domain works and "out of copyright" materials can be downloaded as PDF copies and eventually printed too.
This topic is really controversial because many people would debate the legality of this kind of endeavor. Dozens of critics attacked Google because they make snippets of copyrighted material freely available. And they argue whether this is an infringement.
(Cover of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Antichrist as seen in Google Book Search.)
Google does an amazing job at scanning books. Their “robotic scanner” rate exceeds 3,000 books per day. The overall project might be worth more than $100 million. This is an amazing contribution to human kind, even if some critique it. I also think that it falls under “fair use,” and thus it is not a copyright infringement. Think of it like visiting a library and while sipping your coffee/soda, you are skimming through books.
Taking a Break
Throughout this part we’ve covered four Google features— Analytics, Apps, Docs and Book Search. Also, we’ve kick-started this phenomenal multi-part series. You now know why it is really important to be familiar with the services and utilities of Google. You should offer them your recognition and benefit the most.
In the next part of this series we are going to continue our "feature presentation" with Google Maps and Earth, Google News and News Archive, Blogger, and Picasa. Then gradually we will begin to cover what Google is up to and some of other tremendous contributions to human kind — projects that look really promising for the future!
I really hope that what you’ve read here was informative. During this part I’ve given you a “sense” of what’s to come and hopefully I’ve motivated you to stick around for the upcoming parts. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Imagine being able to hold a discussion about one of our era’s biggest corporations like a true professional.
You will get there. By following this series you will end up knowing what to expect, what Google does to redefine our lives and dominate the Information Age. I, for one, think that we all should know more about Google apart from “it’s just a cool search engine!”
Stay tuned, the next part is coming soon — really soon, and it’s going to rock your world!