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How Many Google Services Do You Use? Which Ones Have You Abandoned?

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I was up rather late last night, and I saw something on television that I had never seen before: a Google commercial. It was a little strange, really, with a theme that appeared to be all about a dad who is tracking the life of his daughter via various Google services with the intent to share them with her later. It was all very touching, but I couldn’t help feeling a little weird watching it. Since when does Google do commercials? Isn’t that Bing’s territory? Is the Microsoft marketing machine starting to get to the Mountainview folks?

Either way, the commercial did its job, because it got me to thinking: how many Google services do I actually use on a regular basis? Especially considering that I am still not convinced they aren’t the Devil.

 

Chrome & ChromeOS

I live in Google Chrome. Firefox (yes, even Firefox 4) is a resource hog, doesn’t have a built in web app creator, or any of the OS-like aspects of Chrome that parallel ChromeOS. I love the extensions, I love the new start page, and I love (and sometimes hate) the Chrome Web Store. I’ve noticed that all of the new features have slowed things down in Chrome a bit, especially on initial opening of the browser, but even with all of the extensions, apps, and tabs that I use regularly, Chrome still outperforms Firefox on my system. Internet Explorer 9 opens faster for me than both browsers — but I still can’t get into it. Microsoft’s browsers have annoyed me once too often as the years have gone by, I think.

ChromeOS — or Chromium OS, if you like — has been something I’ve played with off and on for over a year. I enjoy it. I like the whole “browser as your OS” concept. I don’t know if it will ever fully replace native apps for me, but my curiosity is definitely piqued. Web apps are fast approaching the power and flexibility of installed software, offline capabilities are getting better, and the integrations with cloud storage services like Dropbox are getting more and more intricate. The world is heading back toward the days of the mainframe and dumb terminal — except the mainframe is now worldwide (see: Skynet). ChromeOS is a very large step in that direction, and Google is all about it. Just think of all the ads they can serve and information they can collect if everyone does all of their computing in the cloud. Makes your eyes pop a little bit, doesn’t it?

 

Google Search, Maps, Images & Translate

Microsoft has done some compelling things with Bing, and their ads do raise awareness of the search engine and its other aspects like Maps, social and photo results, etc. Still, I tend to gravitate toward Google search when I am researching something. I’ve developed a high level of trust and loyalty to their search results and minimalist approach. I know there are weirdnesses and censored results for some topics, but Google search gets the job done for me, especially with the addition of Instant and Google-made Chrome extensions that allow me to block certain sites and jump directly to where my search phrase appears on the page.

Google Translate, especially when plugged directly into Google Chrome, is also incredibly useful, either as a way to translate a phrase to or from another language, or to translate entire web pages so that they can be read in your own. It’s never perfect, of course, but it’s good enough to get the job done and long ago replaced Babelfish for me despite the cool Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference.

Google’s social aspects of search are ok, but can be annoying as well. I’m not always that social, and don’t necessarily care what people in my network are searching for or whatever related value they give to my search. From a business perspective, where I have to consider search engine optimization and testing, these added layers can skew my research, as well, so I often need to log out of all of my Google services and social networks — or open up another browser — to make sure my search results are as vanilla as possible. I do like the real time results that pull up Twitter conversations, however.

I use Google Maps on my iPhone, my iPad, and on my computer, and I have Google Earth. I’ve never had much (regular) use for Google Earth, however. I also use Image Search regularly, as well, and I have enjoyed some of the recent interface updates that give it a slicker feel, but I really only use it because it is directly attached to the main search engine. Surprisingly, I have had very little use for Blog Search, overall.

 

Gmail

If I live in Chrome, then Gmail is my kitchen. This is where I do a large amount of my work and communications, and it is a large part of my current GTD task management system (in Producteev). I have several email accounts with different services, as well as domain-level accounts, and the recent upgrades to Hotmail and Yahoo Mail have brought about some very nice features, but Gmail is where it’s at for me. In fact, I use the One Inbox to Rule Them All method to bring all of my different accounts into my main Gmail account, and it works exceedingly well!

Gmail combines all of the power and flexibility I could want with an easy to use interface. It is the Mac of online email applications, especially when you add a theme, a few Labs features, tools like Rapportive (pulls in social data for people you are conversing with), and/or an extension or two to make it look a little less bare.

 

Google Calendar

I use Gcal regularly, in my task and project management. The lack of any Gcal integration with Evernote was once of the main reasons I started looking for alternatives for my own GTD setup in Evernote (you can always forward notes to Gmail from Evernote and use those to schedule calendar appointments, but I wanted something that integrated directly with Gcal, like Springpad or Producteev). I am not a Google Calendar power user by any means, but it gets the job done for me. I like its uncluttered interface, features, and Labs additions.

 

Google Reader & Google Buzz

I can’t stand to look at Google Reader. It’s ugly, its busy, and it stresses me out. However, I do use it as my main RSS feed collection and organization tool — but I do it through other apps like Feedly, Flipboard, and MobileRSS. If it wasn’t for those apps providing a look and feel that doesn’t make me want to hurl my computer or mobile device across the room, then I would never touch Google Reader.

You might be wondering why Google Buzz would be attached to the Google Reader section, especially considering that the average person has abandoned buzz to the crickets, but it has to be included because of its integration with Google Reader. Honestly, I don’t care about Buzz either, but every time I share something on Google Reader it gets shared on Buzz as well. That’s about the extent of my usage, and for some reason, people keep following me on Buzz as a result. Rather than deny those people whatever value they get from my stream (and deny myself whatever personal branding boosts I may get as a result), I leave my connection to Buzz open. Its kind of insidious the way it worms its way back into your online life…

 

Google Docs

I used to ignore Google Docs, but as my professional world as an online marketer and freelance writer moved more and more into the cloud for collaborations and easily sharing my work with clients, I moved more and more into Docs and the rest of Google’s online office suite. I’ve even adopted some of Josh’s ideas for using Docs as a Google Wave replacement. In fact, though I am one of those Microsoft Office power user types, I have moved away from Office almost entirely, only using it if I absolutely have to. There are some Office features you can’t get from Google Docs (or any other online office software), after all.

 

Google Alerts, Trends, Insights, Keyword Tools

I use both of these services to help inform me of interest levels in my own brands and the brands of my clients and their competitors. Alerts is useful for recent updates regarding what people are saying across the web on subjects of my choice. Trends, Insights, and Keyword Tools (for Adsense and Adwords) are fantastic ways to conduct keyword and phrase research for search engine optimization. The Wonder Wheel in Google search is another useful tool here.

 

Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools

I use Analytics and Webmaster Tools for my own sites and for all of my clients’ sites when I do SEO for them. Both tools are powerful, easy to use, and as free as air. I can’t imagine why people wouldn’t use them — barring the Devil theory and the potential privacy murkiness of Google, that is.

 

YouTube, Google Talk, Picasa

All three of these are fantastic tools that I should probably use more. YouTube is great for marketing, and is the platform of choice for video blogging (which I’ve been considering for some time now — I would love your thoughts on the subject). It is also arguably the second largest search engine on the web. I use it all the time as a viewer, and recommend it to clients as a marketing vehicle, but my own account is nearly empty, with only a video of my kid tap dancing like a maniac. It was too cute not to share!

I use Google Talk only periodically, due to my hatred of instant messaging as a whole. Instant messaging is a productivity killer. I much prefer the email/Facebook message/forum approach to conversation as it leaves me the choice of when to be involved, which makes for less distractions in my day. The recent call phones feature (currently free to the US and Canada) has made Gtalk a viable alternative to paying for Skype — but Skype is still better, overall, and has some nice features and add-ons that make it much easier to work with. If you are a Google Voice user, that’s another story — but Google Voice is still not perfect, and not fully available in Canada. *shakes fist*

Picasa is something I used, then abandoned, and have recently started using again only because I needed some additional free cloud storage for my photos, and it is extremely easy to get a lot of photos into the service all at once. I don’t know that I would ever use it for more than that, but it is definitely a powerful photo sharing service in its own right.

 

Google Goggles & Google Mobile

I also use the Google Mobile App for my iPhone and iPad, and the integrated Google Goggles has proven to be very handy while on the go. I can search for things using my camera, and can even cheat on Sudoku. It doesn’t get much better than that!

I do find the mobile app lacking, though. I like the voice search, but the fact that the other services in the app are really nothing more than links – and they require me to log in again in the browser – makes it less useful than it ought to be. Android users have a bit of a leg up here, as most of their Google apps and services have pretty deep integration into the OS.

 

Google Profile

I don’t really use my Google Profile for anything other than personal branding. Profiles give a snapshot of you, and are searchable, especially on Google, so it only makes sense to have one. You get one by default if you use Buzz, as well. I don’t think it would hurt me in any way to not have one, but when you are pushing yourself as a brand to get new clients, a job, or even readers on your blog, it makes sense to have one.

 

Abandoned Google Services

I’ve abandoned several Google services over the years, and a few of them have abandoned me (like Google Wave *shakes fist*). The ones that stand out to me, though, are as follows:

  • Google Wave (damnit!)
  • Orkut (Does anyone use this? Has anyone used this?)
  • Google Video (see: YouTube — Google Video was rendered relatively pointless)
  • Sidewiki (a nice idea, but sloppy, and web annotation services have a hard time in general)
  • Google Latitude (occasionally useful, but nobody needs to know where I am all the time)
  • Google Buzz (mostly)
  • Google Toolbar (resource hog with privacy issues)
  • Google Desktop (resource hog with privacy issues)
  • Google Tasks (just too ugly for me to find it useful)

 

Here’s That Commercial

You’ve been great! Thanks for reading along – this ended up being a mini-novel instead of the short post I was planning on. As a reward for your awesomeness, I now present you with The Google Commercial In Question. Enjoy!

 

All said and done, I use way more Google services than I’ve stopped using, and will likely continue to, despite privacy concerns and fears of Google taking over the world. I barely even touched on Android and the way it integrates with Google’s best tools (and its rapidly growing user base). I’m an iOS user, but have hacked Android and Android facsimiles into more than one phone for testing, and those integrations certainly don’t hurt Google. Fancy new commercials aren’t going to hurt them, either. I admit it: I want a Chromebook. I don’t know how useful they will be in the long or short term, but they are pretty sweet, says my techie bone. The price isn’t terrible, either (about $400 on average).

How about you? What Google services do you use or plan to use? What ones have you abandoned? Are there any you simply don’t trust? Let’s chat about it in the comments!


Google Wave Isn’t Dead After All, Just Changing Hands

In case you missed the announcements last week, Google Wave will live on, and quite likely prosper, in the open source development hands of Apache. In November, Google made a proposal to the Apache Software Foundation to take over development of Wave, hoping to keep the potential of the project alive and bring new blood to its development. The proposal mentioned several weighty companies (including the US Navy) that are still actively using Wave, which was originally set to shut down at the end of 2010, and listed people willing to commit to the project from both within and outside of Google.

Prior to talks with Apache, Google had already made a standalone version of Wave available to interested developers. The end product was named “Wave in a Box” and maintained much of Wave’s functionality. It was even able to import Wave data and communicate with other Wave in a Box installations through a federated protocol. Apache is essentially installing Wave in a Box to their servers and adding it to their Incubator projects as a means to gather a community that will continue active development. I’m not sure whether all existing Wave data will come with it, or not, but it is always possible that the new Apache Wave will offer importing of your Wave data at some point. If you want to act now, there is already a button in each single Wave that allows for exporting to HTML, or PDF with attachments, and Google is apparently working on a tool to export large amounts of Waves at one time, as well as a way to access your Waves in Google Docs.

At any rate, for those of you who were following our Wave Alternatives posts, there is definite hope on the horizon for a better, stronger, and ultimately more useful Wave in the near future.

Keep tabs on the Wave Incubator project here.

What are your thoughts on Apache Wave?


The Hunt for a Google Wave Replacement Part III – Socialwok

Socialwok -- A Possible Google Wave Replacement | 40Tech

This is the third in a series of articles evaluating potential alternatives to Google Wave, which Google is discontinuing.  Check out Part I (Shareflow) and Part II (Google Services).

UPDATE: As of June 26, 2011, Socialwok announced that they would no longer be accepting new user sign up and are discontinuing the service. This comes due to a lack of funding and developer availability. Socialwok will allow users to continue to access the service for the purposes of downloading their data until July 12th, 2011. — Thanks to Ron for the update.

In an effort to discover a reasonable replacement for the collaborative powers of Google Wave, 40Tech has gone forth and tested several free or mostly free services and methods. So far, we’ve reviewed Zenbe’s Shareflow, as well as a conglomeration of other Google services (which, reportedly, will be absorbing some of Wave’s features). As our next candidate, we tested Socialwok, a free, very Facebook-like service that allows you to not only create your own focused social network(s), but was designed to integrate tightly into Google Apps.

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The Hunt for a Google Wave Replacement, Part II – More Google Services!

Google services as a Google Wave replacement

This is the second in a series of articles evaluating potential alternatives to Google Wave, which Google is discontinuing.  Check out Part I (Shareflow) and Part III (Socialwok).

For those of you who have never used Google Wave, sorry, you’ve missed your chance.  As you may have heard, Google announced recently that it won't be developing Wave any further as a standalone product, although Google will keep it open at least through the end of the year.  This is pretty unfortunate, because Wave filled a unique niche by providing a great platform for real-time team collaboration and discussion.

So, here at 40Tech we’ve begun a search for a replacement for Wave.  Last week we reviewed Zenbe Shareflow as a possible replacement for those of you who used and came to love Google Wave.  Today we offer a second suggestion.  This suggestion isn’t a collaboration site so much as a system to replace Wave.

The system to replace Wave is based on using the full-range of Google’s other products.  One of the main advantages that Wave shares with the other products in our "Wave Replacement" series, is that it brings all communications and documents into one platform.  While using several web products is undeniably a bit more complicated and messy than a single website, it also offers some advantages as well.  For example, it provides you with several layers of flexibility, and new features to allow you to adapt the system to how you and your group prefer to work.

The idea of using Google’s full suite of products to replace Wave started with the realization that we likely will see new features rolled out to Google products, based on features that got their start in Wave (real-time email communications perhaps?).  Google said as much in their blog post announcing the end of Wave.  We then realized that many of the best aspects of Wave are already available across Google’s other offerings, if you use those applications to their full potential.

First, we'll look at why you should consider using Google’s other services to coordinate efforts and communications in real-time with a group.  Second, we’ll look at what specific services you should use, and the aspects of the communications for which they're best used.  And finally we’ll look at how you can manage all of those services.

 

Why use Google’s suite of products to replace Google Wave?

Anyone who has used the internet to do anything (i.e., everyone) has probably at some point become concerned about the amount of information that Google possesses about them.  Add to this concern Google’s recent stance on net neutrality, and there is a valid question as to why someone would rely on Google even more.  Put simply, tens of millions of people continue using Google’s products every day because they are just so good.

When I see a website with that light blue and white color scheme that is simple and powerful, I know that I’m using a Google product.  Almost every product that Google offers is available across all platforms, with many of those products available offline.  Almost all of them have very simple ways to archive, import and export your information, and they are so widely used that there are tons of add-ons, plug-ins, gadgets and tie-ins to complement what are already great products.

Google has had problems with some server availability, but my experience has been that those problems are exceedingly rare and are very quickly fixed.  Many of Google's products have automatic save functions to eliminate the dread of losing something you just spent hours working on, like what I experience every time Microsoft Word crashes on my work computer.  There are tons of keystroke shortcuts to speed up your work, and of course the search functions within Google's products can’t be beat.  Google offers HTTPS access to many of its services for secure access, and all of its products are available free of charge.

There are of course other services that offer a full-range of products that are similar to Google’s products; Yahoo, Zoho and Microsoft come to mind, but all in all I have found that Google gives you the most powerful and flexible set of tools to coordinate your full range of communications.  Perhaps most importantly, I already use at least one Google product every day.  As a result, the learning curve is much shallower for me to get up to speed on a Google product’s capabilities.

For this post, I’ll assume that you have a Google account, and a working knowledge of the Google tools.  If you don’t have an account, then you may want to sign up.  It only takes a second, and if you need more background knowledge you can go to the main page of each service (links are provided below).  To pull all of these services together I’ll be using iGoogle and One Number, an extension developed for Chrome by Dan Bugglin.  However, if you would like a desktop-based application that is a much richer experience, then check out Google Desktop and add gadgets for the services I’ll discuss.  Desktop has enough capabilities that at some point I’ll probably write a post just on it.

 

On to the system!

If you click through Google’s main page to its full listing of services, it can be overwhelming.  Google offers 24 different services under search alone!  However, you don’t need every service.  You can more than compensate for the loss of Wave through the use of Gmail and Chat for communications,  Docs for editing emails and real-time collaboration, GCal for calendaring functions, Tasks for the obvious tracking of tasks, and iGoogle or One Number to pull it all together and display the other services in one place.  I’ll give a brief description of the high points of each, but if you’d like to hear more about how I’ve used these services to replace Wave feel, free to contact me or ask your questions in the comments, below.

 

Communications: Gmail and Google Chat

Gmail as a Wave replacement One of the most important aspects of coordinating any team is coordinating communications.  Because of Gmail’s use of collapsible email chains (tied to the subject of the email), it is easily the best way to communicate with a group.  It provides a permanent record of communications that is easy to follow and get out of the way when you have finished reading it.

For more real-time communications right inside of Gmail you have the option of using Chat.  If your account is set-up for it, Google will even archive your chats and make them searchable from within Gmail, again to maintain a record of communications.  Using a combination of Gmail and Chat will usually suffice for discussion purposes, but it offers some additional advantages over Wave, including ease of use (even my grandmom knows how to use email), a permanent record of conversations that can’t be altered, and the ability to turn an email into an event or or task by exporting them to Calendar and Tasks (both of which I’ll discuss below).

Wave has a major advantage over email and chat in that it provides a platform for a group to develop ideas because, as you surely know, you can’t go back and edit an email to develop an idea further.  However, Google has provided this ability through a combination of email and Docs

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Real-time Group Writing: Docs

Gmail as a Wave replacement Docs is probably one of Google’s least used offerings, besides the obvious exception of Wave, which is presumably why they are shutting Wave down.  Docs allows for real-time collaboration on documents, presentations, spreadsheets,  and even drawings.  It has hundreds of searchable templates and the ability to create your own templates for later use if you choose to do so.

You can create shareable folders which will automatically modify the permissions of any document that is placed into that folder to match those of the folder.  As an example of why this is useful, I created a folder that gives Evan and Bobby full permissions. As a result, I can dump any document regarding 40Tech into that folder, and Evan and Booby will be able to review, edit and comment on it.  At the same time, they won’t be able to access the folder that I have set-up for my wife and I to coordinate  our vacation plans.

Another useful feature of Docs is the ability to import Gmail messages into Docs.  Once a Gmail message is imported into Docs, the text can be edited or added to for additional collaboration.

Also, for any document that has been made public, you can subscribe to the document's RSS feed to track changes as they occur.  As far as I can tell, this option is currently only available for public documents.  This is unfortunate, because it would be very convenient to be able to subscribe to those documents that I’ve set as private but am working on with others.

Another disappointing shortcoming of Docs is that although it bolds a document title if someone has worked on it since your last log-in, it does not identify what changes have been made.  Wave did a great job of this, and even had a function to scroll through time to replay changes as they happened.  I am hoping these features will be brought to Docs shortly.  What Wave lacked, though, was any kind of ability to schedule meetings or create and track tasks, which Google thankfully offers in GCal and Tasks.

 

Scheduling conference calls and meetings: GCal

Google Calendar as a Wave replacement In much the same way that Gmail is the gold standard of email offerings, GCal is the gold standard in calendaring choices.  GCal’s main selling point is simplicity.  In Gcal you can quickly create an event, add notes and attachments, create a reminder, and add guests.  There are probably thousands of public calendars, so I don’t even need to do the work to add the U.S. holidays to my calendar, for example (or, more importantly, the Penn State football schedule).  It has a clean display that makes keeping track of your schedule a breeze.  Critical for group collaboration, though, it is just as easy to share your calendar with others and add their calendars to yours.  In doing so, GCal even converts events to your time zone.  One of my favorite aspects of GCal, though, is the ability to display tasks that are coming due on your calendar.

 

Task Tracking: Tasks

Google Tasks as Wave replacement As mentioned above, using several services to replace Wave offers the advantage of being able to personalize the system to your liking.  Using Tasks is such a tweak that I have made for my personal system.  Tasks is a very Spartan tasks tracking system, especially when compared to Remember the Milk and others of that level, but it gets the job done.  You can create tasks and subtasks quickly, either in Tasks or by moving an email to it.  You can have the task displayed in your calendar, set due dates, and even get reminders when you want them.  What more do you want?  If there is anything else that you may want, then Tasks probably isn’t for you because there really isn’t much more than that.

 

Pulling All of This Together: iGoogle and One Number

image To pull all of this together and be able to view everything on one page, Google offers iGoogle.  You can add gadgets for each service mentioned here and look at them all side by side.  You can of course add tons of other gadgets (Dilbert anyone?), but I have one tab set aside just for these services as kind of my command center.

If your browser of choice is Google’s Chrome, one of the best extensions available is One Number.  The extension checks your Google services at intervals that you designate, and notifies you of updates through a non-invasive tool bar icon.  It is currently limited to Gmail, Google Reader, Google Voice and Wave, but in speaking with the developer he has said that the next release will have more services, including Docs.  At this point it is a nice convenience to be notified of new communications, but as it adds new services it could completely replace iGoogle for me in this system, thus eliminating the need for me to leave the page open and further streamlining my group communications.

I know this sounds like a lot of work to replace one service, especially since our series looks at other single services to replace Wave.  Once it’s set up, though, I really have found it to be a comprehensive and, just as importantly, simple way to maintain open lines of communication with members of a group.  Further, it allows me to schedule appointments and keep track of the tasks that result from those communications and appointments in services that I already use.  To top it all off, it’s all pulled together in one simple interface through iGoogle.  I think if you give it a try you will find that it is worth the effort.

 

What do you think?  If you use Wave, are you going to use other Google services as a replacement?


The Hunt for a Google Wave Replacement, Part I: Shareflow

shareflow vs google wave

This is the first of a few articles over the coming weeks that will evaluate potential alternatives to Google Wave, which Google is discontinuing.  Check out Part II (Google Services) and Part III (Socialwok).

While many people had no use for Google Wave, the recent announcement of its impending demise is a disappointment for those who found it to be a useful tool.  Are you looking for a replacement?  If so, come along with us as we try out some alternatives over the coming weeks.  The first candidate that we’ve tried out is Zenbe Shareflow, a tool that is surprisingly Wave-like.  Read on for our impressions, and then let us know in the comments what you think of it.

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