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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!


A USB-Stick with Chrome OS Has (Almost) Replaced Windows for Me

A USB-Stick with Chrome OS Have (Almost) Replaced Windows for Me | 40Tech

Google Chrome OS has been in the works for a while now, and has captured the imaginations of techies everywhere. Most of those interested were expecting — or at least hoping — to see laptops and netbooks that were near-completely cloud-based by the latter half of 2010, and the Cr-48 notebook and research “pilot program” was finally announced on December 7th. Many people have been testing Chrome OS for some time, however using methods such as booting from a USB-stick into a custom Chrome OS (or Chromium OS) build put together by friendly genius Hexxeh. The builds, as one might expect, were fraught with problems — hardware incompatibilities, the OS itself (and its features and capabilities) still in flux — and these problems usually lead to the conclusion that Chrome OS was just not ready for the world at large.

All of that is about to change.

Over the past year or so, significant advances have been made in the Google Chrome browser, which is the basis for the Chrome OS project. The ability to sync extensions, bookmarks (sometimes), and other user data allowed for users to carry their experience from one computer to another, and the introduction of the Chrome Web Store added a whole new way to find and integrate web apps into the computing experience. These things, as well as numerous back-end improvements, have brought us must closer to living in the browser, and have improved both the usability and viability of Google’s cloud-focused OS.

Hexxeh has been busy as well, coming out with new versions of his own Chrome OS build. The most recent one, Flow, was a strong step forward, but still only truly feasible for limited testing and playing around, especially depending on your hardware. When I tried Flow, I found that it worked well enough on one of my laptops, a Toshiba Satellite A300, though I often had issues connecting to WiFi, and had problems with saving into and loading files from the lightweight Linux system the browser interface is built on. My HP DV8000 couldn’t run it at all. Hexxeh reportedly has a new build on the way called Lime, but was waiting for the Chromium OS developers to move forward, and has been busy testing out his own Cr-48.

That was months ago. With all of the improvements in the Chrome browser lately, I found myself curious to try another go ’round with the OS. I was disappointed that Hexxeh’s Lime wasn’t out yet (it is still in development as of this writing), but on a whim, I decided to try one of the crisp and clean Vanilla builds from the bleeding edge nightly section of Hexxeh’s site, a near-direct link to the mythical builders in Mountain View (I picked up Version 0.10.157.r3d7fa3a0 on February 3rd, 2011). Much to my very pleasant surprise, the OS worked on my A300 — and worked perfectly, out of the box, with much fewer usability issues than any Windows installation I’ve ever tried! I was stoked — and have since been using the speedy little USB stick to boot up my computer into ChromeOS nearly every day, with the exception of times when I needed to do work in a decent vector drawing program. There really is no HTML5 comparison for Adobe Illustrator that I know of. Photoshop, sure — but not Illustrator.

In fact, the only real issues I had, other than the fact that syncing was a little spotty (app and extension syncing missed a few, and bookmarks wouldn’t sync at all), was the lack of Netflix (no Silverlight on Linux), and figuring out the new keyboard commands for reloading and closing tabs. Why Google decided to change the familiar F5 reload to Ctrl+R is beyond me, but once I figured out the quirks I was rolling along smoothly. Downloading and uploading files worked working well, too, though there should really be a direct path to the folder, rather than having to search through the Linux file system. While I’m throwing things out there, I would also like to see some built in social features like Rockmelt.

I have yet to try it on my DV8000, but I’ve found that this recent Vanilla build of Chrome OS has been a pleasure to work with, overall. When I don’t want to go through a long Windows boot cycle just to go online and do some work on the internet, I just plug in the USB stick and go. I’m up and running in just a few minutes. I hope that Hexxeh figures a way to do a dual boot on my actual laptop hard drive — one that can access more space for storage, and maybe other files in the Windows part of the drive would be ideal, of course. I don’t see that happening, but hey, a guy can hope, right?

If you want to try out the Vanilla builds of Chrome OS, or even the somewhat deprecated but known-to-be-stable Flow, grab a flash drive and check out Hexxeh’s website. Things are easy to find, and instructions are very clear. If you want updates on Hexxeh’s builds and the Chrome OS project in general, follow @hexxeh on Twitter.

Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!


Block Sites From Search Results with the Personal Block List Extension [Chrome]

Block Sites From Search Results with the Personal Block List Extension [Chrome] | 40Tech

A new and incredibly useful extension has popped up on the Chrome Web Store: Personal Block List (by Google). If you have ever searched for something and been plagued by useless links that wiggle past Google’s algorithm — and odds are you have — then this extension is your friend. Personal Block List adds a handy little “Block [URL]” button to the right of the “Cached” and “Similar” links in Google’s search results. Once clicked, that site is omitted from your search results until you decide otherwise.

Block Sites from Search Results with Personal Block List Extension for Google Chrome, Rockmelt | 40Tech

Neat, huh? Of course, it should be mentioned that this extension will transmit information to Google regarding the sites you have blocked, including patterns that you create as you block or unblock sites. Google promises to only use this information for good and to improve their products. Actually, there are no promises. They just say that you “agree that Google may freely use this information to improve [their] products and services.” Considering all of the things out there that already track browsing habits — including Google — this sort of tracking may actually be a step forward.

In any case, the extension does its job well. In a few of the coding-related searches I have been conducting lately, looking for help on a particular area of menu design, I repeatedly found myself directed, via several different domains, to the same annoying website trying to sell me their tool that was apparently supposed to make my life easier. My annoyance in this regard is no more. The Personal Block List extension for Google Chrome (as well as Chromium, and Rockmelt) works!

If I were to have any issues with the extension, they would be that it does not work from the searchbar, only from the actual Google site, and that it doesn’t appear to have a master list in the cloud. That last surprised me, and meant that I had to block the same site twice, once in Rockmelt, and once in Chrome. Still, it did the job. I can see that there will be many more sites that will end up being forcibly removed from my search results soon.

Try it out the Personal Block List (by Google) Chrome extension here.


Springpad: Easier Than Ever to Save and Organize Everything

New Springpad Features | 40Tech

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Springpad lately, both here at 40Tech and around the web. For good reason, too. The app’s new features and interface improvements have put it strongly in the running for one of the best save-everything-and-get-organized apps out there. People are loving it! According to CEO Jeff Janer, the new Springpad has seen a huge spike in usage. After playing with it for a while, I can see why.

When I first reviewed Springpad, back in April of this year, I compared it directly to Evernote, and pointed out why some of Springpad’s features were actually superior to our favorite note-taking app. The downside of Springpad was that there was simply too much going on, and that some of the different functions, like the internal apps, didn’t always play seamlessly with one another. Springpad’s development team listened to their users, and the new interface appears to have brought about feelings of peace, harmony, and general bliss amongst the Springpadians.

There have been several major updates to Springpad in the past months, the most notable taking place in September, November, and on Tuesday.

If you’re new to Springpad and don’t want to read my (very large) previous post, or just want a quick overview of some of the new features, watch the video at the bottom of this post.

September: Mobile Alerts, Chrome Extension

September brought about custom reminders and mobile alerts that helped to keep you aware of things on the go, like price drops and coupons for items you saved to your Springpad. It also brought about their most excellent Google Chrome extension.

November: All New Interface, Notebooks and the Board

November saw a huge shift in the interface, paring it down, making it easier to navigate, and generally making it prettier. Along with the new look and feel, better tagging functionality, and bulk editing capability, a lot of potential clutter and confusion was removed by taking all of the internal apps (for GTD, blog planning, and many other things) and giving them their own playground. Users that really wanted to keep the information stored in those apps tied in a neat bundle in the main Springpad app were given the option to port the notes into what is likely the most significant improvement to the service: new, easy to add and use notebooks.

Springpad Notebooks

Adding notebooks to Springpad has done a marvelous job of giving you control over how you organize your information. It used to be in one big list, that could be broken down over the large lot of internal apps — which was good in theory, but overwhelming in practice. Now, you have full control over what buckets you want to dump your saved information into, and it is nicely black-boxed in a very clean new interface that looks and feels like a desktop app. To make things even better, each notebook can have it’s own theme, which you can customize with personal images and photos, if you like.

Springpad Interface, Themes

The final hurrah for November was the introduction of the Board. The Board is an awesome use of HTML5, and there is one in every notebook. It gives you a visual approach to organizing your information that works like an old fashioned cork board, or laying out flashcards and sticky notes on a table. For the visual among us, myself included, this was a sweet miracle! The gift that keeps on giving, the Board also automatically adds items with address information to a handy, interactive Google map that can also be moved about. The Board is especially cool on the iPad, which allows you to move the items about with a finger, adding a tactile element that only improves upon the experience.

Springpad Board, Visual Organization | 40Tech

December: Chrome Web Store, Drag & Drop File Attachments, Keyboard Shortcuts and More

As if all that wasn’t enough, December’s updates brought about several more nice additions to Springpad, including the ability to drag and drop outside files onto the Board as file attachments. This is a fantastic improvement to on the other way to add files to Springpad which is to add a note, then add a ‘note to the note’ that has an attachment. You can even add multiple files at once (10mb/file).

The file-dropping feature only works in Google Chrome, which Springpad has entered into a nice marriage with. The web app was even featured in the launch of the Google Chrome Web Store on Tuesday. Chrome users can now install a shortcut of the Springpad app right into their start page, as well as sign up or login with Google’s OpenID, which allows easy access to the app. Once installed, you can open Springpad in a new tab, as a pinned tab, in full screen (which really makes it feel like a desktop app), and — if you use a Google Chrome developer version — as it’s own application. When combined with the Chrome extension, the installed Springpad is an information saving and organizing powerhouse. In my installation, and I’m not sure if it is a result of the extension or using a developer version of Chrome, I can even save a page to Springpad simply by right clicking and selecting the option from my context menu (if you happen to know which is the proper reason, let me know in the comments).

Springpad, Chrome Web Store Install

The final additions in the barrage of new features are keyboard shortcuts, like the ability to Shift+Tab between notebooks (see the complete list below), a search box and alert notifications on the home-screen, and the ability to share private items via a link (public items can already be shared to a gazillion services).

Springpad Keyboard Shortcuts

What’s to Come

The single thing that most longtime Springpad users were hoping for would be a desktop app. Unfortunately, that’s still a ways out, but I give Springpad credit for focusing on making their service a hell of a lot more functional on the web side of things first, before committing themselves to a desktop undertaking. According to Jeff, the desktop app will probably come in a windows flavour, first, but he didn’t have a date for me. What he could tell me, thought, was that the web version will make use of HTML5 to enable offline access to Springpad in and around the first quarter of next year. This is something the mobile versions of Springpad already do, and with the new web interface it will likely be almost as good as a desktop app by itself.

Some other pending features include the Board on the iPhone, as well as on Android OS (once it supports tables), and some interesting Facebook and other integrations that will enable you to do things like pull friends’ likes into the recommendation engine and filter them by subject. They are also looking into the possibility of a universal app for Facebook, and potentially, .doc and .PDF scanning.

In just a few months, Springpad has moved in leaps and bounds that blue tights-wearing, red-underwear-on-the-outside super beings might be jealous of. I am thoroughly impressed and actively considering new ways to implement the service into my day to day workflows. I actually did research and planned this post in Springpad. It was a good process. I’m also using it to track potential Christmas gift ideas for family members, and I can see the Board and me becoming great friends — especially if Springpad adds some connectors and other customization features to it in the near future. To be perfectly honest, though, they had me at “HTML5 offline access!”

What do you think of Springpad’s new features? How Will they affect how you use the app?


UPDATE: Springpad just got named one of Time Magazine’s Top 10 iPhone apps of 2010!



Google Chrome OS Preview on USB Flash Drive

Google Chrome OS | Cloud-based Netbook Operating System | Chromium Projects As a not-so-closet techie (or tech-geek, if you will), I find myself instantly attracted to all things new and shiny — even when the polish is not altogether there yet. This is why, on this US Thanksgiving evening, I find myself writing a post about Google Chrome OS from within a recently released build of Google Chrome OS (and I’m writing the post in Google Wave, no less). I’m positively giddy! I know, I know, so much hype is surrounding Chrome OS — and pretty much anything that Google does these days — but I don’t care. I want to play! I like to play!! And so here is my take on the current state and usability of the Google Chrome Operating System and how to check it out for yourself…

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