MASTERKEY BLOG

Google Empire, Part 2

Google Calendar

Google’s calendar offering is both the hardest and easiest sell, strange as it may seem, and this is mainly due to the fact that it’s competition in this arena is incredibly robust, namely the Microsoft Exchange / Outlook combo.

Since it’s initial introduction in April 2006, the google team have added many of features and tightened integration with their other products, so that the choice between Exchange or Google is no longer as clear cut as it once was. Lets take a look at the calendar features (taken from google):

  • Sharing is built-in — Invite others to meetings and track responses, share entire calendars with your contacts, or make your public event information available to the world.
  • Responsive, intuitive interface — Drag-and-drop capabilities make it feel like a desktop application.
  • Integrated contact list — Your contact list in Google Calendar is always in sync with Gmail, so you’ll never need to look someone up in Gmail to send an invitation.
  • Integrated into Gmail – Gmail recognizes incoming meeting requests and invitations, and helps you RSVP without ever leaving your inbox.
  • Mobile access — You can get event reminders, check your calendar and even add new events to your agenda with SMS commands from your mobile phone.
  • Support for shared resources — With Google Apps Premier and Education editions, you can let people reserve conference rooms and other shared resources from their calendars.
  • Security and privacy — You choose who can view your calendar, when. Other users can only access your calendar if you add them to the list of authorized viewers, or if you decide to publish your events.
  • Integration — Data APIs let you integrate Google Calendar with other calendar-based programs so you can seamlessly transfer from an existing calendar system, or use a client application to access your calendaring functions.
  • Built on open standards — Import from other common calendar formats, and share calendars in the popular iCal format.
  • Supported languages — US English, UK English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, Russian, Chinese-Simplified, Chinese-Traditional, Korean, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Turkish and Polish.

Going through that list you can see that many of the important features that make Microsoft Exchange so attractive are there; calendar sharing and email/event integration. So what else sets the app apart?

Google Interface

Once again we come to the google interface as one of the main attractors of the suite. Google does brilliant things like letting you press ‘q’ for ‘quick add’, where you can then enter a normal language string like ‘Meeting with bob on Tuesday at 11′. Google will look at this sentence, and create a new event for you on the calendar, on the correct date, starting at 11am with the description ‘Meeting with bob’. How great is that?

You can easily set reminders to: send you an e-mail / pop up a window / send you an SMS (!!). You can check resource availability of others so you can plan meetings (see below screen-shot). You can set up multiple calendars, and share certain ones while makeing others private. Each calendar has an RSS feed, so you can subscribe to other peoples calendars.

To give you an example of how cool this is: some people have set up public calendars (i.e. shared with everyone) with a listing of TV Episode show times. If you add that public calendar to your Google Calendar (a 1 click operation), you can set yourself an SMS reminder to turn on the TV half an hour before you favorite show starts! How you employ that in a business or personal setting is up to your own ingenuity.

Because the interface is what really sells it for me, I’ll leave you with a few screen-shots, but you really have to try it for yourself to see how well done it is. Note: these screenshots were taken on a Macintosh, excuse the unfamiliar buttons.

Click on a time, and drag to set your event

Detailed Event Options

Agenda for the day

One last thing i will mention are the search abilities, powered by Google’s powerful search engine, so you can easily find something on your calendar if you need to.

Google Reader / Google Talk

These last two Google apps are less on the productivity side and more on the fun side of things. Never-the-less they do making wandering around the web a more fulfilling experience, so let’s take a look.

Google Reader

Google reader lets us subscribe to and read RSS feeds: it is a ‘feed reader’. Just in case you have no idea what RSS is I’ll quote you wikipedia (link):

RSS is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated digital content, such as blogs, news feeds or podcasts.

Users of RSS content use software programs called “feed readers” or “feed aggregators”. The user subscribes to a feed by entering a link of the feed into the reader program. The reader can then check the user’s subscribed feeds to see if any of those feeds have new content since the last time it was checked, and, if so, retrieve that content and present it to the user.

This blog has an RSS feed as well. We’ve tried to keep the layout as simple as possible so there is no direct link the the RSS feed, but in general your browser will tell you if a website has an RSS feed:

If you subscribe to the MasterKey Blog with a feed reader, every time we post something new it will automatically tell you there is a new article, and show you the preview text! Most websites now have RSS feeds, and it is a great way to stay up-to-date with new content, without checking all your favorite sites every day.

Google reader is one of the most popular online RSS readers, and provides a great interface and tight integration with other services. You can add a website URL and Google Reader will automatically scan for an RSS feed, show you whats available, and let you add it. It also keeps a record of all feeds other users have added, so you can search for a term (News, Books, Videos, etc) and see links to of relevant feeds that might interest you (CNN, Arthur C. Clark Award, YouTube, etc).

There are robust tagging features (labels and the by now familiar ’star’ system), you can email stories directly from the reader (your recipient will get the full article in their email as it appears in Google Reader), and then there is the amazing ’share’ feature.

Sharing

Sharing basically creates an RSS feed of articles that you have shared (an RSS feed of articles from RSS feeds - hah!). This lets you share your own personal RSS feed with your friends and family, and introduce them to interesting articles or items on the web.

And if for some reason people don’t have an RSS reader (tell them to read this!) you can even link them directly to a web page which Google Reader automatically generates for you with all your shared articles!

Integration

In the context of other google services which have RSS, you can use Google reader to keep updated on:

  • Changes made to documents in Google Docs
  • New Events added to Google Calendar

Google Talk

Google Talk is a instant messenger like MSN Messenger, ICQ and Yahoo Chat. You can use the messenger by either downloading their client and running it like you would MSN, or clicking on the launch button which will open the messenger in a browser window.

The ‘browser window’ client has some cool features such as playing YouTube/Google Video content directly in the window when you paste a link and letting you browse picasa and flickr slide-shows in the window when you paste the link.

You can even access Google Talk from Gmail in a pinch!

Have a look at the Google talk information page to see all that it can do.

iGoogle

Well, this has been a long article in the writing, but now we arrive at the final coup de grâce: iGoogle. iGoogle is Google’s answer to personalized home-pages in the same vein as PageFlakes or Netvibes.

What it iGoogle lets you do is customize a home-page with various bits and pieces, whatever you are interested in. You do this with things Google calls ‘gadgets’ which equate to boxes with content you can place anywhere on the page. For example, you could have:

  • a CNN gadget, with the CNN Breaking News RSS feed contents in there
  • or a Wikipedia search gadget, which has a search box that searches Wikipedia directly and takes you to the results
  • a World Clock gadget which does what it says
  • the Google Talk gadget with the Google talk window
  • the Google Reader gadget, with all your RSS feeds
  • a YouTube gadget with the most popular video to watch
  • the Gmail / Google Docs gadgets, with an overview of your inbox and documents

…and so on and so forth. Sign in, and click on Add Stuff in the top right and get to customizing. There are thousands of user created gadgets with everything you could want, and if it’s not there, you can make your own!

Standard:

With a theme:

Search Gadgets:

In conclusion

As you can see Google has a large number of services which can help make your day more productive and your time looking for information on the net easier. What Google has managed to do is design to the principal ‘less is more’. It’s what makes using their products so appealing: incredibly simple applications which just do what they need to and no more. There’s no going through endless menu trees, calling support and other aimless clicking around. And of course, and perhaps most importantly, the basic packages are all free.

Go to the Google home page, make a Google account, and try all of their services out. If you don’t like it, you haven’t lost anything but some time.

Google Apps for your domain

If you are a corporation you may want to look into Google Apps for Your Domain. Their page contains a thorough explanation of what it entails, but it comes down to having support, and easy integration of all the apps with a website (www.yourdomain.com). You can use an email like bob@yourdomain.com and have them all go via gmail and do other neat things like have a start page customized with messages from the company.

P.S.

Theres more! I haven’t been able to cover all of it, but have a look at these as well:

  • Google News - All the news from the web in one place
  • Google Bookmarks - Add pages to your Google bookmarks page, so you can visit them later from any computer
  • Google Mars - A map of mars. Find your way to the famous face.
  • Google Moon - A map of the moon. Not as exotic as mars but easier to get to.
  • Google Video - Online videos. Sort of like YouTube.
  • Picasa - Picture storage, editing, and browsing. Includes free online gallery
  • Google Desktop - Indexes all the stuff on your computer so you can find it with Google (emails, documents, programs). Lets you use gadgets on the desktop as well

P.P.S

All of Google’s stuff in one place: Simply Google

This concludes our two part series on Google and its applications. I hope you got some use out of it.


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