Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My favorite Google Apps

Inspired by Louis Gray's post about his favorite Google apps (who was inspired by none other than Google CEO Eric Schmidt), I thought I'd capture some of my favorite Google apps - especially those which are lesser-known. (To the many friends who I'll no doubt annoy by not including their products: note that I said some of my favorites. And I'm omitting a couple obvious ones: I live in Gmail, Reader, and Calendar... those deserve their own posts about how I rely on them seemingly every hour of the day. Not today.)

Last week, I was invited to give a presentation to a group of execs from the World Presidents Organization (it's real - I checked!), and the topic was pretty broad: "What are some of the things that wow you at Google?" As I read Louis's blog post, I realized that this presentation was more or less my follow-up to his post. With that, here's what I presented:
  1. Blogger. Yes, I'm biased. But as I near a year of working with this team, it's hard not to love being part of a product that enables millions of people every month to tell their stories - and to have those stories reach nearly one in four people on the Internet every month! Specifically, I love that as soon as I click "publish post" the post is live on the web. No rebuilding, file transfers, or other delays: it's there. (And thanks to Pubsubhubbub, the post shows up instantly on Friendfeed, in my FeedBurner feed, and will soon show up instantly in other places. Hint, hint.) I love having complete control over the look and feel of the blog. And let's just say there are a few things coming in the next couple months that will make lots of Blogger users happy.
  2. Picasa Facial Recognition. When this first launched in Picasa Web Albums, it was almost like a game: my wife and I sat on the couch, seeing pictures of our kids we hadn't seen in years. Now that it's available in the client app, it's been phenomenal to watch it collect and organize the thousands of pictures I've taken over the years. Nobody in the room at my presentation had seen it, and it was the first "magic" moment of the presentation.
  3. Google Voice. There are several cool things here, but the transcription of voicemails is definitely the killer feature. I almost never listen to voicemails anymore (though when GV gets the transcription wrong, it gets it really wrong.)
  4. Google Docs, especially surveys that populate Google Spreadsheets. Another product the audience hadn't even heard of, I showed them how I created a form to survey the parents for an end-of-year gift from the PTA last year. The form took just twenty minutes to build, we then e-mailed it out to all the parents, and within a day we had all the data we needed to make the decision. (For more on creating forms, check out this great post from yesterday at Digital Inspiration.)
  5. Google Scholar. Everyone's done the normal Google ego search. But for anyone who's writen for a scholarly journal, few know that those journals are searchable at Google Scholar. (Here's mine.) One of the execs in the room had written several articles for labor law journals, he'd even forgotten about one we found when searching!
  6. Google Mobile Voice Search. Several had iPhones in the room, and most of the rest had Blackberries. But none had the Google Mobile app, which lets you speak your query and get back location-aware results (say "pizza" and you'll get the nearest pizza joints).
  7. My Tracks for Android. You want to know how overwhelming it is to work at Google? One of my fellow PMs also happens to have been teammates with Lance Armstrong. (Small world, actually - I have seen Lance Armstrong on TV!) So it is that PM Dylan Casey rounded up some engineers and built My Tracks, an insanely cool app for Android phones. (Side note: many in the room kept asking how to get this on their iPhone. Explaining that Android was our OS, and that it was different than the iPhone OS, made no sense whatsoever to them.)
  8. Fast Flip. I really like this effort, currently in Labs. I keep coming back to it, intrigued by the UI - and folks in the room (most of whom were older) immediately caught on to the idea that this is very similar to how they read their print periodicals. I see this getting more traction as other products look at how to incorporate this idea into their own interface.
 What about you? Which Google Apps can't you live without?


  1. Hi Rick,
    i use the combination Blogger and Google Docs (I love the Import-Functions)as a Blogger Extension.

    I build my own Mini-Mashups (Twitter+Maps+Weather API), alternate Feedburner-Counter (Readers,Hits,Reach) in my Blog-Sidebar and so on...
    I'm waiting for Apps Scripts for the Docs-Stand-a-alone Editon.

    Bye from Germany

  2. I use Sites to keep a page of references and links for each project I'm working on, it is easy to access and edit whenever I can get to a browser.

    Google Apps for Your Domain now handles email for the little domain I've had since 1996.

    App Engine is a great way to run web services. So long as the traffic level stays reasonable, its free. If the traffic grows beyond the free threshold... I'll have to figure out how to monetize it.

  3. An iPhone alternative for My Tracks is RunKeeper.

    There's a free version that does pretty much everything, and a paid one that adds voice prompts (useful for workouts). They have a reasonably good website for viewing your route with, you guessed it, Google Maps.