Top 15 Google essentials in my life

Google has been amazing me over the past few years with its creativity and innovation on the web space. Almost everyday, you will hear some announcement from the original search engine giant. No longer referred to as a search engine, I struggle to find the right words to describe Google other than to call them a web technology giant. More specifically, I want to refer to them as just the “Jack-of-all-traits” Giant!

Starting from a pure search engine, Google has over the years created more technology innovations and ventured into spaces that are sometimes baffling, but in the long run just pure strategic.

Just a couple of days ago, they announced that they’re now getting into an online retail store and becoming a device manufacturer with the Google “Superphone” Nexus One. More on that in a separate post. You know I will be talking about that phone sooner or later.. *wink*

Here, I want to highlight to you tech lovers and non-techies alike on the Top 15 Google innovations that I actively use everyday… including the enhancements and extras that goes together with it.

1. Google Search

We all know Google as the search engine. This was their original business model and the most established one online today. Not only do they search web articles, images and videos, they have also recently announced incorporating real-time search results recently with integration to social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

The term “Google” has also been added into our dictionary where we now say “I Google-d…” instead of saying “I did an online search on…” Other search engines such as Bing wants to be as successful, but I don’t hear people saying, “I Bing-ed…”, do you?

2. Chrome Browser

When you talk about going online, you would need an internet browser. I used to use Internet Explorer that comes default on any PC / laptop. I usually have no major issues with it until Microsoft decided to come out with newer versions of IE. I started facing some issues especially since I upgraded to Vista (before I got Windows 7). At one point, IE kept crashing on me or hanging for some reason. So I decided to try a different browser. Mozilla Firefox was highly rated and used but since I was such a Google fan-girl, I decided to give Chrome a try.

If you don’t know anything about the Chrome browser, boy have I a lot to tell you. I have successfully converted some family members to use Chrome browser. Like IE, it supports multiple tabs for browsing. Gone are the days where you need to open multiple windows if you’re looking at different websites. Now, you can have multiple sites running on just one browser.

Also, the browser tracks your history very very well. If you’ve accidentally closed a window / tab, you can always go back to the History of browsed sites and re-open the page. However, if you’re using a shared PC / laptop and you don’t want other people to see the history of what you’ve been looking at online, there is also the option of selecting “incognito window” which allows you to browse the sites you want without it being saved in your history. Google says it’s useful for situations like when you’re planning for a secret vacation / gift and don’t want your spouse to know, for example. I think it’s more useful for people who’s browsing for adult sites and don’t want the information saved on the computer. Hehehe.

If you have customised your PC / laptop with themes and wallpapers and stuff and into customising everything, you can choose different themes for your browser or skins as they call it. These themes are aplenty like abstracts, celebrities, designer theme, etc. There’s just so much to choose from.

3. iGoogle

iGoogle was something that I only started using in the last couple of years. If you have one main Google account, and Google search is your main start page online, why not customise your start page on your browser?

Windows Live (or previously MSN) or Yahoo has a very cluttered homepage. There are news, highlights, feature stories and loads of other crap that might slow down your loading time. Which is why Google is so successful as a search engine. They scrap all these clutters and give you a simple search engine on a clean white background. Because you can customise what you want displayed in sites like MSN and Yahoo, Google allows you to do that as well.

I have done just that with what Google calls iGoogle. You need to be logged into your Google account, select iGoogle and customise away. You can choose what type of content you want on your start page on Google. Of course, search engine is always the main focus here, but you can add Google News to follow up on latest news, gadgets / shortcuts to your most frequently used Google services like Gmail and Blogger for me. There are also cute little gadgets created by users if you just want to waste some time online like playing little games and looking at cute pet pictures.

4. Gmail

Years ago, Hotmail was a popular web based e-mail. I had an account with Hotmail and also Yahoo. I tried various different e-mail providers after that. Then, Gmail came. Like most people, we love the fact that the storage size was so much bigger than anything offered. So I signed up. I have never looked back since as a single Google Login ID has given me so much access to the full suite of Google services.

I am also actively using my Gmail account. I keep a clean house and delete mails that I don’t need anymore but I never have an issue with storage space on the amount of e-mails and attachments that I keep on that account. In fact, I have several more e-mail accounts with Google for different uses. They are simply reliable and I can attach large files and access them anywhere. I simply love my Gmail.

I also sync all my contacts to my Google Contacts which I can access from my Gmail. This is very handy, in case; 1) My Outlook or my laptop (where I keep most of my updated contact info) crashed, or 2) my mobile phone crashed (it’s currently synced across phone, laptop and Google). I have been through painful attempts to retrieve lost phonebook and getting all my friends to send me their phone number and e-mail address again, so now I actually have multiple backup of my address book. I really don’t need to have so many versions as long as my Google version is up to date. This is stored on Google’s server ONLINE. So whatever happens to my offline devices, I can always go back to Google and retrieve my address book and contacts. Excellent and reliable!!!

5. Google Docs

Over the years, they have enhanced Gmail with bigger storage capacity and also larger file attachment support. The other enhancements / extensions are also very useful to me. For example Google Docs. I don’t need to have Microsoft Office running on the computer anymore, really. I can open the MS Office docs using Google Docs. I can edit and share them, too. Simply handy.

6. Google Mobile Sync
Other than just syncing your contacts, you can also sync your Calendar, Notes and Gmail from your mobile phone as well. Google Mobile Sync is a new service recently introduced and supports major smartphones in the market such as Blackberry, iPhone, Nokia, Windows and well as SyncML phones.

If you’re not connected to your Office’s e-mail push, go read up on this service and sync your mail, contacts and calendar with your Google account. This is extremely handy if you don’t already have a backup of your information offline. If you lose your phone or change your phone, all you need to do is setup Google’s Mobile Sync on your new phone and your backup copy on Google is automatically backed up on your new phone. Life-saving, I say!!!

7. Blogger

With my recent venture into the blogging space, I searched around for a good blogging platform before I got started. I spent a lot of time researching and trying different platforms. I finally settled with Google’s Blogger (previously Blogspot.com). I find that it’s so much easier to understand and use, I don’t have to worry about getting my own domain name (although I did eventually) and I don’t have to worry about hosting or technical HTML codes and scripts.

It has a very simple interface for you to manage the look and feel of your blog, post entries without any scripting knowledge and attach pictures and videos on your blog posts, manage comments, etc. Very easy to use indeed for a first time or beginner or newbie bloggers like myself.

The more I researched and learned (through Google-ing <— see how useful their search engine is), the more I learn about new things that I can use and enhance with just one simple Google Login ID.

8. Google Friend Connect

With my Blogger account, I can start to track analytics and enhance my blog with various Google stuff. For example, Google Friend Connect is a service that allows other Google users to follow your blog, comment and be a part of the Blogging / Social Community on Google. I found a lot of like-mind local bloggers here that I now follow and exchange ideas. It has indeed help me in my foray into the blogging space.

9. Picasa Web
Picasa Web was originally an independent online picture storage and sharing site that was also acquired by Google. Again, this all makes sense strategically for Google as an extension to their online services. Every picture I post here on the web are hosted on Picasa.

Additionally, I can also post albums and pictures here to share with my friends (away from Facebook, of course). What I love about what Picasa has done for me is the Picasa software that I downloaded which helps me edit my pictures. I don’t have Adobe Photoshop running on my laptop. Also, I am not that savvy with photo editing anyway to use such an advanced photo editing software. So for a beginner and basic user like myself, Picasa’s photo editing software is just perfect for me. I can do basic cropping, straightening, colour and contrast adjustments, collages, etc all for free. The software also allows you to manage your picture and blog it, add it to Facebook, tag the faces of the people in the picture, add the location, add captions, descriptions and headers and so much more. I’m happy with it.

10. Feedburner
As I want to encourage more people to read my blogs, I have to allow people to subscribe to my blogs and be the first to be alerted when I post a new blog. One way to do this is to enable RSS feeds on my blog. Without getting all tangled into the terms and technical jargon, it’s basically like a newsletter service. You allow readers to subscribe to your blog either via e-mail or RSS. RSS is a form of feed that you can read via an RSS reader or e-mail. More about RSS readers later.

But I use Google Feedburner to manage my RSS feeds. Not only is Feedburner the biggest and most successful RSS feeds management out there, they also provide analytics on your RSS subscribers. Originally an independent provider, they got acquired by Google and it all makes sense, strategically. They let you know how many people subscribed to you, when they subscribe, where they’re from, the most popular pages, etc.

Please subscribe to my feeds by clicking here.

11. Google Reader

Once you have subscribed to an RSS feed, you would need a reader to read them and manage the subscriptions. Like an e-mail service if you subscribe to an e-mail newsletter. I owe my life to Google Reader. This is one of the most used service of mine from Google.

I subscribe to alot of websites out there to keep me updated on what’s going on in the world. From Google News sites to Technology sites to Bloggers (professional ones that I admire) to Entertainment and Celebrity Gossip to pure reading pleasures. I manage all of these subscriptions through one interface on Google Reader. It automatically pulls the latest posts on all these sites and presents them to me via an easy to navigate interface online.

I could almost describe this as the original web version of Twitter before it existed. If you’re an up to date information fanatic like myself, no reason why you’re not using Google Reader to manage all your online news. Also, if you just want to be able to go to one single site to read everything from the websites you normally visit, try Google Reader without having to open multiple windows / tabs to different websites.

12. Google Analytics

Other really useful services that was provided by Google for me to manage by blog is Google Analytics. Mostly made for bigger websites to manage the details of visitors on their site, it has proven so damn useful for a little blogger like me. I get to check all the information about the visitors on my blog such as how many people visited by site on a specific day/time/month, where are these visitors from demographically, how long did they spend on my site, where were they referred from, what is the most popular page on my site, etc. All these information is really important for me to plan the content of my blog.

Because apparently, you readers out there are not providing me enough feedback to me personally. However, if you would like to let me know how you feel about my blog, you can always e-mail me here.

13. Google AdSense
Of course, once you’ve become a rather established blogger, you might want to start placing some advertisements on your blog and make some money. If you get high enough traffic to your blog, you would be able to place some banners and stuff on your blog that is related to your blog content / topic where your visitors can click to. You make money for that – cos you’ve just become a publisher!!! There are lots of blog advertising providers out there, but Google offers one for you, too.

Since Google is so established with their Search Advertising, they offer this to anyone with an online presence. This is where Google AdSense comes in. You can allow Google to include banner or text advertising on your blog. Just a few scripts to include (they provide you step by step guide on how to setup) and you’re on yoru way to making money online. Although no guarantees, but at least you have the possibility of making money online?

There might be a lot more extensions and enhancements that I can use from Google to enhance my blog here, as I am still a beginner at this and I am discovering new things online everyday. Also, Google never fails to fascinate me with their innovation. Drop me a comment if you know how Google can help me improve my blog, let me know.

14. YouTube

When I started blogging, I also decided to create myself a YouTube account and start vlogging as well. I have been watching several succesful vloggers on YouTube and told myself, “Hey, I can do that, too. It should be fun!” Of course I want to be successful with millions of hits on my YouTube videos, but mostly, like blogging, I’m doing it because it’s an outlet for me and I enjoy engaging people online from all corners of the world.

I have several videos up on YouTube and if you haven’t seen any of my stuff, click here or here. Because I am a newbie at this, I would appreciate very much if you would comment, rate and subscribe to my videos on YouTube.

What a lot of non-techies need to understand is that YouTube is not complicated at all. All you need to do is signup for a YouTube account with your Google ID and you’re immediately able to comment, rate and subscribe like a standard YouTuber.

So go ahead and visit my YouTube channel and comment, rate and subscribe with your Google account as your login ID.

If you want to post videos on your own, all you need to do is shoot a video. There’s really no major restrictions here other than porn or content that doesn’t belong to you (like music videos or TV shows). You can post a video of your pet doing funny things, yourself talking to the camera and simply ranting, a birthday video, an event you attended, anything at all that you want to share, really. If you want to become a vlogger (like my attempt) you would need extra skills of video editing (this is again optional if you can’t be bothered) and just click the “Upload” button on YouTube, select your file, fill in the descriptions and DONE!

It is really very easy. Come on, if you can do Facebook, this is a piece of cake!

Of course, if you want to customise the look and feel of your channel and do more, there are more options. YouTube has a good FAQ and help section that helps you with everything. If you need more help and explanation, I am also always here to help. Post your questions and comments here, if you wish. Nevertheless, it is not a pre-requisite to make your YouTube channel super high tech and filled with features. You can just start of as a standard YouTubers who only wish to watch and comment on other people’s videos, that is fine.

15. Google Labs
If you’re a tech enthusiast like me, you’re always on nirvana with new innovations on technology. One of the few sites that I frequent is Google Labs. Here lists all the new experiments from Google team of engineers. Some of these experiments graduate to become live products and services, while some still remains experimental until they can develop it into a useful tool.

In conclusion, there are so many Google services out there that I depend on for my online behaviour everyday. Technology is so amazing that we often wonder how we lived life before these all came along.

Also, there are a tonne of other Google service that I have yet to try or have tried but have not explored fully. For example, Google Wave, Google Navigation (turn by turn navigation on Google Maps and Streetview), Android operating system on Mobile phones, Google Goggles, Google Books and Google Music, etc. I made a mental note to myself to thoroughly give these services a try and write about it next time.

So my question for you is this:-

  • What is your most used Google service and why do you love them?
  • If there’s a Google service that you’re using and loved that you think I should try, let me know.
PS. I want to point out that I am not paid by Google for this and this blog post is not an advertorial. I just admire Google for it’s innovation. By no means am I saying that they are the best in everything that they offer, I just wanted to introduce to some of you of the services by Google that I use and enjoy using. I could be wrong in some instances or there are much better / easier services out there. Which I would need your help to point them out to me on the comment section.

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