Monday, May 07, 2007

Google hits the mark once again

I'm a devoted skeptic. And in the land of skeptics, Google is an easy target. Google defies all logic, all business sense, anything you could possibly believe to be a success. Other companies have tried and failed at creating a truly free-to-the-end-user service supported entirely by advertisers, but somehow Google has succeeded. Not only succeeded, they have blown the market apart. This is a multi-billion dollar company, funded by the advertisers (and a healthy endorsement by Wall Street investors), that founded the simple principle "do one thing, and do it better than anyone else." They hire the brightest minds in computer science (though given their rapid growth these days, I can only assume the bar is slightly falling as a result), who create amazing products, that cost the general user absolutely nothing. And those I know who work there have (usually) nothing but good things to say, though seem to work far more than I would care to on a given day. But despite all of this, they have moved from simple web searching to an armada of services, all of which have that same principle "do it better than anyone else". And with the latest services I've started using, they've done it once again.

Web Search - Still the best out there to find what you're looking for. "Just Google it!"

Gmail - The push to take e-mail from the desktop to the web started with the likes of Hotmail and Yahoo. But Google found the deficiencies in those (not enough space for mail, not as many features as available in desktop clients, etc.) and rose to the challenge. Now it's as fully-featured as most other non-web e-mail applications out there, gives you as much space as you should reasonably need, and is accessible from anywhere in the world. Your one-stop shop for e-mail. You really get the impression that the people who design Gmail are actual users who use the thing, and have built the features that they want to see. I transitioned to using Gmail for my personal e-mail over a year ago, and wouldn't go back.

Google Maps - MapQuest started the trend, and once again Google made it better. They harnessed the power of modern web browsers as no other mapping service had before, and just made it work the way you'd expect it to. Nothing's perfect, obviously, but 99% of the time you get where you need to go.

Google Calendar - Take the gold standard of the Microsoft Outlook calendar, and put it on the web, make it sharable, and accessible from anywhere. I just migrated my calendar over to Google this past weekend, after the frustration of being at work and not being able to check my calendar at home. Now it's all in one place, and I can see other people's calendars (who have chosen to share them with me) without having to ask them "are you free on Wednesdsay night?" This is a young product, and they definitely have some work to do before it really purrs... but it's a step in the right direction and I'm sure they're plenty receptive to enhancement suggestions from those early-adopters currently using it.

And finally...

iGoogle - Throw the old minimalistic Google search box out the door. OK, wait, don't throw it out completely. There's still a place for that. Enter iGoogle, your one-stop custom home page for everything you need. It takes all of your Google and non-Google services and combines them into one easily-customizable home page that takes the place of the classic Google search page. (Don't worry, the Google search box is still front-and-center at the top of the page.) You can add literally any blog to your page (may I recommend this one? :)), or many other useful little widgets. Truth be told, I haven't really road-tested iGoogle, and may have complaints that make me switch back to the classic quick-loading favorite. But it's something to try for a while.

To be completely fair, even Google makes mistakes... and some of the projects that come out of Google Labs (their playground for new and in-development projects) range from total disasters to downright ridiculous ideas. But I guess ideas have to come from somewhere, and sometimes you have to have a dozen bad ideas before you find one winner. I'm interested to see what else Google comes up with... though have to admit my skepticism tells me as soon as the revenue from advertisers stops coming in, someone's going to have to pick up the slack and what's free now may not be free forever. I hope this is never the case. I just know my experience is that I see the advertisers everywhere on Google products, but am I ever clicking those links? Rarely if ever. Hopefully I'm in the minority, or else these advertisers may get the clue and decide they do just as well without Google's help.

1 comment:

bdleaf said...

Google Transit is also pretty interesting if you haven't checked it out already. My project group used Google docs to complete one of our assignments too.