by Florence Ion, http://www.maclife.com
Whether you’re sending an email in Gmail, finding directions to that fancy restaurant using Google Maps, or pretending to be a part of the latest microblogging craze with Google Buzz, the G-word is everywhere. Well, it turns out that there is also a whole library of Google web applications and services stacked up behind the everyday services you may have come to take for granted.
Most of the mega company’s services are either full blown web applications readily available to the public, or secretly tucked away behind a door in the Google Labs. However, even those wearing their Public Beta scrubs are readily available to play with. We’ve gone and picked through fifteen Google services you may not have heard of before, but can definitely benefit from. Try them out, and if you have any suggestions of ones we may have missed, leave a note in the comments.
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Patent your invention
Got a crazy robot that does all sorts of cool, crazy robot things? Well, before you start working on the actual mechanical implementation of that idea, mosey on over to Google Patents to make sure your product hasn’t already been invented. This specified search engine sifts through indexed patents registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The search engine uses optical character recognition (OCR) to sift through patents based on words and terms embedded in the image scans.
We took a few minutes to glance at some of the random patents that popped up on the front page. For instance, this apple case for use in preserving apples and this kid-friendly inhaler that looks like a panda. See if you can find any of Apple’s patents.
Let’s get political, political
Yeah, the presidential election meme is totally passé, but voting is an American right and should be utilized to the fullest extent. That’s why Google’s still got the reigns on a nifty service dubbed In Quotes, which displays side-by-side comparisons of noteworthy quotes from major politicians on a variety of hot topics. Type in a search topic or choose a political issue from the drop-down box, then choose your politicians and a year; the generator offers speeches and opinions from a wide selection of politicians, beginning from 2003 to present. There’s also a U.K., India, and Canada edition for international expats.
Quotes are generated automatically, depending on the topic. In Quotes is a great tool for students preparing a paper on a recent politician or political matter, but if you’re looking for anything George Washington-era, get ready to crack open a book.
You’ve got questions? They’ve got the answers
Each question has its own list of topics, while a list of Google’s featured services offer up alternative sites that are a bit more specific, like Take a Tip, Share a Tip–an open forum for users to share their experiences on how to be frugal in all areas of your life.
Google Moderator is a great way to get an objective opinion from the many anonymous internet users trolling the web, or waste a little bit of time without having to get yourself extensively involved in a social network. If you like this web service, check out the most recent addition to the Google family: Aardvark.
Explore the world on foot
Traveling is already an extravagant endeavor. It’s a better idea to pocket the money you’d spend on travel books that will inevitably become outdated by the time you return from vacation, and simply invest some time in Google’s City Tours. City Tours generates a list of important traveling hot spots based on your destination of choice. For example, if you’re on your way to visit Berlin, Germany, type in a starting location (like the address of where you’re staying) and City Tours will map out a route for a walking tour around the area you’re stationed.
Each landmark contains important information, like hours of operation and the address of the location–in case you decide to take a taxi or public transportation. You can also add other areas to your walking tour either manually or from a predetermined list provided by Google Maps.
City Tours still has a few kinks to work out, though it’s gotten better since we used it for last summer’s trip to Lund, Sweden. For instance, walking tours no longer take 53 minutes between each stopping point, and have been significantly cut down to less than 20 minutes. Regardless, we have to keep in mind that most Google Labs applications are a work in progress. And even so, this is one feature we plan on using for all of our future traveling destinations.
See politics in motion
Using YouTube to search for that political speech you’ve been looking for is an extreme pain in the derriere–almost as annoying as rewinding and fast-forwarding a VHS on a VCR (remember those things?). Google’s Audio Indexing simplifies this grueling task by aggregating it all for you in an easy-to-use search engine.
Type in a popular word, like “clean technology” or “California," and Audio Indexing will fetch a comprehensive list of videos with any mention of your search term in the definition. You can also share videos on Facebook, Twitter, et al. or copy and paste the direct link provided for you. Unfortunately, there is no generated embed code available.
This service is great if you’re on the search for visual aids for a presentation in your Political Science class, or just looking to catch up on all those missed hours of C-SPAN.
Learn HTML all over again
For the web coder with frequent bouts of brain freeze, Google’s Code Search is truly a lifesaver. If you’re writing CSS or attempting to bypass Flash with a very concise HTML 5 tag, you can cross reference any line of code by copying and pasting it into the search engine.
Find exactly what you’re looking for
Google Labs’ Similar Images is basically a harder-working version of the search engine’s already massive Image Search. If you’re looking for very specific image, like a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the south end, search for "Golden Gate Bridge", then select the image that most resembles the one you’re looking for. Each click refines your search down to eventually what you’re looking for.
Watch as your image search dances around you
Similar Images may eventually get you the photo you want, but what if the image you’re really looking for can only be sought out using a phonetics algorithm? Image Swirl organizes image search results into groups and sub-groups based on their visual and semantic similarities–kind of like how mind-mapping works.
Type in three search terms and you’ll be amazed at how the internal script behind the engine works to match an image with each of your descriptions. You can select the photo of each individual cluster for closer review, or the images surrounding it. We should note that Image Swirl is the newest addition to the Beta family, and is greatly limited in its search capabilities.
Peruse news on the web a dozen pages at a time
If you’re always on the go and out of the loop, a visit to Google’s Fast Flip should do the trick. It does exactly as it advertises: view screenshots of the most important news outlets on the web all at once. Or for a more refined selection of news based on topic, type in a search term and Fast Flip will retrieve a number of the most relevant sources from a predefined list of sources. You can also cycle through the news based on the most popular, recent, viewed and recommended headlines around the internet, or categorize the news by section and most discussed topics. There’s also a mobile version for iPhone users.
Refine your bibliography
Writing a term paper is already a grueling task, so why make it more difficult by trolling the Internet for unreliable sources? Google’s got you covered with Scholar, which searches the works of academic scholars who have chosen to openly share their published writings online.
Of course, as with all academic and published works, don’t forget to cite what you use!
Find the best deals
You may remember it as Froogle, but Google Product Search has since evolved into something quite extraordinary, even if it is still in beta. Type in a product query, and this search engine will return a list of sites offering the product of your choice, at the price of your choice. Perhaps the best thing about Product Search is that it makes absolutely no commission off of what you buy, so you can rest assured it’s just a clean, simple search engine for the best deals on the web.
Discover what’s trending on the web
No, we’re not talking about Twitter. Google Trends is like the popularity gauge for the Internet. For example, if you’re curious to see how certain car companies fare against each other in terms of search frequency, type in two search terms separated by commas and Google will retrieve a graph detailing the statistical difference between the two search terms. The graph also shows regions, cities, and languages with which the search term is most popular, and the recent stories that picked up the most traffic from Google.
Trace the genealogy of your friendships
The service borrows its photos and user accounts from Orkut, so you’ll have to have an active account to use this service. Choose a friend who’s also on the social networking service and People Hopper will return with the facial breakdown between you and your comrade–and a bunch of other people floating around the web. The quality of the path between faces depends on how closely the two photos match. Even if it’s not a true-to-form match, it’s interesting to see as each photo descends from the primary match and morphs into another user. Plus, it’s a great way to meet new people, or find that long lost brother of yours.
Honestly, People Hopper is a little creepy, but incredibly enticing all at the same time. If you want to opt out of being a part of Google’s under-the-radar anthropological experiments, follow these instructions.
Meet some new people
Orkut is a free-access social networking service designed to help you quell your Facebook addition. The service is incredibly popular in India and Brazil, but severely lagging behind Myspace and Facebook in the United States. If you use the service with People Hopper, maybe you’ll run into someone who looks like you in India and Brazil. You never know.