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Beyond Google Search: 6 Useful Services

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We’ve probably all “Googled” ourselves and used Google to find a quick answer, but Eric Geier showcases a few of Google’s other applications that will save time and money and offer a bit of fun.
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As you are probably well aware, Google doesn't just provide a simple search engine — they offer many other online services. Some that you may have used are Google Maps for directions, Gmail for email, and Google Product Search for shopping. However, Google has developed (and acquired) over 100 services, applications, and tools over the years. Though some have seen their final day, there are still loads of current services and products, some of which you probably aren't aware. So, in this article we'll review some of the lesser known products and features Google offers which can still be very useful.

Making a Site Social with Google Friend Connect

Google Friend Connect is for website owners that want to add social networking features to their site. It can help take a mundane, information-only site and turn it into an interactive community driven site. Visitors can sign-in with a universal login, post messages, answer customized quiz questions, participate in polls, and review or rate user-created content — just to name a few options.

All of this is free, and it requires no coding experience. Once you sign-up, you’ll have to upload two files to your website. When adding the gadgets or features, you use the wizard to customize coloring and formatting. Then, the wizard gives you the code to copy and paste into your web page(s).

Enhancing Your Telephone-Experience with Google Voice

Google Voice (formally GrandCentral) is a free add-on service for your mobile and/or landline phones. If you're a big talker, the features can be quite useful. It gives you enhanced calling features like one number for multiple phones, listen in, call screening, online voicemail and transcripts, personalized greetings for different callers, call recording, and conference calling.

Right now Google Voice is only open to those who previously had an account at GrandCentral. The service should be opened to the public soon.

Going on a Virtual Car Ride with Street View

Street View is a relativity new feature of Google Maps, and you may have already discovered it. On select roads, it lets you see at the street level, just as if you were really there. Special photographic equipment was used to capture the images so you can zoom, pan, and rotate, providing you with a virtual visit. This is useful when going somewhere new so you can familiarize yourself with the destination and its surroundings. Plus, you can have fun with Street View by visiting national or international landmarks and places.

To use Street View, bring up a map or directions as usual with Google Maps. After you search for a location, the pop-up window pointing to the location on the map may contain a Street View link and thumbnail photo; you can click this if available. Otherwise, you can click and drag the person icon above the zoom control to the desired location. The routes or places that you can view are shown by the blue lines. To exit the Street View feature and return to the normal map, click the x in the upper right corner of the image.

Planning Public Transportation with Google Transit

If you live or visit a city where there’s public transportation, you can use Google Transit to plan your route. Tell it a starting and destination address and the desired leave or arrival time, and it should come back with a plan. It will search the database of participating transit companies and give any available details. For example, it might say walk to bus stop 22 and take bus 103 to stop 10, walk down the street, and then take the subway to the destination.

To use the service, you can go to the Google Transit site; however, it’s also available via Google Maps. On the page where you enter the starting and ending address for directions, choose the By Public Transit option. There you’ll also notice a Walking option which you may find interesting.

Saving Money with Google 411

Google 411 actually isn't an online service; it’s telephone-based. Like traditional 411 service, it’s an automated phone number directory. However, it doesn't cost $2 a pop; it’s free.

Just dial 1-800-GOOG-411from a mobile or landline phone and state the location and place you're looking for. Then you're connected to the place for free.

However, Google 411 isn't useful if you don't remember the number and call the regular 411 instead. So right now, take out your cell phone and save the number.

Texting for Information with Google SMS

If you’re into texting, check out Google SMS. It’s an automated directory and information database. Text a “question” to the service and it will reply with the info. You can get things like local business listings, driving directions, movie showtimes, weather conditions, stock quotes, and dictionary definitions. This might even help you put off getting that expensive data package for your cell; you can get a lot of the same information for free. However, standard text messaging rates apply from your service provider.

To use the service, send text messages to GOOGLE (466453) using their querying terms. Table 1 below shows many examples.

Table 1

Search Feature

Text Example

Local

pizza dayton, ohio

Weather

weather dayton, ohio

Glossary

define word

Sports

score reds

Movies

movies dayton, ohio

Stocks

stock dell

Directions

directions 123 street datyon, oh to 321 ave nashville, tn

Maps

map dayton, oh

Flights

flight delta 6692

Calculator

10 lbs in kg

Help

help local OR help sports

If you want to play around with the service online, check out the Google SMS site. There’s an emulator that lets you get some practice. Type in a query, hit Enter, and the same message you’d receive on your cell shows up.

This is also another tool that can be very handy, but you can easily forget the number when you need it. Though this texting number (GOOGLE) is straightforward, you could save it as a contact to remind yourself just in case you have a memory relapse.

More, More, and More Google

We’ve already discovered a social networking service for our websites, enhanced telephone services, how to go on virtual car rides, and how to quickly find public transportation routes. Plus, we discussed how using 1-800-GOOG-411 can save money and texting to GOOGLE can get us information fast. Before you go, here are even more services you may want to check out:

Google Latitude lets your friends track you via Google Maps,

Google Mobilizer converts regular web pages into mobile-friendly page to use on your cell,

Google Grants gives select non-profit organizations free advertising via AdWords,

Knol lets visitors read and post informational articles,

My favorite, Google TiSP (BETA), offers FREE in-home wireless broadband service.

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