Its a Google life … part 1

Given recent events, this post seems appropriate. I have been using several Google apps lately and I thought I would do a post on how you can make use of many Google services and applications in your daily life and business with a fair degree of effectiveness. At the risk of sounding like a complete Google fanboy, Google services and applications can be viable alternatives to equivalents which are installed locally on your computer or on your network.

To start, I must point out that I have not tested every application or service on offer and I probably wouldn’t use some of the applications Google has on offer. Here is a list of what have been using lately (and hence what I am going to discuss):

Believe it or not, there are quite a few more applications and services available than are listed above. I am going to split this list into a few parts and discuss my experiences and thoughts on these various applications and services in this post and the other items in follow up posts in the series titled "Its a Google life".

Gmail is a web-based email application that Google has been running in beta since its launch a couple years ago (for those who don’t know, Google has a tendency to keep its services running in beta for quite a while). I was using Yahoo! Mail when Gmail launched. At the time I paid to increase my mailbox on Yahoo! Mail to 2GB which seemed like a heck of a lot of space for my personal mail. When Gmail launched it offered 1GB, if I remember correctly, and that soon grew to 2GB and beyond. The mailbox sizes grow incrementally and are now sitting at about 2.7GB. Given that Gmail is still in beta, it doesn’t seem possible to simply open an account. To open a Gmail account you either need an invitation from a Gmail user (I have plenty available so mail me if you would one … or 10) or it seems you can open an account by sms, where supported.

The appeal of Gmail, aside from its huge mailbox size, can be found in the integration of Google’s search functionality into Gmail, conversation views and the integration of chat features, to name three features.

When you start filling up all that space with your email you may be excused for thinking that it could prove pretty difficult to locate something, especially considering there are no folders to file your emails away. It would be difficult were it not for Gmail’s pretty advanced search functionality which enables you to search for a mail item using attributes (sender details etc), keywords and tags.

One feature I find extremely helpful is the conversation view that comes standard in Gmail. I subscribe to a couple discussion fora and receive emails constantly, many of which track conversations that take place in those fora. Gmail’s conversation view makes it so much easier to keep track of those conversations as well as the conversations you have when you correspond with people by email. These emails are arranged in chronological order almost like index cards. This makes it really easy to go back into a conversation and follow it through from point to point without opening multiple emails.

Another handy feature is the integration of a chat feature into Gmail directly. This converts Gmail into a communications hub where you can both email and instant message. In practice what happens is you sign into chat and you will be able to see who else in your ‘buddy list’ is online and available to chat. This only really applies to other people who are also logged in on their Gmail page or who are using Google Talk. Although it can be a little unreliable, it is really helpful if, for some reason, you can’t download and install Google Talk on your computer.

Google Talk is Google’s answer to instant message clients like Yahoo! Messenger and Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) and perhaps even to VOIP clients like Skype.

The interface is pretty straighforward and, like many Google products, uncluttered. Google Talk runs on the more open Jabber platform and is free. It can be used to exchange instant messages, transfer files and for voice chat. It ties in with Gmail and notifies you when you receive mail. It is also in beta and at the same time is an excellent product that rounds off the Google experience.

Google Reader
On the topic of messages and communications, Google Reader is worth a look. Recently revamped, Google Reader is a feed aggregation application that has been favourably compared to Bloglines and even the famed NetNewsWire (a wildly popular Mac OS feed reader).

The updated version of Google Reader is pretty quick and easy to navigate (although I found it a little slow using an old Celeron PC on a 512kbps ADSL line). It is also really easy to import your opml subscriptions from your existing feed reader and sort your feeds into folders.

But wait, there’s more. With Google Reader, you can also share your feeds with others and even mark those special posts you may want to store or just folow up on using stars. Take a look at the official Google Reader blog for updates as the service develops or, better yet, subscribe to the feed!

In my next post in this series, I’ll take a look at the new beta version of Google Groups, Google Calendar and more so watch this space and have a Google day!

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