In the first two parts of "Its a Google Life" (here and here), I took a look at a couple useful tools Google has provided. These tools include Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Spredsheets among others. In this final part of this series, I’d like to take a look at Google Analytics, Google Earth and one or two other interesting items on the Google menu.
Google Analytics is a tool for web site owners and people who want to know what is going on with their sites:
Google Analytics tells you everything you want to know about how visitors found your site and how they interact with it. You will be able to focus your marketing resources on campaigns and initiatives that deliver ROI and improve your site to convert more visitors.
This is basically a statistics site on steroids. The way it works is you place a piece of code in your site’s code (it doesn’t matter whether your site is a static web site or a blog) and Google Analytics will start monitoring traffic on your site and present it to you in a variety of ways, tailored for your specific needs, whether you are the webmaster, marketer or want an overview of your site’s activities.
As you can see from the image above, Google Analytics can give you a break down of where your visitors are, across the globe, as well which proportion of your site’s traffic that is coming from various sources. You can then drill down into specifics and determine, for example, which search keywords are popular this week as opposed to last week and more. Google Analytics is a valuable tool for your site and is free so head over to the site and sign up.
When Google launched Google Earth (shortly after its purchase of Keyhole, a mapping software company) it was as if the world had been opened up to desktop tourism. Google Earth takes advantage of satellite imagery to show you the world, literally. Below is a satellite image of the aquarium in Port Elizabeth and one of my favourite hotels in South Africa, The Chapman. This image is taken from an eye altitude of 290m.
Now in version 4, Google Earth integrates with Gmail to enable you to send images you capture in Google Earth to friends and family. It also links in with the Google Earth community so you can share interesting views with other Google Earth fanatics.
Google Earth is more than just a cool tourism site. When you enable the views, it will show you local hotels and motels, dining spots, transportation services and more. It moves from being a cool toy to being an advanced mapping and direction finding service. If you want directions from one place to another, it can show you a route using that cool satellite imagery.
More features include being able to look up businesses in an area, view specific locations by address and use free tools like Google Sketch-up to create 3D models and incorporate them into Google Earth. This comes in handy when you want to create 3D models of buildings you find using Google Earth. There is a lot more you can do with Google Earth so head over to the site and see for yourself. One caveat though, you will need some form of fast Internet connection to use this service. The image downloads are pretty big and you need the bandwidth to make the whole experience worthwhile.
Google Apps for Your Domain
I posted about Google Apps for Education last night. Google Apps for Your Domain preceded Google Apps for Education and has the potential to really affect the web hosting business, certainly as far as small hosting services are concerned.
Google Apps for Your Domain ("Google Apps") takes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk and Google Page Creator and loads them on to your own domain for you to use under the umbrella of your brand:
Google Apps for Your Domain lets you offer private-labeled email, IM and calendar tools to all of your users for free*, so they can share ideas and get things done more effectively. You can design and publish your organization’s website, too. It’s all hosted by Google, so there’s no hardware or software for you to install or maintain.
*Organizations accepted by Google during the Google Apps for Your Domain beta period are eligible for free service for their approved beta users even beyond the end of the beta period, as described in the Terms of Service.
The basic idea is that you register a domain and configure it to route mail through Gmail and the website itself to a site you create using Google Page Creator. I haven’t really mentioned Google Page Creator before. Google Page Creator is Google’s web authoring tool. Google gives you 100MB of disk space and the tools to create websites at a personalised domain on Google’s servers. What Google Apps will do is map your site to your own domain, if you choose the option.
Google Apps gives you the option which of the services on offer to make use of. The services you offer will then be made available to users in your organisation as if you installed the equivalent software on your company’s servers for your users’ benefit. Here I am referring to things like group mail and scheduling and company wide instant messaging. Instead of buying software to do that across your network, you could use Google Apps to integrate Google’s own services into your company’s network by giving users email address at your domain. There is a limitation for users of domains in the co.za namespace. It is no longer possible to modify certain settings for these domains and point them to other domains (the CNAME setting) so you still need to host a co.za site on a server somewhere if you would like to use Google Apps for your domain. Check with your friendly tech guy and see if there are any other limitations for co.za domains.
As appealing as it is to have Google provide the communication tools you need to get your business going, there are some people who are wary of Google Apps. Om Malik, a respected tech blogger, was tempted by Google Apps and was dissuaded by privacy concerns and the need to have mail made available in certain ways:
A few weeks ago, GigaOM got an invite for the beta version of what would eventually become Google Apps for Your Domain 1offering. It seems like such a great idea for early stage companies like ours or small and medium sized businesses. A free email and scheduling package with Googles backing, how could you go wrong. I was pretty excited about signing up, and it was a painless process. All that remained was changing our MX records to point to Googles servers.
At the very last minute, a red flag popped up that made us change our mind: the privacy disclosure2. Of course there was the whole issue of getting email on the go; many on our team wanted to use BlackBerries, while I wanted to use my Nokia E61 with Good (by far the best push mail offering on Symbian), so instead we decided to go the traditional route. Okay, perhaps I was being a bit too paranoid, but given the recent AOL DataGate, it is prudent to be wary of the big guys.
[Update: just to clarify again – the beta invite we got was for Mail and Calendar, and there wasnt called Google Apps for Your Domain.]
While there are certain privacy issues which you need to be mindful of (more the chance that Google could be forced by the US Government to hand over your data for some reason), Google Apps could be a tremendously useful and cost effective tool, especially for small businesses with very limited budgets and to whom the idea of running email and scheduling off Google tools is appealing (I am an example of such a business owner).
So this brings this series to an end. There is a wealth of tools and services available from Google which I haven’t even touched on. To see and play with these other tools, visit Google right here.
As always, please feel free to comment, trackback to these posts and let us know what you think!