(Image courtesy of Elwyn Jenkins. © 2003 Verity Intellectual Properties Pty Ltd.)

What is Google, and what do people consider fun about it

Google is more than just the search engine. Even though that alone wouldn't be too bad, either, because it allows us to quickly receive answers from the web to almost any question asked. Today while I'm writing this book, Google consists of dozens of services (google.com/sitemap.html). Some you may have heard of, like Gmail, or Google Maps. Others are more obscure, like Google Base, Google Page Creator, Google Writely or Google X, and even Google experts can have a hard time keeping track.

To understand what people know of Google – and what they think is fun about it – I asked my sister Judith about the different services. Afterwards, I asked UK programmer and Google expert Tony Ruscoe (ruscoe.net/blog/) about these services. Both were urged to take a guess in case they were clueless about the answer. Well, who's right then? I won't judge, but instead will let you read their answers now!

Asking a Google Novice

Judith, what is Google Talk?

Judith: I believe that's a text to speech program to read out things for you.

What is Google Earth?

Judith: I know that one! You can view the whole globe from above. You can zoom close into every country.

What is Picasa?

Judith: That's a fun drawing program to create Picasso-like paintings.

What is Gmail?

Judith: That's an email client.

What are the Google Labs?

Judith: That's a place to propose interesting ideas for Google to add to their products. The suggestions are filtered by Google engineers and finally, they will be implemented.

What is Google Maps?

Judith: I don't have a clue.

What is Google Scholar?

Judith: Google for students, without any adult websites.

What is Google Video?

Judith: That's a search engine, similar to an image search, but for videos instead.

What is Google Images?

Judith: The same like a search engine for words, but with images.

What is Google Answers?

Judith: That's a place where you can ask questions for other people to answer. If the answer is right, those who answered will get money.

What is Google Catalogs?

Judith: You can see pages taken from catalogs, for example when you enter "teddy bear," you will see catalog pages containing teddy bears.

What is Froogle?

Judith: That could be a parody site acting just like Google... no matter what you enter, all you get are results containing images of frogs.

What are Google Alerts?

Judith: That's when Google sees you are searching for illegal material online and you click on one of the result pages. This can have legal consequences.

What is Google Blogger?

Judith: That's a weblog community run by Google.

What is Google Desktop?

Judith: That's like Microsoft Windows but made by Google. E.g. it contains a word processor.

What are Google Groups?

Judith: Those are chat rooms on any conceivable topic. You can login to talk.

What is Google X?

Judith: I have no idea! Well, I suppose it's a kind of Google-related riddle or puzzle game.

What do you think is fun about Google?

Judith: Searching for people. That's nothing particularly special or uncommon, but it satisfies your curiosity about someone you want to know more about.

Asking a Google Expert

Tony, what is Picasa?

Tony: It's a photo management/ organization application. You can download a program that allows you to manipulate your images.

What is Google Talk?

Tony: It's an IM – Instant Messenger – application that allows online conversations and VoIP, Voice over IP.

What is Google Earth?

Tony: It's fantastic! I've told my friends that it's arguably the best thing to appear on the Internet this year! Seriously though, it's a program that allows you view the earth from space. You can zoom in and view certain areas really close up.

What is Google Labs?

Tony: In my view, Google Labs isn't really a service as such. It's simply a name they give to many new releases that don't quite make it to Beta. It often consists of smaller projects that some of the Google Employees create in their 20% time.

What is Google Local?

Tony: It's pretty much like an online service directory, like the Yellow Pages. In fact, Google Local UK uses Yell.com for its results, I think. It's recently been integrated with Google Maps so that it's easier to see where the businesses are located.

What is Google Scholar?

Tony: It's an online search that searches educational papers and theses, things like that.

What is Google Video?

Tony: It's a video search that searches for videos that have been uploaded by the public or by a number of different associations who have agreed to let their content be available for free. I think it only searches the description or transcript that's been provided by the user.

What is Google Answers?

Tony: Google Answers is an "ask the expert" service where you can submit a question, name your price and, hopefully, get an answer from an expert in the field.

What is Froogle?

Tony: It's an online price comparison service to help you with your online shopping.

What are Google Alerts?

Tony: Basically, Google will send you an email whenever something new appears in the Google web results or Google News.

What is Google Desktop?

Tony: Google Desktop started off as a desktop application – Google Desktop Search – that enabled you to search your PC for information. I think it's turned into something much bigger now, where you can add your own bits to it. I've never used it.

What are Google Groups?

Tony: Google Groups encapsulates Usenet groups as well as Usenet-style groups that have been created by Google Account owners. They are basically discussion forums/ mailing-lists.

What was Google X?

Tony: I think it was a service similar to the existing home page that used a Mac OS X style interface. It appeared in Google Labs but then disappeared. Presumably because of legal reasons... but we don't know. I never saw it, but I've seen some copies of it.

What is Google Base?

Tony: Good question. It seems to be everything! It's an online repository where people can upload practically any data that has a structure. It can be used for storing things like recipes, people profiles and classified ads. So you can advertise anything you might have for sale – although there's no way to take payment via Google Base at the moment. In short, it's an online database application.

What is Google Analytics?

Tony: It's a web stats analysis application. You place some JavaScript in your website which then collects data from your visitors using cookies. Google Analytics takes all this data and analyzes it, creating graphs and reports about your visitors' trends.

What is Google Sets?

Tony: It's in Google Labs. I looked at it a long time ago so I've forgotten exactly what it does! I think it's a service that lets you provide several items – up to five, I think – and Google will suggest some more items that are in the same group.

What do you think is fun about Google?

There are a lot of things that make Google fun. It can be used to settle the most basic of arguments. We often use it in the office when we don't believe what someone is saying. We run the risk of being fooled by the "If it appears on Google, it's true!" rule!

Their services are always interesting. Waiting for a new service can be exciting. It gets people talking...

Very often, the services aren't ground-breaking –­­­­­ but the way Google present them is. Take Gmail and Google Maps. These types of services had been around for years, yet all of a sudden you could just sit and play with Google Maps for hours!