Back in May of last year I decided to relinquish the email account I’d been maintaining for more than 10 years and to rely solely on Gmail as my email server of choice. That choice saved me $21.95 per month that I was foolishly spending with an ISP just to keep that email address alive, and with the freed up money from that, I began spending $6.00 less per month for a web hosting plan with Dreamhost, which hosts this blog and a couple of others and which has enough space for many more projects. It was a wise choice that I should have made much earlier.
Over the last year, as Google has added more and more services and improved the ones they had introduced previously, I’ve experimented with them and begun to use them regularly. In this post I’d like to review some of the services that I’ve found to be of value to me and introduce you to them if you haven’t discovered them already. The screen shots below are thumbnails that you can click on to see a larger image as you read my comments about them below.
Since this is going to be a long post, I’ll put the explanation of these various screen shots below the “Read More” break, just to keep the front page of my blog from being overwhelmed by this one post.
Okay. Let’s take these various functions one at a time.
First, Gmail. I’ve spoken about some of the features of it that I like before, here and here. I have 5 different Gmail accounts. Why? Well each of them serves a different purpose. Despite the fact that they offer what seems like unlimited storage, it is possible to run short of storage at some point particularly if you get a lot of mail, so in one sense the other accounts offer backup and redundancy. I use one of them as my primary email server account. That’s the one that is pictured in all of the screen shots. I also use one for things related to this blog. That is the TalktoPerry (at) Gmail account. I have one that I use exclusively with my Linux computer and its email program. And I have one in waiting for when my primary server account threatens to become full. The last one is one that doesn’t reveal anything about me personally (username is something like XYZ1234), so I use it for registrations on throw away services and sites. And for each of these accounts, you can have all of the set of other services that I’ve pictured above. In order to keep one of these accounts active, you have to visit it periodically so that it shows some activity. I believe that you must access each account once every 9 months in order to keep it active.
The next screen shot is for Google Notebook. I’ve just discovered this one this morning, so I am just learning about it. It appears to be a good place to store quick notes, links, and other stuff you run across online. Like almost everything else with Google, you can choose to share it with selected people or publish it for the world at large to see. I can see some potential uses for it, but only using it over time will reveal what those uses are. I know that I would have loved to have had something like Google Notebook when I was in college or even back when I was working full time. Once you’ve made notes in Google Notebook, you can export them over to a document on Google Docs & Spreadsheets, about which I’ll say more later. I clicked around on Google Notebook looking for a help file about it, but I could find none. So it is one of those sites you’ll just have to learn about by experimenting with it.
The next screen shot shows the list of services that I am using when you click on My Accounts from any of the services. This is useful to me primarily as a link to those other services. It’s sort of like a set of bookmarks of my Google services. However, you’ll notice a link on the left side of the page where you can change your password for this account. And changing your password periodically is a good practice for security reasons. (Note to self: I really should do a post sometime about password security and the various applications that you can use to keep track of secure passwords, but until I do you can follow those two links which lead to Google searches on those two topics and read about it for yourself.)
The fourth screen shot on the first line shows my Google Reader account. This online RSS reader has improved considerably since it was first introduced. I have set it as one of my home pages that opens automatically each time I open Firefox. I log in and there I find all the RSS feeds to which I have subscribed. I can review fairly quickly what’s going on at the sites I have chosen to monitor and share those I think are worth sharing in the little widget called “From my RSS feeds” that is over in the sidebar at the right. These are items that I think are worth pointing out, but not ones that I choose to blog about. Having gotten used to using an RSS reader, it’s hard imagine living without one. There are many different RSS readers available so which one you use is a matter of personal preference, but if you haven’t yet done so, I think you would do yourself a service by learning what they are and how much they contribute to the experience of being online. Google’s Reader handles my needs for this nicely.
Moving right along to the second row of screen shots, on the far left you’ll find a screen shot of Google Analytics. If you aren’t running a blog, this one probably won’t be of much interest to you. However, if you are, you might find it helpful as a means of tracking how many visits you are getting and from what referral sources they are coming. You’ll be able to determine the number of returning visitors as well as the new visits and what they were looking at before they came to your site. I don’t obsess all that much about such statistics but I think they are interesting to review periodically. I’m sure I’d be glued to them if I were using Google’s AdSense as a means of trying to earn money by blogging.
The second screen shot on the second row shows my personalized Google page with one of the new themes. In order to personalize the Google page all you have to do is log into one of your Google accounts and begin personalizing away. I like the theme I have chosen because the sky image at the top of it changes throughout the day. At night it shows a dark sky. In the daytime it shows the sun shining, whether the sun is actually shining where you are or not. You can add multiple tabs on these pages and populate them with whatever widgets and links you choose. The basic function of this page at its heart though is the Google search window in the middle of the page. Most of the rest of it is window dressing.
The third screen shot shows Google Docs & Spreadsheets. This is quite a useful service in my opinion because it permits you to create either documents or spreadsheets that you can share as a view-only access to selected people or you can share the document or spreadsheet so that others can collaborate with you on them. Although I have both MS Word and MS Excel on my computer and both of them are more powerful than these services on Docs & Spreadsheets, the ability to collaborate with someone else on the ones online makes them very useful I think. And if you don’t have MS Excel, for instance, on your computer, as for instance my friend Phil does not, then having access to a spreadsheet functionality for free online makes doing mathematical things, like gathering information together for tax purposes so much easier than using a ledger book as Phil is doing currently. The items shown in this screen shot reveal only those “current” items I have there. Other items that haven’t been updated in the last 30 days are still there but out of sight. They can be easily recalled if there is a need to see or modify them.
At last we come to the final screen shot of my Google Calendar. This blog post on Web Worker Daily from March 22nd gives 18 tips on how to enhance your Google Calendar, and it is well worth reading. Like almost everything else that I’ve talked about today, the Calendar can be shared with selected friends or made public for the world to see. Additionally, you can create multiple calendars to contain different kinds of information. For instance, I created a birthdays calendar that you’ll see if you look closely in the screen shot if you look for it. By activating that, the items listed in merge with the other calendars that are visible, essentially integrating the information from one calendar into the others. A calendar can be used for historical information as well as for future information. If you want to document the number of times you went to the movies, what you saw, who you went with, and how much you spent, you could create a movies calendar and then overlay it over your day to day calendar and have all those data together in one place. I like the paradigm that Google has created for their Calendar and it serves my needs very well.
So there you have eight of the services from Google that I use regularly. Some of them are more essential to me than others but all of them are well thought out. It is becoming harder and harder to escape being seduced by all that Google offers and to resist having some of them involved in my life essentially 24/7. I know Google’s owners are probably making a killing off giving away the things they do, but how do you look this particular gift horse in the mouth?
Let me point out that all of these services and more are available to each Google account you have, so if like me you have five Google accounts, you can have five sets of the services I’ve mentioned. Google has changed the online world and they are changing life offline as well by all that they are doing. It is one amazing story to watch unfold.