10 useful and innovative Google services you may not know about
By Stu Robarts
June 20, 2014
Everyone is familiar with Google's flagship services, like Search, Gmail and Maps. Even blue-sky projects like its internet balloon and self-driving cars are well-known. But there are plenty of remarkable Google services that many people just don't know about. Here, Gizmag looks at 10 of them.
Everyone knows that you can find your way around using Google Maps. Fewer realize that Google can also you show you around Mars. Google Mars is a collaboration with NASA researchers at Arizona State University and can show visitors relief, visible and infrared views of the Red Planet. Those who prefer a view of the planet in 3D format can use Mars in Google Earth, in which images of the planet taken only hours ago can also be viewed.
Google Body is now actually Zygote Body, but we're not going to let that get in the way of an interesting article. The software was built by Google and was open-sourced in 2012. Zygote, which provided the imagery for the original Google Body, used the software to build its own version.
Zygote Body provides 3D human models around which users can scroll and zoom. The body can be virtually explored layer by layer or by focusing on certain body parts, such as bones organs or nerves.
Google Person Finder
Google Person Finder was created as a means of enabling people to reconnect with friends and family after natural and humanitarian crises. It was developed following the the attack on the World Trade Center buildings in 2001 and is part of Google's wider Crisis Response arm. Person Finder has been deployed for use a number of times, including in response to Typhoon Yolanda, the Boston Marathon Explosions, the 2013 Uttarakhand floods and Tropical Cyclone Phailin.
Google Cultural Institute
For lovers of art and culture, the Google Cultural Institute provides a wealth of "exhibits and collections from museums and archives all around the world," into which you can delve. As part of its mission to organize the world’s information, Google partnered with hundreds of institutions with a view to hosting the world’s "cultural treasures" online. The Institute aims to preserve the world's cultural creations and make them accessible online now and for future generations.
While it may not be the most sophisticated of Google's creations, the interactive visualization that is Google's Music Timeline is still hugely compelling. The graph shows the popularity of music genres relative to each other since 1950. Users can click on genres to drill-down into sub-genre and can click on sub-genres to drill-down further still to significant artists. Hovering over the visualization will map influential albums onto the timeline by year. And of course clicking on an album will take users through to the Google Play store, where they can buy it (how thoughtful of you, Google).
The Music Timeline is part of Google's Big Picture Group, a research group that "explores how information visualization can make complex data accessible, useful and even fun."
Waze can't strictly be chalked up as a Google innovation; the search giant bought the navigation startup last year. Nevertheless, it's now Google-owned and the the concept certainly warrants a mention. Waze is a community-based traffic and navigation app available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Users can passively contribute to generating traffic data by running the app during a journey. It's also possible to share reports on accidents, police speed traps or other hazards. The app can then offer up new routes for a user's journey based on historical and real-time data.
reCAPTCHA is another Google acquisition. You will know it best as the distorted and skewed pieces of text that you are asked to work out on a website to verify that you are human. People may find them annoying, but often are completely unaware of the secret second life that reCAPTCHA puzzles lead.
reCAPTCHA presents the user with two words that could not initially be read by computers – one that has since been verified and one that has not. By correctly typing both words to gain access to a website, a user both verifies that they are human and contributes to verifying the other word. In this way, the puzzles are used to digitize old printed materials such as books. With around 200 million CAPTCHA puzzles being solved around the world every day, it can make a substantial contribution to bringing old, pre-computer texts onto the Web.
Of all the products or services featured in this article, Google Trends is probably the best known. It is also probably the one into that can suck most of your time once you start playing around with it. Trends has a simple premise: it allows users to look at the volume of search traffic for particular terms. Users can browse current trending search terms or input their own and compare them against others. For example, did you know that during 2010 and 2011, more people were searching for information about Lady Gaga than Barack Obama? You do now.
Google Ad Grants
Most people are familiar with Google AdWords. It's the platform that allows individuals and organizations to pay for ads down the side of a Google results page based on the search term. If you're a non-profit organization, however, you need not necessarily pay. Through its Ad Grants service, Google offers non-profit organizations US$10,000 per month in in-kind AdWords advertising, to promote their missions and initiatives.
Our final service featured is aimed purely at helping people to learn new skills from experts in their field. Google Helpouts offers video sessions on topics across a range of categories, such as art and music, computers and electronics, cooking and health. Users can browse the categories or search with specific terms and can offer to give their own Helpout sessions as well.
Do you know of any innovative, thoughtful or just plain fun hidden gems that we forgot? Drop us a line in the comments.