Fun With Google Voice

To celebrate my class as Solo Practice University this week on Google Calendar and Tasks, I am going to highlight an upcoming class’ subject – Google Voice, and mention some of its great features. Remember when Google Voice was brand new and everyone got very excited about being able to call for free from their computer or port calls through or to their various phones? It’s now just over three years old and has matured into a very awesome tool for organizing your telephone activity.

 

Google Voice started life as GrandCentral, which Google snapped up to serve as the telephony part of the Google applications suite. The app launched on March 11, 2009, initially as invitation only, and now available to all Gmail subscribers. You access Google Voice via the web, and Android device or an iOS app. Google Voice provides free PC-to-Phone calling and PC-to-PC voice and video calling worldwide between users of the Google Voice and Video Chat browser plugin, and very reasonably priced calling via other means.

 

Sure, you can place calls, or route them from any phone to your Google Voice number. You can get audio voicemail and transcripts of those messages, configure personalized greetings by number, conference calling, and even port your mobile number over to Google Voice. But there are some lesser known cool features that are worth a mention too. Maybe it’s time to take another look at Google Voice.

 

You can blog by Google Voice or set up a Google Voice voicemail button on your blog to literally hear from readers. You can listen to your voicemails while they are happening – sort of like eavesdropping on your messages. Use it for free text messaging.  Share voicemails with others by emailing them the audio. Record your phone calls. Listen to Google Voice voicemails while still in Gmail. And, more recently added, organize your Google Voice experience by using your Circles from Google+ – have one set of routing instructions and greetings for one circle and a different set for another circle.

 

Just a few of the different things you can do with this great standout telephone product! If you want to learn how, then check into my upcoming classes at the Everything Google course at Solo Practice University. And happy calling!

 

Infographic: Compare User Demographics of Popular Social Networks

Haven’t posted an infographic for a while. Here’s one for you that is informative AND great to look at. Found this over at The Blog Herald.

The Viability of the Chromebook

 

I admit it. I have been interested in Chromebooks since they were first introduced over a year ago. I can’t help it – they have buttons and a screen, don’t they? When I first visited them, I wasn’t really moved by the specs or the reported performance. But, oh, what a difference a year brings.

 

Year two brings some new Chrome-puter offerings. Google has been working hard over the past year to improve its browser-based OS. This shows. And Samsung, the manufacturer of Google’s computing brainchild, has just introduced a couple of new Chrome-powered devices that step up the hardware. The Chromebook laptop and the Chromebox desktop. Both hover around the size of an iPad. Both run the Chrome operating system. And both offer worthy, reasonably priced options for all but the most hardcore geeks and power-users. Versions of the computer range from mid $300s for the desktop model to mid $400s and $500s for the wifi only and 3G laptop models.

 

Like booting your computer up in 7 seconds? The Chrome-puters have your back. The new OS is faster, able to work with Microsoft Office documents natively and offers viable multitasking. Another great reason to consider the Chrome-puters is the ability to sync your Chrome browser settings across devices – simply log in to the Chrome browser on your Chromebook and elsewhere and you will have the same exact experience.

 

There is no doubt that the Chrome-puters will be a great fit for heavy users of Google’s various applications. And don’t mind the browser-based apps – many of them look and perform just like local apps and often include off-line modes. There are apps for most any purpose – check the Chrome Store if you doubt it.

 

Bottom line: Chrome OS has always been easy to use, but the hardware deficiencies and glitches kept me initially at a distance. The newest offerings are starting to look very interesting. At least for a second, more portable computer than your bulky laptop. Especially if you love some Google. Yes, I’d say the Chrome-puters are getting viable. You can check them out online, or at select Best Buy stores in the U.S. Check out the official Google video below:

 

More Appealing Conference Calls With Uberconference

 

If you are the inventor of Google Voice, what exactly do you do for an encore? Well, fix the marginally tolerable conference call process, of course. Craig Walker of GrandCentral which morphed into Google Voice and now of Firespotter Labs has a very nice solution to some of the irksome issues surrounding the traditional multi-party teleconference. Uberconference allows fast and easy entrance to conference calls, with nice management tools to substantially smooth the process.

 
Gone are the PINs and the question marks as to who is on or off the call at any given moment. Gone is the annoying noise in the background. When you are invited to an Uberconference, you get an email with a call in number and a text message. When you call that number from your identified phone number, you are automatically authenticated.  Or you can choose to have the conference call you once it starts. Furthermore, you can see a visual dashboard on your computer sceren which identifies the speaker and even serves personal background information culled from public social media profiles. The app also allows the organizer to identify the noisy participant and mute the line.

 

It’s also free, but you may have to wait after submitting your email and requesting an invitation. U.S. only right now, and iPhone and iPad apps are on the way (presumably Android too since Firespotter Labs is a Google Incubator project). There also will be a premium service and it appears the added features may be dial-ins from local numbers, the ability to make outbound calls, capacity for larger conference groups, the ability to pay for a number, larger conference sizes and maybe transcription.

 

Did I mention it’s free? Have you looked at what ATT or Verizon charge for their crappy service? Are you interested? I thought so.

 

Knowledge Graph: Google's New Search +Your Mind

They say that knowledge is power, and rightly so, particularly in the Digital Information Age (my term, FWIW). Access to information is important, but being able to leverage via machines the extra step that links the pure data to contextual relevancy is the current Holy Grail of Search. Pioneers in the digital knowledge game like Wolfram Alpha and Siri have been making extraordinary inroads in pairing correct answers to natural language questions. Semantic search – the ability to parse contextual meaning from a search inquiry by making connections across data sets – is the key to the next step in the evolution of search.

So, where is Google, the de facto King of Keyword Search, in all of this? Well, as of yesterday, right in the thick of it apparently. Google has introduced a major new refinement of its venerable Search Product called Knowledge Graph. Knowledge Graph appears to be a matrix of contextual connection behind the pure search terms that assist Google in showing results that make sense, as well as direct answers to queries right on the search results page. Instant results will highlight the answer Google believes you intended to find, as well as other possible answers to your question that make sense based on context – the connections between data points. The example from Google’s blog post debuting Knowledge Graph is the phrase “Taj Mahal”, which could be a monument, a Grammy award winning singer, a casino or the Indian restaurant down the street. Before, Google’s search would simply turn to its vast store of crawled data to find sites where the words “Taj” and “Mahal” appeared near each other, putting the sites that had the most clicks for those keywords at the top of the list. With Knowledge Graph, Google takes the next logical step by “guessing” the meaning you intend when you type “Taj Mahal” and presumptively returning relevant results. Pretty freaking cool.

To make this happen, Google is leveraging content stored in trusted sites, such as Wikipedia, Freebase, the CIA World Fact Book and other locales. Not unlike Wolfram Alpha, which turns to its own internal knowledge base comprised of data from official public or private websites, and systematic primary sources.

There are three main features of the new Knowledge Graph.  First, searchers will see different collections of results accessible via one click – click over instantly and tell Google which segment you are interested in researching. New summary info provides information on people, places and things right on the search page, obviating the need to click through to Wikipedia – good for quick bits of information, leaving you free to click through to get more detail if you need. Finally, Knowledge Graph takes it all one step further by providing the second tier information that users tend to look for after making their initial search. Google apparently is able to map those secondary searches and make the information easier to tap into, collapsing first and second searches down and improving search efficiencies. Google also shows other searches that people commonly made when searching for the same information. Google has accomplished the corralling of data in such a way that it can parse likely intent and direct searchers along the search path in a reliable fashion.

Is this all good? Well, not quite and definitely not for power searchers. Yet. Google’s new toy will work best with people, places and things and mostly likely with well-known people, places and things. More arcane and obscure information likely hasn’t been properly mapped yet, particularly since it appears Google’s tool depends on what lots of other searchers tend to do. Which raises an additional question regarding what lots of other searchers tend to do – if you are not your average searcher looking for not your average information, you might find the Knowledge Graph more hindrance than help at this point. However, I wholeheartedly applaud Google’s efforts (as well as Bing’s similar effort released earlier). There is definitely a place for instant, contextually-relevant results in everyone’s search plan. My sense is that it will REALLY get interesting when contextual, semantic search can delve the deeper recesses of data and make finer connections. Like the connections our billions of neurons make when we cogitate on a problem or try to recall key information. I can hear Majel Barrett’s voice now. Is the age of Artificial Intelligence upon us? Maybe. Just maybe.

 

Google's New e-Discovery App – Vault

Leaving no part of the business software suite untouched, Google has recently introduced its new e-Discovery product within its Apps for Business offerings. Called Vault, it serves to automatically store and save emails and chat sessions of users within a Google Apps ecosystem. Like any good e-Discovery product, Vault allows you to easily preserve, retain and retrieve information that may be needed in the course of litigation.

Vault is, like most Google offerings, cloud-based and quite easy to deploy according to reviewers. It is instant on and provides access to all  Gmail and on-the-record chats. It’s a bit different – instead of making copies of the tracked content and storing them in a separate storage locale, Vault merely changes how users “see” their content – when an end user “deletes” emails and IM sessions, they are removed from the user-interface view but retained on the Google Apps servers.

 

 

Vault costs $5 per user per month, on top of the $50 per user per year, $5 per user per month Google Apps fee. While it certainly isn’t “free”, like many Google products, the price is doable from a small business perspective.

 

Vault is not the only Google product that can be used for e-document preservation and retrieval – Google Message Discovery is already available and being used by Apps users, at a cost of $33 per user per year. Message Discovery operates more like a traditional e-discovery solution – with copies of docs stored in a separate section of the server. Google advises that the differences between Vault and Message Discovery include:

 

(1) Google Apps Vault is built natively in Google Apps and provides a true manage-in-place capability

(2) Vault can archive on-the-record chat messages

(3) Vault plans to support additional data types in the future (stay tuned for more information). GMD only supports email.

(4) There is no time limit on retention. GMD has a maximum retention period of 10 years

(5) Easy set-up through the Apps CPanel. GMD has a separate, non-integrated user interface

(6) Vault supports archiving email and on-the-record chat messages in all languages that Google Apps supports. GMD does not support as many languages, particularly double-byte languages.

(7) Vault can leverage existing migration tools for Gmail which gives customers more flexibility and can lower costs.

(8) Vault can be deployed “on-demand” and immediately begin applying information governance policies to the data that exists in your domain’s Gmail inboxes (legacy and newly created data). GMD starts capturing messages from the time that it is deployed and requires Historic Message Journaling to load historical email into the GMD archive.

 

At release, Vault is available to new Apps customers only. Google assures that it will be available to existing Apps customers in the future, with automated data migration for Message Discovery users. Google likely will expand Vault to other Google products as well, such as the Google Talk client and perhaps even Google voice transcripts.

 

Google has released the video below outlining it’s Vault product. Take a peek:

 

Gmelius Makes Gmail Better

Hardcore Gmail users will love this – Gmelius is a cross-browser extension that offers lots of options for customizing and  improving your Gmail experience. First and foremost: Gmelius will allow you to excise the ads that show at the top of your inbox! Right now, it appears Gmelius has extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera – hopefully they will come to the aid of some  of those other browsers  soon.

 

Some of the other great features that are selectable within the extension include the ability to make the header auto-expandable, remove the People Widget, customize the navigation icons, add a row highlight, clear formatting from incoming emails to make them look-alike, add attachment icons for different types of docs such as Word or Powerpoint, disable the “consider including” box if you don’t want Gmail to suggest recipients to you, make the Google logo clickable (but watch out when you have multiple sign in’s activated), auto scroll to the top of your inbox when you click the black bar, and move email labels to the right in the inbox. In total, Gmelius is all about creating more space in the interface so that it becomes easier to work with your Gmail, definitely a good thing.

 

 

 

Gmelius insists that it will never access, read, store, alter or transmit your personal data. Gmelius code meets the latest Content Security Policy (CSP) recommendations, making sure its users can keep browsing the Web safely.

 

Gmelius is constantly updating the extension, with new features in settings shown with a “new” tag. Plus they appear committed to cleaning up bugs as quickly as possible.

 

 

The extension is free, but the developers ask for a donation. With the advent of Google Drive and an increase in storage size in your Gmail from 7 to 10 GB to celebrate, Gmelius offers yet another good reason to move your emailing activity to the Gmail cloud. Hope you enjoy this great new extension as much as I do.

CloudMagic Offers Lightning Fast Search on Android

Finding the needle in your content haystack can be a troublesome affair. I have thousands of old messages in my Gmail, over 11,000 tweets, and lots of other stuff that I have collected over the past few years and have shoved into the virtual shoebox at the back of the closet. The difference between efficiency and wandering aimlessly often comes down to how fast you can retrieve that bit of information you need for a particular matter at a particular time. That is where CloudMagic comes in.

CloudMagic is an Android (and iOS) application that indexes your Google and Twitter content and can retrieve it for you instantaneously with predictive search suggestions as you type. It retains search history for when you may need to come back to your search. It works with  Gmail correspondence, calendar events, Google Docs documents, contacts, and tweets and sports some very effective filtering tools. It comes in an Android app and browser extensions for on-line, desktop use. And it’s free.

The application reminds me of Greplin on iOS, but falls short in terms of services it can access. However, it is more than a decent start, particularly if you are tied to an Android platform.

Check out the video below to learn more about this great, cross-platform mobile search tool.

Updates to Google Docs Are Spiffy

Yes, I said spiffy. One of the questions most frequently asked of me is how to work on documents across devices and ensure that changes made in one place show up everywhere. There are plenty of different options for reaching this result, but one of my favorites is Google Docs. In its early days, Docs was a super-stripped down word processor that primarily offered the ability to access the document from anywhere. Heavy on the access, light on the processing feature set. But Google has been steadily improving the interface and the tools, making Docs more like a replacement of your local processor, rather than a supplement. And mobile improvements are high on the priority list.

Case in point. Google Docs Blog has just announced a few nice new features specifically designed for Android, including the ability to designate certain files as available for offline access and write-ability and improved view on Android-powered tablets. For files that you’ve selected to make available offline, Docs will automatically update the changes when you enter Wi-Fi. Or manually update when you are in a data connection by simply opening the file. For tablet users, get ready for a high-definition version of your document when viewing online. Swipe left and right to navigate through pages or use the slider at the bottom for quick maneuvering.

Some people are put off by working with their documents on their phones or tablets, but I have found the ability to do so very helpful in certain circumstances. Google Docs and Android users now have even more to love about mobile word processing.

How To Deal With Google Search + Your World

A lot has been going down at Google lately. New collapsed privacy policies, which I am covering in my next class at Solo Practice University, and the roll out of the new Google Search, which adds a + Your World layer to the search giant’s core application – search. What does it all mean? What do I do with this? Big questions, but there are answers to be found and it isn’t as overwhelming and life-changing as one may think when one reads the hue and cries over privacy and search integrity overflowing the tech blogs in the wake of the roll out.

You can read more about the details of Google Search + Your World here. Or check out the video below for an overview.

The essential change is that Search +, as it is being called, will include content added by your friends to your search results when you type in a query. You will also see relevant profiles (Google + profiles, that is) in your results view, and you can expand your social connections with profiles related to your search queries. The assumption, or really the sell, is that content on point generated by your contacts will be of greater relevance, value and presumably veracity than results from the larger, impersonal web. Social results will be marked in your results list with a little blue person, so you can distinguish social or Search + results from general results.

What kinds of content will you see from your friends? Photos, Google + content from your Circles, Google profiles and people and pages related to your topic. So not all of the content being served is directly connected – popular Google social content will also show, which presumably is what traditional SEO companies and advocates are squawking about – it will turn Google relevance on its head. The new mantra is fostering a presence on Google+ in order to improve social search results. Facebook and Twitter won’t help you here – Google is clearly favoring its own content, in part because it can and in part because of impediments to mutually beneficial relationships with Facebook and Twitter. Big business at its best here folks.

Google has been moving in this direction for some time, with its introduction of +1’s across the web improving page ranking and integrating social search back many months ago. It is now giving its own social network, Google +, a leg up in the social search results. And why shouldn’t it? Social search is the next big evolution of search on the web and if Google has readily available relevant social content, they would be “mad” not to include it in their results. And, for all of those users afraid of social polluting their search, you can always toggle off the social search function using the buttons at the upper right corner of the search results screen – or not log into your Google account at all when you search.

So, as a content creator, get yourself on Google + and make the best effort of it. You probably already have a Twitter stream and a Facebook page – get that content moving on Google + too. If that sounds daunting, add some tech wizardry with a cross-posting extension like this one here. If you are a content searcher, then you can toggle social on or off, but consider that you are getting more potentially relevant leads and links with social turned on. Search both to compare results – that one extra step might will put you in a better position than searching one or the other alone.

Google + and social are definitely here to stay. Might as well make the best of it.