After we graduated from high school, my friend Jon and I took our backpacks and traveled around Europe by train. I remember arriving in Paris, taking a bus to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, looking at each other, and saying, "Now what?" A guidebook, a limited budget and a sense of adventure were all that we needed for the summer of our lives. It was a fantastic experience.
In the age of the Internet, Google is my guidebook, and it's not bad on the budget, either, since much of what Google offers is free. Better still, it keeps gratifying my sense of adventure with its steady output of products. Here are six that I recently tried for the first time.
Google AdSense for Feeds.
AdSense allows you to put ads on your Web site and to share in the revenue that Google on their Web sites to highlight their publications for prospective clients. Google generates from the ads when your site visitors click on them. It also combines the feed outsourcing technology of FeedBurner (which Google acquired in 2007) with Google's advertising technology to allow bloggers to put AdSense ads into their blog feeds. Since most blogs are read in feed readers (such as Google Reader) rather than in browsers, it makes sense to put the ads where the eyes are. AdSense searches your site to match ads from Google's AdWords database of advertisers to your site's audience and content. (Go to www.google.com/adsense/login.) It's a great product for bloggers, publishers and advertisers alike-the kind of product that forces everyone to think about the changing nature of content.
Google Book Search.
This product matches the content of books with user searches and allows users to preview pages from the books. If you're an author or publisher, you can sign up to submit your books for inclusion in Google search results (at http://books.google.com) and thereby increase your marketing. Practitioners also can include links like these on their Web sites to highlight their publications for prospective clients.
Another noteworthy search tool, Google Scholar is like Google Books except that it includes scholarly articles. You can add a Google Scholar search box to your own site (see http://scholar.google.com) so your visitors, if they're the learned kind, can find peer-reviewed papers, theses and the like right from your Web pages. (When I tested it, I found 56 articles mentioning my name-including a law review article that I wrote in law school and had completely forgotten about-although I also found various misspellings of "Erik Heels," suggesting that some scholars are more scholarly than others.)
A new Web browser for Windows users, this one is still in beta. Google claims that it provides a "minimal design" and makes the Web "faster, safer and easier," but that wasn't my experience. Supposedly Chrome (www.google.com/chrome) imports all your settings from your existing browser (Firefox, in my case), including saved passwords. But after installing Chrome, the first thing I noticed was that my Yahoo bookmark was missing from the toolbar. Hmm. So I decided to check for my other Yahoo bookmarks, but I couldn't figure out how to browse my bookmarks and I also found there's no apparent way to view them in a sidebar-a significant problem for anyone who, like me, has a large number of bookmarks. Chrome's current user interface is minimal and confusing. There are no text menus, so familiar commands typically found under File, Edit or Help menus are either missing or hard to find. In addition, when I tried my link to Google Reader, I had to enter my username and password manually despite Chrome's claim to have imported my saved passwords. I also didn't see any way to extend Google Chrome-this product, at least for now, is not ready for prime time.
Google News Archives.
By now, most readers will be familiar with Google News and its News Alert service. (If you're not, read the "Hot Buttons" column in the September Law Practice for the full scoop on this great service.) But in addition to today's news, Google has a mother lode of historical news archives in searchable electronic form (at http://news.google.com/archivesearch). Google News archives will even create timelines of archive search results for you. Plus, Google recently announced that to make even more historical content searchable online, it's partnering with newspaper publishers to digitize millions of pages of their old archives. What's old is new again.
Google Image Labeler.
This last one is a mildly addictive diversion. Google Image Labeler ( http://images.google.com) is a game that induces players to describe images in order to improve Google Image Search results. You are arbitrarily paired with an anonymous online partner, and the goal is for you and your partner to come up with matching descriptions for photos within a minute or so. Try it, it's fun! As we age, we have to choose between doing things like we've always done them or trying something new. When Jon and I backpacked across Europe, we tried lots of different things: our first bottles of wine, sleeping on the beach, running to catch a departing train, foreign food. We didn't like everything we tried, but we tried enough stuff to have lasting memories of a lot that was great. Life is an adventure that's meant to be lived. I think that's a good attitude toward Internet tools, too.