Google continues to offer new features and products that can be of use to genealogists.
Among the most interesting recent releases is the ability to dial cell phones and land lines from within G-Mail using your computer’s speakers and microphone and Google Voice technology. This allows for free long distance calls, at least through 2011. After this year, Google will determine whether to continue this as a free service, or bill for it.
Here are some other recent releases:
- Google Instant is Google’s attempt to save you keystrokes by providing instant search results while you type. Google pays attention to the results that mean the most to you, and to others typing the characters you are typing and tries to provide a predictive search. The results are uncanny, even spooky. See http://www.google.com/instant/ to run an instant search (or, for more information, see: http://www.google.com/landing/instant/).
- Google Realtime is the company’s attempt to keep people searching at Google, instead of at Bing or Twitter, when they are looking for up-to-the-second news, blog posts, and other breaking news. See http://www.google.com/realtime/ to run a realtime search (or, for more information, see: http://www.google.com/landing/realtime/).
- Google eBookstore is Google’s long-awaited entry into selling electronic books. It is the largest electronic bookstore in existence, with 3 million titles. Books purchased or downloaded for free from the Google eBookstore can be read in Google’s free reading software, on the web, or for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Sony, and Nook readers. There are many titles of genealogical interest that are in the public domain and available for free from this store. See: http://books.google.com/ebooks for the store, and the http://booksearch.blogspot.com/2010/12/discover-more-than-3-million-google.html for the Google blog entry on the ebookstore.
- Google Ngram Viewer. This is perhaps the most interesting research tool Google has released in a long time. I just mentioned that they have 3 million titles in their electronic bookstore. This is actually only one fifth of the titles that they have scanned. All of those 15 million scanned books have been run through advanced optical character recognition (not perfect, mind you, but pretty good). Two scholars at Google have taken 500 million words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish and provided both the raw dataset of phrases and how often they have been used on a yearly basis, and a tool for novices to run these kinds of search. See http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/ for the search tool, and http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/info and http://booksearch.blogspot.com/2010/12/find-out-whats-in-word-or-five-with.html for more information. Genealogists can use this to see when words came and went in currency, which can help date letters and other documents.
Google has become quite a behemoth. Loved and hated at the same time for its power, innovation, weird insistence on the mantra “don’t be evil,” while amassing tons of detail about our online activities, the books we read, the things we search for, and so on. Despite all of this, for me, these tools are creating a new access to information that would otherwise be inaccessible. It’s a net plus.
[Updated 12/25/2010, to correct the extension of Google voice calls from G-Mail through the end of 2011.]