New Google Offerings

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.]

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