Google expert Philipp Lenssen dishes up the latest news about Google and its features at his daily blog, Google Blogoscoped. Author of the new O'Reilly book, Google Apps Hacks, Lenssen takes some time out of his busy schedule today to share some of his best tips for using Google Apps from Gmail to web search to Google Docs.
Quickly Access Your Unread Gmail
Lifehacker mentioned Gmail Labs' experimental features the day they launched back in June, but I just wanted to mention my favourite experimental feature of them all: a Quick Link to your unread mail. Now first of all, let me say there's several user types in Gmail (as Gmail designer Kevin Fox explained), and if you're the kind of Gmail user who archives mails as soon as they're read, you won't need the following tip. If, however, you let everything flow into your inbox but you don't like to archive read mails, creating an "Unread mail" quick link comes in handy.
To do so, just click on Settings on top and switch to the Labs tab. Check the "Enable" box next to Quick Links. Approve by hitting Save Changes at the bottom. Now search Gmail for
in:inbox is:unread (without the square brackets) and in the Quick Links box appearing to the left side, click Add Quick Link. Enter "Unread" for the title and approve the dialog. Next time you want to see all your unread mails in one go, just click the Unread link to the left!
Get Auto-complete in Your Google Spreadsheet
Are you using Google Spreadsheets as your web-based spreadsheet editor alternative to desktop programs like Excel? If you do, give the "magic" auto-completions a try. To understand what this does, enter "Superman" in the top left cell, and enter "Batman" and "Wonder Woman" in the cells below. Now select all three cells you created. Hold down the Ctrl key, and drag the bottom right corner of the selection downwards over the other cells. Notice something? Your list is now continued with entries like "spider man", "x men", "green lantern". (Admittedly, not all continuations make sense—"star wars"?—but where would be the fun in magic without surprises.)
What's happening here? Well, the Google Labs have a member called Google Sets. (Being from 2002, it's the oldest member still listed in the Labs, too.) This tool
automatically expands a given set of items. Like "Batman" and "Superman", but also anything else that could be thought of as a group. For instance, entering "google" and "yahoo" also shows "altavista", "lycos" and "msn". Entering "tom cruise" and "nicolas cage" yields "brad pitt", "angelina jolie", "johnny depp" and others.
Create Multiple Gmail Addresses
This one's an oldie but goodie. If you're using Gmail, you can append
+something to your name in your email address to better sort incoming mails. For instance, if your name is John Doe and you wanted to separate work mail from family mail, you can use
[email protected] and
[email protected]... and then create a filter in Gmail to differently label incoming mail to these two addresses. Just use the Create a Filter link in Gmail, and enter your customised email in the "To:" field.
On that note, you can also remove the dot in the name of your email—as in
[email protected] — and messages still reach you fine. (On yet another note, is there anybody out there who's actually really named John Doe? He must get an awful lot of spam.)
Ego-Search Your Blog
If you have a blog, you might want to check who talks about the things you post. There are many ways to go about this, and one involves Google Blog Search. Just type the full URL of your blog post in question—say,
http://example.com/archive/102.html—and hit the search button (you can also use the
link: operator preceding your URL, though Google adds that one automatically for you). To the right hand side you can now sort the results by date, and you'll see the latest other blogs linking to yours.
As another interesting way to keep updated on discussions circling around your blog, company or person, you can also use Google News Alerts (for extra usefulness, include spelling errors in alerts you set up—like ["acme inc" OR "amce inc"] ).
Transition from Page Creator to Google Sites
This is more of a warning than a tip... if you're currently using Google Page Creator as a web site creation tool, note that Google on their help page for this service announced they're slowly closing it down! Instead of Google Page Creator, Google say they shifted their focus on the newer Google Sites, and new sign-ups for Page Creator are not accepted anymore. Google says, "If you are currently a Page Creator user, you can continue to use Page Creator and your pages will automatically be transitioned to Google Sites later this year. We are committed to making this transition as smooth and easy as possible, and we will post more details as we get closer to the transition time. You can also manually move your web pages from Page Creator to Google Sites or other service providers at any time."
Get Google Answer-like Service at Uclue
Have you ever had a chance to see the Google Answers service while it was still active? Google shut it down for actual usage a while ago, but while it was live, it was a nice service to ask a paid question and then have a researcher get back with an answer to you (somewhat similar to Yahoo Answers, but in higher quality... if I may say so as an ex-Google Answers Researcher in 2002). However, there's a cool replacement for this service: Uclue. In fact, they have nothing but ex-Google Answers Researchers on board; I'm using that site quite a bit myself.
Find Site-Specific Images
Do you want to get to see only the images of a particular web site? You can, by using Google Image Search in combination with the
site: operator. To see all images Google crawled on Lifehacker, for instance, you'd search Google Images for site:lifehacker.com. This returns around 24,200 images, though as things go, Google will restrict you to look at around the first 1,000 pics. Note that you can combine this search type with other keywords, too—like the keyword "screenshot"—and you can also mix it with other settings from the advanced image search page... like by checking the "faces" box to show faces only (with 108 results for that one on Lifehacker).
Get Translations From the Toolbar
I like my Firefox browser relatively uncluttered but there's one or two features I don't want to miss... like the Google Toolbar's "Translate Page into English" functionality. You can find it as part of the Google Toolbar for Firefox. On any page you're on, you can click the arrow icon next to the translate button, and pick Translate Page into English. The translated page will load in place of the original one after some seconds. Not only is this approach quite quick, it's also useful if you're not sure which source language the page in question is held in (like when you check discussions in other blogs by using tip #2 above).
Find Reusable Content
Do you want to find content on the web you can re-use on your blog, homepage, and other places? The Creative Commons licence comes to the rescue. Creative Commons is an effort to bring a more relaxed copyright system to people in order to better share and re-use content (check out their homepage to see how you can licence your content as Creative Commons).
To search for content using this licence only, skip Google's normal search box and go right to their Advanced Search, as linked from the Google homepage. On that page, expand the part linked as "Date, usage rights ...". Select "free to use or share" or a similar licence in the "Usage rights" field, and enter a keyword on top as usual. Now when you hit the Advanced Search button, you'll note how pages in the results are using the CC license; clicking on the respective licence on a page will let you know what specifically you can do with this content, as there are different CC frameworks available.
What are your favourite Google Apps power tips? Post 'em up in the comments.