Google

Google dominates the UK search marketplace, delivering more than 90% of all search results, and it rates as one of the busiest Internet sites in the world.

But Google is much more than just a search engine. If also offers a range of office productivity tools which can make your information management more efficient, improve your business processes, and save your business money. From YouTube to Patent Searches, Picasa to Gmail, Google offers well more than 50 different services in addition to its familiar search engine.

Underpinning all of these services is a free, personal Google account. Your account acts as a single gateway to your subscribed Google services. This single point of access raises issues, however, in the view of human rights watchdog Privacy International, who rank Google at the very bottom of their Privacy Rankings of Internet Service Companies. Access to the services mentioned in this article requires you to have a Google account, but first you might want to read about the privacy implications

Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a free tool which will notify you anytime your personal name, your company name, your competitors, or a key phrase of your choosing gets mentioned on the web. It tracks your professional interests on the web, and then emails you of changes that you need to know about. Your Google Alerts are easily configured to send weekly email summary on a range of searches:

* Your personal name, or your company name, to see what people are saying about you, and to monitor your online reputation. Just put your name into the Alerts box surrounded by inverted commas, eg “Susan Hallam”, and Google will automatically alert you whenever there is a new mention of your name on the web.

* Create an alert on the names of your competitors to keep an eye on the their activities and the coverage they’re receiving. This is a free competitive intelligence tool that could help you to keep track of developments relating to their firm

* Use Google Alerts to stay informed of your key clients’ developments.

* And of course, you can use keywords describing your interests or professional responsibilities

You can limit your search to certain types of information on the web, such as blog articles, news articles, or web pages. I would recommend you choose Comprehensive search meaning all of the above.

And finally, choose the frequency with which you want to receive updates, whether once a day, as it happens, or once a week.

iGoogle

iGoogle is your personal Internet desktop, providing instant access to the information and websites you use frequently.

You define what goes on your desktop, and can include:

* Gadgets, such as driving mapping tools, weather forecasts, currency converters, the Tube map

* News feeds from the web, such as Law News from the Times Online, BBC News, or hundreds of other news services

* A convenient place to organise your reading on the web, including Blog and podcast feeds pertinent to your business interests

Google Apps

Google Apps is a head-on competitor with the Microsoft Office suite. Known as “software as a service.” Google Apps comprises a word processor, spreadsheet, calendar, email and other software tools that run on the Internet.

More importantly, Google provides a free private network within the Internet, with no need for technical resource to manage hardware of software. Known as an “extranet”, users can have access to their documents, email, instant messaging and other information from any device that has an Internet connection.

Here’s a screenshot of Google Apps in action:

Google Docs is a word processor that is fully compatible with the Microsoft version. I can work on the document on my own computer, and then put a copy onto the company extranet to be shared with my colleagues.

That means for employees who want to work at home, they can access their documents securely in their firm?s private Google environment accessed over the Internet. As amendments are made to documents, the revised version is saved for other colleagues to collaborate or make contributions. In much the same way, calendars, videos, spreadsheets can all be accessed and shared via the Internet.

Firms could also use Google Sites to create secure areas for clients, making client information and reports available. The information is hosted securely using your own domain name, and the branding and layout can reflect your own firm’s requirements.

Organisations like the Telegraph Media Group are moving away from Microsoft in favour of Google Apps. Their decision was influenced not only by cost, but the benefits of working in a collaborative, mobile and flexible way using the Internet.

Google Apps has both a free and fee-paying version. The free version is subsidised by the appearance of advertising on the pages, whereas the fee-paying (“enterprise”) version has the advertising disabled, as well as additional functionality particularly in the areas of security. At a cost of US$50 per user per year, it could worth firms investigating Google Apps as an alternative way of working.

This article by Susan Hallam was first published in Internet Newsletters for Lawyers & Law 2.0, November 2008

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