Customer Magnetism Review: Farewell, Google Labs

Customer Magnetism Review is a monthly blog feature. We review various events, websites and products that you might want to check out – or not. It’s our way of keeping you up to date on the Internet’s latest.

Customer-Magnetism-ReviewsSome experiments end with great things, and others just end. In case you haven’t heard, will soon be shut down. Long considered Google’s playground, Google Labs has been a place for search creativity and innovation. It had 56 different experimental applications running as of last week.

The creation of Google Labs was primarily the result of Google’s 20 percent time policy, where employees are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their work time creating new things. Despite the fact that Google Labs is closing, the 20 percent policy is still in place to ensure that Googlers continue to help the company innovate.

Although it has been around for quite some time, I just discovered the site a few months ago and have found a few gems that I really like, as well as a few tools I like but will probably never find a reason to use.

According to Google’s official blog, some of the features will simply disappear, while others will be absorbed into other product areas in an effort to put “more wood behind fewer arrows.” Some of the experiments in Google Labs have announcements at the tops of their pages telling you when they will go away; others do not give hints about their future.

One of the most intriguing things about Google Labs is that each of the experimental items has a unique concept, but most have a very narrow use. For example, Google Buildings lets you construct 3-D images of buildings, complete with colors and sizes. That’s great, but I really can’t think of any reason why I would ever want to do that. Google Mars has great maps of the planet, but unless we’re invaded by Martians, I don’t think I’ll be using them, either. Google Flu Trends shows a global map of where the flu threat is based on how many people are searching for flu-related keywords. That one is great for travelers, especially since there seems to be a moderate threat level for flu in New Zealand and South Africa right now. If you live there; however, you probably already know that.

On the other hand, several past Google Labs experiments have been so helpful that they have graduated into the everyday mainstream of the Internet and many people use them regularly without a second thought. Two notables:

•    Google Alerts lets you know when your website has been mentioned online. It’s a helpful tool for Internet marketing, link building, blogging and keeping track of mentions on social media websites.

•    Google Desktop has a number of gadgets and features that you can use while you’re online. The calendar does some neat tricks, and the search feature helps you find what you’re looking for on your computer from old emails to recently viewed web pages and other places.

Not every lab experiment graduated to the mainstream, but there was always the hope for something unique and interesting to check out.

One of my favorite recent discoveries on Google Labs is Google Scribe. With word suggestions and auto completion as you type, it’s supposed to make writing faster and easier. You use the space bar to accept its words, which does reduce typing time. I have played around with it on a few occasions and even wrote today’s Customer Magnetism Review blog using it, just for fun. Yes, it is supposed to make writing faster, and maybe it does, but I find myself swayed by its suggested words, and not using my own thoughts. I don’t think I’m writing faster or better – two of the tools’ supposed goals – but I have fun doing it. One of the biggest complaints posted under user feedback on the site is the lack of an auto-save feature. It would be a nice touch, but then you really have to wonder how much of a hardship it is to save the document manually.

Since Google Scribe does not have an indicator of when it will join the scrapped Google Labs experiments, I like to think it will be absorbed into another area. As for the other 55 victims in the Google Labs shutdown, we may see them pop up as features of other products or, as in the case of Google Body, may they rest in peace.

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