by Andrew Robinson

Web searching. Chances are if you’ve spent some time online and were looking for something, that you vis­ited one of the online search web portals like Yahoo! or Google. What may surprise you to find out, though, is that these online search websites are interested in far more than just helping you look up web addresses, though they are, of course, good at that. I spent time recently looking at some of the things Google is doing and found fun and surprising uses for Google beyond just looking up web sites.

Go to Google, click on ‘More’ and you’ll come to a list of Google services and tools that will introduce you to much more than simple key­word searches. Google Print, for example, allows you to search the text of books that have been digitized. Searching for The Sound and The Fury brought me to books on William Faulkner, allowing me to browse some of them cover to cover depending on publisher and copyright permissions, and where to buy them as well. Google Catalogs lets me search through J. Crew and L. L. Bean for rugby shirts and Shoppers Advantage for DVD players. Most of the catalogs are over a year old, though, so I don’t believe this section is finished yet.

By far the most fun and intriguing service I found was Google Maps. Type in an address, a place name, even just the name of a city, and Google takes you to a map of what you’re looking for. Use the ‘Satellite’ button and you get a actual photo taken by satellite — in surprising detail! Click on ‘Hybrid’ and Google overlays the map’s street and landmark names over the photo. You can also zoom this photo down to a level where a surprising amount of detail is visible and let me tell you: my father, back in the States, needs to wa­ter the lawn!

Google Maps is labeled still ‘in beta’ and is part of Google Labs, the ‘mad scientist’ part of Google where they keep all their early-in-development projects. Google Suggest (in English and Japanese) makes sug­gestions as you type your keyword searches, and My Search History and Personalized Search allow you keep track of your searches and helps Google in customizing search results to things most relevant to you, based on your past search history.

Currency conversions, online calculator, stock quotes, weather, spell checking… there’s much more to Google than what you might think!

Andrew Robinson has been working in the IT field in Tokyo, in businesses ranging from small to interna­tional enterprises, for over ten years.