Looking Beyond Search
When someone thinks of Google they think of web search... and that's a good thing. After all web search is the foundation upon which Google is built as well as the glue that ties it all together.
But there is much more to Google than search and few people seem to realize that. When I talk to people about Google I often ask how many Google products they use (how many do you use?). The majority say one or two and almost no one admits to using more than seven. In fact there are numerous products produced by Google: Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail, Picasa, Google Reader, Earth, Calendar, Orkut, Google News alerts, Blogger... oh, and let's not forget Google AdWords, the primary focus of our operations here in Michigan! The list goes on and on.
But like many of the people I talk to, before coming to work at Google I hadn't considered the power of these applications and, in particular, the power of bringing these applications together to solve real business problems. Oh... and did I mention that the vast majority of these products and services are free? Crazy.
In this Corner...
The undisputed heavy-weight champion of these second-class citizens has to be Google Apps. A collection of powerful communication, productivity, collaboration and security tools including email, calendaring, word processing and spreadsheets. There are versions for schools, businesses large and small and, as of early February, even a "team edition" for groups of any size.
Like many Google products, these services are all available right from the browser. This means there is no hardware to buy, no software to install, no patches to manage (what version of Gmail are you running?).
Apps tools scale with your business and work across platforms, including mobile devices. Software updates happen auto-magically and Google takes care of backing up all the information. All this gives you more time and money to focus on running your business. Sweet!
But what about the all of the other applications offered by Google? What if an organization embraced the full suite of Google products and services? What if you could "start over" and shed your existing IT infrastructure and use Google's products instead?
Rather than ask "What if?" an enterprising non-profit based in Washtenaw County decided to roll-up its sleeves and put the power of Google's products to use. CASA Washtenaw is a non-profit with the mission of creating awareness and providing support for neglected children under the jurisdiction of the Washtenaw County Court. The organization is comprised of a handful of volunteers (with one full-time staff member).
Before embarking on this mission of technical transformation they had a very basic website built on a template offered by their hosting provider. They had some pressing objectives that needed to be tackled such as improved collaboration amongst the volunteers and board members, fund raising, promotion/awareness, communication, recruitment and board governance. It seemed that Google could help.
Putting the pieces together
Their first step was to sign up for a (free) Google Apps account and to take advantage of the included Page Creator application to create a new web site. Through a creative use of Google Gadgets they were able to add flair to their site as well as make sure that the content on the site stayed fresh.
To create awareness for their organization, they drove traffic via a Google AdWords campaign and created a blog that they linked to their site. As a member of a national organization, they had access to some high-quality videos and with a few clicks the CASA Washtenaw YouTube channelwas born! The team at CASA Washtenaw created a Google Checkout account so that they could receive donations online (with free transaction processing for non-profits through the end of 2009!).
When they partnered with the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority on a fund raising event (Rock the CASA!) it only made sense to use Google Checkout allow folks to buy tickets online. A printed email receipt served as the admission ticket for the concert-goers.
To keep interested parties apprised of upcoming activities, Google Calendar was embedded into the events page of their site. To add an event to the web site, CASA Washtenaw members need only create a new calendar entry on Google Calendar (part of Google Apps) and the event is automatically published to the web site.
For up-to-the-minute news, CASA Washtenaw turned to the power of RSS. They first searched Google News for information related directly to their cause then used Google Reader to subscribed to the specific RSS feed. Because Google Reader has the ability to create a gadget that can be included directly into a web site, the folks at CASA Washtenaw don't have to worry about updating the news section of their site. Instead, viewers of their site are presenting with timely, relevant information making the site more professional while letting the folks at CASA Washtenaw focus their attention on other matters.
Google strongly supports individuals getting involved in community organizations and Casa Washtenaw’s enthusiasm to see what could be possible with Google’s tools inspired me to volunteer as an internal resource for the organization. Although Google tools are easy to use, I was able to serve as a sounding board for Casa Washtenaw’s internal team when they needed a second opinion. It was exciting to watch their online presence evolve as they realized the potential visibility, functionality and organizational benefits of using online tools.
How many different ways could Google's non-search products help your company/organization/team/family? As more people migrate to the web and as web-based tools and services become more advanced it seems inevitable that the power and flexibility of Google tools will be discovered and embraced in increasing numbers. But the tools are available now and can have a huge impact for you today! So go ahead, kick the tires and think of the possibilities.