I’ve been thinking the Google Search Box needs more juice for a long, long time. A recent Pogue column got me thinking about it again – so here’s what I’m looking for.
What You Can Do Now
Google lets you log in – they know who you are when you run a search from the box. Google needs to leverage that fact into increased functionality. I’ve posted before about all the things the search box lets you do. Look at Pogue’s column for details on the kinds of things the search box lets you enter. Flight status, currency conversion, all kinds of useful stuff. I’ve posted about it too. But why doesn’t Google deliver more?
What You Should Be Able To Do
Parsing a line of text for the good stuff isn’t much of a challenge for the brainpower at Google – what I’m looking for is something they could turn on tomorrow. Here’s an example:
Say I want to add an appointment. I could go to my Google Calendar and use the Quick Add link. Then I can type a natural language description of the appointment, something like- tomorrow lunch with Merlin 11:45am at LAX In-N-Out -and the appointment gets created in my Google Calendar. That’s nice, but why do I have to go to Google Calendar to do that when I have a permanent Google search box on every web browser I use? I have to load Google Calendar and click the Quick Add link before I can enter my appointment details. I don’t even want to go to Google Calendar after the appointment is created.
Instead, I’d rather type a qualifier in the regular search box like- appt# Dentist Dec 7 10am. The appointment would be added to the default calendar of whatever Google account I’m logged into. Obviously the appt# would tell Google I’m creating an appointment.
Where do we go from there? I’d be happy to send a quick email from the search box: email# to:laporte, pogue, mossberg sub: google body: they don’t like my idea
In this case the names would be pulled from my Google contacts. But you could enter an email address instead. And once Google buys Twitter you could just use a screen name and send a tweet.
What else? Depends on what you like to do with Google. How about where# pambeesly to see her location in Google Latitude? I should be able to add stocks to my iGoogle page. Open a Google Document by name. Send a text. Upload a photo.
This is the big one. Google should be itching to keep me in their mobile app for as long as they can. If I can send texts, add appointments, open docs, and see where people are all from one simple search box on my mobile device I’m far less likely to wander off to another application or another vendor. For some people it’s much more convenient than digging through a GUI and multiple page loads.
When will we see something like this? Who knows. Google Calendar lets you specify lots of information with Quick Add, even details for a recurring appointment. So someone over there likes plain language interfaces. But it doesn’t let you specify a calendar. You never know what features we’re going to get, but you can hope.
Access Google Calendar from Terminal
Selective Mobile Phone Reminders with gCal
Maybe Murphy was the last to know about Goog411, but here’s a quick post anyway, in case any readers don’t know about it yet. All you do is dial 800 Goog 411 or 800 466 4411 from your phone.
The automated system prompts you for city and state and then a business or category. So you could say something specific like Moe’s Tavern or something generic like plumber. Goog 411 will tell you the address of the business it thinks you’re searching for, or read you a list of businesses if there are multiple matches. When you confirm your selection the call is transferred to the phone number. As an alternative you can say “text message” and the details will be texted to your phone, assuming you’re calling from your mobile.
Goog 411 works well. The interface is quick and Google seems to have a good handle on voice activated systems. There isn’t a lot of extra conversation. Murphy finds retrieving voice mail irksome because the prompts say things like, “You have reached the blah blah messaging system, there are x messages in your mailbox.” It should say, “x new messages, y saved messages.” Extra conversation isn’t useful when you’re trying to get through twenty messages.
The Google system also facilitates going back a step and starting over easily without disconnecting the call and calling back. In other words, it’s a nice interface. Best of all, you don’t have to pay one or two dollars to your cell provider for directory assistance. Just add Goog 411 to your phone’s contacts.
If you like these kind of services you should check out Microsoft’s Tell Me too. It has additional features like stock quotes and sports results. Murphy had more trouble navigating the Microsoft service, but maybe he was mumbling. You can try Tell Me at 800 555 Tell.
Murphy didn’t see anything about these services outside the USA. Anyone?
Google updated its calendar application this week and added some critical features. In the past you could only set reminders for your primary calendar. Now you can set them on every calendar.
Furthermore, each calendar under your account can have different notification settings. For example – a calendar called Screencast Schedule might be set to send pop-up notifications while a calendar called Client Dinners might send Email and SMS reminders.
This is a great improvement. The only thing Murphy doesn’t like is having to dig down into an appointment to change the notification behavior if he wants something other than the default. Murphy is a big fan of the Quick Add feature. It’s much easier to set dates and times using Quick Add than with the clunky drop-downs in the edit-appointment form. If Murphy only wants an SMS for certain appointments he has to go into the appointment, click options, and change the settings.
Murphy’s solution to this inconvenience is documented here. He doesn’t turn on the gCal SMS feature for any of his calendars. Instead, he lets gCal send an email reminder. Then his Gmail account filters those emails and sends appointments matching a certain criteria to the phone.
With gCal’s new features you could continue to do it this way. Despite the improvements, the calendar only seems to support Quick Add for the main calendar. Otherwise you might make two calendars for something like “Social Engagements” – one that sends an SMS and one that doesn’t.
Here’s another feature you might not know about in the Google Calendar: When you use Quick Add you can enter an email address on the entry line. That will add that person to the invited guests of the appointment. You can also use Quick Add for recurring events.
What Google Calendar really needs: The ability to specify other things on the Quick Add line. Like which calendar to place the appointment on and what kind of reminder you’d like to receive. It’s much more efficient for keyboard-oriented users who don’t want to click all over the place just to make an appointment.
Sometimes a file is just a little too big for the media you want to store it on or the pipe you want to squeeze it though. The split command is here to help. It’s fast, it’s easy – and it’s already on your Mac.
In the screencast Murphy splits a thirty-something megabyte video into 9mb chunks – so he can back them up on his gmail account. (I’m expecting a lot of “Wouldn’t it be easier to…” on this one.) Keep in mind this is not a video splitter. The pieces aren’t viewable until you reassemble them. But you can use split on all kinds of files, even your zip archives.
We’ll be using the cat command for reconstituting our original file. We’ve seen plenty of cat in previous screencasts, but we’ve never used it quite like this.
Also in the screencast: Murphy demonstrates that Folder Actions work in a Terminal session. He’ll copy the pieces from a split file to an action-enabled folder – and the pieces will be automatically mailed to his Gmail account! This post is action-packed.
Maybe you want to break up some super-jumbo files for dvd storage. Take a look at this if you’re planning on creating chunks over 2gb.
The syntax Murphy uses in the screencast for reassembly is the most straight-forward he saw anywhere on the web. If you look around a little you can probably find scripts that do the same thing. Or check out Murphy’s post on making a shell script, maybe you can make your own.
At some point Murphy stopped placing Quicktime videos in iWeb pages and turned to Google Video. Too many people emailed and said, “Great site. But the video wouldn’t play.” It doesn’t happen now.
Some people might argue that Flash-based Google Video isn’t much better. But in Murphy’s experience a Windows audience is more likely to have success with Google Video than with Quicktime. Despite Apple shipping Quicktime with every iTunes download the QT player isn’t everywhere – not yet.
There’s a trade off. Google doesn’t give you many options. Once you upload your video it’s in Google’s hands. Before uploading you can add a title page or a skin. But there’s no denying that Quicktime generally looks better.
Some people suggest leaving your video as uncompressed as possible before uploading. Their reasoning is that Google’s technology will do a better job at compression if they have more to work with upfront. It’ll take you longer to upload your video, but the results could be worth it.
Google’s default embed settings are often smaller than what you uploaded. On the plus side, the smaller size will look sharp. You can change the playback size by altering the html. Murphy shows you how in the screencast.
Here’s another reason to use Google Video – it won’t count against the stingy disk space you get with .Mac! Murphy knows .Mac is perfect for some users – and offers Mac-specific features you won’t see elsewhere. But if lots of storage space is what you need look elsewhere!
The screencast uses iWebMore to place html in iWeb pages. It’s quick and easy to use – but you might want to check Murphy’s first iWebMore screencast.
Click to see the iWeb page made in the screencast.