Google has the right idea; there's no doubt about it. Even though Google is most famous for it's search, it actually provides a killer service platform for someone like me. When I look at all the web tools that I use today, Google provides a reasonable use of it. It is definitely more useful and provides a much more complete service offering than Facebook. The strategy to expose its APIs is brilliant; it is a simple way of extending functionality while only investing in what they can deem as their core competencies. Here's a summary of how I use or would use Google for the way I live my life.
Personal Information Management/Personal CRM
Any platform that wants to focus at an individual typically starts here. The core functionality to manage my personal life starts with managing my contacts, schedule and tasks. The point of entry for this functionality is through GMail. While I don't particularly reply to or write many emails, it's the natural point of entry for me. I usually start of my relationships through email and if the relationship matures, it eventually evolves to the instant messenger. So email is a natural place to start a contact. Usually people will email me their contact information and we will initiate correspondence that way.
There are multiple ways of synchronizing my contacts and schedule with my other platforms. Google Sync is provided for free. I've run into some issues synchronizing between Outlook and Google for schedule. For some reason, it does something unpredictable with time zones. Plaxo allows you to indirectly sync LinkedIn contact information with Google contacts. And as of recently, Google allows for Exchange ActiveSync synchronization for contacts, email and scheduling. It's starting to provide a very strong case for me to replace my Exchange Server with Google Apps. The one weak link is tasks. Right now, there really isn't very done for tasks. A stronger task manager is Remember The Milk which integrates with Gmail screen.
Even though I don't naturally think of email that much as the main means of communicating with others is usually through instant messenger. I like the fact that I can write short messages and if the person is around, I can get relatively quick responses. Otherwise, they will ping me when they get back. Integrating GTalk to GMail was a smart move. It allows me to not have to leave that screen to look at my day. In a lot of ways, it provides a very "Outlook'esque" view of mail; it's a single screen where I can perform everything I need to do from there. While people who are extremely security conscious freak out about the fact that GTalk allows you to archive your conversations online, I personally find it useful. As I'm constantly bouncing between instant messaging clients, I like the ability to have a single place to look up previous conversations. Since this is the primary means of my communications, it's really not that different from archiving my GMail.
Google allows you to integrate with GMail through IMAP which is significantly more powerful than POP3. There's nothing more annoying than downloading all your messages and then there's no server copy to refer to when you cannot access your desktop client. IMAP also allows you to synchronize more than just your inbox folder; it allows you to subscribe to any folders that you have as well. For instant messenger, it's based on the Jabber protocol which the majority of multi-headed instant messenger clients now support.
A news reader is not a news aggregator; it's just a reader. That being said, there is nothing better on the web than Google Reader in my mind. I love the fact that you can tag and share right from it. Another killer feature is that it automatically marks something as read if you've scrolled through it. While it's a detail, the user experience impact is phenomenal. It makes reading all the feeds in my messages a lot quicker. Newsgator allows you to clip an article for further reading and then you can then expose the RSS feed for it to others who are interested in reading your feed. Google makes it much simpler, I have the option to star or share an article. I use starring as an indicator for me to take a look at it later and sharing as a means to share with other people what I am reading. The cool thing about this is that I also get to see what other people are sharing automatically from it. News reading is one of the things that there isn't an ideal way for me to do things right now. I have a few requirements. They are:
I don't want to have to re-sort, re-tag or re-share articles I've already processed if I read it on my mobile device or from another computer
I want to be able to tag my articles as I have shared or starred an article for a reason. It's something that I'd like to refer to again later
I don't want to read read multiple articles that have essentially the same information.
So there is no easy way of integrating my needs for this right now. pRSSReader and Viigo is supposed to have the ability to integrate with Google Reader right now but it doesn't work well. So for now, I'm stuck using Newsgator.
Picasa has been a surprise for me. It's relatively easy to upload photos to it and for Windows, the Picasa client is the closest thing to iPhoto, which is my favourite photo editing tool for me. Picasa allows you to do all your standard things like tag, create albums and share with others. The one thing that I think is especially interesting is the facial recognition functionality. Once you tag someone's face, it will try to recognize other photos for the same person. A bit freaky but useful if you don't care so much for privacy. There are two major downsides for me – most of my friends who are really into photography are on Flickr and secondly is the price. Flickr's basic service allows you for unlimited storage and limits you to the number of albums and bandwith of upload. This basically means that upgrading to the Pro service is a fixed cost. Doing a pro service by capacity means that what it's going to cost me is going to continue to grow if I were to use Picasa as my primary photo sharing tool.
Jaiku provides you all the features that Twitter does minus the limitations such as no instant messenger client on Twitter. On top of that, it has the concept of groups which is pretty useful. The downside – it doesn't have nearly the volume of people that Twitter has. This is a detriment for me based on how I use Twitter. It's a natural way for me to get current pulse on any topic. Recently Google released Latitude with a very simple functionality – publish your whereabouts using Google Maps for Mobile. It's doesn't even allow you to put any texts like BrightKite. The good thing about it is that integrating it to Google Maps is a very natural way to publish where you are since Google Maps for Mobile will either triangulate your whereabouts using your GPS or cell phone towers whichever is available at the moment.
The ability to use instant messaging as a means of publishing my status in Jaiku makes it a very versatile way of integrating to other platforms.
In the past, the most common way of sharing information was through email. The problem was doing this was that you would have to go through a tonne of emails and always wondering who has the latest copy of any particular information. Another issue by doing this was that what happens if you lost email. If you're hosting your own environment like I am, losing email is still a reality. Lately, I've been using Google Docs to create email and then share them with co-workers for managing some of the status of where we are with hiring some of the students. I've used it to share my build-books with others who are trying to build out similar infrastructure environments like I've done at home. One feature that I think is really underrated is that if a document is relatively simple, it's just as easy to view and edit it directly on Google Docs without having to go through the tediousness of downloading, updating and uploading.
Integration for Google Docs is pretty straight forward. You can upload any document to Google Docs. If it's one that it can convert, it does. You have the option of either downloading the document to review it offline or installing Google Gears to work with it.
Social Networking the natural way
I'm not talking about Orkut. To me Social Networking really is more about Personal CRM. It's a mean of keeping track of my activities with my friends. I need something that will help me to organize the things that my friends are helping me with or I'm helping them with, communicate where I am with these things, perhaps even broadcast any thoughts, ideas or needs to solicit feedback. All of the tools I've listed above if fully integrated make it a very natural way of organizing my life. Google is almost there. The best part of all this is that I can "integrate" my friends into how I do things without them being members of the Google ecosystem.