Google made the best search engine on the Web and then went on to create (arguably) the best email and mapping apps, too. But as you might expect, these services are filled with cool features that don't stick out on the surface--including some of the most useful features offered by the apps.
We hit up Google for some insider tips for searching, gmailing, and mapping that are commonly used by the nice people who work at Google. We'll start with search, and progress to Gmail and Maps.
You may know how to use Google to search for a flight, look up a definition, or solve a simple math problem, but here's Google's "Top 10" list of search tips and tricks for searching like a Google pro.
Searching for a comparison chart about a certain topic? Sign in to your Google account and try searching Google Squared for collections of information. For example, search Google Squared for "roller coasters" to see a chart of the top 20 tallest roller coasters; or check out this chart of hurricanes for images, descriptions, and damage estimates of recent hurricanes. (Note that Google will be shutting down Google Squared on September 5, 2011, as part of its decommissioning of Google Labs, so run your Google Squared searches ASAP.) Not quite sure what you're looking for? Google's Wonder Wheel gives you another way of looking at the related searches near what you're looking for. "Wonder Wheel" is listed in the left-hand sidebar and produces a circular chart with searches that other people have done recently that are related to yours. Your original search (example: space shuttle Endeavor) provides the starting node, with paths pointing off in all directions. Click one of these and you begin moving from node to node, getting farther away from the original search, but hopefully in the right direction. Need to find something you've found on Google before? Try searching your own Google search history. Sign into your Google account and enable Web history. Run your searches, and then visit www.google.com/history to see your search history and to revisit previous searches. Bonus: Search history also syncs to your mobile device. Speak your search queries into your mobile device when you're on the go. Google Voice Search is a feature of Google Search app for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Nokia S60 V3 phones. If you have an Android phone, download the "Voice Search" app from PCWorld's AppGuide; if you have an iPhone, download "Google Search" from the same place. Looking for information from a particular time period? The Timeline option (also in the left-hand toolbar) lets you zoom in on any time range and see news pulled from assorted sources, including books, news, and Web pages. Searching for the Anglo-French Wars, for instance, brings up a timeline that runs from 1600 to 2010, stepping down into individual years and then individual months. Filter your results in Google Images. Try searching for a word that could yield a wide range of images--a name like heather or raven or cliff, for example. Toward the bottom of the left-hand sidebar in Google Images, you'll see a dedicated option to view only clip art, photos, or line drawings. Trying to find a particular type of file? Google doesn't look exclusively for HTML content. Type what you're looking for and then add filetype:tag on the end. For instance, "filetype:doc" will return only results from .doc files. This search capability supports PDF, Microsoft Office formats, Shockwave Flash, and many more. In fact, it will discover matches for ANY three letters that you designate as a filetype. Compare different Google Suggest results side-by-side. Visit Web Seer to get a visual comparison of two search prefixes. Though not a Google product, Web Seer was built by two Googlers and provides interesting insight into Google results. Search in the URL. If you know a specific string of letters or words contained in the URLs of pages you're looking for, you can use "inurl" to find them. For example, many websites with public webcams have URLs that contain 'view/view.shtml'. So a search for inurl:view/view.shtml will return the URLs for various webcams around the world. Search certain types of sites or just certain sites. You can search a wide variety of sites by inserting a close angle bracket (>) symbol before the type of site you want to search. For example, [penguins site:>.edu] searches for penguins across all .edu sites; and [crater image site:>nasa.gov] searches for crater images across NASA.gov.
Be a Gmail Ninja
Gmail is a very deep program, with too many tips and tricks to list in this article. In fact, Google categorizes its Gmail user tips into four stages--white belt, green belt, black belt, and master. The tips for each belt can be found at Google's "Become a Gmail ninja" site. There's even a printible guide; after all, even ninjas forget their moves once in a while. This cool blog gives you "Ten Tips for Using Gmail at Work." What if you want to use Gmail when you don't have a Web connection? There's an app for that. Gmail Offline is a Chrome Web Store app designed for situations when you need to read, respond to, organize, and archive email without an Internet connection. This HTML5-powered app is based on the Gmail Web app for tablets, which was built to function with or without Web access. After you install the Gmail Offline app from the Chrome Web Store, you can continue using Gmail when you lose your connection by clicking the Gmail Offline icon on Chrome's "new tab" page.
Mad Skills for Mappers
Check the weather for your upcoming trip directly on Google Maps. Whether you're organizing a trip overseas or a picnic at a local park, make travel and activity planning easier by knowing the weather forecast. See temperatures and conditions for the next few days for places around the globe by selecting the weather layer from the widget in the upper right corner of the map. Zoom in for conditions in specific cities, and zoom out for cloud coverage over an area. Try it now: See icons denoting sun, clouds, rain, and so on via the weather layer on Google Maps. Fly around the world...and dive under the ocean. Google Earth enable you to navigate the world in 3D--you can zoom in from space to the streets of cities from Hong Kong to San Francisco to Johannesburg, watch the changing rain forests over time, and dive underwater to explore the Mariana Trench, tropical reefs, or shipwrecks. Endless hours of exploration can be found in Ocean in Google Earth. Find hotel prices directly on Google Maps. No more copying and pasting the address from one site into a map to see its location--for several major cities in the United States, you can easily see nightly rates when you search for hotels in Google Maps. Try it now: Search for a "hotel in Los Angeles" on Google Maps Preview your destination using Google Street View. Check out the attractions near your hotel by viewing our 360-degree ground-level photos in 30 countries around the world. Try it now: View the surroundings of the Plaza Hotel in New York View local search results on a map (on mobile). When you're somewhere unfamiliar and want to find someplace to eat, enter the type of food plus the town or postal code, and Google will display the results on a useful map and give you directions for getting there. Try it now: Search for "barbecue in Memphis" on Google Maps Plot your trip by adding your own icons to Google Maps. Make travel planning a snap with custom maps, a feature of Google Maps that lets you personalize a map by adding your own icons. Before your trip, you can use this tool to mark all of the hotels you're considering staying at and all of the sights you want to be sure to see. Then decide which one is in the most convenient location. You can also share customer maps with friends and family so that they can participate in mapping out your trip. When the trip is over, use your custom map as a virtual scrapbook: Add icons on the map for the great picnic spot you found in the park or for the great little gelato stand you kept revisiting. You can even add text, photos, and videos within the custom map to help keep the memories alive.