Going Google One Year On…

About one year ago I decided to stop using my Mac based email client and switch to Gmail.  At the same time I setup a iGoogle account and built 3 pages to be my ‘personal portal pages’.  This was done for 3 reasons; first, I needed a project for a portal course I was taking at the HKPolytechnic and second, I had lost all of my email through some ill-advised playing around with profiles and third, I was tired of not being able to check my email when I was not at home.  So, I carefully planned my personal portal and built it – this was just so I could get the mark for the course (I did not get a great mark, hehe) – then I started using it.  The main apps I used in the begining were Gmail, Gcalandar, Greader and Gdocs and this hasn’t changed.   Sorry Google but some of your apps like Gmaps are fun but what does one really do with them besides play around?

On my landing page in iGoogle the most useful gadget was a bookmark feature that let me keep really common sites together and have them right at my fingertips.  Bookmarks always seem to me to become a bit of a mess and I wanted a place to just put the 25 that I always used and have them classified my way.  I’ve got 4 categories with this many sites under each: Google/11, Links/18, Search/23, PolyU/9.  I change these from time to time but they are quite stable.  I use a compound gadget that has a calendar,  currency calculator, metric converter, calculator, link to Google groups.  This is a bit useful but really just to remember the date and maybe do some conversions.  The calendar says it links to my Google calandar but I can’t see what it is supposed to do for me since it doesn’t show my appointments.  I’ve never gotten active in Google groups.  I’m a member of 2 and I just have their announcements sent to Gmail.  I have a gadget that is a Greader feed but really I just go to Greader a few times a day and take a look at my RSS feeds.

This is something I’ve learned, some of the iGoogle gadgets just don’t really do what they say they do.  Don’t get fussed about it but be aware and make a backup because some gadgets can cause real problems.  I learned how to make the 2 kinds of backups for my iGoogle page.  One is a recovery file held by Google and is done automatically every few days.  I have no idea what the schedule is and I don’t think they tell us.  Another is a file of all my iGoogle settings I download and save on my Mac.  I can upload this if I like.  I run this every few months.  I had to restore from the Google held back-up once because one of my news feeder gadgets ate the page.

At first, I found Gmail a bit odd after years of MS Outlook and MS Entourage.  I locked myself out of Gmail for a few days thru some sequence of unknown events and was quite suspicious of it for months.  I developed a way of copying all in-coming and out-going from Gmail to my old ISP provider which I still use.  I learned how to use Labels and Contacts.  I started using Gchat but still prefer Skype for chat.  I turn off Gchat on all iGoogle pages because they don’t synchronize and it can get very confusing.  I added a gadget a few months back that uses the Tinyurl site.  This is useful.  Maybe bitly is better but it requires its own page and I like have it on my iGoogle landing page.

I set up a 2nd iGoogle page for News sites.  There are some gadgets for feeding in newspaper sites and such.  This is useful to have one place to check the New York Times, Financial Times, South China Morning Post, NHK World (Japan’s BBC), the real BBC and so on.

I set up a 3rd iGoogle page for playing around.  I test things here.  I keep my Dilbert feed here.

What can I say about this?  The iGoogle pages for me are just places to keep links to very frequently used sites and a few tools that seem like they would be useful.

I’ve found out that I cannot use my @gmail.com account to register for all sorts of official sites.  For example, Gartner rejects Gmail accounts.  They want a domain from an organization.   This is a critical point because sometimes it is important to have an ‘official’ email.  I’m a full-time student at the HKPolytechnic so I can use that one.

I’m a graduate student is a knowledge management programme at HKPolytechnic.  I have been using Gdocs for classes and collaboration.  This is useful but it is a struggle to get participation.  Most of my classmates want to send out emails with attachments.  Gdocs has gotten better for people without Google accounts but it is still a bit odd so there is the hurdle of asking them to create a Google account and so on.  However, after some championing how great it is I have had some successful collaboration with Gdocs.  There are issues with highly formatted documents and presentations so once the content is agreed someone needs to download it and make it pretty in Word, Pages, Powerpoint or Keynote.

I really like being able to logon to any Mac or PC anywhere and have my iGoogle page come-up with all my stuff.  This is brilliant.

Google is really pushing its Google Apps model for business, education, non-profits.   Take a look here. Google Apps for education and non-profits below 3,000 members are free.

Here is rather good Youtube video on Google Apps for educational institutions.  The basic service is free for educational institutions and for non-profits with 3,000 or less members.  Sure, you probably will buy a few of the extras but it won’t be much.

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