In the past two or three years, the rise of the Internet superpower known as Google has entered nearly every realm of the public consciousness. From a record-breaking IPO to headline-grabbing technology unveilings, the Silicon Valley-based company has put quite a stamp on current events in a range of industries.
Last December, Google entered new territory when it debuted a public transit-based planning service. Google Transit Trip Planner, at present operating a pilot with tech-savvy TriMet in Portland, Ore., allows users to enter specifics of their desired trip — times, origin and destination — and get the most efficient, step-by-step itinerary available. The site also uses the average cost per mile of driving and calculates whether it is more cost-effective to drive or take public transit. The effects of this service launch on public transit are various and sundry.
“First, it is a stark recognition by a powerhouse information-age organization that transit systems can and do play a vital role in mobility,” says Dave Turney, president of Digital Recorders Inc. and an active public transit advocate. The trip planner also has the potential to increase demand for transit services, and in turn become a boost to industry suppliers, he adds.
A new world of functionality
With the precedent set that Google tools and technologies can be a boon to public transportation, I’ve decided to list some other Google services with the potential to help you in your day-to-day duties. I’m sure there are many more.
Google maps. This revolutionary software allows users to view geographical regions as up-to-date maps or using satellite images from space. Just type in a ZIP code to start.
Google alerts. Set up a Google alert on a keyword or topic, and the site will perform an automatic search function every day (or whenever you specify), providing in your e-mail inbox a list of search results taken from news articles and various Websites. Setting an alert for the phrase “public transit” has been a godsend in the METRO office.
G-mail functions. Google’s free Gmail e-mail services are catching on with professionals in many industries due to a combination of advanced technologies, high storage capacities and interactive features. For example, you can back up messages from your work e-mail by filtering them into a Gmail account, which provides 2.5 gigabytes of free storage. If you need to locate them later, just use Gmail’s keyword search tool.
Mobile connectivity. Google allows the capability to remotely use its search engines or access your Gmail account from a mobile phone or PDA.
Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the widespread privacy concerns over Google’s information collection and storage capabilities. The central questions to most users have been: How much does Google know about me, and what are they doing with this information? In January, the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed a week’s worth of Internet search queries from Google and other sites, with the focus on finding and cleaning up illicit online material. After Google’s rejection of the subpoena and a pending lawsuit, it remains unclear how these questions of online information usage will be answered.
For the time being, the safest policy is to use your best judgment with regard to any personal information you provide. I think we all know by now that nothing in life comes for free. So you can rest assured that the many utilitarian features of the Google network come with some strings attached. (Namely that you become a walking, breathing target for online advertising solicitations.) But in terms of fast, easy techniques to make your job easier, Google has a lot to offer.