Thursday, October 14, 2004

Google as a learning and KM tool, and the company's new offerings

(Note: Google is one of my favorite companies. I don't receive any kickbacks from writing about them--I'm just a satisfied, loyal user.)

Google is more than a search tool; it's a learning and KM tool. I'm not the first to say this and I probably won't be the last. Need a quick answer to a specific question? Using a plus sign or a set of quotation marks, you can narrow down your Google search and find a document or Website to answer your question stat.

While your learners may be reluctant to take time out of their day to complete an e-learning or classroom course, they most likely use Google regularly to get just the information they need, just-in-time. Have you considered adding Google enterprise search to your intranet or knowledge base? It may be one way to help ensure that workers find the information they need to do their jobs.

Recently, Google announced the creation of some additional tools, which I think will expand its reach and use in the learning and KM arenas:

1. Google SMS

Think mobile learning. This new service in beta-testing enables users to access certain features of Google via text messaging on a cell phone or other wireless device. The main learning use right now is defining a word, but you can also calculate a tip, look up an area code or zip code, access restaurant listings, and get prices for an item you want to buy.

Those are all current Google features that are now available via these portable devices. More features will be added (sign up on the Google SMS homepage to be notified), some of which may have learning implications. For instance, I could see the Google translate tool being added to the SMS service, or even Google Answers.

One caveat: Unfortunately, Google SMS may not work if you changed wireless carriers and kept your phone number, like I did.

2. Google Print

Also in beta testing, this new offering puts information and excerpts from books online--which enables them to appear in search results just like Webpages or other digitized documents. In your regular search results you'll begin to see links to books. Click on the link and you get an excerpt, more info about the book, and a link to buy it. Printing pages is not enabled.

As with Amazon's similar Search Inside the Book feature, publishers voluntarily submit books to be included. While this will no doubt increase publishers' sales, it will also increase for searchers the number and type of information sources from which to learn.

Granted, you'll have to still buy the books, but at least Google is offering an integrated way to find which books will be useful in addition to Websites and other online resources.

3. Google Desktop Search.

This new tool is such big news that it made the front page of the when it was released today. Also in Beta, the tool enables you to search your own computer just as you do the Web. The software will look through Outlook emails; Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents; Internet Explorer pages you've viewed in the past (even if you're not online); and even AOL Instant Messenger transcripts.

I wrote about a similar tool, Blinkx, on this blog recently. I was impressed with the idea but not the technology. I have a feeling that Google can do this a lot better.

I'm in the process of installing Google Desktop and it is now indexing my system. (It does this ahead of time so that searches take less time.) I'll report back how it works after I've had a chance to try it out.

Will we see a day when Google can search all of the information sources in the entire world? When the Library of Congress, for example, is Googl'able, or the bookshelves of your co-worker down the hall?

That day might not be far off if the company continues as it's going. Although we know that information doesn't necessarily equal knowledge, I think many or most of Google's innovations have implications for learning and knowledge management. I'd love to hear some ideas for taking the basic functionalities and running with them.

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