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How Google Works


Google Services
Google's Gmail is now available to all users, but it was once a limited commodity.
Google's Gmail is now available to all users, but it was once a limited commodity.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks 2008

­As Google has grown, the company has added several new services for its users. Some of the services are designed to help make Web searches more efficient and relevant, while others seem to have little in common with search engines. With many of its services, Google has entered into direct competition with other companies.

Google's specialized searches are an extension of its normal search engine protocol. With specialized searches, you can narrow your search to specific resources. You can enter keywords into Google and search for:

  • Images related to your keywords
  • Maps
  • News articles or footage
  • Products or services you can purchase online
  • Blog entries containing the keywords you've chosen
  • Content in books
  • Videos
  • Scholarly papers

For these searches, Google has created specialized indexes that only contain relevant sources. For example, if you search for the term "Planet Earth" in the news category, the results will include only news articles that contain those keywords. The results will look very different from Google's normal SERP.­

In the last few years, Google has unveiled services that don't relate to search engines upon first glance. For example, Google's Gmail is a free Web-based e-mail program. When the service first launched, Google limited the number of users who could create accounts. The first group of users could invite a limited number of people to join the service, and so Gmail invitations became a commodity. Today, anyone can sign up for a free Gmail account.

Gmail organizes e-mails into conversations. This means that when you send an e-mail to someone and he or she replies, both e-mails are grouped together as a thread in your inbox. This makes it easier to follow the flow of an e-mail exchange. If you reply to your friend's response, Google will attach your message to the bottom of the thread. It's easy to navigate through the e-mail program and follow specific conversations.

Another free service from Google is Google Docs, a storage database and collaborative productivity software suite. It includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs. Creating a Docs account is free and allows you to store up to 5,000 documents and images online. Each document can be up to 500 kilobytes, and each embedded image can be up to 2 megabytes. You can share documents on Google Docs, which allows your friends to view and make changes to documents. You can also store all of your documents on Google's servers and access them wherever there's an Internet connection.

In the next section, we'll look at some specialized Google tools.