The Digital Chemistry of Google Labs

Innovation sets Google apart from other companies. In fact, Google engineers are allowed to spend a full 20 percent of their time working on special projects, many of which become popular Google applications. But before these innovations are cleared for official release, many get their start in Google Labs. Google Labs, which anyone can access at www.googlelabs.com, gives you a chance to test some of the company's newest "experiments." Some are modifications to existing Google applications, while others are altogether new. After testing something, you can provide feedback directly to the project's leader. If the feedback is positive, Google will continue developing the idea and add it to the company's list of applications.

Benefits of Google Groups

Google Groups is hardly the only application of its kind. Yahoo! and Microsoft, for instance, both offer similar services, and both have additional features not available in Google Groups. So what sets Google Groups apart? Perhaps the most significant difference is its Usenet archive, which includes more than 700 million messages [source: BBC]. Not all of these discussions are in English, which brings up another nice feature: Using "advanced search," you can look for discussions in more than 40 different languages. Better yet, you can translate the discussions to English with one click, and while the translations are far from perfect, they give you a good idea of what's being said.

Another nice thing about Google Groups is how unobtrusive its ads are. In typical Google fashion, all ads are text-based and tucked away so that they don't impede functionality. The ads that are included, however, are what Google refers to as "relevant text ads," meaning that they relate to the content of the group. Google assures its users that no humans are involved with matching ads to group content, though you might feel a little like someone is peeking over your shoulder when highly personalized ads appear on the screen in front of you. But remember, ad revenue allows Google to offer its group service free of charge.

As for storage space, Google lets you use up to 100 megabytes (MB) of storage space for Web pages and files, though there is no limit for the overall size of a Google Group. Additionally, attachments to single messages are limited to a total of 10 MB, which can pose a problem when a group is working on large, media rich presentations. Other group services offer similar storage caps, though some are more generous than others are. For instance, Yahoo! Groups has a total of 200 MB available for group storage (100 MB for attachments and photos, and another 100 MB for files). Lastly, you should keep in mind that you won't be able to upload files to archived Usenet groups, which work differently from those created through Google Groups.

So what is Google Groups missing compared to its competitors? Yahoo! Groups offers the ability to create polls for group members, collaborate on a group calendar and post links of interest to the group. Windows Live Groups offers a calendar feature as well, in addition to a massive 5 gigabytes (GB) worth of storage on what it calls a "Sky Drive." Still, despite the differences, all three companies' group services work much the same way and can prove invaluable for helping members share information with one another.