The Power of “vs” metadata: How To Use Google To Quickly Find Competing Products and Services

There’s a quick and dirty trick I’ve been using lately to do research on products and services. Whenever I’m about to make a big purchase or sign up for a new service, I like to know what my options are before I buy. So I go to Google’s home page and do a quick search on the product or service with “vs” attached. Before you click search, Google returns a list of the most searched on terms that include the the name of the product or service + vs. In under a second, you get a quick list of comparisons that others have made. It’s not a perfect solution, but you can often get a pretty good sense of what consumer shoppers doing their homework are comparing that product or service to. It’s a great way to use Google’s meta data to stumble on worthy competitors that you’ve never heard of that might be worth consideration…or even to find out who consumers think are YOUR biggest competitors. Like I said, it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s fast and serendipitous. The fact that the lists that Google is generating on the fly are based on search volume is great because it acts like a crowd-sourced vetting process, and it works often enough that it’s a useful place to begin your research.

Here are a couple of examples:

If you were considering to self publish a book, this might help. Did you know about CafePress or Blurb? Or that Amazon has self-publishing services?…

If you’re buying A Canon 7D DSLR (hint: big purchase), here’s a good approximation of most of the “worthy competitors” in the DLSR market that others are considering….

As with any Google search, the more specific you are, the better, and the less generic the name of the product or service, the better. ;-)

Video Demo: Prototype of Translation in Google Goggles

The ability to translate text directly from a photograph is a perfect example of some of the possibilities that emerge when you have sensor-rich mobile devices connected to cloud computing. Google’s shown that it’s possible, and that practical applications for mobile users might be just around the corner. How cool is that?

What’s happening in the background in this demo, on the simplest level, is that the prototype connects the phone’s camera to an optical character recognition (OCR) engine, recognizes the image as text and then translates that text using Google Translate. Even in small chunks, you can see what a difference having a tool like this could make in a pinch, especially if you’re traveling in a foreign country.

According to Google, right now this technology only works for German-to-English translations and it’s not yet ready for release into the wild. I’m sure you’ll agree, though, that this demo shows a lot of promise for what the future might hold. It’s exciting to know that soon your phone might be able to translate signs, posters and other foreign text instantly into your language.

Here Come The GeoWeb Wars

around meOne of the very first apps I downloaded on the iPhone was Around Me, and it’s still one of my go-to’s. It’s simple and it does exactly what the name implies – it finds your location and shows you all the critical services around you — banks, coffee shops, bars, gas stations, hospitals, movie theaters, restaurants and so on. It comes through in the clutch whenever I’m in an area that I don’t know well, which makes it an indispensable travel tool. It makes you a local expert in less than a few minutes. At a conference in a new city and want coffee? Instead of wasting time asking strangers, you’re already on your way to the Starbucks that’s around the corner, exactly 119 yards away. Need an ATM? Gas? Medication at a pharmacy? Hungry and want to know what your meal options are in a 2-3 block radius? You get the picture. The app orders the services by their proximity to you and gives you quick access to mapped directions, and touch-to-call phone info. The latest release also includes Twitter and Facebook integration so you can share the location of meeting spots or recommendations etc with your friends. Enough said. For this app alone, it’s worth moving to an iPhone.

Here’s a quick video overview of what the app does.

Expect Competition For Geolocation Services To Heat Up This Year

There have been a lot of apps like Around Me to hit mobile devices over the past 12 months. Google (of course) is the sleeping giant for geoweb services and they’ve started to release location based offerings this week that will start to challenge the space and put the squeeze on smaller players. Last week Google announced a mobile search service called “Near Me Now” that makes their mobile search page location aware, giving mobile users access to a lot of the same type of information that apps like Around Me do.

Yesterday, Google also announced Place Pages targeting local businesses, which many believe is another maneuver meant to dethrone Yelp as the de facto resource for local venue information and customer review data. We’ll see how this one plays out. You can expect a lot of me-too players to show up very soon, so it’ll be interesting to see how (if at all) Google innovates and sets the pace. As the web gets denser and geo tagging scales up to put all the data into context, there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for innovation across the board, so we can only hope for startups to think way outside the box and give us all things we’ve never seen before. I know one thing – access to location information and maps on my iPhone has turned me into a heavy user of geoweb services in my daily life and I’m itching to see what’s coming. The war is on.

How To Use Google Trends Like A Pro


Google Trends is one of my favorite tools to come out of the Google Labs. While we data junkies are forced to envy people like Bill Tancer who have access to tons of rich, real time data about what’s going on on the web, Google Trends is the best thing that we can get for free, and it’s still very useful for basic analysis and research. In this post I’ll show you a few great ways you can use Google Trends to do research on the web like a pro and give you a quick list of hacks you can use to build your “Google Ninja” skills. Read More

Leaked: Video Of The Very First Android Device For Verizon?

This just popped up on YouTube – only 80 views so far. Someone’s got Android running on a Verizon phone. Is this too good to be true? This definitely looks like the Verizon XV6800.  I’ve already written the person who posted this video, who has yet to reply. Here’s a picture of the Verizon XV6800 so you can compare to the video. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel for those of us on Verizon who are waiting for the Android….

First Verizon Android


Update: I heard from the owner of the video – just posted his reply. The hack is legit and the reply in the post has info on who’s doing it and how to contact them. If you can’t wait for Verizon to release a phone, check out the update post.

Solving Information Overload With Good Design: Why Dashboards Will Be The Next Big Thing For Feeds

Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with information, so I’ve started taking steps to trim some of the fat from my info-diet. Along with reducing the number of people I follow on Twitter, and using Facebook’s new feed features to help focus my news to people I care most about, I’ve also made one significant change in my feed reading habits by making a switch from my traditional feed reader to iGoogle’s new widgetized interface. Here’s why the new features in iGoogle rock my world…

Finally, A Dashboard That I Can Scan

I probably track around 100 blogs in my RSS reader, and by most measures, I think that’s a modeset number.  Do I read every post from all of those blogs? Of course not. Nobody has that kind of time. Like everyone else, I’ve got 15-20 favorites that I track actively and the rest get lumped into the “You Have 687 unread posts” category. Still, with a traditional RSS feed reader, I’ve had to dig through my feeds on the left, expand them and scroll through posts.

No More. Now I use iGoogle’s dashboard (as my browser’s homepage) to keep up with my favorite blogs RSS feeds, friends, email, facebook…all of it.  I now spend a fraction of the time reading that I did a week ago. Everything you add to iGoogle shows up as a draggable widget, so you can design your own layout, organize your stuff into tabs, and it’s all right there on your home page. The dashboard design makes keeping up a heckofa lot easier because it makes the content scannable (FINALLY!).

I won’t bore you with all the details of how to set it up, because it’s a snap, and besides, a picture’s worth a thousand words. Here’s my current iGoogle home page…

iGoogle Dashboard Widgets Add Extra Value For Social Networking

While adding tabs on my iGoogle Dashboard the other day, I stumbled on an awesome new feature. I created a tab called “Friends” and it automatically populated the tab with Facebook functionality, GoogleChat and Gmail widgets. I even added a twitter gadget. It’s nice to know that the good folks at Google are accurately anticipating their users wants and needs. Here’s another 1000-word screenshot. How useful is this??!!

The fact that Google is figuring out that people need a good agreggation service for all their feeds (beyond just RSS readers) is awesome, and I think the new iGoogle interface is an indicator of changes to come with how feeds are organized and presented. Here are some final thoughts…

Design Makes A Difference To How People Consume Information

I’m a big believer in the idea that design shapes behavior. The fact that design impacts reading behavior is the reason that magazines and newspapers invest so heavily in layout, typography and graphic design. This is a no brainer, right? I know I’m not saying anything innovative here…so why haven’t companies like FriendFeed and NewsGator innovated with the design of their layout to improve readability? It’s all so…linear.  Linear design is fine (and even elegant) until you start pulling a lot of different types of content into one stream. FriendFeed in particular has gotten so useless to me, that I don’t even bother with it anymore – Tweets, photos, bookmarks, comments…it’s all there in one big no-context pile that you have to sort through. I quit trying a while ago because it’s just too overwhelming. I know I’m not alone in this. Why doesn’t every profile have a dashboard of all their stuff sparated out for readability? It’s all coming in separately, so why lump it all together ina long time line and make it less useful? In an asychronous world where people are creating lots of different kinds of content, do I really care that a tweet about lunch came right after a bookmark of a stock report? Time doesn’t add enough context to make it meaningful, especially when you add more and more users to a stream.

In short, the problem isn’t that there’s too much data…it’s that the current design and organization of the information presented by popular aggregation services lends itself to clutter.  FriendFeed in particular should take note of iGoogle’s new widgetized dashboard and show us something fresh, new and organized. Just aggregating a ton of services isn’t enough. You have to help your users orgnize and make sense of it all. Services that do that well are going to win in the long term.