Google closed the doors on Google Labs today. The ongoing projects aren’t disappearing; they’ll be absorbed into other departments, and many have already “graduated” into full-fledged products. The spirit and mission of the initiative will live on, just in a decidedly less centralised way.
Here are some of the coolest and most genuinely world-changing things that Google Labs’s mad scientists have cooked up through the years.
Google Maps is basically neck-and-neck with Gmail as far as Google’s most ubiquitous non-search product. It’s the most widely-used map service on the planet, available to 30 per cent of the world’s population, and is still expanding and adding features.
Sure it’s fun to troll bomb Google Suggest results into suggesting searches like “Did Hitler really perform in nude burlesque shows?” But Eric Schmidt wasn’t very far off when he said that “[Google]can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”
Google Docs and Spreadsheets
Back in 2006, most of us were still emailing things to ourselves if we wanted to access a file on another computer; synchronized online documents were so far ahead of their time that they didn’t really catch on for a few years. If Google ever wanted to hipster out on the internet, Google Docs is all the cred it would need. They’ve been doing the cloud thing since before you even know what it call it, man.
Google Alerts took the old school concept of the newsletter and mailing list and married it to the new school practice ingesting every damn piece of information on the internet. It’s an ingenius fusion of online laziness and ambition: We want to know everything that’s going on, but we can do without the hassle of scouting out and frequenting the actual sources.
One of the better identifiers of a true nerd is how devastated you were the day you lost your college access to JSTOR and other uber-nerd academic publications. Google Scholar soothed away the nerd pain with a searchable index of freely accessible full text academic papers.
Search-by-image is pretty awesome. It just made its way to Google desktop a month ago, and we’re all pretty excited about it making an appearance in WP7 Mango. But Google’s been doing it with Google Goggles since late 2009. It’s really impressive, and a great example of how Google Labs helped keep Google ahead of the curve.
Sometimes knowing what you’re thinking isn’t good enough, and Google offers to step in and save you from yourself. Mail Goggles is a sobriety check for your email account that asks you to solve a series of maths problems before you’re allowed to send a dumbass 4am message to your boss. It’s the simple things, people.