Saturday, June 21, 2008

Google Web History: This will be on your video tape

Steve Rubel hardly ever posts on his blog anymore. Too much friction. He likes to capture his thoughts and web trails via his lifestreaming activity, without having to stop and think about form and process.

But today he did post, and what he says is interesting. He offers three quick tips for capturing notes quickly. It’s his first idea that piqued my interest:

Google offers a handy history feature that archives all of your searches by date and time. You need to have a Google account and activate it. Once you do, the search engine will remember every search and search result you clicked. You can star items and even subscribe to either your history or these bookmarks as a feed.

If I am on phone with someone and I have an idea I want to capture real quick, I go to the search box in my browser (which is always open), type in my quick note and search. Now it's archived in my history, which I can always go back and search later.

I confess I’d never thought to actually take notes using the search bar, but it leads to a crucial insight. If you’ve got Google Web History tracking your every move (you have to opt-in to something that Orwellian) then you’ve got something very close to a constant Web diary. And because it’s Google, you can quickly search through that history and find exactly what you’re looking for.

imageI knew I’d had GWH enabled for a long time, but I used a button near the bottom of the screen to find out just how long ago. Turns out, I began spying on myself November 6, 2005. For nearly 3 years then, I’ve had Google tracking most of my online life. For most of that time, I’ve been blissfully unaware. But occasionally, I’ll visit my history to find something I’d forgotten. I usually just do a search and find it. Then I’m quickly one my way.

But thanks to Steve, I’m taking a closer look at one of Google’s most low-profile products. And it’s amazing. I’ll take you on a tour. Left to right.

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First, you’re not limited to a simple search box. You can browse and filter your history, based on what you searched for. There is one critical difference once you start drilling down. Your history will capture every Web page you visit, but clicking on Images, News, Products, and Maps will only show you the items you searched for within Google.

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You can even review the sponsored links you click on. I always think “Who clicks on those things?” Apparently, I do.

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As Steve pointed out, you can also bookmark what you find. Now, I’ve never been a fan of Google Bookmarks, but this is more useful than at first it might appear because you can set Google Toolbar to display bookmarks by either alphabetical or chronological order. Choosing the latter option means it’s easy to keep your most recent forays into GWH within easy reach.

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Finally, the Calendar on the right hand side provides a convenient visualization of your monthly search and Web activity. It’s self-explanatory, but that’s part of the genius.

Will I use GWH to take notes as Steve suggests? Nope. Like any camera tracking my life, It’s much more valuable to me as a data source if I forget that it’s there.

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