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October 8, 2009

Obscure Google Features

One of the most frequently used reason for removing features from Google's products is that not many people used them. Here's a recent example:

"Google Base has its own search page for users to search across everything that's been uploaded, but it isn't widely used. Instead, people search on Google Product Search for products, or on Google Maps to find houses for rent or sale. Therefore, we're planning to retire Google Base's separate search page in a few weeks."

Google Base search is not the only obscure Google feature. Even though it's difficult to estimate how often each feature is used, it's safe to say that the following features are rarely used:

1. Gmail mute. The option that lets you ignore boring conversations from mailing lists is available in Gmail's standard interface and it has recently been added to Gmail Mobile.

2. Google Reader's auto sorting. "This works by prioritizing subscriptions with fewer items. So, with this setting, your friend's blog with one item a month will not be drowned out by higher volume sites such as the New York Times because we'll raise the blog to the top."

3. Google Chrome's docking positions. "Drag a tab to pre-defined locations, or docking positions, on your computer monitor or browser window to quickly resize your browser window. When the docking icon appears, release the mouse over the icon to have the tab snap in place."

4. GoogleTournament function from Google Spreadsheets. "The GoogleTournament function returns live data for games occurring during the Men's and Women's NCAA Division I Basketball Championship."

5. Google Toolbar's "up" button lets you go up one level in a web site.

6. Google Music Search, used for showing outdated information about music artists.

Can you think of other obscure Google features that are probably used by a small number of people?


  1. Google have lots of feature now,
    how start: 1,5,10, 100, 200,400 and plus+plus+plus
    Then People was start to forget a lot of google feature.
    So lots of feature become obscure, because don't give good performance for use.
    I think it's time to solution work for this features.

  2. well, mute is one of the most useful feature of gmail, especially if you are subscribed to mailing lists or you are in project discussions with many people... maybe something is just not the topic that concerns you, so you mute it...

    and google chroem docking positions is just a feature that every window now has in windows7, so yeah...

  3. Google Readers "Like"-function is really...strange and non-usable.

  4. Gmail "mute" I do use, occasionally. The others, worth knowing. I like the Chrome tab docking feature.

  5. I use Gmail mute and Chrome docking *all the time*. I'm docking Chrome right now! :)

  6. OK, here's a few more... Google Coop, the Google Mobileizer (, profile search (, City Tours (, Google News Quotes comparison toon (

  7. I always thought more people would find the "define" function useful if they just knew they could type it before any keyword.

  8. anyone else thinks that the "I'm feeling lucky" button (though easily understood) remains not-used-at-all? I would definitely remove that thingy

  9. If this were true, Google would have ditched "Labels" in Gmail a LONG time ago.

  10. i think 'Google Chrome's docking positions' is really good (windows 7 has it too). 'Gmail mute' is good too (only works on mailing list).

  11. @Eric
    Certainly!! And instead of this, the managed to make everybody use them, putting them in a more visible spot and making them colorful! What a catch ;)

  12. I think this statement about testing potential good features has been proved with Gmail Labs (and I supose more products are getting their Labs soon). They don't need to put things out there anymore "just because"... instead, they make us choose what we may want, and if they work and many people choose them, they make it permanent for everybody (Colored Labels was a lab feature for a long time)

  13. >> Starring + Quick Links in Gmail:

    Once you've activated the Superstars and Quick Links labs features (, you can create a very easy "getting things done" system within Gmail.

    For instance, I've enabled the yellow star for emails that needs action, the red one for urgent tasks, blue star for important information and the purple question mark when I expect a reply (choose your stars in the General settings tab).

    Then, create the appropriate Quick Links:
    * urgent actions" > search for [has:red-star]
    * tasks > [has:yellow-star]
    * information > [has:blue-star]
    * follow-up > [has:purple-question]

    >> Hotkeys in Gmail & Google Reader

    You'll find all keyboard shortcuts by pressing the "?" key.
    My favorites for Gmail:
    * c > compose (then shift + enter to send)
    * s > star (few times for superstars)
    * e > archive
    * j/k > next/previous
    * r > refresh
    * u > back to list
    * g +i/a/s > go to inbox/all/starred
    * shift + i > mark as read

    My favorites for Reader:
    * u > hide side panel
    * j/k > next/preivous
    * r > refresh
    * g + a/s > go all/starred
    * s/l > star/like
    * shift + s > share

    In both Reader and Gmail (if you have the Go to label labs feature), g + l > go to label... Very handy, it even list your quick links in Gmail!

    >> Download hundreds of photos in full quality in once click.

    In Picasa Web Albums, you can downloads hundres of photo from a friend's album in just on click. And in their original quality! It awesome, especially when you keep in mind that you need userscripts and Firefox add-ons to get crappy Facebook photos.

    Once you have installed Picasa on your computer and if the album owner has authorized downloading, you just need to click "download to picasa" from the online album.

    Every time a friend shares pictures with Picasa, I download them and they all appear in a special "downloaded albums" category in Picasa. You can also download all your Picasa photos from the File > Import from Picasa Web menu.

    >> Reader to Twitter Sync (unofficial but very googly)

    In few click, you can sync all your Reader shared items with Twitter using the awesome When you'll press shift + s in Reader (shortcut), it will tweet within seconds thanks to Google's realtime protocol PubSubHubbub

    >>Search operators

    * define:word > list many definitions from all over the web (even in various languages).
    * filtype:pdf > restrict results to PDFs only (works with doc, xls, torrent...)
    * > restricts results to websites (e.g. and even for some top-level domain such as

    As a French native speaker, I often look for English idioms: the best way to find the right words is to use the asterisk operator, for the missing word(s): try to search for "the man on the * omnibus", for instance (check the number of results to compare popularity of expression).

    >> "First Click Free" feature for free access to subscriber-only articles

    Let's say you visit the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Time websites, you click a link to read an article but you get the "to coninue reading, subscribe now" message.

    Just search for the title of the article in Google (you can use the intitle: and site: operators for better targetting), you'll get the full article for free via Google as many online newspapers are part of the amazing "first click free" program

  14. Google cannot just remove features just because there's not many people using it. They should put some efforts in promoting those features as well. If I do not read this blog, I will not know such features exist. So cannot totally blame on users.

  15. I use Chrome's Docking Positions all the time. It is really handy to have especially when you use more than one monitor with your PC. I am looking forward to using it with other apps in Windows 7.

  16. I use Google Chrome's docking positions feature. I wish all my desktop applications could do it (even with each other). If most people don't use it then it's probably in big part because they don't know about it.

  17. I use #2 very frequently, #1 from time to time.

  18. I use Gmail mute from time to time as needed. I still rely on Google Music Search on occasion, but I recognize that the data may not be up-to-date anymore (like Google Patents). I've never really used the Chrome docking options... I prefer the browser to be nearly the size of my screen and never smaller. Someone said that Gmail should get rid of "labels"? Are they joking? Should other email clients get rid of "folders"? They're the same thing, only labels have additional advantages. I use Google Reader's "like" feature every single day, more than once. The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button is going to remain there, only because the purists would REVOLT if it were removed, in the same way they would REVOLT if a single new word were added to the classic home page.

  19. I must say that I use the Google Toolbar "Up" button so much that I even moved it away from the toolbar and put it near my home button (Firefox). BTW, I never heard of "music search" before!
    @Jared: I use "define:" all the time!

  20. Search Within Results (on the bottom of a search page) is pretty useless. It just appends the second term onto your first search query.

  21. I had never heard of Google mute! It sounds fantastic :) I hope it stays

  22. or (used to be search similar to the ones above, but now replaced with launcher app)

  23. Everything under Show Options on the results page. It's new, but several of the options are quite useful - "Recent results" is great, More/fewer shopping sites and Reviews are good when you're looking for something specific, and Wonder Wheel is fun.

  24. Google is a treasure of various results and huge techniques.. It makes sense with every results displayed at the search positions and these makes every end user a happy feel of getting what he wants. And definitely if any changes/ any algorithm renovation has been done then its truly great to believe..

  25. Google Notebook was a great feature but they have since stopped further development. There's a lot of potential for Google Notebook to integrate with Google Docs, Google Reader and Google Bookmarks to form the ultimate research tool ever.

  26. All my feed tags in Reader are set to autosort.
    It works great. I subscribe to too many noisy feeds to want them in time order.

  27. Google not stop for Development. Thank.

  28. I'm using the Chrome's docking option quite often, i should say. I like my tabs organized.

  29. Mouse gestures, Multiple Inboxes, YouTube previews in mail, Picasa previews in mail, Flickr previews in mail and Yelp previews in mail... All from Gmail Labs...

  30. GMail mute rocks. I use it many times a day.

    Since i often prefer deleting to archiving, i use GMail mute like this: i put a "delete me" label on the conversation and then mute it and every couple of weeks delete everything under that label. This mode of work has made me much more productive.

    I need the label, because sometimes i want to mute a conversation, but keep it archived. I wish i could do it in one click.

  31. Google seems to operate the "easter egg" model for many of its most useful features - you sort of have to experiment and find things out on your own. I guess that probably helps to build a (smaller) but very devoted fan base, and then they can cherry-pick the most popular items and make them mainstream, like the aforementioned colored labels.

    Basically, Google's having its fanboys do some of their product testing and market research for them. Pretty savvy.

  32. I hardly ever use mute in my personal gmail account, but I use it all the time for my work account. When you are subscribed to multiple mailing lists where only a portion of the threads are relevant to you, mute is definitely your friend ;-)

    I personally use the 'Up' button on toolbar all the time, but I could see how I might be a minority.

  33. the google reader auto sort feature sounds cool, i will have to check it out twitter(at)locspoc

  34. the calculator... very useful, and few people use it

  35. Back to Google Base, the subject of today's announcement, it wasn't promoted, that's why was not very used.
    In fact it's the first time when I hear about it and I find it usefully, it is an easier way to find a description of a product, not only a price and a place to buy it (like does Google Products Search).

    Google Base could be saved by a thematic blog reviewing various products.
    Scenario: An user comes to this blog, reads some information about a product and then search on Google Base information about similar products.

  36. Another one that doesn't get much publicity although I think is a fantastic feature is Google Noticeboard

  37. On that note of Google Docking positions, if you run maximized, you can still access the other positions.
    To get the options that are usually on the edge of the browser, drag the tab to the edge of the window, away from the middle in whatever plane, then drag it to the middle.
    It doesn't appear to be working for the bottom any more, not sure why that is.

    Also, i really wish they would integrate Notebook with Docs instead of letting it die off.


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