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Is Google Ready to Handle Your Business? (Part 1 of 2)

Is Google Ready to Handle Your Business? (Part 1 of 2)

Is Google Ready to Handle Your Business?

    As a big fan of online, Web 2.0 applications, I’ve long followed Google’s ever-increasing stable of web-based services, from Google Docs to Google Voice to Google Reader. Their large and growing collection of online applications and services make it increasingly possible to consider running the bulk of your business using free (or low-cost) Google applications. Even big businesses have gotten in to the act, with mega-corporations like GE giving Google’s Google Apps for Business suite a whirl. And with recent additions to the Google stable such as Postini, an email security and discoverability service, a lot of concerns about security and compliance are finally starting to be addressed.

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    Though I don’t actually run a business any bigger than myself, I recently took a look at Google’s offerings and how they could be used in a small- to medium-sized business setting. Here we’ll look at some of the basic tasks businesses need to accomplish — communication, productivity, and promotion — and how Google’s services, both those in their Google Apps package and among their standalone services, can help businesses get the job done – and where Google just doesn’t seem to make the mark.

    Communication

    One of the core functions of any business is communication, both among its employees and with clients, vendors, and the media. Google Apps combines email, chat, calendaring, document creation and editing, and collaboration tools in one suite. Other services include Google Voice (formerly Grand Central), a phone forwarding and voicemail service that also offers cheap outgoing calls.

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    Among these services, Gmail is easily the strongest. As part of Google Apps, businesses can quickly set up @yourdomain.com email addresses, each with its own online mailbox. Gmail’s integration with Google’s powerful search technology makes accessing archived information easy, and full POP and IMAP access means you can access email through the desktop client of your choice, including Outlook.

    Online users of Gmail also have access to a variety of features from Google Labs (accessible from the upper right-hand corner in Gmail), such as the ability to save and re-use boilerplate text. The online interface also includes a simple task manager, which is shared with Google Calendar, allowing dated tasks to be placed directly onto your calendar without leaving Gmail. Gmail’s contact management is fairly weak, with nothing like customer relations management (although Salesforce.com users can take advantage of Salesforce for Google Apps, which integrates with Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, and Google Talk.).

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    Postini, a newer Google acquisition, provides rule-based security and email archiving and discoverability for businesses that need to assure HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, or simply need a high level of security on both inbound and outbound messages. Some of Postini’s services are integrated with Google Apps Premier; others must be purchased separately. All of Postini’s features are available as well to non-Gmail users by routing your email through Google’s servers.

    Google Talk is not the most popular IM system out there, but it offers more than enough power for inter-office communication. The service can be accessed through a dedicated client, a pop-up client within Gmail, or third-party clients like Digsby or Pidgin. Voice and video capabilities are decent, but lack the ability to cross over to standard phones like Skype or other VoIP systems.

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    Google Voice replaces traditional voice mail and forwarding services, giving users  a single phone number that can be forwarded to one, some, or all of the user’s other phone numbers – or different combinations of phones based on user-created rules. Messages can be picked up through traditional voice mail, or audio files can be sent via email. Unfortunately Google Voice does not offer a business-level service that would allow it to replace a PBX system. Also, at the moment, it is not fully open to the public and requires an invite to sign up.

    For keeping on top of industry news, world events, blogs, Twitter searches, and even information and updates within your organization, the free Google Reader offers perhaps the best RSS reader on the market. Since most apps in the Google suite (as well as other online applications and services) offer a stream of updates via RSS, Reader can easily become the “hub” of your business. To keep tabs on how your business is being discussed on the web, add in feeds from Google Alerts, which allows you to create searches against Google’s web, news, blog, or video search engines, as well as within Google Groups or across all five with a “comprehensive” search. All of them let you know when a particular term shows up in the top 10 (top 20 for Web, top 50 for Google Groups) search results on that term. Google alerts are ideal for tracking how your business or products are being written about on the Web – set them up for your company and brand names, as well as for general searches in your field to keep track of your competition. (Google Alerts can also be sent by email).

    For communication among project groups, try setting up a private list on Google Groups, a free email list management system. Groups can be public or available only to the people you add directly, allowing communication both within your organization and with your public. Like all Google products, the ability to search your archives using Google’s search engine is the strongest point of the service, which is otherwise comparable to other mailing list services like Yahoo Groups.

    In part 2 of this post, I’ll discuss Google’s offerings for productivity and promotion. To be honest, though, Google’s offerings in communication are their strong point; their productivity applications, while useful, tend to be far more limited than similar offerings, even their online competition. I’ll close with a short assessment of where Google’s services may or may not be appropriate choices for small- and medium-sized businesses. See you then!

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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