Last week at the Web 2.0 Expo I decided to walk the exhibition floor. Niall Kennedy and I checked out the inflatable Google booth, we gave feedback to the WordPress folks, and we came to rest in the Yahoo booth, where it was nice to see Jeremy Zawodny and catch up a little bit.
After a few minutes of talking, I noticed the O’Reilly booth just a few yards away. I’m a sucker for O’Reilly books, so I moseyed over to check out the selection. Lo and behold, they had the new Google Apps Hacks book by Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped! I had pre-ordered the book on Amazon a while ago and it still hadn’t arrived at that point. I’d like to think that the O’Reilly folks carried the books straight from the printing presses right to the booth. If so, I was one of the first people in the U.S. to buy a copy last Thursday.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve had a while to read the book. My verdict? It’s really good. Part of my job is to know obscure things about Google, yet several of the hacks in this book discussed tricks that I didn’t know. Google Docs lets you do find-and-replace and use regular expressions?! Yup, and hack 13 gives several handy expressions to use. Very few people know (hack 26) that Google Spreadsheets can magically take cell values such as “red,” “yellow” and “blue” and fill in more colors. Even fewer people know that this “MagicFill” feature is powered by Google Sets. The net effect is that you can start with two words like “seo” and “sem” and get this back:
Search engine optimizers will love hack 27, which tells how to import data from a web page into Google Spreadsheets automatically. The list of tricks goes on and on, from creating new scratch Gmail addresses in two different ways (hack 53) to configuring things so that a right-click with your mouse lets you access either the browser menu or the context menu from an application like Google Docs (hack 125).
What’s especially good about this book?
- A lot of these tips are very fresh, e.g. discussing how to get a Google Site, which just launched a couple months or so ago.
- Search engine optimizers and bloggers will enjoy chapter 12, which includes tips on SEO, using Google Analytics, and how to follow discussions online.
- Most chapters end with a discussion of alternatives to Google products. These hacks serve the reader well by intelligently discussing the pros and cons of other products (e.g. Flickr or Mint).
- The usage of margins is a little strange. Most pages have a wide blank margin. On some pages, tips and extra tricks appear in the margin. But some pages also have figures in the margin. I’m not sure why figures sometimes appear in the margin and sometimes don’t.
- You always wish for more coverage of your favorite things. The Google Chart API gets half a tip when it really is quite worthy of a tip or two in its own right. But the book has to stop at some point.
One interesting tidbit is that the working title of this book was Google Office Hacks. It rang up with that title on my O’Reilly receipt and that’s the title I see when I enter the ISBN number into Google Books:
But I think the name “Google Apps Hacks” is not only more accurate but more fun, so I’m glad they changed the title. Another interesting tidbit is that Philipp Lenssen wrote this book using Google Docs.
Should you buy this book? If you read my blog on a regular basis, you’d probably like it. This book would be an especially good match for:
- people that want to run a small business or startup more productively for less money
- hackers and people that like to tinker with web services
- people that enjoyed the original Google Hacks book
- power users or webmasters that want to learn about Google’s products and how to get more out of them
If you’re looking to get a gift for a non-savvy to less savvy user, I’d recommend Rule the Web. But if you’re looking for a gift for a savvy user, anyone with an interest in Google, or someone that uses Gmail/Google Calendar/Google Docs/Google Spreadsheets, then I’d definitely recommend this book.
One of my pet peeves is when a “Hacks” book turns out to be more like a user manual. That’s not an issue with this book — it really does show you lots of cool ways to hack, mod, tune, and tweak Google Apps. Google Apps Hacks is packed full of ideas that can keep you busy for quite a while. I expect this book to be a hot seller at the O’Reilly store during Maker Faire this weekend.