I’ve always wanted to visit The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, which has one of the world’s great art collections. Maybe someday I will, but for now, I can get a taste by using Google’s experimental Art Project, an application that lets you take a virtual tour of the museum using the familiar Street View technology and zoom in on a selection of great paintings. (Here’s a video that will get you started.)
Slideshow: Best of Google Labs: A Retrospective
The Art Project is my favorite Google experiment. You may have heard that the search giant has closed down Google Labs and ended many of the experimental applications that lived within it. However, I recently noticed that despite the formal end of the lab, a number of very cool experiments are still with us.
It’s important to note that experiments are just that, experiments. Some of them are rather rough, and Google warns that they may crash or simply disappear if the company decides to shut them down.
Fortunately, the experiments that work within your browser are easy to deactivate if they cause problems. Here’s a link to what remains of the Google Lab’s home page and here are some of the experiments that are fun to try; a few are even useful.
You may have forgotten that Google owns YouTube, but it does, and the company’s engineers offer a collection of 11 experimental YouTube apps to play with. YouTube Music Discovery and Topics are tools to find stuff on YouTube that you didn’t know was there and make play lists.
The “Feather” project lets you watch YouTube videos with very low latency, that is delays, resulting in much smoother playback. There’s a bit of a tradeoff: Various features, like the ability to post a comments or rating videos, are disabled. Some videos won’t be improved by Feather but those that are compatible will show a noticeable difference. Feather is especially useful when your connection is slow or your computer doesn’t have much processing power.
Because I don’t have two video cams, I couldn’t try out 3D video creator, but it looks quite cool. Using cameras sitting parallel to each other, you take two streams of video, upload them and then stitch them together into a 3D video. Here’s a blog post that tells how to do it.
It’s probably more correct to call the offerings from GoogleMap Labs applets. There are seven: Show Me Here! adds an option to the context menu that lets you zoom directly to the maximum zoom level at the point under the cursor. The distance measurement tool gives an “as the crow flies” measurement, that is a straight line, not along a road. Other applets let you see the latitude and longitude of a point on a Google map or automatically zoom to the lowest view that actually has data.
Gmail Labs is packed with goodies, including some that look pretty useful and others that are really whimsical. I’ll just mention two, but do check out some of the others.
Mail Goggles (no, that’s not a typo) makes you solve a few simple math problems before you can send an email. The premise is familiar to anyone who has ever sent — and later regretted — an email when they were really tired or drunk. If you’re too groggy to pass the math test, you should go to bed instead of embarrassing yourself. You can set Goggles to pop up the safeguard at whatever hours you choose.
Another applet links Gmail to Google Translate, while others do all sorts of stuff from inserting images or maps into an email to playing goofy little games.
Some of the Google Lab’s search experiment, such as Instant Search, have already gone mainstream, but here’s one that hasn’t, and it’s especially useful for anyone who has trouble reading a cluttered search results page, or has limited vision.
Accessible View lets users navigate search results quickly and easily, using just the keyboard. As you navigate, items are magnified for easier viewing. If you use a screen reader or talking browser, the relevant information is spoken automatically as you navigate.
Google Calendar Labs
One of the annoying problems I have is coordinating events with people in different time zones. Sure, I have a world clock app, but World Clock added to your Google calendar is even better. Keep track of the time around the world. When you click an event, you’ll see the start time in selected time zones as well.
Jump to Date lets you navigate to dates in the distant future or past with just a click. And Event Attachments lets you attach a Google document, spreadsheet, or presentation to an event on your calendar.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Bill Snyder on Twitter @BSnyderSF. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline