Recently, I performed an informal survey to find out just how popular Google and the services they provide actually are. Obviously, for me Google has changed the way I work and play because I know about -- and how to use -- their many services. But my perception of Google is skewed because of my profession (and my addiction). I asked close to one hundred people (a relatively small sample group) a list of questions.
My survey was aimed at both average and advanced users of the Internet. Friends, family, random people and the local Linux users group were the targets of my barrage of questions. Almost everyone who I asked gave me similar responses which opened my eyes to how the rest of the world sees Google and uses their services.
What role do you perceive Google playing in the open source community?
Most people acted confused when I mentioned the word "open source" -- to many of them, software is software. What really surprised me is that nobody who answered my questions at the Linux users group -- except one -- knew about code.google.com and other Google open source initiatives such as the "Summer of Code".
Google plays a huge role in the open source community. They make both monetary and human contributions to the software they think is great and advances the company's agenda. For instance, they have software engineers devoted to the Open Office suite, and have funded other projects and initiatives directly related to the open source community.
Google should sponsor community "Google Nights" that are targeted towards both "average" users (mom and dad) and more advanced ones (Linux user groups) -- something similar to the "Google Pizza Ambassador" program which aims to bring Google into universities by sponsoring programming study groups and provides free pizza to participants.
What comes to your mind when you think of the two words: Google and Privacy?
The majority of users from the Linux users group answered with a bit of a paranoid tone. They are concerned with what Google is using their information for and what they could do with it. On the other hand, less sophisticated Google user's I polled were either not concerned or hadn't thought of it before I asked the question. Overall, users were generally not worried about Google abusing personal information.
What search engine do you use primarily?
This question had unanimous results. Everyone I asked said without hesitation, "Google". Some people went on to explain that if they couldn't find what they were searching for, they would use "Yahoo" or "MSN", but would never use either of those as their primary search engine. I guess this didn't surprise me, but I was expecting that at least some small percentage of my sample group would use Yahoo or MSN primarily.
What is your first source when trying to solve the problem?
Again, this generated a large percentage of "Google" answers, but only a few said "Google Groups" specifically. I find that Google Groups helps you connect with other people who are sharing, or have shared the same problems people encounter. Many times you can find a solution by doing a quick search there rather than "Google Search". And, to confirm the last question, none of my sample group said anything about Yahoo or MSN.
In terms of Google, which (if any) services do you use on a regular basis besides Google Search?
This is also one of the questions that yielded interesting responses. The majority of users who even had an answer only said things like "Google Images" or "Google Maps". It was very surprising to see that only a tiny fraction of people I asked had used some of the newer Google services. A lot of the services that Google provides have a relatively high "geek factor" that limit usage to more advanced Internet users. My parents hadn't even heard of most of the services I asked them about, and they probably wouldn't "get it" if I tried to explain them.
This is one of the areas Google should work on. It should become a habit to apply the "mom" test to most services before they are launched. The reason Google Search became so popular was because it's as easy to explain as it is to use. Even "mom" can see the benefits of using Google Search, but that's not the case for many of their other services.
When Google launches new services, would you say you are an "early adopter", do you wait until the new service has proven itself, or do you ignore the service completely?
Most people I talked to, especially in the Linux users group said that they usually try a service first just to see what the hype is about, but quickly put it on the back burner until they hear either good or bad news about it from other users. Other people interviewed also said "How do I know when a new service is launched?". Many people rely on traditional media to find out about new services offered by companies. They are not actively searching for "new stuff" from Google -- that's where community Google nights would come in.
Overall, I noticed a couple of trends. First, Google meets and exceeds my expectations as to how popular it's "Google Search" is -- almost everybody I polled uses Google as their primary search engine it seems. Second, with Google's massive Internet presence, they are doing a poor job of cross marketing their other services. The Internet is a viral marketing engine, but beyond search Google's services and maps haven't caught fire. The majority of people who answered my questions either don't use, or hadn't heard of many services they provide. As I noted earlier, passing the "mom" test generally correlates with crossing the broader adoption threshold.
Feel free to ask these questions to people you know and report your findings. Or, post answers to these questions yourself -- it is very interesting to see what people know about or use on Google.