Mobility

How to search Google Hangouts and Calendar, and other areas where Google's search fails

Surprisingly, search isn't always Google's strength. Andy Wolber offers a few workarounds when search falls short.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

In an organization, search matters. People need to be able to find relevant documents, messages, and people. You'd think that effective search would be a natural strength of Google's apps in the enterprise...but that's not always the case.

In some Google apps, search works well. Google Photos, for example, does an amazing job of finding images based on a search term thanks to the power of Google's machine learning tools. Google Drive offers helpful options that let you narrow your search by file type or by modification date. And, Gmail and Inbox search both quickly locate email conversations. Search works in all three of these apps in both mobile apps and on the web.

a-photos-drive-inbox.jpg
Some Google apps—such as Google Photos, Drive, and Inbox shown here—offer excellent search capabilities.

Some Google apps, though, make search downright difficult. So difficult that, in some cases, Google seems to be saying you really shouldn't search.

Dear user: Please don't search your Hangouts messages

Want to search Hangouts messages? Open your web browser to the desktop version of Gmail. (Switched to Inbox? You need to go to the Gmail interface.) Next, type "in:chats" followed by your search term.

Read that again.

Google's suggested method to search Hangouts involves a full web browser, an older email interface, and an obscure search term. Technically, this allows you to search your Hangouts messages. Let me also suggest that technically, reading every book in a library to locate a specific search term also solves search. Neither method is convenient nor user-friendly.

b-searchhangouts.jpg
User-unfriendly search: To search Hangouts messages, exit the app, go to Gmail in a web browser, type "in:chats" followed by your search terms.

Dear user: Also, please don't search in a Community in the Google+ app

Want to search for specific content in a Google+ Community on your phone? Have the Google+ app installed? Great! Stop using it. Google makes this easier on the iPhone with a convenient "View on Web" option.

Close the app, then open http://plus.Google.com in your browser. Go to your Community. Then tap the More menu—the tiny little three line button in the upper right—below your Account image. Choose "Search" from there.

Remember: If a feature isn't available in the app, try the Google+ mobile website. You can always switch back and forth between the two.

c-search-g-community.jpg
Use the web, not the app: To search in a Google+ Community on iOS, for example, exit the app and use the browser version.

Dear user: OK, if you must, search your Calendar

The search feature appears on the main screen of a few Google mobile apps. For example, Chrome, Gmail, Inbox, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep, Google+, Maps, Google Cast, Google Photos, and YouTube. All offer search as a main screen function.

Google demotes search to a menu item in Calendar. Just tap the three line menu on the left, then choose Search.

d-calendar-search.jpg
Unlike many other Google mobile apps, it takes two taps to start a search in Google Calendar.

Dear user: Please remember where you see something

Back in 2010, you could search from within Gmail, then see results from both Gmail and Google Drive documents thanks to an experimental feature.

In December 2014, Google announced it would "be ending the Apps Search lab experiment, which is unstable and provides lower quality results." Google then announced a new instant results search feature "for Google Apps customers in late-2015 or early 2016." (A setting for the discontinued Apps Search feature still exists, buried deep in an obscure Google Apps admin control panel: Apps > Gmail > Labs > check the Advanced Labs Management box > Apps Search.) As of mid-April 2016, we wait for instant results.

In the meantime, you'll need to remember where you see information. Was that in Gmail? Keep? Drive? A Google Site? Google+? Hangouts? Open each app, then search. App by app.

Simpler search? Slack

One great benefit of Google search was the "one box" concept. Type your keywords and receive relevant results.

But, poor search experiences prompted me to switch away from Google+ for some tasks. Previously, I used a Google+ Community for a university class I teach to share articles, post assignments, and receive links to student work. This year, I switched from Google+ to Slack, in part, because I had difficulty finding specific student posts with search in Google+.

SEE: 5 tips for getting started with Slack (TechRepublic)

Unlike Google+, Slack gives me a variety of filters for search. I choose to see messages or files, or I can sort results by date or relevance. If I pull content from other apps into Slack, I can search that content, too. Forget messaging—it seems to me that Slack is building a user-friendly enterprise search tool.

The irony, of course, is that Google could make effective multi-app search a benefit of Google Apps. But today, Google delivers neither consistent search in all apps, nor a unified search experience of Google Apps data. As a result, Google Apps customers search in Google software silos. Maybe the next big opportunity for Google in the enterprise is better search?

Also see

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox