A real-life search ‘engine’ visits NU

Alexandra Finkel

The Rock was the last stop on Google’s 10-university bus tour on Friday. The purpose of the road trip was to gather student feedback on Northwestern’s Google-powered e-mail system.

Company officials said the tour was also designed to build student awareness of less popular Google applications.

“We came to campus to make students aware of all the applications Google offers, but we also wanted to hear how they like them,” said Miriam Schneider, Google’s associate product marketing manager. “The bus tour was a fun way to actually hear from students and that’s something we haven’t done yet.”

Students could stop at one of the demo stations set up by the Rock to learn how to use Google applications, head to the Google bus to play the popular video game Rock Band or get free Google handouts.

Northwestern has more than 18,000 @u.northwestern.edu accounts powered by Google, including both undergraduate and graduate students, said Wendy Woodward, director of Technology Support Services.

“In June of 2007, we launched the @u system as an opt-in service and then in December, it became the default service for all incoming students,” Woodward said. “This month we will be facilitating the transition of the final group of students who have not yet responded to our numerous requests to make the move.”

According to Woodward, Northwestern was the second school to make the large-scale transition to the @u e-mail system. The search formally began after a request by the Associated Student Government to improve the e-mail and calendar systems, she said.

Woodward said students, although familiar with Gmail and Google Calendar, seldom use the other applications.

“We’re seeing that Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Sites are not heavily used, so we’re hoping this event will increase awareness of those tools,” Woodward said. “I think the reality is that people just don’t know that these tools even exist.”

Jonathan Cook stopped by the Google bus to play Rock Band on his way to class. He said he knew how to use Gmail but wasn’t familiar with the other applications available.

“I used to be a Yahoo person, but now that NU has basically forced me to use Google, I will probably make the change one day, ” said the McCormick freshman.

Some students saw the event as a job-hunting opportunity. Phil Dziedzic used the event to network with Google employees.

“It’s great for Google to ask students what they like about their programs,” the McCormick junior said. “I like what they’re about, and I think it’s a company that a lot of people strive to work for. I’m definitely interested in working for them.”