Google lets all of its employees spend 20 percent of their working week on whatever takes their fancy.
However, while the search engine is helping its staff develop ultimately cool software, they need people to test them - a playground where the geekier contingent of the general public can access ideas before those ideas are ready for public consumption.
That playground exists at Google Labs. And while many of the experiments from the Lab have slunk away into obscurity, some of the big G's most popular current offerings had their genesis there.
Google Alerts, Google Desktop, Google Docs, Google Maps, and more, are all graduates of this no-holds-barred, no-fear-of-consequences toy store.
Here are my current picks for the 10 coolest experiments in the Labs right now.
What it does: Turns your Android-powered mobile phone into an informational window on the night sky.
Why it's cool: Because three dots don't actually look like a centaur. Because sometimes you're curious about the heavens. Because you forgot that the Southern Hemisphere has a different set of stars. Because your kids will love it.
What it does: Makes it easy to manage and visualise large datasets in the cloud.
Why it's cool: So many reasons! The initial gallery of datasets is phenomenal, including info on climate change, health statistics, and country flags, to name a few. Charts and maps can be exported to websites and will update automatically.
You can collaborate on the data itself with Google's normal functionality, apply filters, merge data from multiple tables... plus it's just fun to play with.
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