How to build a successful web presence: Google’s 9 Notions of Innovation

This week, I was lucky enough to have the chance to tour the Google London offices. Since each member of the Ambassador group has a blog, our amazing coordinator, Kim, set up a training session with Google on how to enhance and promote our blogs and grow our online presence. We gathered in the lobby of the large, brightly-colored office building that Google shares with a few other companies, and were escorted up to the 9th floor where their main offices are located. I assumed the offices would be sleek and trendy, and as we walked through the reception I was not disappointed:

p8 Those are actual TVs in the floor. Playing actual television shows.

We were given a tour of a few of the floors that comprise Google London, and were brought back to the library for our presentations.

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That’s a nap pod through the glass. Yes please.

Our first presentation was “The 9 Notions of Innovation at Google“, in which Harry (one of the three brilliant hosts) illustrated Google’s commitment to its mission, “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Currently, just under 30% of the world has access to the internet. To help increase that number and promote the sharing of information, Google is continually developing projects in an attempt to make the internet more accessible. Two projects mentioned were Google Fiber and Project Loon. Having lived in Kansas City, I knew all about Google Fiber, but had never heard of Project Loon…and as Harry explained it, I was blown away. Project Loon (short for ‘balloon’, I think?) “is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters”. Google’s impressive goal is to have Project Loon fully functional by 2020, providing 100% connectivity across the globe. I highly recommend reading up on it if you’re as awed by it as I was. The technology and creativity behind these projects is inspiring.

After addressing the work being done to make the world’s information accessible, we learned how Google is working to make it useful. As new ideas come up, they are put to the “toothbrush test”: is this product/app/etc. going to be used two times each day? If not, it most likely won’t be pursued until it has been developed further. An example of Google pursuing utility is their current development and testing of self-driving cars. Google is also constantly and rapidly developing their search technology such as voice technology,and the new Google Translate app which will do voice as well as Word Lens translations (hold the camera up to text in a foreign language and it will translate the text to your language).

Once we discussed the 9 Notions of Innovation, we paused for a break and had a chance to look around the library.

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It was spectacular.

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Enjoying the atmosphere with (most of) my Ladies Luck team 🙂 …just missing Lei!

Our next presentation was given by Jen, who outlined “10 Fundamentals of a creative strategy on YouTube“. She began by talking about current viewing trends: first, there are fewer people watching television and more people watching content online; and second, people have the ability to engage and interact with the content they watch (through sharing videos, posting comments, etc.) and are increasingly doing so. The 10 Fundamentals provided strategies and questions to ask if we decided to pursue a career as a vlogger/YouTuber. Each strategy related to one of three themes: Get Viewers, Keep Viewers Happy, and Keep Yourself Happy. The entire presentation was thought-provoking and inspiring, because most, if not all of the fundamentals applied to us as bloggers as well. It also got me brainstorming ideas for successful and sustainable YouTube channels…haven’t come up with anything worthwhile yet though.

After Jen had finished and answered our questions, the Google team and Kim had arranged for two successful vloggers/YouTubers to come in and answer our questions, explain their process to successfully developing their channels, etc. We had Sanne from booksandquills and Helen from Helen Anderson. They were both amazingly informative and graciously answered all our questions referencing their own experiences. As an English major I really enjoy Sanne’s channel, especially the videos where she features places around London which are referenced in books. I’m consistently awe-struck that most of the locations Dickens and his contemporaries were writing about still exist today, so the fact that she took time to walk around and video the locations (not necessarily Dickens’ books, the video I watched was on Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf) and then put it together in a video is genius, in my opinion.

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Harry is on the far left, and for the vloggers Sanne is on the left, Helen is on the right.

At the end of the night, I was racking my brain trying to figure out how an English MA degree would get me a job at Google. Still working on it (and highly doubtful I’ll find a connection). But hey– a girl can dream. 🙂

Takeaway Tidbit: Really consider the 9 Notions and 10 Fundamentals…they’re applicable to much more than just Innovation and YouTube.

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How to travel around Europe cheaply

This past weekend, my boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Ivalo, Finland. It was beautiful, and romantic, and well-planned — and a complete surprise. Also, we came back to London engaged. 🙂

IMG_0068Oh, and I chopped my hair. 10 inches donated!

While we were flying there, Jarin pulled up a map of Finland to show me where it was and, as usual, I was surprised by how close the countries are. We could have easily driven to Sweden, Norway, and Russia from Ivalo. That’s one thing I’m still getting used to in Europe – there are SO MANY countries so close to each other! A three-hour drive in the States will only get you one state over, and that’s only if you’re semi-close to a border. In Europe, however, three hours will get you to at least one new country, if not a couple (or four, in Ivalo’s case). Since the countries are so close, it makes it incredibly easy to travel around Europe. There are obviously several ways to travel — plane, train, ferry (for those traveling across any of the channels or seas), hiking, biking.. but how do you know you’re getting the best deal??

The first and most important thing when trying to get the best deal for your money: you need to be ready to buy tickets and reserve hotels/hostels/airbnbs as early as possible. I’m talking months (three or four at least, six is best). Start looking at and comparing airfare on sites like skyscanner or google flights, and think about using websites from the country’s destination (google.co.uk   vs   google.com)  — Sometimes you’ll find slightly better prices, and if nothing else the currency will be local so you can start getting used to the exchange rates.

A nice feature on skyscanner is their ‘Price Alerts’ option, where they send you an e-mail if the price drops below the price you’ve set as your lowest. Don’t get crazy and set a price alert for $2 because you’ll never get an e-mail, but if you set a realistic price and they find an airline with lower prices, they send you a notification. This is also only useful if you’ve started planning in advance, because once you buy your tickets they don’t offer to refund the difference.

SkyscannerThe red circle is the ‘Price Alerts’ button. Also, £36 for a flight to Dublin..WHAAA?!?!

Some great, inexpensive airlines around Europe are Ryanair and EasyJet, but make sure you check that they fly to your destination because they only have certain cities to which they fly inexpensively. However, you can grab a super cheap flight to a city near your destination and then take a train or hike or bike or find the most appealing mode of transportation to get you to your final destination.

Trains are the most fun way to travel, in my opinion. I just find the novelty endearing. (Trains are not as common in the States.) I’m sure it will wear off eventually, but I love being able to enjoy the scenery, bring as much liquid as I want without restriction (if you’re sneaky, you can even bring your own adult beverages!), have a dining car to grab slightly better food than what’s served on airlines (and for semi-reasonable prices, too), use your phones and actually have service, and stand for as long as you want. I think Jarin appreciates the standing areas more than I do. 🙂

Eurostar is the train service I’ve used to get from London to Western Europe, and if you sign up for their mailing list they have fantastic deals on tickets every three months or so. Currently, you can get a round-trip train ticket to Paris for £69, but I’ve seen offers where it’s £59 round-trip. However, you have to be willing to travel at slightly less popular times and/or days to get those rates.

Locally, train tickets are incredibly inexpensive. We took a day trip to Bath, England, bought round-trip tickets a couple of weeks beforehand, and only paid £20 each. Tickets to Oxford are less than £15 round trip if you are willing to leave during off-peak hours (not during rush hour). Again, if you have time, make sure to play around with times and days…often a Saturday morning departure is surprisingly less expensive than a Friday evening departure, and same for Monday morning vs Sunday evening.

One tip for my local readers, check out the rewards programs at stores you frequent. I have a Nectar card through Sainsbury’s and rack up points all over the place, since groceries are essential (obviously). The best part is I can redeem my points with travel companies like easyJet, Eurostar, or Expedia. And oftentimes when I check out and use my Nectar card, they’ll give me a coupon for double points on my next visit. Cha-ching!

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An extra card to carry around…but completely worth it.

(photocred: nectar.com)

If you have a credit card, chances are you can redeem your rewards points for travel of some sort — cash in on those! And if you fly a lot, use your air miles and/or hotel points to help make your travel less expensive. When it was official that I would be moving to London, I switched my credit card to a CapitalOne Venture Card because it had no foreign transaction fees and also because it gave me the best ratio for earning miles.

Takeaway tidbit: Plan European trips in advance to get the best deals. And use rewards programs to get free trips!

 

Happy Holidays! Christmas in America and New Year’s Eve in London

Getting upgraded to first class with Delta on my 9-hour flight home to America basically set the standard for how the rest of my vacation would go…free drinks and a reclining seat all the way home, baby. It was a fantastic break, and SO nice to be home with family. Saw lots of friends, spent most of our time with family (aka drove back and forth a lot between Nebraska and Missouri), AND I shot some guns. Lucky for my boyfriend, a friend let me borrow her shotgun and I was surprised how much I enjoyed shooting that gun. It might just become a hobby. Hunting though…that’s another ball game. Good luck, Jarin 😉

2014_12_20_6109Best Christmas present ever: a cookbook with handwritten copies of mom’s recipes.

DSC_0182Jarin’s family, wearing the hats from the Christmas crackers we brought home from London.

DSC_0183 (2)Bald eagle in front of the house….so cool. America.

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Shootin’ school. I was taking notes. (And pictures.)

We headed back to London before New Years because we wanted to celebrate in London, and I’m so glad we did. Unfortunately, this year was the first year that you had to buy a ticket to see the fireworks. We didn’t get tickets because we thought we could just meander down that way and surely find a decent spot to watch from. WRONG. They weren’t joking when they said they’d have all viewable places blocked off. And heavily secured. We were steered through the Embankment station up to the Strand on a very inflexible route…which made for a crowded walk.

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Once on the Strand the crowd dissipated a bit because, thankfully, they had the street blocked off from traffic. We walked down the Strand towards Somerset house and really lucked out, because the security working Waterloo bridge decided to gift everyone with a free entrance to the bridge.

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See the green security gates on either side? They were everywhere.

Made for a tight walk through security, but once we were on the bridge it was perfect. Room to take some beautiful shots of London at night:

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And had time to spare to get set up for the fireworks. As cheesy as it sounds, I used some of that time to reflect on how lucky I am to be pursuing my dreams in this marvelous, historic city. I’ve touched on my story previously, but it really has been an incredible ride getting everything in place for London to happen – and it wouldn’t have happened if this kid hadn’t brought up the idea. So I owe a lot of this journey to him, and am grateful that we get to experience it together. 🙂

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I had time to get switched over from camera to video, and was able to record the first part of the show. With no further ado, for your viewing pleasure, here is our view of the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebration in London. (Listen for Big Ben…coolest thing ever!!)

(goshdang WordPress isn’t letting me embed the video. Boo. Check it out on YouTube!)

Home will always be the Midwest for us, but while we’re living in London we’re absolutely making the most of it.

Here’s to a fabulous 2015!!

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Takeaway Tidbit: Make 2015 your year 🙂