An unofficial blog that watches Google's attempts to move your operating system online since 2005. Not affiliated with Google.

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October 31, 2007

Google Photo Picker

The standard Google dialog for choosing a photo integrates with Picasa Web Albums. If you want to add a photo to your orkut scrapbook, you can select it from your computer, from the web or from Picasa Web Albums. When you upload photos from your computer, they're saved in an album called "Drop Box". For each Blogger blog, Google creates an album that stores the images uploaded to that blog.

That means we could expect to see other Google apps using the same model. Google Docs could have an album that contains all the images uploaded to your documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The Gmail album would include all your image attachments. This way, you wouldn't have to upload the same image multiple times and you could reuse in other Google sites.

It's unclear why Google doesn't provide in the dialog an option to search your images from Picasa Web Albums. You still have to know the location and the name of an image. Google could extend the photo picker to documents and other files, move Google Desktop online and provide a unified way of uploading, organizing and sharing your files.


OpenSocial, Google's APIs for Social Applications


Interactive Friends Graph Map, a Facebook app. Image licensed as Creative Commons by inju.
You probably remember the post about Socialstream, a Google-sponsored project that tried to "rethink and reinvent online social networking". The result was a meta-social network that aggregates data from other community sites using APIs and whose goal "is to present social information in a way that ties it to the person who posted the information, and not the site from which it came."

Since last year, Google was busy developing plans for a set of APIs that would make it possible to communicate with other social networks. Brad Fitzpatrick, who moved to Google from Six Apart, wrote an interesting article "Thoughts on the Social Graph" that tackled this problem. "Unfortunately, there doesn't exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that's comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens." His solution was to make this database of social connections a "a community asset, utilizing the data from all the different sites, but not depending on any company or organization as the central graph owner."

Even if this will not bring Brad's vision closer to reality, Google will launch tomorrow OpenSocial, "a set of common APIs for building social applications across the web". According to a still-unofficial press release, "OpenSocial gives developers of social applications a single set of APIs to learn for their application to run on any OpenSocial-enabled website. By providing these simple, standards-based technologies, OpenSocial will speed innovation and bring more social features to more places across the web." The APIs give access to a user's profile, their friends, and the activity streams.

The success of Facebook's platform, that has more than 5000 applications, made a lot of social networks consider the launch of similar platforms. But not many developers would develop different applications for each social network, so smaller sites will have less visibility. orkut, Google's social network, has more than 70 million users, but only 18% are in the US. While it would've been easier for Google to just open up orkut, this common set of APIs will make the social applications more valuable because they can run in many other places and can access data from other sites.

Google's social APIs should be available at code.google.com/apis/opensocial (the site is not live yet). The initial social networks and companies that support the APIs are orkut, hi5, Friendster, LinkedIn, Viadeo, Ning, Salesforce, and Oracle. It will be interesting to see if other social networks decide to join Google's efforts. MySpace announced that will open its platform in the next months, but it's unlikely to use Google's APIs.


"The timing of OpenSocial couldn't be better. Developers have been complaining non stop about the costs of learning yet another markup launguage for every new social network platform, and taking developer time in creating and maintaining the code. Someone had to build a system to streamline this (...). And Facebook-fear has clearly driven good partners to side with Google," writes TechCrunch.

"Open Social's API is based entirely on Javascript. If you know HTML and Javascript today, you will be able to immediately use Open Social to turn your web applications and web sites into Open Social apps. You can also use standard web development tools to build Open Social apps. This is obviously a much better way to operate than having to learn a proprietary [mark-up] language or query language," writes Marc Andreessen.

And Google also has a financial incentive to build this open platform. "A person familiar with Google's efforts said that those applications have been far more effective for advertisers on social networks than users' personal pages," reports the New York Times. Google tried to convince "third-party developers with applications on Facebook to run Adsense ads within applications pages".

Update: MySpace joins OpenSocial. "MySpace says they are abandoning their efforts to create their own markup language (which is what Facebook has done) and direct APIs will go exclusively with OpenSocial." Other social sites that join Google's efforts: Bebo and Six Apart. It seems that everybody except Facebook will be in this coalition.

Update 2: "As the most trafficked website in the country and the most popular social network in the world, MySpace is one of the leading forces in the global social Web. We're thrilled to grow our strategic relationship with MySpace by joining forces on this important initiative," said Eric Schmidt. Google's press release is mostly about MySpace and its "commitment to supporting standards that foster innovation in an increasingly social Web". That's a welcome change from MySpace.

October 30, 2007

Google to Connect to Other IM Networks Using Jabber Transports?

With more storage, IMAP support and a new version optimized for performance, Gmail continues to surprise everybody. And if you think you've seen everything, you're wrong. After looking at the code of the recently launched Gmail 2.0, it seems that Gmail team actually listens to feedback, because they'll implement some of the popular suggestions:

* colors for labels

* detaching messages from a conversation

* Jabber transports (these could be used to chat with people from other IM networks, like Yahoo, MSN, AIM). You could already use these transports to connect Google Talk with other IM networks, but you have to use a third-party server and another IM client to configure the transports. Being able to chat with people from other networks, which are much more popular than Google Talk, will make Google's instant messenger more useful.

An extract from Gmail's JavaScript code:



It's also interesting that the new contact manager from Gmail lets you enter usernames for many IM networks:


What else would you like to see in Gmail 2.0?

October 29, 2007

Gmail's New Version Is Now Available

The new version of Gmail I was talking about the other day is already available in some Gmail accounts. If you see a link to an "older version" at the top of the page, that means you can enjoy the new features: mail prefetching, updated contact manager and other small updates.


Gmail has a new architecture that improves the performance and the usability. Now you can use the back button in your browser and bookmark URLs from different Gmail views because the URLs change when you go to a different section. The messages are prefetched when Gmail loads so you don't have to wait too much until a message is displayed.

The new contact manager has inline search, better options to delete contacts or add them to a group, the address is now structured and you can enter usernames for different IM networks. You can also export the contacts in vCard format, export the contacts from a group and print your address book so you can use it offline. If you want to see the new contact manager and you don't have the new version of Gmail, don't worry. It's a separate application that can be found at this URL.


Gmail also added an option to create filters based on the current message and a mystery-meat "mute" that brings to the interface an already existing feature. When you hover over a contact name you'll no longer see only the picture, now Gmail shows a beautiful contact card that lets you view the recent conversations with one click.




There are more options for displaying Gmail chat and you can now select a photo for your profile from Picasa Web Albums. Gmail will probably use the same profiles available in Google Maps and Google Shared Stuff.




Here are some comments from those who have the new version.

Chris: "Just experienced the new interface. The load time for the inbox takes a bit longer, but my goodness are the instantaneous load times of the pre-fetched emails ever convenient."

Anonymous: "The new interface seems quite a bit slower to me. Prefetched messages do load more quickly, but switching to labels/folders that have many messages now takes quite a bit longer. (E.g. switching to All Mail or Sent Mail from the inbox seems to be quite a bit slower now.) The new contacts manager is surprisingly unstable for a Google web product as well."

Gmail's interface is almost identical, but the team promises to add more features in the future. "The Gmail team has been working on a structural code change that we'll be rolling out to Firefox 2 and IE 7 users over the coming weeks (with other browsers to follow). You won't notice too many differences to start with, but we're using a new model that enables us to iterate faster and share components."

Bottom line - Gmail 2.0
- limited testing: Firefox, IE 7 (only some users)
- new JavaScript architecture
- look for: permalinks, new contact manager, photo picker, mail prefetching
- there aren't many new features, but I think these are the first steps for the social Gmail

{ Thanks, Jason Persampieri. }

How Gmail Blocks Spam

While Gmail doesn't filters all the spam messages that could reach your inbox, it certainly does a better job than other webmail apps like Yahoo Mail or Hotmail. Gmail's filters are constantly improving and an important ingredient of their effectiveness is the use of community signals. Every time you click on the "Mark as spam" button, Gmail uses that information to block similar future messages not only for you, but for all Gmail users. But spam is also evolving and it's harder to block, especially when it uses images and literary texts.

"Many Google teams provide pieces of the spam-protection puzzle, from distributed computing to language detection. For example, we use optical character recognition (OCR) developed by the Google Book Search team to protect Gmail users from image spam. And machine-learning algorithms developed to merge and rank large sets of Google search results allow us to combine hundreds of factors to classify spam," explains Google. "Gmail supports multiple authentication systems, including SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DomainKeys, and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), so we can be more certain that your mail is from who it says it's from. Also, unlike many other providers that automatically let through all mail from certain senders, making it possible for their messages to bypass spam filters, Gmail puts all senders through the same rigorous checks."


The spam in Gmail is also the subject of a promotional video that encourages to use Gmail if you want to "get back your time". The video reminded me of an old email account from my ISP: it received so much spam that it was almost impossible to find the genuine mail and the 10 MB of storage were insufficient to collect all this junk.


Maybe Google should make greater efforts to filter spam in other services, like Google Groups, Blogger or YouTube. The experience from Gmail could be useful.

October 28, 2007

The Growing World of Google Gadgets

Most people call them widgets, but Google wanted to be different: the first name was modules, but it was changed to gadgets. They're wrappers for small pieces of content from the web that can be added to a web page or to the desktop. "Google Gadgets are mini-applications that work with iGoogle, Google Desktop, or any page on the web. They can range from simple HTML to complex applications, and can be a calendar, a weather globe, a media player, or anything else you can dream up."

"[Gadgets] are so easy to create that they are a good starting point if you are just learning about web programming. The Google Homepage API consists of a few simple building blocks: XML, HTML, and JavaScript." This is a description from December 2005, when Google opened the personalized homepage to developers.

Since then, Google's gadgets evolved a lot: they have more functionality, can be added to web pages and Google Desktop, became a new form of advertising and are able to recreate a web page from scratches. But gadget also became synonymous to extension, add-on, plug-in at Google. The concept was extended to other applications: Google Maps (mapplets), Google Calendar (web content), Google Toolbar (buttons), Google Search (subscribed links) and more.

Google uses similar directories for all these different kinds of gadgets:

* iGoogle gadgets (more than 20,000)

* Google gadgets for web pages (a subset of the iGoogle gadgets)

* Google Desktop gadgets

* Google Toolbar buttons

* Google Maps mapplets

... but also for other types of content:

* Google Desktop plug-ins (extend the indexing capabilities)

* Google Earth KML files (overlays)

While most iGoogle gadgets can be added to web pages, Google Desktop gadgets can be added to iGoogle only using a browser plug-in and mapplets work only inside Google Maps. There's still no single standard for gadgets and you need to write different code, depending on the medium where the gadgets run.

It would be nice to write a single code that displays status data in Google Toolbar or in a mobile app, a simple interface in iGoogle, a richer interface in Google Desktop's sidebar and could also integrate with Google Maps or Google Calendar. A mail gadget could show the number of unread messages in Google Toolbar, their subjects in iGoogle, their content in Google Desktop, the locations mentioned in the messages at Google Maps and the events at Google Calendar. You would only need to add the gadget once and see it in different incarnations, depending on the context.

The Next Version of Gmail Will Be Faster

At the Analyst Day event from October 24, Google didn't announce a lot of things, but it revealed what we can expect from a new version of Gmail that will launch soon:

* prefetching messages. When you load a page that contains a list of messages, Gmail will fetch them in advance so that when you need them, they'll be available instantly. Google said that Gmail will have a completely new JavaScript architecture that will bring a much better performance.

* a new contact manager that will be shared with other Google apps (Google Docs, Google Calendar etc.)


* integrating features from other Google products (an example of an existing feature was the "Open as a Google Document" links placed next to Microsoft Office attachments).

Google didn't mention anything about an interface change, but a recent discovery showed that Gmail also prepares a new UI. Maybe the features I anticipated last month will still make their way in this new version of Gmail.

Related: Google Analyst Day 2007 @ YouTube

Update (a day later): Gmail 2.0 is here.

October 27, 2007

Customize YouTube's Player

YouTube has recently updated the video page's design. Besides some obvious changes, like a slightly bigger player that lets you jump anywhere in the video, YouTube now lets you customize the player when you copy the embedding code. The custom players were already available for playlists, but now you can use them for individual videos as well. Just click on "customize embed" next to the generated HTML code and choose a theme. You could also add a border around the video and choose not to show related videos.


The code will probably include an URL that looks like this:
http://www.youtube.com/v/FI76sKLMkMU&color1=0x006699&color2=0x54abd6

You can change the two colors from the URL (color1 and color2) to any value you want: the 216 web safe colors are a good start, but don't forget to replace "#" with "0x".

Here's a list of other YouTube parameters that could be useful if you want to manually edit the code (the default values are in bold):

* border (values: 0, 1) - if the value is 1, shows a border around the video
* rel (values: 0, 1) - if the value is 0, the player doesn't show related videos
* autoplay (values: 0, 1) - if the value is 1, the video starts to play automatically

Google's Marketing Dashboard

MediaPost reports that Google wants to integrate the reporting features from all of its ad products to provide a "fully functional marketing dashboard". Google intends to connect the three pieces: search, display and offline advertising. "The more measurement you can put on this type of functionality the better, said [Google's Tim] Armstrong - noting that once the DoubleClick acquisition closed, its display metrics would add yet another layer of functionality."

This week, Google partnered with Nielsen "to bring demographic data to the Google TV Ads advertising platform. (...) A key benefit of Google TV Ads is the ability to report second-by-second set-top box data so advertisers can evaluate the reach of an ad and only pay for actual set-top box impressions. Advertisers can better understand exactly how their ad is performing and make near real time changes to their TV advertising campaigns to deliver better ads to viewers. Data derived from Nielsen's representative television ratings panels will provide Google TV Ads advertisers with the demographic composition of the audience."

Cross-correlating data across different mediums could make Google AdWords even more powerful. Google knows the users' intentions (from search queries), what web pages they visit (from Web History or AdSense/Doubleclick's cookies) and now has information about TV preferences. While Google can't connect all this data to a Google Account, it could still use it to create profiles and cluster them, irrespective of the medium. Your actions could infer things about yourself, if you connect them to aggregated demographic data. Google also collects personal data through sites like YouTube, orkut, Blogger.


At the moment, Google uses demographic targeting only for offline ads (print, radio, TV) and for AdSense site targeting, but all the data comes from external sources.

Related:
Google Analyst Day 2007 - Ads and Enterprise Overview

October 26, 2007

The AdSense Loop

I didn't want to post about this, but Google disappointed me enough to do it. Last week, I received a message from AdSense that informed me I was "displaying Google ads in a manner that is not compliant with [their] policies". More specifically, the problem was the usage of "Google Brand Features", such as the "Google" from this blog's URL.

This is the second time I receive this message from Google. Last year, a post from Philipp Lenssen's Google Blogoscoped made Google change its mind. Thanks to Matt Cutts and other Googlers, I got this reply:

"While we do require that publishers obtain permission before running AdSense ads on Blogger sites that contain Google Trademarks in the URL, we've re-reviewed your site and are happy to grant you permission to continue running ads on googlesystem.blogspot.com."

This week, Google disabled the ads again, for the same reasons as before, but this time I didn't receive any reply from Google. It's strange to see this if you think that Google Operating System has never mislead people into thinking it's an official Google blog and the usage of "Google" in a subdomain should be allowed: "Don't register Google trademarks as second-level domain names," says one of the many Google guidelines. There are many important sites that use "Google" as part of the subdomain or domain name and Google still serves ads for these sites. What's more, I received permission to run ads on this blog.

unhappyGoogleTMUsers++;

Update (13 hours later).
unhappyGoogleTMUsers--;

Interesting response from Google: "As you know, we value automation, and sometimes, that automation is unable to parse nuances that separate illegal use from legal use." Hopefully, Google will do a better job at detecting the AdSense policy violations in the future and will adopt a clearer set of rules.

Thank you, Matt Cutts and Vic Gundotra.

October 25, 2007

SearchMash, Now in Flash

SearchMash, Google's experimental site launched last year to test new user interfaces for search results, has a Flash version (requires IE/Firefox and Flash 9). The site uses tabs to let you seamlessly switch between different search engines: web search, image search, Google Maps, Wikipedia search and more. When you click on a search result, you won't open the page as you might expect, instead you'll see a sidebar that shows a snapshot of the page, the snippet and three interesting options: see more results from the site, go to the homepage and read the page from Google Cache.

Google uses snapshots provided by Snap, who also uses them to power its search engine. You may remember Snap from the annoying little bubbles that pop up every time you hover over a link in many blogs, hoping to "enhance links with visual previews of the destination site".

It's easy to move between search results by using keyboard shortcuts (up and down arrows) or the mouse wheel. To go next set of results, you can press Page Down. Unfortunately, it's not that easy to actually visit a search result, which is the main purpose of a search activity. You'll need to either double-click on a result or click on the snapshot from the sidebar. Google will open the result in a frame, so you can't see the URL in your browser's address bar or link to the page unless you remove the frame. Google had to use frames to save the context of your search, but the result is very bad.


For images, Google shows in the sidebar a snapshot of the page that embeds the image, a link to the site and information about the image size. Now it's much more difficult to find the image and you need more clicks to find your way. The video section lets you play videos in the sidebar, but fails to properly indicate the source of external videos and Google continues to host third-party content. The frames from SearchMash team up with Google Video's frames to make your life miserable.


The flashy SearchMash has a list of recent searches, but it's not that easy to find it.

All in all, the Flash interface doesn't bring enough value to compensate for the many usability problems. While it's easy to switch between results using keyboard shortcuts or the mouse wheel, that doesn't justify using Flash, especially if you realize that most people won't know about that. It's also very difficult to link to a search result, the thumbnails are too small to be useful and only slow down the page.

Some things I'd like to see in Google's search interface from this experiment: link to the homepage of a site, search inside a site, keyboard shortcuts for switching between results, a list of recent searches.

{ via TechCrunch }

Nested Folders in Gmail

If you like Google's hack to bring folder support in Gmail's IMAP implementation, there's a way to better visualize the nested folders. Basically Gmail converts any folder into a label: if you create the folder Comments as a subfolder of Blog in a mail client, Gmail will convert it to the Blog/Comments label.

To see the folder structure, you can use the Folders4Gmail Greasemonkey script (requires Firefox and the Greasemonkey extension). Instead of Gmail's geeky labels, you'll see the hierarchy, but don't expect that by clicking on a folder's name Gmail will show all the messages from the subfolders. Only the folders that don't have any subfolder are actually useful.

The script can be used even if you don't like Gmail's IMAP, but in this case you'll create parent folders instead of subfolders. If you already have Comments and Tips as two labels in your Gmail account, you need to create the parent folder (the label Blog) and add Blog/ to the name of each of the two labels (Comments becomes Blog/Comments).

Many people want folders or hierarchical labels in Gmail, but this is as close as you can get. Those who really want support for folders will feel more comfortable using an email client instead of Gmail's web interface: you can easily create new folders and use drag&drop to move messages to a folder, even if the folder is actually a label in Gmail's internal representation.

Decomposing the Web and Rearranging its Fragments

Gadgets (or widgets) are usually compressed web pages that do one thing. They're powerful and interesting because you can use them to aggregate in a single page the things that are important to you. But each gadget has its own existence and it's not influenced by other gadgets, the page doesn't have the necessary cohesion and you often need to have to enter the same settings more than once.

Imagine you want to visit London and you create an iGoogle tab about London. You'll probably add a gadget that displays maps, a list of interesting places, news about London, weather. But the map gadget can display any map, so you need to enter "London" in the settings or as a query. Each gadget has its own settings and you can't click on a place and see it one the map or change the location from the map and see the weather for your new place. The gadgets don't talk to each other and don't share their settings.

The problem was solved by PubSub, a system that "allows multiple gadgets on the same page to send and receive data from each other". Of course, the gadgets need to be updated with the types of accepted messages. Probably the first interesting collection of PubSub gadgets is the Google Finance tab that basically recreates most of the Google Finance functionality from pieces. The first three gadgets show data from the homepage (your portfolio, top movers, sector summary), while the other five show information about a specific company (stock value, charts, competitors), but you only need to enter it once.


Google Finance also announced an API that allows gadget developers to integrate financial information. "The gadget API for market data provides a framework so developers can display stock market information from the American, Nasdaq and New York stock exchanges within a gadget on Google properties. Unfortunately, due to data licensing restrictions, we couldn't open this API for display on any platform," informs one of the many official Google blogs.

I think we'll see more and more full-featured collections of gadgets that deliver a lot of functionality by aggregating data from different places, while still providing a unified experience.

To see what is all about, add the Finance tab to your personalized Google homepage and try to imagine other creative uses of the synchronization system.

October 24, 2007

Email Notifications for Blogger Comments

Here's a good tip for those who leave comments on an old post from a Blogger blog: now you can get email notifications if someone posts a new comment. Just check "Email follow-up comments to my Google account address".

Blogger also provides feeds for each post's comments, but not many people use feed readers and those who use one don't want to increase the number of subscriptions with "weird" feeds that are useful for a limited time.

October 23, 2007

Gmail Supports IMAP

One of the most requested Gmail features was the addition of IMAP support. POP is nice, but IMAP is a much better option. Among the advantages, you're always connected to the server, more clients can connect to the same account, you can obtain the text from a message without the attachments and the state information is synchronized (you can add labels from the client, read or delete a message and Gmail will synchronize).

Gmail added IMAP support, but you'll have to enable it by going to Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP. Because the new feature is slowly rolled-out, you may not see it, but rest assured it will be available in the next days. Gmail's help provides more information about configuring your client, whether it's Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird, Blackberry, iPhone, Windows Mobile or Symbian device. You should also make sure you use these recommended settings.

"As some of you know, IMAP is the best way to access your email from multiple devices (e.g. phone or desktop). It keeps the same information synced across all devices so that whatever you do in one place shows up everywhere else you might access your email," explains the Gmail blog. That means you can read a message by using Microsoft Outlook and it will appear as read if you go to Gmail's web interface. Gmail's labels become IMAP folders, but if you try to add subfolders in your mail client, they'll become labels that look like this: Folder/Subfolder.

IMAP means you can experience most Gmail features using your favorite mail client. I said "most" because you'll still miss Gmail's conversations, the integration with Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Maps or the chat feature.

Gmail becomes the most important webmail service that offers free IMAP, joining AOL Mail. The new feature, which should be added to Google Apps accounts in the near future, will make Gmail a better option for businesses.



{ via Download Squad }

October 22, 2007

Google Switches to Its Own Translation System

Google switched the translation system from Systran to its own machine translation system for all the 25 language pairs available on the site. Until now, Google used its own system only for Arabic, Chinese, and Russian.

"Most state-of-the-art commercial machine translation systems in use today have been developed using a rules-based approach and require a lot of work by linguists to define vocabularies and grammars. Several research systems, including ours, take a different approach: we feed the computer with billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages. We then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model," explains Franz Och.

You can compare the new Google Translate with Babel Fish, a site that uses Systran to provide translations. The switch is a sign that Google's system has improved a lot and could soon be ready for expanding its coverage.



{ Thanks, Steve Rubel. }

Two

2004 posts, 11302 comments, 4400000 unique visitors, two years of Google Operating System. When this blog started, Google didn't have many products that get a lot of attention today. The list didn't include Google Docs, Google Calendar, Picasa Web Albums, Google Apps, YouTube. Gmail was still invite-only, iGoogle was launched in May 2005 and Google expanded in the geo-space with the acquisition of Keyhole (Google Earth) and the launch of Google Maps.

"Another day, another rocking Google service. Google Maps is now launched and is easily a better mouse trap vs. the withering no innovation competition of Mapquest and Yahoo Maps. It has a better user interface, layout, and features. They include real-time zooming, ability to click and drag maps, ability to use the keyboard to move around, driving directions, traffic conditions, and instant location of businesses in the area." (FirstAdopter.com, February 2005)

"Last Thursday, Google launched a personalized homepage. (...) For many years, Yahoo! has had the industry-leading portal (and still does, in almost everyone's opinion). (...) So why would Google launch a portal that can't compete content-wise with Yahoo? The Fool contemplates that the company is going to leverage personalization to sharpen its paid-search machine." (Rick Whittington, May 2005)

From 4,989 employees in September 2005 to 15,916 two years later, from $343.37 in October 2005 to $654.56 last week for GOOG, from acquiring Blogger to buying YouTube, what has changed except for the size? We expect more from Google and the mistakes are more visible. The secrecy is still there, even if Google made efforts to become more open, there are less new products and more new features, the products integrate with each other, the user interface is more polished and Google's steps seem less random. People find less reasons to leave the browser as Google's applications become mature, but there's still no community, no social layer that connects these apps in a consistent way. Google is now a verb and, for many, it's synonymous with search and finding things online.

"Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one. (...) Sergey and I founded Google because we believed we could provide a great service to the world—instantly delivering relevant information on any topic. Serving our end users is at the heart of what we do and remains our number one priority. (...) We want Google to become an important and significant institution. That takes time, stability and independence. We bridge the media and technology industries, both of which have experienced considerable consolidation and attempted hostile takeovers." ("An owner's manual" for Google's shareholders, 2004)

One is blogging about Google and its immediacy, two is about looking back and noticing the leaps. What has changed and what's unchanged?


Google Factory Tour - May 19, 2005 (339 minutes, the slides)

More Google Sitelinks


Many people use Google to find a website they already know, so they type things like [Yahoo], [BMW] or [weather.com]. But some people search for [Yahoo], even though the real intention was to go to Yahoo Mail. To save a click and some precious time, Google introduced sitelinks: a list of links to popular places from a site. "Our systems analyze the link structure of your site to find shortcuts that will save users time and allow them to quickly find the information they're looking for," explains Google. It's a search refinement at the site level.

Now Google shows up to 8 sitelinks instead of 4 and allows you to block the ones you don't like, but only for your sites. While Google displays only a small number of links, it actually generates a site map and sorts it according to a quality factor. A patent filled in 2005 included some examples of factors: the number of page views, the amount of time spent on a page as determined from Google Toolbar's data, but it's not clear if Google actually sorts the links this way or it only uses data from Google searches. Google Analytics and Google Web History are other two possible sources of information.
Log data storage may include information indicating whether a typical client scrolled through the web pages identified in log data storage or linked out of the web pages without scrolling. In still further alternatives, or in addition to the information described above, log data storage may store information retrieval scores associated with each web page identified in log data storage, where the information retrieval score indicates how closely a particular search query matches information on the web page. In still other alternatives or in addition to the information described above, log data storage may store information identifying the likelihood that a typical client will make a purchase associated with an item displayed on a web page. The likelihood that a purchase will be made may be provided by an entity (e.g., a company) associated with the particular web page or may be provided from user logs.

It will be interesting if Google decides to expose the automatically generated site maps through Google Toolbar or other interface and standardize the way you navigate the web.

Traffic Analysis for Content Hosted by Google



Google Analytics is useful to find information about your site's traffic, but it would be even more useful to gather stats for other sites you use to post your content online. For example, you might post videos on YouTube, upload photos to Picasa Web Albums and create documents using Google Docs. It would be interesting to link these services with Google Analytics and get access to a wealth of information about the number of views for each item, the time spent on a page, the referrals and more.

Google already does this for Project Hosting: "To provide the most useful software to your users, you might want to know simply how many potential users have visited your project workspace, which countries they come from, which browsers they use, and which of your wiki pages they have viewed. Now all those questions can be answered. Project owners may simply sign up for Google Analytics and enter an analytics profile number into the project admin page. Tracking data can be viewed on the Google Analytics site about 24 hours later."

This could solve a lot of user requests and make these services more personal and more useful. Scribd, a document sharing service I mentioned earlier this year, shows a lot of traffic data publicly, but I'm not sure if that's the way to go.

Remove Spam from Google Blog Search

Even if Google Blog Search doesn't have too many interesting features, I still use it more often than Technorati because it's faster, it's not down for hours, it's much more comprehensive and it has features not available in any other important blog search engine. I still use Technorati for finding backlinks, because Google does a poor job in this area (compare Technorati with Google Blog Search). Unfortunately, Google Blog Search indexes a lot of spam posts that steal content and use it for lucrative purposes.

Google has two features that reduce the number of splogs (spam blogs) from search results. Like in web search, there's a duplicate filter that removes some of the posts that are almost identical. But it doesn't exclude all of them and it doesn't find posts that duplicate articles from news sites like Business Week.


The second feature is the option to sort results by relevancy, which is enabled by default. It may seem counterintuitive to sort blog search results by relevancy and not chronologically, but that's a great way to filter splogs or at least move them at the bottom of Google's search results. Google uses a lot of signals to rank blog posts, including PageRank, the number of feed subscriptions or the amount of duplicate content. But if you sort the results by relevancy, you'll find both recent and old posts and that's not always the optimal solution. A better way is to restrict the results to a recent period of time in the sidebar (to the last day or the last hour, depending on the volume of posts).


If you see a "References" link after the snippet, that's an indication that Google found (a significant number of) backlinks, so the result should be a little more reliable.

Many blogs use Google Alerts to pollute the web and make money, so you could also add [-"google alert"] to your query (a search for "google alert" returns more than 200,000 results). A lot spam blogs are hosted by Google's Blog*Spot, so removing the posts from blogspot.com could increase the quality of your results, but also remove non-spammy blogs like this one or Google's official blogs. I also noticed that many spam blogs use the .info TLD. A recent study showed that, when searching for commercial keywords, 75% of the results from blogspot.com and 68% of the results from .info sites are spam.

It's also a great idea to restrict the result to English (or another language) in "Advanced blog search".

So here's a summary:

1. sort the results by relevancy
2. restrict the results to a recent period (last day)
3. restrict the results to English (or another language)
4. if you really have to sort the results by date, remove the posts that follow a spammy pattern (for example, add -"google alert" -site:blogspot.com -site:.info to your query), but make sure you don't remove important results
5. check the posts that contain "References"

Google should do a better job at detecting spam in Blog Search results and identifying results from sites that happen to have feeds, but they're not blogs. It should also make it more difficult for spammers to use sites like Blogger or Google Alerts to pollute the search results.

October 21, 2007

The Supercomputer that Connects Everything and Everyone

One of the best articles ever written about Google is "Google. Who's looking at you?" from the The Sunday Times. The article tries to understand Google's latest projects by looking at what Google really wants to do in the distant future. And while reading the plan, you'll realize that Google's power from today doesn't mean anything compared to the envisioned plans. Here are some interesting quotes, but the article is too good not to be read entirely (my emphasis):
[Craig] Silverstein, now director of technology, explains that, from the earliest days, Brin and Page envisaged a super-connected computer. "The vision of search has always been broader than has been portrayed in the press," he says. (...) He recalls one example that shows that Brin and Page imagined that one day even the smallest "stuff" would be online. "When we were doing the first research, we used to eat in Whole Foods [an organic supermarket chain]. We talked about using search to find out what aisle the salt is on. Instead of having to look at the big signs at the top of each aisle, you could use a search engine to tell you where in the store everything is, and maybe graph it out for you."

Brin and Page were obsessed with recording, categorising and indexing anything and everything, and then making it available to anyone with internet access because they genuinely believed - and still do - that it is a morally good thing to do. It may sound hopelessly hippie-ish and wildly hypocritical coming from a couple of guys worth £10 billion each, but Brin and Page insist they are not, and never have been, in it for the money. They see themselves as latter-day explorers, mapping human knowledge so that others can find trade routes in the new information economy.

Google's plans have three parts: bringing everything online and to make it searchable (universal search), indexing personal information about users (personalized search) and creating new things online using Google's web-based software (cloud computing). The idea is to bring everything online, with various levels of privacy, making it accessible using search and useful from Google's web apps.
Instead of worrying that they are going too far, Google's top team talk, with poker faces, about a "300-year mission" that will eventually see almost everything - including, perhaps, one day you and me - linked to the web and searchable online. (...) Google's techno-dream comes in three bytes. The first is loosely referred to as "universal search". Scribbling frantically on a whiteboard, Mayer, Google's head of search products and user experience, says the web is currently "very limited and primitive". It consists mainly of words, images and some music, mostly created in the last few years. There is much, much more that could - and should - be online. At its simplest level, this includes every film, TV show, video or radio broadcast ever made; every book, academic paper, pamphlet, government document, map, chart and blog ever published in any language anywhere; and any piece of music ever recorded. Google is currently developing new software that will scan millions of new sources of information to give richer search results. (...) Mayer and co argue that to be true to its mission statement of "organising all the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful", Google should be about more than searching for words, images and music; it should be about finding objects and, eventually, people. Any item that can be fitted with a radio-frequency identifier - an electronic tag called an RFID - can be linked to the internet over local or national WiFi networks.

But once you have everything online, how do you link the objects from Google's index with those who need to find them? How do you understand what they want to find if you don't know anything about them? In most cases, the same question shouldn't generate the same answer for everyone.
The second part of Google's techno-dream is "personalised search". (...) Google wants us to sign up for iGoogle on our PC, and also to install it, along with Gmail, Google Maps and Google Earth software, on our mobile phone, so that it knows not just who we are but where we are in the world, 24 hours a day, thanks to the satellite-positioning chips starting to be included in mobile phones. "Our goal is that you can, if you want, search for anything, anywhere, any time," says Douglas Merrill, 37, Google's chief information officer.

To make the information useful, you may need to use it in some context or share it with other people. Google's apps should make this happen from any computer or device connected to the Internet.
The final piece of the Google future is called "cloud computing". Instead of using the internet to search for information that we then copy and use to work on documents stored on the hard drives of our computers, using the software on those computers, Google wants us to create all our documents online, to work on them online using Google's web-based software, and to store them online on Google's vast global network of servers.

By looking at these placemarks from Google's future map, it's clear that search is the most important Google service and every new addition expands the index with more information. It's also obvious that search will propel Google's apps, which become some collectors of search results and channels for communicating them.
If this will happen and Google will become the universal ministry of search and communication, the future will tell. For now, Google seems the only company that has the resources and the desire to conquer the world at the informational level, but that's no guarantee for success.

October 20, 2007

Offline Blogger


To anticipate an email from Google, I must say that Blogger didn't launch a version that works offline, so the tool described in this post is only an example of what you can do using the recently-launched Blogger JavaScript library. The new library lets you create applications that interact with the account of a Blogger user: retrieve his blogs, edit existing posts, or create new posts. Basically, you can create a different Blogger editor by only writing JavaScript code.

Blog.gears is an example of Blogger editor that uses Google Gears to make it work offline. You're able to create blog posts and edit one of the recent posts even if you don't have an Internet connection. As soon as you go back online, Blog.gears synchronizes the data stored offline with the data from Blogger's servers. There's nothing fancy about the editor (no rich-text editor, you can't add images or preview the post), but it's a cool preview of what we can expect from a new version of Blogger that will be offline-enabled.

A more advanced blog editor that works offline and it's not restricted to Blogger is Windows Live Writer. "Writer synchronizes drafts on your blog with changes you make when you're offline, so you don't have to worry about reconciling different versions."

Google's Homepage Goes Black in San Francisco


Google decided to be a part of the "Lights Out San Francisco" event that invites "the entire city of San Francisco to install one compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) and turn off all lights for one hour, from 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm PDT" today, October 20. To promote this event, Google's homepage changes its background color from white to black. You should see the change during the day if you are in San Francisco.

"Given our company's commitment to environmental awareness and energy efficiency, we strongly support the Lights Out campaign, and have darkened our homepage today to help spread awareness of what we hope will be a highly successful citywide event," says Google in a page set up for the event.

Google also explains that, contrary to other opinions, permanently changing the background to black would not save energy. "To the contrary, on flat-panel monitors (already estimated to be 75% of the market), displaying black may actually increase energy usage."

{ Via Geeked.info }

October 19, 2007

Facebook App for Google News

Google realized that it has ignored the social space for too long and that its services could be more useful if they had a social touch. After launching a site for sharing web pages with your friends and adding profiles to Google Maps, Google should integrate the sharing platform with other Google sites and unify the profiles across all Google services.

To test the waters for a social news site, Google launched a Facebook app for Google News. The application lets you customize the sections and expands them with more stories without reloading the page, but it only displays a single story for each cluster. You can share a story with some of your friends or post it to your profile, keep track of your shared stories and see a list of items shared by your friends.

"Whether it is from our homepage, one of our RSS feeds, or on a mobile device, Google News seeks to connect people with the news that matters to them -- wherever they may be. As part of that goal we are pleased to announce the Google News Application for Facebook. This experimental application enables users to create custom sections or select from a set of pre-defined topics, then browse and share stories with their friends on Facebook," announces the Google News Blog.

The unofficial Google Reader Facebook app is already popular, so an official Google app would be even more successful. In the grand scheme of things, Google News, Google Blog Search and Google Reader could be combined into a single application that delivers news from your favorite sources, news recommended by your friends or by Google. The items should be clustered and ordered based on their importance, your reaction to other similar items and your interests.

October 18, 2007

YouTube Updates the Embeddable Player

YouTube updated once again its embeddable player to match the one currently available in beta at YouTube.com and the custom players. There aren't two many changes, but the player is snappier and looks better. If click on "more", you'll see two ways to share the video: by embedding it in your site or by sending the link. The embedding option generates a player with a bigger height than usual, which suggests the new player could be ad-enabled like the recently launched video units.

In an interview, Marissa Mayer admitted that YouTube's embedded player is a very valuable asset and makes YouTube a distribution platform. YouTube became so popular that many people who want to post a video online or share it with their friend go to YouTube and upload the video. This way, almost any important video from the recent years can be found on YouTube. Because of its omnipresence, the YouTube player is a great vehicle for advertising and Google intends to use it: YouTube introduced overlayed video ads for some content partners, an AdSense-enabled YouTube player, but the new video identification technology launched this week will allow them to extend the monetization to the rest of the videos.

Here are two screenshots of the updated player, followed by a discussion with Sergey Brin and Larry Page from the Google Zeitgeist 2007 conference.




{ via Googlified }

Historical Data for Your Site's Top Search Queries

Google Webmaster Tools shows even more information about your site. Now you can find historical data about the most popular queries for which your site appeared in the top 10. You can compare the queries for the last week with the queries from last month or two months ago and find what has changed. It's also interesting to compare the top search queries with the top clicked queries and see if you can improve the title of the page or the actual content. Google Webmaster Tools lets you find data from specialized search engines like Blog Search and restrict it to some international Google Domains, like UK, Canada or India.


While some of this data can be obtained using tools like Google Analytics, you can't find the queries that bring you high rankings, but no clicks. In Webmaster Tools, the information is available in Statistics > Top search queries. Special tip: if you download all the query stats as a CSV file, you'll also get data for each subdirectory. For example, I found that my posts from March (that are placed in the subdirectory googlesystem.blogspot.com/2007/03/) ranked well in India for these queries: [google transliteration], [google bookmarks], [google screensaver].


Another update lets you exclude some of the links automatically generated by Google that are displayed in some cases for the first search result. "Sitelinks are extra links that appear below some search results in Google. They serve as shortcuts to help users quickly navigate to the important pages on your site. (...) Now, Webmaster Tools lets you view potential sitelinks for your site and block the ones you don't want to appear in Google search results."


Update: Ex-Googler Vanessa Fox has more insight about sitelinks.
Google autogenerates the list of sitelinks at least in part from internal links from the home page. (...) If you want to influence the sitelinks that appear for your site, make sure that your home page includes the links you want and that those links are easy to crawl (in HTML rather than Flash or Javascript, for instance) and have short anchor text that’ll fit in a sitelinks listing. They’ll also have to be relevant links. You can’t just put your Buy Cheap Viagra now link on the home page of your elementary school site and hope for the best. (...)

Not all searches trigger sitelinks. This only happens for searches that Google thinks might benefit from them. For instance, if they think the query has enough inherent intent (...), they figure the listings alone are likely the one-click answer for the searcher.

On Google's Mobile Strategy

A guest post by Chad Bam


Chad Bam is the founder and chief writer for Ga Ga Gooogle.com, a blog that discusses Google's strategy, stock trends and the latest Google news. Here is a summary of a three-part series titled: Google's Mobile Strategy (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).


Today Google is a pure money machine. The company has done a phenomenal job maximizing ad revenues. They also know they need to think, plan and executive for the long term. To remain a viable long-term powerhouse, Google will need more than just landline PC Internet search advertising. Which brings us to their long-term focus: Mobile.

Unplugging the PC / landline Internet. Mobility is where Google will create a greater fortune, and put a big hurting squeeze on it's competitors. As Eric Schmidt puts it:

"Mobile, mobile, mobile - it's probably the most wide open space out there right now."

We are on the cusp of a new revolution: the untethered Internet; the mobile Internet. I'm talking about going beyond a "cell phone." This revolution is just starting (the iPhone is a prime example), and Google's covering all their bases to be the key player and money maker.

Let's look at the wireless infrastructure and how Google will "own" it. All wireless companies (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint) own spectrum. It's the air waves that all cell phone calls run over. Spectrum is also a finite asset, which means it's limited. This is why the wireless carriers spend billions at these spectrum "auctions". If they don't own spectrum, they can't run their business.

There has been a lot of buzz about the 700Mhz spectrum auction taking place in January 2008 because Google stepped into the fray. This spectrum was used by TV companies for analog television. The government is requiring the TV companies give the spectrum back as they convert to a digital signal (which needs to be completed by the 2009 deadline).

The spectrum is valuable real estate because it covers 196 million people in the U.S. and will be true mobile broadband (much faster than today's current 2.5 G or 3G networks). Enter Google.

We believe Google has no intention of bidding on the spectrum, owning the spectrum, or running a wireless network. It's not their core business. Google is sitting at the spectrum card table, holding their cards tight, and bluffing--- with a straight face. They are trying to loosen the hold wireless carriers have on us, the end users.

Today, wireless carriers control the phone and applications that run on their networks, and how long we are committed to them. Google wants an open wireless Internet (network), just like the landline Internet. In an open market, Google can thrive. Specifically, Google wants the following, as stated on the Google Public Policy Blog:
  • Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;

  • Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;

  • Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and

  • Open networks: third parties (like Internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at a technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee's wireless network.

Of course the major wireless carriers don't want this, as it will just increase competition and lower their profit margins. They don't want to lose control. So Google has been hard at work lobbying the FCC [PDF].

But even Google doesn't always get what it wants, in this case, half. Google's words:

"In essence, the FCC embraced two of the four openness conditions that we suggested several weeks ago: (1) open applications, the right of consumers to download and utilize any software applications or content they desire; and (2) open devices, the right of consumers to utilize their handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer. Today the FCC took some concrete steps on the road to bringing greater choice and competition to all Americans."

But Verizon is now pushing back. As Verizon won't get pushed around without a fight. And neither will AT&T, as they just bought a boat load of 700Mhz spectrum right under the nose of Google and Verizon. Holly crap!!! That was a slick move. Google, how did you miss that? Now AT&T is not beholden to the spectrum auction, but they will still bid on it, just to bid the price UP UP UP.

So where is Sprint in all this? Enter Xohm.

Sprint already owns 4G wireless spectrum in the 2.5Ghz band, so it doesn't not need the 700Mhz spectrum. Sprint will launch Xohm (a WiMAX 4G mobile broadband technology) on it's 2.5Ghz band and has already partnered with Google, Intel, Motorola, Samsung and others..

Sprint plans to launch it's WiMAX in April 2008, a full year or two before any vendor will be able to use the 700Mhz spectrum. So Sprint has an advantage (if they can get out of their own way). Xohm is like WiFi, but runs long distances. It will have mobile broadband speeds averaging 2-5 megabits, with bursting speeds of up to 10 megabits. It will be the mobile Internet.

From Xohm.com:

"Xohm customers will be able to experience a new form of interactive communications, high-speed Internet browsing, social networking tools, local and location-centric services, and multimedia services including music, video, TV and on-demand products through a new mobile portal."

So Google gets the open devices and open applications on the 700Mhz spectrum and partners with Xohm. What does this mean?

It means the Gphone will debut on April 1, 2008 (on the 4th anniversary of Gmail). But it may not be what you think.

It will debut on the Xohm mobile Internet (see Google's Mobile Strategy, Part 2). It will be a data-only device, but don't fret, you'll still be able to make voice calls. You'll pay a flat fee and won't sign a contract. That's right, no contract! Pay to use it just for the day, or pay monthly; or yearly. You decide.

The voice calls will be VoIP (voice over IP) leveraging an integrated version of Google Talk and GrandCentral. The device will be Google's "unified communications" platform. This Linux-based platform (OS or framework) will also include search, maps, gmail, reader, calendar, docs, texting, location-based services, presence, social networking and, of course, ads. And the monthly fee will be much lower than your standard cell phone plan, partially offset by unobtrusive click ads. Talk away, text away, surf away... it doesn't matter, it's unlimited! The device will be manufactured by HTC with a full qwerty keyboard and run all Google's mobile services. But unlike today's scattered apps, they will be tightly integrated, all having the Google UI feel, like Gmail and Maps.

Why run it on Xohm? Simple. Xohm has no restrictions on applications, devices or services. Use it at will. Plus Xohm is IP-based with less latency (better performance) with a more efficient use of the spectrum (it can scale very well). Plus Xohm (WiMAX) is being rolled-out internationally by other carriers, so it will eventually be a global standard for the mobile Internet. In April, Xohm will be as close as you can get to the Mobile Internet today and will distinctly outperform today's 3G networks.

Google will then follow-up with more devices on the 700Mhz spectrum (whichever carrier wins it). Today's carrier's have Google boxed-out with end user restrictions (see Google's Mobile Strategy Part 2). Sprint, on the other hand, needs to use the 2.5Ghz spectrum (or they'll lose it) and desperately needs differentiators against Verizon and AT&T. Google needs the free open mobile Internet (Xohm). End users need lower cost plans and no commitments or contracts with better Internet capabilities.

October 17, 2007

Google on an iPhone

Google's mobile sites look a little different on an iPhone. The iPhone versions don't have special URLs, as Google checks the user-agent to detect different devices. I changed my Firefox user-agent by typing about:config in the address bar and creating a new string value:

Name: general.useragent.override
Value: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/1A538a Safari/419

To go back the original value, you just have to right-click on the item and select "Reset".

While the iPhone versions usually have a better user interface, in some cases they also have more features (Mobile Google Docs lets you view presentations only on the iPhone). I wonder how they will look on a Google Phone.




Picasa Web (compare it with the standard mobile version)



{ Thanks, Martin Porcheron. }

Google Maps Goes Social

Another piece from Google's social project has been released: Google Maps becomes social with the addition of user profiles. Until now, users could create personalized maps and write reviews for local businesses, but they didn't have an identity. Google Maps uses the same profiles from Shared Stuff and the same user IDs, so these profiles will probably added to all Google services to provide the integration.

Google Maps and Google Earth build a solid geographic platform that can be used to define your world and see how it intersect with other people's worlds. You can broadcast your presence with tools like Jaiku, annotate the places you visit, expand your world with places suggested by people that have similar interests, understand the life from other countries and find what's hot in your neighborhood. Google Earth could have a new layer that's more interesting than videos, sounds or pictures: people.



Mobile Google Docs

The mobile version of Google Docs, available at http://docs.google.com/m, displays the list of documents and almost lets you view them. The interface is somewhere between the iGoogle gadget and the desktop interface. It's pretty easy to find documents by using search, going to a folder or looking in the list of recent documents. But once you find the file, you won't be able to do too much. For most phones, you can read documents and view spreadsheets a column at a time. If you have an iPhone, your experience will be better: spreadsheets can be fully displayed and presentations can be opened.

"At this point, we support both the iPhone and Blackberry mobile devices. Note, however, that presentations are only supported on the iPhone. Google Docs documents and spreadsheets should also work on phones that offer rich-browser support. While we haven't tested it across all mobile devices, a good rule of thumb is that the more advanced your phone's browsing capabilities, the more seamlessly Google Docs will work," mentions a note from the help center.

Maybe Google should release a mobile application that actually lets you edit the documents.

Google Docs Mobile homepage


A Google document


The painful way to view a spreadsheet
(one column, 20 rows at a time)

{ via Google Blogoscoped }