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

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June 30, 2008

Google Photos?

Launched in 2006 as an online extension of the Picasa photo management application, Picasa Web Albums didn't become very popular, as Flickr continued to grow. Besides lacking a community of photography enthusiasts and leaving out a lot of basic features like stats or adding a photo to favorites, Picasa Web Albums is not a great name and many might not even know that Google has a photo sharing service.

There are many references in Picasa Web's code which show that the service will change its name to Google Photos. The navigation bar already uses "Photos" as an anchor text, there's a Google Photos Screensaver and the service's blog is titled Google Photos Blog.


Other upcoming features referenced in the code include content licensing options, uploading photos by email and tagging people in your photos.

YouTube's Search Module

Probably as an alternative to the list of related videos displayed in a sidebar, YouTube experiments with a search box placed below the video's description. The search box doesn't load a new page to show the results, as you can see in the screenshot.


You can search for things mentioned in the video or create a small playlist of related videos by adding some of the results to YouTube's Quicklist. Maybe in the future YouTube will open the sidebar modules to developers so you can add useful information related to the current video: music lyrics, popular playlists that include a video or videos recorded on the same location.

Update: Another experiment shows a link for a related video and an option to automatically play all the related videos.

June 29, 2008

Export Data from Google's Services

Google mentioned in many occasions that it doesn't want to trap users' data and some of its services have started to provide import/export options. Here are some of the ways to export your data from Google's services:

* iGoogle lets you download the list of gadgets, feeds, themes and their corresponding options if you go to the settings page and scroll down to the "Export / Import" section. The resulting XML file can be imported to another Google account and those who are familiar with XSLT could covert iGoogle's data file to OPML, so you can subscribe to the feeds in Google Reader or any other feed reader.

* Google Calendar has options to export your calendars one by one as iCal files, but it's much easier to export all the calendar you created by going to: http://www.google.com/calendar/exporticalzip.

* Google Docs lets you export your documents as an archive of HTML files and images. To export your files, restrict the Docs list to documents, select all the files and choose "Save as HTML (zipped)" from "More actions". Zoho can already import your documents and there's a Greasemonkey script that helps you download all the files from Google Docs, not just the documents.

* Blogger added in the experimental version available at draft.blogger.com an option to export the posts and comments from your blogs as an Atom feed. Hopefully, developers will write scripts that convert Blogger's feeds to the formats accepted by other blogging services.

* Google Bookmarks can be exported as a HTML file, but for some reason browsers can no longer import the bookmarks. The web history or search history can be exported as a RSS feed: http://www.google.com/history/lookup?q=&output=rss&num=1000 (replace 1000 with the number of items you want to export).

* Gmail lets you export your contacts as CSV or vCard, but Google automatically adds all the people you send a reply in the list of contacts.

It would be nice to export all your data from a single page, so you can delete a Google account or switch to a competing service without losing your data.

June 28, 2008

Google Talk as a Social Network

I know it seems hard to believe, but your Google Talk contacts will become... your Google Friends. Everything started last year with an innocent addition to Google Reader: automatically broadcasting your shared items to your friends. If you use Google Reader, you probably noticed that you're subscribed to the shared items from your Google Talk contacts. Many complained that their Google Talk contact list includes many people that are not necessarily friends. "I have business contacts, school contacts, family contacts, etc., and not only do I not really have any interest in seeing all of their feed information, I don't want them seeing mine either," explained a Google Reader user.


But how does someone become your friend in Google Talk? You can send or accept an invitation, but there's another option enabled by default: "Gmail automatically determines which contacts you'll be able to talk to without having to invite each other," based on how frequently you mail each other. And since Gmail contacts include all the people you've ever replied to, you'll end up with a new Google Talk friend after replying 2-3 times to someone's messages.

Here's a screenshot from the recently launched Google Friend Connect, a service that brings social features to ordinary web sites. As you can see, Google Talk is listed next to Facebook, orkut and hi5.


The invisible social network needed a way to expose information about its users, so you can now create a Google Profile. There's even a shortcut for accessing your profile: http://www.google.com/s2/profiles/me.

But without a place where you can share interesting stuff with your friends, Google Talk would be just a virtual social network. iGoogle, the site where you can aggregate all the things you find important, will become Google's main social site when the new version of iGoogle will be released. Among other features, the new iGoogle will add a Google Talk widget, support for OpenSocial applications and a gadget that shows updates from your friends. iGoogle's gadgets and presumably some Google services will be able to push updates to an activity stream that will be shared with your friends, which happen to be the Google Talk contacts. That means your GTalk contacts will be informed when you share a post in Google Reader, when you upload photos in Picasa Web Albums or post a review in Google Maps.


This is actually the Maka-Maka project revealed last year in a confidential Google video that has been accidentally published. "The new central place for social activities will create feeds for all or your events (activity streams) and share them with your contacts," I mentioned in that post.

That means Google Reader's sharing feature was just a rehearsal for a much bigger release that will make the hidden Google Talk social network more visible.

June 27, 2008

Major Update for Google's Blogger

It's raining with features in the experimental version of Blogger, available at http://draft.blogger.com. To try these new features, it's a good idea to visit Draft Blogger and temporarily enable "Make Blogger in Draft my default dashboard" at the top of the page.

Probably the most important new feature is the inline commenting system, that lets you post comments without opening a new page. This year, I tried using a pop-up window for the comment form, but it's still inconvenient to post comments. The new option, which can be added in the Draft Blogger by going to Settings > Comments > Comment Form Placement, uses an iframe to display a textarea and a list of authentication options:

<iframe allowtransparency="true" id="comment-editor" src="http://www.blogger.com/comment-iframe.g?blogID=BLOGID&postID=POSTID" scrolling="auto" width="100%" frameborder="0" height="275"></iframe>


I added the inline comment form to the template, so you can try it. For now, you can't preview the comment before posting it and I haven't figured out how to add the option to delete your comment.

Another extremely useful new feature lets you import and export your posts and comments. "Now you can export all of your posts and comments into a single, Atom-formatted XML file for easy backup. You can then import the posts back into Blogger, either into an existing blog or into a new one." The option is available in the Draft Blogger by going to Settings > Basic. Please note that the exported XML file can be quite large: for example, this blog's entire archive has 10.2 MB.


Blogger has a new post editor that borrows a lot of new tricks from Google Page Creator. You can move the images inside a post and dynamically choose between different sizes of the image. The new editor is smart enough to no longer replace newlines with <br> tags when you add tables, lists, styles, scripts and objects. There's also an improved preview option that uses your template to style your content. Unfortunately, the new editor lacks many features currently available: auto-save, spell checking, video upload and the toolbar for editing HTML.


Blogs that use the new layouts can add star ratings to get feedback from readers, but I'm not sure if this is a useful feature. There's also an option that integrates Blogger with Google Webmaster Central: you can automatically add all your Blogger blogs with a single click.

This is one of the biggest updates to Blogger and many of the new features are long overdue. If everything goes well, all these features will soon be available in the standard Blogger interface.

{ Thanks, Brad Linder. }

June 26, 2008

A Media Server from Google


A surprising Google Desktop gadget released by Google enables you to share your media across devices. "Google Media Server uses an open technology known as Universal Plug n' Play to stream media to consumer electronic devices. The UPnP specification allows for a variety of hardware (gaming consoles, set-top boxes, photo frames) to communicate and access media from your home PC."

The Windows-only gadget lets you share all the media content indexed by Google Desktop or just the files from some of your folders. Google Media Server can also share some of your Picasa albums (from your computer or from Picasa Web Albums) and the videos uploaded to YouTube.

Google's application requires to authorize the devices that are allowed to access your files, but there's an option to allow any device to access the Media Server.


Google Desktop's blog mentions PlayStation 3 as an example of UPnP-enabled device. Google Media Server's team says that "the only way to connect the XBox 360 to a UPnP server, was to have a service that is only found on Microsoft services (used for registering for DRM content) and for the server itself to be claimed to be made by Microsoft. Legal would not allow us to pretend to be Microsoft (although there are other servers out there that do)."

This is a very interesting way to use Google Desktop: streaming media files that are stored online and on your computer. A recent YouTube blog post mentioned a list of devices that enable you to access YouTube from your living room and Google Media Server is another step in this direction.

If you manage to connect the application to one of your devices, post your feedback in the comments and use the Media Server Group to ask for help.

Google Tests the New iGoogle


Announced in April, the new version of iGoogle that brings social applications is tested in a small number of randomly selected Google accounts.

The new iGoogle places the tabs on the left-hand side of the page and you can expand the tabs to see the list of gadgets and status information, like the number of unread Gmail messages. There's a new chat feature borrowed from Gmail that lets you chat with your contacts while visiting iGoogle - that means iGoogle gets a sense of presence because you'll know when your contacts are online. Since the chat feature will be enabled by default, it's obvious that Google will be able to add options for sharing items and discussing posts with the contacts that are online.

iGoogle also adds a list of updates from your contacts similar to Facebook's newsfeed: you can see stories shared by your contacts in Google Reader, recent photos uploaded to Picasa Web Albums, Google Talk status messages, shared iGoogle themes and gadgets.


Another change is that gadgets have an expanded interface, called canvas view. Gadgets authors will take advantage of this to display more information and make their gadgets more interactive, while your feeds can be read in a Google Reader-like interface. In the future, iGoogle will support OpenSocial applications and the transformation to a social site will be complete.

Google announced that the canvas view will be rolled out to a small percentage of users this month and to more users in July, while the OpenSocial applications "will not work in production until later this summer".

Update (Oct. 16): The new iGoogle has been launched.

Google Reader Is Feeling Lucky

Google Reader decided to simplify the way you add feeds. Previously, you had to click on "Add subscription" and either type the address of the site or enter some keywords. After entering some keywords like [Google blog] or [new scientist], Google Reader displayed a list of results mostly obtained using a standard web search. Basically, Google Reader took the list of web search results and filtered the web pages that didn't have feeds. This approach worked well in many cases, but not when the search results included pages from Wikipedia or YouTube, sites that have irrelevant feeds.

Now when you enter a navigational query in the "add subscription" box, Google Reader will directly subscribe to the top result. For example, if you type [new scientist], Google Reader will automatically subscribe you to New Scientist's feed, but that's not the case when enter a more general query like [scientist].


This works similarly to Google's Browse by Name, a feature available in Google Toolbar and Firefox that sends you directly to the top result for navigational queries. The problem is that Google Reader doesn't have a good method for ranking results and combines Google Web Search's ranking order with information about the popularity of a feed and other data. Here are some situations when Google Reader automatically subscribes to irrelevant feeds:

* search for [the economist] and Google Reader subscribes you to Wikipedia's feed
* search for [google os] and Google Reader subscribes you to Engadget
* search for [fake steve jobs] and Google Reader tries to auto-subscribe you to... Wikipedia's feed of recent changes

Until Google Reader fixes these poor results, I suggest to search for feeds from the directory page (Discover > Browse > Search for feeds). This way, you'll always get the list of search results.

Update: Apparently, this was a bug and it has been fixed.

Google Lists Your Reviews

Google gathers all your comments and reviews from services like iGoogle, Google Maps, Google Base, Google 3D Warehouse and lists them at http://www.google.com/reviews/search .


The list of reviews is public, but to get a permalink you need to know your user ID. Here's an example of public reviews page that mostly includes ratings for models from 3D Warehouse. One way to get a permalink for your reviews is to post a comment at Google 3D Warehouse and copy the link displayed next to your comment.

You can visit the discussion threads to read the replies, edit your comments or even delete them. Sorting the reviews by rating could reveal a list of gadgets, places, products or 3D models you found interesting at some point, assuming you took the time to provide feedback.

Google should provide more consolidated interfaces that show data gathered from different services. It would be useful to view and search all your comments from Blogger blogs, get a unified view for all the files uploaded to Google services (Gmail, Picasa Web Albums, Google Docs) or search all the starred items, whether they're bookmarks, Google Reader posts, Gmail messages or documents.

June 25, 2008

Gmail's Limitations for Sending Messages

It's likely that a normal Gmail users didn't notice that Gmail has a lot of limitations for sending messages. Here are some of them, as mentioned in a mail from Google:

- 500 messages per day (i.e., you can hit 'Send' a maximum of 500 times)
- 500 unique recipients per message
- 2000 total emails per day (for example, you could send one message to a group of 500 people four times)

In addition to these limitations, "Google will temporarily disable your account if you send a message to more than 500 recipients or if you send a large number of undeliverable messages". According to the help center, you can only send a message to up to 100 people at a time if you use POP or IMAP.

Google explains that these restrictions were created to fight against spam and to prevent abuse. The same rules are enforced for Google Apps users, as well.

Om Malik thinks that "500 messages are nothing in this day and age, especially if you are in the information business as I am" and wonders why Google doesn't list all these restrictions.

June 24, 2008

Google Map Maker


Google Maps doesn't have street-level maps or information about local businesses for many countries. To make the service more useful in countries like Cyprus, Vietnam, Iceland, Pakistan and the Caribbean islands, Google launched Map Maker, a way to add or edit features, such as roads, businesses, parks, schools, and place them on a map. After submitting the information, it will be available at the Map Maker sites for other users to edit it and you could expect to see it live in Google Maps when Google decides there's enough information.

Google recommends to use the hybrid view to locate places precisely and to zoom in to a range of 50m to 1km. You can add businesses using placemarks, mark roads with the line tool and add parks using polygons. This wiki offers more information about locating features and tutorials for all the tools that can be used to improve the maps. "This product is a labor of love by many engineers based in Bangalore who have a desire to see the world mapped," explains Google.


Another collaborative mapping service is OpenStreetMap, that licenses all the data as Creative Commons Share-Alike. The project's motivation is to create a "a free dataset which will enable programmers, social activists, cartographers and the like to fulfill their plans without being limited either by Google's API or by their Terms of Service. The data used in Google Maps is sourced from NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas, two big mapping companies. They, in turn, have obtained some of this data from national mapping agencies (such as the Ordnance Survey). Since they've made multi-million pound investments in gathering this data, these organizations are understandably protective of their copyright."

It would be interesting to see if Google decides to change the licensing terms for the data obtained from users. In the past months, Google started to allow users to edit inaccurate addresses, to add places and to collaborate on maps.

June 23, 2008

Google Promotes Offline Google Docs

Google promoted on the homepage the offline support for Google Docs: "Get your documents whenever, wherever". If you have the Gears plug-in for Internet Explorer and Firefox, you can backup your documents, spreadsheets and presentations on your computer and view them offline in your browser. The documents can be edited and the changes are sent to Google's servers when you go back online.

The link from Google's homepage sends you to a page that explains the reason why Offline Google Docs is useful. "Worried about storing documents online because you can't get to them offline? Have no fear. Now Google Docs works offline."


In the near future, Google will add support for editing spreadsheets and presentations offline, but there are some features that will never be available offline without a local converter: exporting documents to DOC, PDF or opening a document from your computer in Google Docs. The documents aren't stored in a format that can be opened by other applications, so Google needs to find a way to sync your documents and convert them to an editable format.

June 22, 2008

Report Offensive Google Image OneBoxes

The most unpredictable Google OneBox is definitely the image OneBox. For some queries that are popular in Google Image Search, you'll three image results at the top or at the bottom of the page. In most cases, the images are relevant or at least innocuous, but if you search for Google logo one of the image results is a little bit inappropriate, as Search Engine Land noticed.


In March, Search Engine Roundtable reported an explicit image result displayed when searching for [hot celebrities]. Instead of writing a blog post to complain or sending an email to Matt Cutts, you can now report the offensive images using the small link displayed above the image results.

To disable the image OneBox, you can select "strict filtering" for SafeSearch in Google's preferences, but this also filters web pages that contain explicit text.

June 21, 2008

Play YouTube Videos in a Loop

If you want to play a YouTube video one more time, there's a "replay" button at the end of the video or you can press the left arrow, after focusing the video.

To automate the process and play the video in an "infinite" loop, use Loopy for YouTube, a Greasemonkey script that adds a small link below the video to start the loop. The script requires Greasemonkey , a Firefox extension, and it's efficient: it doesn't reload the page to download the video again.


There's another way to play a YouTube video in a loop - use the loop parameter of the embeddable player (here's the complete list of parameters):

http://www.youtube.com/v/VIDEOID&loop=1 (replace VIDEOID with the video's ID)

If you add the autoplay parameter, the video will start to play automatically:

http://www.youtube.com/v/VIDEOID&loop=1&autoplay=1

June 20, 2008

Google Trends Shows Traffic Stats

Google Trends no longer displays only information about searches, now you can use it to compare the daily unique visitors for two or more sites. To see the actual numbers, you need to log in using a Google account.

It's interesting to find the sources used by Google to estimate the traffic of a web site. According to the help page, "Trends for Websites combines information from a variety of sources, such as aggregated Google search data, aggregated opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data, opt-in consumer panel data, and other third-party market research. (...) Additionally, Google Trends for Websites only shows results for sites that receive a significant amount of traffic, and enforces minimum thresholds for inclusion in the tool."

For example, Google Trends estimates that the number of daily visitors for Facebook.com is 30 million, 3 times bigger than one year ago. You can also find the countries where a site is popular, related sites and searches.


One interesting tidbit: you can't see traffic data for most Google sites, although there are some exceptions. "We have policy of not providing interim financial guidance, and have decided not to release Google numbers in accordance with that policy," explained a Google spokesperson. I don't think this makes sense, as Google wouldn't release its internal traffic data, but only a rough estimation.

Google's blog for webmasters warns that the data may not be very accurate. "Keep in mind that Trends for Websites is a Google Labs product and that we are experimenting with ways to improve the quality of the data. Because data is estimated and aggregated over a variety of sources, it may not match the other data sources you rely on for web traffic information."

There are other services that show web traffic stats: Compete, Quantcast (for US traffic), Alexa, but it's difficult to compare Google's data with the information provided by those services because they use different measures: daily uniques vs monthly uniques, actual numbers vs reach, worldwide visitors vs US visitors.

June 17, 2008

Froogle Integrates with Google Book Search

After updating the listings for electronics, Google Product Search (previously known as Froogle) integrated the data from Google's book search engine. In addition to the list of stores where you can find a certain book, Google shows a summary of the book, the table of contents, references from the web and related books. There's also a link to Google Book Search, where you can preview and search inside the book.


In other book-related news, Panlibus points to Zoomii, a great visualization for Amazon's bookstore where books are placed in virtual shelves. If the products are more tangible, people are more likely to buy them, so Google should show more visual information: images, videos, trend charts, feature comparison etc.

Search Read Items in Google Reader

One of the most useful features that is missing in Google Reader is a way to search the items you've read in the past. This is useful, since Google Reader's search results are sorted by date and it may be difficult to find an article published two years ago.

Depending on your preferred view, Google Reader defines read items differently: in the expanded view posts are marked as read when you scroll past them (this can be disabled in the settings), while in the list view you need to expand the posts. If you disable the setting that marks the posts as read automatically in the expanded view or if you use the list view, the read items will be a subset of all the posts from your subscriptions.

To see the list of posts you've read in the past, you can visit this page. But if you want to subscribe to the list, so you can easily search the read posts, these steps could help:

1. Find your user ID.
Copy this code:
javascript:prompt("User ID", _USER_ID);void(0);

Go to Google Reader, paste the code in the address bar and press Enter. You should see a long number that needs to be used later so copy it in a text editor or in your browser's search box.

2. Subscribe to your read items.
The feed for read items has a long address:
http://www.google.com/reader/atom/user/USERID/state/com.google/read
Replace USERID with the number obtained in the previous step and subscribe to the feed in Google Reader (for example, type a and paste the feed's URL).

The built-in feed doesn't have options for renaming or unsubscribing, but all these options are available in Settings > Subscriptions. The default title of the feed is "(Your name)'s read items".

To search your read items, enter your query in the search box, press Tab, type the first letters from the feed's title (by default, the first letter from your name) and press Enter.



(The first screenshot features Colorful List View, a Greasemonkey script that brings some color in Google Reader if you use the list view.)

Related:
Explore your interactions with Google Reader

Update (a day later): You no longer have to subscribe to the read items feed, because Google Reader added "read items" as a restriction in the drop-down:

June 16, 2008

One Google Help Center to Rule Them All

To find some information about a Google service directly from the source, you no longer have to locate the help center for that service. The unified help center available at http://www.google.com/support lets you search across all the help information provided by Google. This could also be useful if you want to find something related to more than one service.

Behind the scenes, Google uses a custom search engine that includes 218 URL patterns. Google automatically creates an iGoogle gadget for the custom search engine so you can search directly from iGoogle.


Google has become more transparent and most services have lists of known issues and suggestions. The Toolbar help center links to videos, Google Talk's help center shows the most popular searches (among them: group chat, account locked, video chat, Linux, Mac, sign out), Gmail lists recommended articles that are sometimes related to previous queries, while Google Analytics searches many information sources, including Analytics-related blogs and discussion boards.

Better Terrain Representation in Google Maps

Mehmet K. noticed an update of the terrain layer from Google Maps, a feature that lets you view physical features, such as mountains and vegetation, with elevation shading.
The fairly recent "terrain" feature in Google Maps now plots contours as well as hill shading. The only problem that I can see is that the contours are in feet in the UK whereas feet are only really used in the States. Even in the UK where we still use miles for our roads, looking at familiar hill heights in feet is very off putting. When I looked at other countries (Kenya) the heights there were in meters.

"Contour lines are lines drawn on a map connecting points of equal elevation. If you walk along a contour line you neither gain or lose elevation." The other method used for representing terrain, "hill shading is a computer based mapping technique that shades each area of the surface to proportional to the amount of light that would be reflected off the surface from a light source at a specified location, usually to the northwest of the area of interest. Hill shading produces a planimetrically correct map that looks like a three-dimensional view of the surface."


Back in April, Google's geo blog mentioned some practical uses for these features. "Now, at a glance you can see the height of the world's peaks, or plan your next camping trip. Contour lines can even help you find a flatter bike route for your daily commute, which is key if you live in a city like Seattle."

June 14, 2008

New Google Mobile Homepage

Google decided to remove the gadgets from the mobile homepage and place them in a separate iGoogle page. You still can't see all the gadgets from the desktop version of iGoogle, but your favorite feeds, the weather information and the Gmail summary no longer slow down the homepage.

Google Mobile Blog gives another reason why the mobile homepage will load faster: "when you navigate to google.com in your browser, we cache the homepage on your phone. If you bookmark this homepage, then returning to Google using the bookmark is almost instantaneous."

Since the homepage is now static and doesn't display personalized content, it can be cached indefinitely. Google chose to politely ask your browser to cache it for 1,209,600 seconds = 14 days.


But Google still wants to see how many people visit the mobile homepage and this is impossible if all the content is cached. That's why, the last element from the homepage is a tracking pixel, a 1x1 GIF image: http://www.google.com/m/ping?source=magmahome.

June 13, 2008

Google Browser Sync To Be Discontinued

Google Browser Sync is a Firefox extension that synchronizes your bookmarks, web history, browser sessions and passwords across multiple computers by temporarily saving them to Google's servers. Unfortunately, this was the project of a small team at Google and it's no longer maintained. The extension won't be updated for Firefox 3 and the service will only be available until the end of 2008. Here's the message received from Google by an inquisitive user:
It was a tough call, but we decided to phase out support for Browser Sync. Since the team has moved on to other projects that are keeping them busy, we don't have time to update the extension to work with Firefox 3 or to continue to maintain it.

For those of you who want to continue to use Firefox 2, we'll maintain support for old versions of Google Browser Sync through 2008. After that, we can recommend a few other products that scratch a similar itch. We hope that one of them works for you:

* Mozilla Weave from Mozilla Labs - Offers bookmark and history synchronization across computers.

* Google Toolbar for Firefox - Store your bookmarks online and access them from any computer online. [although, this is not 3.0 compatible as of writing]

* Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer - Synchronizes your bookmarks across all computers where it is installed.

The latest version of Opera also includes a feature that synchronizes bookmarks across computers and mobile devices, so we'll probably see it in the next versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer.

It's pretty sad that Browser Sync wasn't considered important. The extension could have been the first step towards an online Google desktop, available from any computer and always updated. I'll miss the feature that restores the last session remotely.


Update: Mozilla Weave will add support for synchronizing cookies, passwords, saved form data and sessions, in addition to bookmarks and browsing history. "The next major update to Weave [is] expected to be ready for wider testing shortly after the release of Firefox 3". As you probably know, Firefox 3 will be released next Tuesday.

{ via Alex Polvi }

Update: There's an official announcement from Google. "Phasing out Google Browser Sync was a tough call but we have decided to focus our efforts on other products, like Toolbar and Gears, that also extend the capability of multiple browsers. We've posted the code to Google Code in hopes that someone will use it to develop something cool."

June 12, 2008

Export Your Google Calendars

If you created many calendars in Google Calendar and you want to download them so you can view them in a desktop client, there's a simple way to export all the calendars. Just open https://www.google.com/calendar/exporticalzip and you'll get an archive that contains your calendar data.

"In the resulting compressed folder, you'll see an ICS file for each of the calendars to which you have permission to make changes and manage sharing. Note that this method will not export calendars in your Other Calendars list (e.g. public calendars you've added to your list, shared calendars with view access only, etc.)," explains Google.

If you use iGoogle to view your calendars, it's good to know that there's a new version of the Google Calendar Gadget that uses infinite scrolling for the agenda and it shows event descriptions without opening a new page. Like in the previous version of the gadget, you can select multiple calendars to view them on your personalized Google homepage.

Google-Yahoo Search Ads Deal


In June 2000, Google became the default search engine provider for Yahoo. The agreement lasted until 2004, when Yahoo launched its own search engine. Yahoo realized that you can actually make money from search, so it acquired Overture, a company specialized in pay-per-click advertising that also owned two search engines: AltaVista and AlltheWeb. Unfortunately for Yahoo, it moved too slowly and Google became the leader in both search and PPC advertising.

Yahoo's decision to temporarily outsource some of its search ads to Google was predictable, especially after the two-week test from April. Instead of being acquired by Microsoft, Yahoo chose to partner with a company that has a better search ads system.

"Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! will select the search term queries for which - and the pages on which - Yahoo! may offer Google paid search results. (...) Yahoo! believes that this agreement will enable the Company to better monetize Yahoo!'s search inventory in the United States and Canada. At current monetization rates, this is an approximately $800 million annual revenue opportunity. In the first 12 months following implementation, Yahoo! expects the agreement to generate an estimated $250 million to $450 million in incremental operating cash flow. The agreement will enhance Yahoo!'s ability to achieve its goal to grow operating cash flow significantly, while at the same time providing flexibility to continue to invest in ongoing initiatives such as algorithmic search innovation and search and display advertising platforms. It gives Yahoo! complete flexibility to continue to use its Panama paid search results."

Yahoo gets a lot of value from this deal and is no longer pressured by investors to significantly improve the search ads. Even if the agreement has a term of up to ten years, I think this is a short-term deal and Yahoo is more motivated than ever to succeed on its own.

Google Blog is quick to announce that this isn't an anti-competitive move. "Yahoo! will remain in the business of search and content advertising, which gives the company a continued incentive to keep improving and innovating. Even during this agreement, Yahoo! can use our technology as much or as little as it chooses." Since the agreement is non-exclusive and Yahoo won't drop the search ads services, it's unlikely that the U.S. Department of Justice will block the deal.

In other related news, Google Talk users have a reason to rejoice. "Yahoo! and Google agreed to enable interoperability between their respective instant messaging services, bringing easier and broader communication to users." Hopefully, this will actually happen, since the previous agreements with AOL and eBay didn't produce any visible effect and there's still no interoperability with AIM and Skype.

Related:
Search, ads, Yahoo and Microsoft
Could Google save Yahoo from Microsoft?
Yahoo tests Google's search ads

Update: Google Watch has some interesting quotes from the conference call. "We began by saying 'Is there a partnership that would make sense? Is there one that is strategic to both companies and in particular a partnership that would allow Yahoo to remain independent," said Eric Schmidt. "Then Schmidt turned cloak-and-dagger like, noting that the executives met in an empty building that Google owned in an unknown and unfindable location for most of us. Apparently, Yang, Schmidt, Yahoo's Sue Decker and others showed up, sometimes on bicycles."

June 11, 2008

Edit Google's Mobile Homepage

Google's mobile homepage, available at http://www.google.com/m, lets you add some of the gadgets from iGoogle: feeds, weather, stocks, Gmail and few other gadgets. While the homepage can be edited from your mobile phone, the interface is pretty difficult to use and it requires a lot of clicks. Now you can customize the mobile homepage from iGoogle's settings: rearrange the gadgets, delete the ones you don't use or add other mobile-compatible gadgets from your iGoogle page.


A better mobile version of iGoogle, optimized for iPhone, can be found at http://www.google.com/ig/i. This version includes all the gadgets from your iGoogle page and preserves many features from the desktop iGoogle.

Skip Flash Intros in Google Search Results

There was a time when many web sites were designed in Flash and included a short animation on the homepage, to impress you before viewing the actual content. Unfortunately, the intro was a time waster.

"Splash pages were an early sin of abusive Web design. Luckily, almost all professional websites have removed this usability barrier. However, we're now seeing the rise of Flash intros that have the same obnoxious effect: They delay users' ability to get what they came for. On the upside, most Flash intros feature a skip intro button," wrote Jakob Nielsen in 2000. The animations were usually gratuitous and didn't allow people to make choices. "Many Flash designers decrease the granularity of user control and revert to presentation styles that resemble television rather than interactive media. Websites that force users to sit through sequences with nothing to do will be boring and pacifying, regardless of how cool they look."

Eight years later, Google added a new option next to the search results that show Flash intros: "skip intro". Clicking on the link saves you time and effort because you can directly bypass the animation.


This is not the first Google feature intended to improve navigation: sitelinks and site search boxes help you save one or more clicks and go directly to the page you want to visit, especially if your query is imprecise.

{ via Google Blogoscoped }

A Dashboard for Google Docs


Google Docs has recently added an option to save advanced searches. Besides showing the list of saved searches in the sidebar, Google Docs creates an iGoogle-like page with containers that include results for each of your saved searches. You can reorder the containers using drag and drop and select the maximum number of results.

Depending on the way you use Google Docs, the dashboard is a great opportunity to group related documents, see a list of recently published documents, display the content of a folder or the documents shared with you by a collaborator.

To create a new container, click on "Show search options", build your query and click on "Save this search". A simple example of container shows all the documents from the "School" folder that have been shared with you:


The customized views can be edit or deleted from the sidebar. While the dashboard can't be configured as a start page, bookmarking http://docs.google.com/#home is a fast way to access it.

Google Gears Updated for Firefox 3

If you already use Firefox 3 (download links), you noticed that Google Gears was one of the many extensions developed by Google that didn't support the next version of Firefox (Google Toolbar and Google Browser Sync are other notable examples).

Google Gears 0.3, released last week, added support for Firefox 3 and extended the desktop integration by allowing applications to create shortcuts on the desktop or in the start menu. Google Docs is one of the applications that takes advantage of this feature and shows the following dialog when you enable Gears.


Obviously, it's not very difficult to create a desktop shortcut for a web page and you don't need Gears for this, but the small desktop integration is a nice touch. Google Toolbar for Firefox goes further and it lets you open documents from your computer in Google Docs, but the extension is not yet compatible with Firefox 3.


Mozilla Prism is another project that brings web applications closer to the desktop. "Prism, previously known as WebRunner, is a product in development which integrates web applications with the desktop, allowing web applications to be launched from the desktop and configured independently of the default web browser."

Update: CNet mentions two new features from the next version of Gears: the blob and geolocation. "The blob module lets a Web browser handle a large chunk of data in pieces, for example, uploading a large video bit by bit to better protect against unreliable network connections. The geolocation module gives browsers abilities to use data about where exactly a person using the Web is located, but Google hasn't worked out exactly how to handle the privacy implications of that work."

{ Thanks, Martin and Stephen. }

June 10, 2008

Google Trends with Numbers

Google Trends, the service that compares the volume of searches, has been updated to show numbers on the vertical axis. "These numbers don't refer to exact search-volume figures. Instead, in the same way that a map might scale to a certain size, Google Trends scales the first term you've entered so that its average search volume is 1.00 in the chosen time period," explains Google Blog.


Now that you can compare more accurately the popularity of up to five search terms, there's also an option to download the data as a CSV file: http://www.google.com/trends/viz?q=QUERY&graph=all_csv. The file actually contains values separated by tabs, so change the extension to tsv before uploading it to Google Spreadsheets.


Google doesn't show absolute numbers for competitive reasons, but also because those numbers wouldn't be exact. "Google Trends analyzes a portion of Google web searches to compute how many searches have been done for the terms you enter, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time."

The new features are available only if you sign in, probably to protect against automatic data download. If you try to download a CSV file without being logged in, you'll get a file that contains this message: "You must be signed in to export data from Google Trend". An API would've been a better idea.

Upload PDF Files to Google Docs

After allowing people to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, Google Docs will support a new file type: PDF. Judging from Google's code, PDFs will have a distinct section and won't be imported as Google Docs documents.

An icon for PDFs has been available for a while and when you visit http://docs.google.com/#pdfs, Google Docs informs you that there are no PDFs in the list of documents.

Google has a pretty good PDF viewer in Google Book Search and Google Patent Search, so I expect to see some limited editing features added to the PDF viewer before repackaging it as a Google Docs application. Fortunately for Google, no other competing services provide a decent online PDF editor.

"Since becoming one of the original Gmail and Google Docs users way back in the beta-beta days, it has been a continuing source of confusion and irritation to me that we STILL can't even upload PDFs to Google Docs. (...) For those of us with laptops and iPhones it would rock to offload as much as possible onto the web and having sharing capabilities with our clients and colleagues for ALL our docs, not just a select few. In the professional, business, and government communities, PDFs are the transmission document of choice," commented JAVA4DIVA in a thread from Google Docs group.

Update: In less than a day, the feature has been added and you can now upload PDF files, share them and view them online. The PDF viewer is not very advanced, but you can use it to search inside a PDF file, select a block of text (Ctrl+C to copy the text) and go to a certain page.


June 9, 2008

FeedBurner's New Home

FeedBurner announced in April that it will migrate all its users to Google Accounts. But there's an interesting side-effect: Google will no longer use feedburner.com, opting to use some new subdomains on google.com. It seems that FeedBurner's new home will be feedburner.google.com, a site that announces you can use FeedBurner to "analyze, publicize, optimize, and monetize your feeds". For now, you can't log in or create a new account at feedburner.google.com, but this should change when FeedBurner starts the migration process.


The feeds hosted by FeedBurner will also move from: http://feeds.feedburner.com/name to http://feeds.feedburner.google.com/name, as you can see for this feed. FeedBurner's redirects will start with http://feedproxy.google.com/ , another new Google subdomain.

Google didn't change the branding, but it's clear that FeedBurner will be integrated in many Google services and its identity will slowly dilute.

Searching from the Address Bar

While many people replaced their browser's address bar with Google's search box, there's also a way to use the address bar as a search box. If you don't type a valid web address, Firefox sends your query to Google and you are redirected to the top search result (for navigational queries like [honda]) or to the list of search results.

But you are not limited to Google, you can invoke any search engine from the address bar by associating a keyword that should precede your query. In Firefox and Opera, right click on almost any search box and select "Add a keyword for this search" (Firefox) or "Create search" (Opera) to be able to use the search engine from the address bar. For example, I can associate "gbs" with Google Blog Search, so I can search for the latest blog posts about iPhone by typing [gbs iphone] in the address bar.


Adding shortcuts one by one can be cumbersome, so it would be nice to use an existing list of shortcuts. YubNub, whose tagline is "a (social) command line for the web", has a huge list of shortcuts to search engines, dictionaries, translation services and many other sites. That means you can go to yubnub.org and type the name of a shortcut, followed by one or more parameters. YubNub integrates with many browsers and can be added as a search engine, but I think it's better to add it in the address bar and replace Google as a fallback option. If YubNub doesn't recognize your command, you'll get the list of Google search results.

To add YubNub in Firefox's address bar, open a new tab, type about:config in the address bar, enter keyword.URL in the filtering box, double click the entry and paste:
http://www.yubnub.org/parser/parse?default=g2&command=

Instead of adding tens of search engines to your browser, you can just use the built-in shortcuts from YubNub: g for Google Search, gim for Google Image Search, gbs for Google Blog Search, gm for Google Maps, gs for Google Scholar, trends for Google Trends, wiki for Wikipedia, define for Dictionary.com, autotr to translate a web page in English and many others. You can create your own command or find one you like in the list of the most used commands.


If you decide to perform all your searches from the address bar using YubNub, the search results pages will appear to load slower since YubNub has to process your command and redirect you to the appropriate service.

With browsers like Firefox 3 or Opera 9.5 that offer intelligent auto-complete for the address bar, it's clear that the address bar will start to become more useful. Merging the address bar with the search box seems a logical evolution, but no browser found the right way to integrate them properly.

June 8, 2008

Interesting Ways to Use Google Chart API

College @ Home lists 50 ways to use Google Chart API, a simple API for dynamically generating charts. Plot functions, visualize the evolution of the number of subscribers to a FeedBurner feed, display the results of a poll, transform HTML tables into charts and much more. Of course, you can also use Google's charts just for fun.


If you only need to create a few charts, generators like Chart Maker, Google Chart Creator, Chartpart let you create charts without reading the documentation. To use Google Charts programmatically, check this list of wrappers for Java, C#, PHP, Python.

{ Thanks, Fiona. }

June 7, 2008

Google and Euro 2008

Google shows a special OneBox with the latest results from Euro 2008, the European Football Championship. The OneBox is displayed only if you use the localized Google sites from the participating countries. You can search for [euro 2008] to see the next two matches or [euro 2008 country_name] for the most recent scores.


There's also a page titled 23 days that links to a map of the stadiums and an iGoogle gadget with live results, standings and news.


And if the increasingly frequent Google doodles still mean something to you, the Euro 2008 doodle marked the first day of the championship.