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

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December 30, 2008

Google Simplifies the Format for Video Results

After removing the useful option to play videos inline*, Google no longer displays the duration and the rating for universal video results. Here's the same YouTube video in 2007, when Google launched universal search, and today. The only difference between video results and regular web pages is that videos have thumbnails and the options to find similar pages and to see the cached version aren't included.


I'm not sure if the rating of a video is very useful, but the duration, the date when it was uploaded and the number of views might be helpful. Google shows similar information for scientific papers, forums and this approach could be extended to other categories of web pages.

* The option to play videos results without opening a new page is available at Yahoo Search.

December 29, 2008

Translate Google Maps Reviews

Google Maps has a new option that automatically translates reviews written in a foreign language. This is especially useful if you are planning to visit a different country and most of the reviews are not available in a language that you speak. Here's a list of results for [bistro, paris, france] in the English interface of Google Maps and a search for [pizza ny] in the French Google Maps.


Similar options are available for Picasa Web comments, YouTube captions and many other services, thanks to the easy-to-use API for Google Translate.

It's worth mentioning that Google Translate's homepage has been redesigned and you can now translate text and web pages from the same box. Google Translate includes a new option that swaps the selected languages and the translations for short texts have permalinks.

December 26, 2008

Oxymoronic Google Trends

Randall Munroe from xkcd imagines some correlations between Google searches and people that are unlikely to use them. The #1 US state for [men kissing] is indeed Utah, but the other correlations are made up.


Tip: track the fastest rising queries from your region using the Insight for Search gadget.

{ Image licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial. }

December 25, 2008

Top Google Products in 2008

This is a top of the Google products that improved the most in 2008.

10. Blogger has improved a lot this year by adding useful features like importing/exporting a blog, inline comments, blog rolls and scheduled posts.

9. Picasa Web Albums added a feature that makes it easy to organize your photos: people tagging. The system uses face detection to find all the people from your photos and then it clusters the faces. There's a new option to make the albums private, you can send photos to an albums by email and the "explore" page highlights beautiful images.

8. Google Translate added support for 10 new languages and there's a new API that enabled the integration with many services: Twitter Search, Google Reader, YouTube etc.

7. Google Docs added a PDF reader, forms, templates, spreadsheet gadgets, an offline version and a more consistent interface.

6. YouTube started to test higher-quality versions for videos and, at the end of the year, it went widescreen. You can add captions and annotations, there's a video analytics feature and a new personalized homepage. YouTube offers more ways to promote and monetize videos, but it's still far from reaching its potential.

5. Android, Google's operating system for mobile devices, has been released and the first phone that used it wasn't a very good choice. "There is tremendous potential for this OS on mobile devices -- it truly realizes the open ideals laid out by Google when they announced this project. The only problem seems to be the stuff they either left on the back burner, cutting room floor, or hoped would come from that exciting, untapped world of open source developers. While there's plenty to praise in this phone, there's a lot more that's missing -- and some of those missing elements are what we consider to be core components of a device in the G1's class," summed up Engadget.

4. Gmail launched most of the new features as Labs experiments and there are plenty of useful additions: from task management, sending SMS, to viewing Google Calendar agenda and customizing keyboard shortcuts. If you install a plug-in, Gmail supports voice and video chat. Themes make your inbox more personal and more distinctive, but you shouldn't forget about the option that automatically redirects to the secured version of Gmail.

3. Google Maps continued to increase the coverage for Street View, which is now available in the US, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. You can now get walking directions, car directions enhanced by Street View, traffic estimations and explore places by looking at geo-tagged photos and videos.

2. Google Search has a new advanced search page, it detects the date when a page has been published, it's more comprehensive by indexing previously inaccessible pages, Flash files and scanned documents. Google Suggest has been enabled by default, the SearchWiki experiment is now live and the snippets are more useful for discussion boards and scientific papers.

1. Google Chrome, the most advertised Google product, is a browser that went back to the basics and impressed people with speed and simplicity. Journalists rediscovered JavaScript benchmarks and early adopters started to be excited again about a browser. "Chrome is a smart, innovative browser that, in many common scenarios, will make using the Web faster, easier and less frustrating. But this first version -- which is just a beta, or test, release -- is rough around the edges and lacks some common browser features Google plans to add later," noted Walt Mossberg. Chrome releases new versions at an impressive pace and most of the major issues will probably fixed just in time for the distribution deals.


Related:
The top for 2007 and 2006.

Google 2008 in 12 Pictures

January - iGoogle has a new theme directory, where people can upload interesting themes. Later this year, Google uses three collections of iGoogle themes (artist themes and non-profit organizations) to promote the personalized homepage and Gmail also gets themes.



February - a Russian ad recreates Gmail's interface in real life.


March - Google's homepage has a black background to promote Earth Hour, an event that encourages energy conservation.


April - Google's April Fools' Day hoaxes are more numerous than ever. From human colonies on Mars, human-powered search, rickrolled YouTube users to searching the web pages published tomorrow, there's something for everyone.


May - Google Translate adds 10 new languages, including the very difficult Finnish.


June - 2008 was a great year for Blogger, which added many useful features, including an inline comment form and an option to export blogs.


July - Google launches Knol, a service that encourages people to share knowledge. Built on JotSpot's wiki technology, Knol's goal is increase the amount of search results that offer high-quality information. "There are millions of people who possess useful knowledge that they would love to share, and there are billions of people who can benefit from it. We believe that many do not share that knowledge today simply because it is not easy enough to do that. The challenge posed to us by Larry, Sergey and Eric was to find a way to help people share their knowledge," explained a Google blog post.


August - Google Search Insights is a more advanced Google Trends for advertisers and enterprises. Use it to find popular queries in a region, to restrict the data to a category or to monitor interest over time.



September - Google's browser is no longer a speculation as Google launches Chrome. The browser is based on many open source projects, including a new JavaScript virtual machine, and it's an attempt to steal market share from Internet Explorer, by providing a fast and secure browser with a simple interface.



October - T-Mobile G1, the first Android-based phone, is now available. Crunchgear thinks that "the hardware design is dated", Engadget is optimistic about Android and its app marketplace, while Laptopmap thinks that the interface "is perfectly functional but lacks the polish and consistency of the iPhone's".



November - SearchWiki is a new feature for Google search that lets you highlight search results and annotate them. While the added functionality is certainly useful, Google could integrate in a less cluttered interface.



December - Gmail Tasks is the 31st experimental feature added to Gmail Labs. Adding a task management service should've been a higher priority task for Google, which still has a lot to catchup with more mature services like Remember the Milk.



Related: Also see the 12 images for 2006 and 2007.

Google Hot Trends, Christmas Edition 2008

Google Hot Trends shows the searches that have suddenly become popular in the US. It's always interesting to see what are the "hottest" queries on Christmas Day, when many people open their presents and then use Google to find information about them.


Check the "hot trends" list and see if there's any change from last year. iTunes seems to dominate the list of popular queries: [www.itunes.com downloads], [itunes download], [itunes store], so Apple's iPhone and iPod continue to sell well.

According to Google Zeitgeist, the fastest rising query for 2008 was [Sarah Palin], followed by [beijing 2008], [facebook login], [tuenti]*, [Heath Ledger] and [Obama]. Google continues to be popular: [orkut] is the most popular query in Brazil and India, [youtube] is the most popular query in France, Spain, Italy and Mexico, the fastest rising query in Denmark was [google oversætter]**, while in Australia, the home country of Google Maps, the third fastest rising search was... [google maps].


* "Tuenti is a Madrid-based, invite only private social networking website that has been referred to as the Spanish Facebook," according to Wikipedia.

** Google Translate

Predictions for Google's 2009

1. 10% market share for Google Chrome.

2. Google's search engine will lose a significant amount of market share as Live Search's position will consolidate.

3. Google's Q&A service, used to implement Google help forums, will become a part of Google Apps.

4. GrandCentral will be publicly available in the US and the interface will integrate with Gmail.

5. Google will launch a mobile browser for feature phones and non-Android smart phones.

6. The popular Google Bookmarks service will improve the way you manage bookmarks, by adding hierarchical labels, sharing options and more intuitive visualizations.

7. Google will bring some of the Chrome features to other browsers.

8. Google Translate will be seamlessly integrated with many Google services and applications.

9. Google Reader will list popular posts shared by the community and you'll be able to subscribe to OPML files dynamically (the changes will reflect in your subscription list).

10. Google Maps Live - Google's service will showcase webcams that stream from all around the world, it will include a tab for Google Earth and the most recent custom maps, reviews and map edits from your contacts.

11. Google Contacts will become a separate application, it will offer advanced search and an option to synchronize contacts data.

12. Google's efforts to promote Chrome will change people's perception about Google, which will be increasingly associated with Microsoft.

13. Many high-profile Google employees, including Marissa Mayer, will leave the company.

14. Google Apps will start to be attractive again once the App Engine will be fully released.

15. Personalized search ads for users that are logged in.

16. OneGoogle - a new interface that merges all Google applications so you can quickly switch between Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs without opening a new tab or losing your work.

December 23, 2008

Last Year's Predictions

From my 16 predictions for this year, less than a half actually became reality.

1. (0/1) "Google will try to unify its application and transform them into a big social network."

That's still a work in progress and I expect to see more pieces next year. Google will connect the unified profiles with the activities broadcasted by applications and the contacts.

2. (0.5/1) "Google should finally go beyond indexing text and start to use image analysis and speech recognition in Google Image Search and Google Video."

Google certainly works on expanding the capabilities of the multimedia search engines and Google Audio Indexing or the recent filters from Google Image Search hint at more changes.

3. (0.5/1) "Google won't give up on universal search, but we'll see a different interface that separates standard search results from OneBoxes and other additions. Google's snippets will become smarter and they could include information about authors, locations, concepts."

To my surprise, Google didn't separate the universal search results in a different section. Google did include smarter snippets for scientific papers and forum threads.

4. (1/1) "Gmail will add another batch of new features, one of the most important being task management, and will finally go out of beta. Gmail will launch a Google Labs-like site with experimental features that could be added by those who are curious to see the next features before they are officially launched."

Gmail is not out of beta, but you can explore more than 30 experimental features in Gmail Labs, including a basic task management feature.

5. (0/1) "The first Android phones will be a disappointment, but developers will create a lot of interesting applications that could compensate for the poor designs."

T-Mobile G1, the first Android phone launched this year, is surprisingly outdated and bulky, but T-Mobile's aggressive promotion and Google's association with the device made it a success.

6. (0.5/1) "Most Google applications will work offline using Google Gears, even if the functionality will be limited. Google Gears will also work on mobile phones and could become a part of Firefox."

For some reason, Google didn't integrate Gmail and Google Calendar with Gears this year. Gears is available on Windows Mobile phones and it's now a part of Chrome.

7. (1/1) "Google Maps will be redesigned and could include more space for user-generated content. We'll start to see user's locations, important events from our area, recommendations from friends. Google Maps will become more personal."

Google Maps has been redesigned twice this year and it integrated user-generated content in search results and in layers.

8. (0/1) "OpenSocial won't work as well as expected and Google will focus on its own social network(s). iGoogle gadgets are about to become social and aggregate data from your contacts."

Many social sites implemented OpenSocial and Google's API is a success. "During 2008 OpenSocial gained a lot of traction; statistics released in November stated that OpenSocial had reached 675 M registered users at that time and there were 7,500 applications. Most impressive is the list of organizations who signed onto OpenSocial and are actively developing apps for it. That high powered list includes MySpace, AOL, Bebo, hi5, LinkedIn, Ning, Orkut, Yahoo," says ReadWriteWeb.

9. (0.5/1) "Google will launch a people search engine that gathers data from the web, especially from social networks."

Well, it's not quite a people search engine that aggregates data from social networks, but Google Profile Search seems like a good start.

10. (1/1) "Google Books will be more present in search results and Google will start to sell access to the full content of some of the books."

I've seen a lot of results from Google Book Search and Google will start to offer access to some of the indexed books next year.

11. (0.5/1) "At the end of the year, Outlook and most mobile phones will be able to synchronize with Google Calendar and Gmail's contacts. Google Docs will have plug-ins that let you edit documents in Microsoft Office or OpenOffice and save the changes online. Google Toolbar will integrate Browser Sync and start to synchronize your bookmarks, cookies, passwords and your browser's history."

Google started to offer a calendar sync tool for Outlook and a contact sync application for Blackberries. Google Calendar supports CalDav, there's an API for contacts and a phone that synchronizes email, calendar events, contacts with Google's online applications. Browser Sync has been discontinued, but I think it will reappear in a Google application at some point. Integrating Google Docs with a desktop office suite is less necessary since Google Gears makes it possible to view and edit documents offline.

12. (0/1) "Multi-faceted search, searching from different points of view (objective information vs positive/negative opinions, official information vs comments from blogs, forums)."

Nope.

13. (0/1) "Google will differentiate commercial search results by integrating data from Google Base."

No, but there's an interesting Plus Box experiment for ads.

14. (1/1) "Google Talk will move completely online: the embeddable gadget will let you create custom chat rooms, talk with other people and maybe even see them if they have webcams."

The recently-launched Gmail plug-in lets you use most Google Talk features directly from your browser.

15. (0/1) "Picasa Web Albums will add some of the photo editing features from Picasa and will increase the free storage."

Picasa Web still offers only 1 GB of free storage and there's no photo editing feature. Google uses the popularity of the desktop photo management tool to attract people to Picasa Web Albums, so the online service is perceived as an extension of the software. This "software + services" strategy is used by Microsoft.

16. (0/1) "GDrive will finally launch, but it won't offer infinite storage or advanced features."

I wonder if Google will launch another service that requires a lot of resources in this period of crisis.

December 21, 2008

Virtual Scrollbar for Google Cache

Google Cache Mapper is a Greasemonkey script that enhances Google's cached pages by adding a virtual scrollbar with all the matches of your keywords. Google highlights your search terms using different colors and this script shows the position of the matches. The virtual scrollbar is clickable and it shows snippets for each match of your search terms.


Google Chrome has a similar scrollbar that uses yellow markers to locate the matches for the "find in page" feature.

The user script requires Firefox and the Greasemonkey extension.

Related:
Browsing the web using Google Cache

December 20, 2008

Google Maps Highlights Top Contributors

Google Maps shows a list of the people that contributed with the most customized maps, reviews and edits related to a location. In some cases, you'll find helpful maps that show hidden parks, interesting museums or landmarks.


Google has also released a customized maps editor for Android. "With this application you can create, edit, share, and view personalized maps on your Android powered phone synchronized with the My Maps tab on Google Maps. Create a map on your desktop computer using Google Maps and then take it with you on the go and update it on location."

Picasa Web Search Tips

Picasa Web Albums has a search feature that can be restricted to your albums, to the public albums of your favorite users or to all the public albums hosted by Google. Here are some ways you can use Picasa Web's simple search engine:

1. Find random photos published by Picasa Web users: just click on the search button from the homepage, while leaving the search box empty.

2. One view for the photos uploaded by your favorite users. If you want to see the photos from the users you've added it to favorites, click on the search button and select "Favorites".

3. Navigate between the results. After selecting a result, you can move to the next result by clicking on the right arrow button or by using keyboard shortcuts: j or right arrow. To go to the previous result, type k or use the left arrow.

4. View the results in a slideshow. Click on the "Slideshow" option to view the results without manually navigating between them.

5. Adjust the size of the thumbnails from 72 pixels to 288 pixels width using the selection bar.


6. Download the results in Firefox. Picasa Web Albums provides a feed output for search results and you could use it to download the photos.

7. Restrict the results to a user. Open the album gallery of that user, enter your query and then select the name of the user from the line "My Photos | Favorites | Community photos | User's Gallery".

8. View the search results in a screen saver. Picasa 3 lets you create a screensaver that shows images from media RSS feeds. The feed generated for search results can be added to the screensaver.

9. Find photos from a certain location. Go to Google Maps, find the desired location, select "My Maps" and check "Photos from Picasa Web Albums" from the featured content section. The mapplet lets you enter a query and it displays the results on the map.


10. Use Google Image Search to search Picasa Web Albums photos. Just add site:ggpht.com to your query, for example: [christmas site:ggpht.com]. Google Image Search doesn't include all the photos hosted by Picasa Web, but it produces more relevant results.

December 19, 2008

Find Cartoons and Cliparts Using Google Image Search

Google Image Search has two new content restriction options: clip art and line drawings. Besides the two new options, you can restrict the results to faces, photos and illustrations for recent news articles.

"Many of us use Google Image Search to find imagery of people, clip art for presentations, diagrams for reports, and of course symbols and patterns for artistic inspiration. Unfortunately, searching for the perfect image can be challenging if the search results match the meaning of your query but aren't in a style that's useful to you," explains Google's blog.


You can find the restrictions in the drop-down that has the default option "any content". After ignoring the content of the images and only indexing the associated text and metadata, image search engine are transitioning to a new model that involves analyzing the images, detecting objects and recognizing patterns.

Google Shows Suggestions from Your Search History

When you create a Google account, Google enables an option that saves all your queries and the results you clicked on. The service is called Web History and it can be extended to all the web pages you visit if you install Google Toolbar.

Web History has many uses, but Google has barely scratched the surface by offering some basic recommendations and trends. Google decided to personalize the suggestions offered when you type a query on Google's homepage by adding searches from your history. Like in Firefox's search box, the historical queries are displayed at the top, but the major difference is that Firefox saves the searches on your computer, while Google saves them in your account.

In the screenshot below, you can see the suggestions provided by Google after typing [gm] in the search box: there are 5 suggestions from my search history (all related to Gmail) and 5 popular queries from Google Suggest.


Google doesn't provide a way to disable the suggestions from your search history, so your options are to log out, disable query suggestions from the preferences page or delete the web history.

Update: I don't see this feature in all my accounts, so it's not available to everyone.

December 18, 2008

Chrome Undone


No, this is not a new version of Google's homepage, it's just a summary of the most aggressive promotion for a Google product. Now that it's out of beta, Google Chrome can be added to any software bundle, can be a part of any distribution deal and any promotion.

If Sun offers the option to install an entire office suite when you update JRE, why shouldn't Google use a popular software like Google Earth to drive adoption to Chrome? When you try to download Google Earth from Windows XP or Windows Vista, Google shows this completely unrelated page:


Google clearly displays that it will also install Chrome and users have the option to exclude Google Chrome, but Google assumes that most people will just click on "Agree and download" without reading the content of the page. Before bundling Chrome with Google Earth, Google used a trick to install the toolbar:


Microsoft's desperate attempts to promote Silverlight made the company to show an annoying invitation to "enhance your experience on Microsoft.com with Microsoft Silverlight" whenever you visit microsoft.com. There are many ways to annoy your users, but does it really worth it?

{ via Blogoscoped }

Create Documents from Gmail Threads

What's the quickest way to create a new document in Google Docs directly from Gmail? If you enable "Create a document" in Gmail Labs and you activate keyboard shortcuts, you can press g then w to open a blank document.

The experimental feature adds a new option next to each Gmail conversation that lets you create a new document from it. Gmail merges the content of all the messages from the conversation and it removes the attachments. A similar effect could be obtained by selecting "Forward all" and sending the message to the email address automatically generated by Google Docs.

"No more copying and pasting the text from your email -- just open the message you wish to convert, click the "Create a document" link on the right side of the page, and voila, you have a brand new document which you can then modify and share," explains Gmail's blog.


Another feature from Gmail Labs that could be useful if you frequently use Google's online office suite is the Google Docs gadget. It's a simple way to access recently modified documents, to find documents and to place a link into a message using drag & drop.

Google Docs started as an alternative to collaborating on a document by sending attachments back and forth. "In my business of search marketing, I send lots of tabular data between myself and clients on a regular basis. In the past, we'd have to attach Excel worksheets or post the information in web page tables, adding overhead and inconvenience. We never had the latest document - and merging information was always a pain," says Scott Clark in a Google Docs testimonial. If Google wants to solve the problem of unnecessary attachments, why there's no way to invite people to collaborate on a document directly from Gmail?

{ Thanks, Niranjan. }

December 16, 2008

Google Tests Navigational Suggestions and More Enhanced Snippets

Search Engine Land reports about three new Google experiments that add navigational links to Google Suggest and enhance the snippets for reviews and structured pages.

For navigational queries, which usually have a single relevant answer, Google experiments with adding a link to the first search result at the top of the suggestions list. Google Chrome already implements this feature and it's likely that it will be added to Google's homepage as well. Other experiments include ads and results from specialized search engines, but they don't seem to be useful.


The other two experiments continue an already obvious trend of expanding and enhancing the snippets. This time, instead of automatically detecting information from the unstructured code, Google asked some review sites to include special tags for ratings, summaries and other metadata. Yahoo has a service called SearchMonkey that encourages web sites to surface structured data using microformats and embeddable RDF.


The third experiment solves the problem of finding a long web page in the search results that includes the answer to your query in a subsection. For example, Wikipedia articles are structured in sections and subsections, each one having a permalink that uses named anchors, but Google doesn't send you directly to the right subsection. This experiment includes a link that lets you "jump" to the part of the page that includes your answer.


You can already see some of these ideas in Google Chrome, Yahoo SearchMonkey, Google Mobile search and Live Search's results from Wikipedia.

How to Remove iGoogle's Chat Box

Update: This trick is no longer necessary since there's an option that lets you hide the chat box. To hide the chat box, click on the "Options" link next to the contacts list and select "Hide chat".

iGoogle added a Google Chat box in the sidebar, but many people find it annoying because they don't use the option and it slows down page loading. Google doesn't provide an option to hide the chat box, but someone found a workaround that disables it.


If you haven't set up mobile iGoogle, use the wizard from this page. Then go to the settings page, scroll down to the Export/Import section, click on the Export button and save an XML file that contains the settings for all the iGoogle tabs. Open the file in a text editor like Notepad, find the last line that contains <Section/> and remove it. After saving the file, go back to iGoogle's settings page and upload the XML file.

Google Accounts Page Redesigned

Google Account page has been redesigned to integrate the information from your public profile and to show the list of services you use in a non-intuitive compact 3-columns layout.


The account page is a simple way to access Google's services you've used at least once, to remove some services from your account (for example: Orkut, Gmail, Web History), to change your password, security question, personal information and the list of sites that access data from your account using Google's APIs.

Ideally, this page should list the most frequently used services, should show the last activity data that's only available for Gmail and should also include options to save your data or to move it to another Google account. I still don't understand why Google doesn't save the global preferences in your account and the interface language or the SafeSearch option need to specified every time you use a new computer or you clear your cookies.

{ Thanks, Surendra Kumar. }

The Search Box from YouTube's Embedded Player

You probably noticed that YouTube's embedded player started to include a search box when you pause a video and when you move the mouse at the top of a video.

While the implementation is probably too aggressive, the search box is a good way to find other similar videos on YouTube. The player shows 6 results at a time, but you can navigate using the two arrows and you can view other thumbnails from the video before selecting it. To go back to the list of search results, click on the Search button.


The search box sits there, at the top of the video, to show that there is so much more to explore and this video is just the starting point. There's a small YouTube inside each embedded player.

December 12, 2008

Gmail Integrates Google's PDF Viewer

If you receive a message that includes a PDF attachment, Gmail has a new option that lets you view the file without installing a PDF viewer like Adobe Reader. Until now, Gmail converted PDF files to HTML and removed images, so they didn't look very well. The new option uses the PDF viewer from Google Docs, which lets you zoom and search inside the (first 100 pages of the) file.



Google should provide an interface for browsing your Gmail attachments, where you can find files and email them. That interface could be Google Docs, assuming that the plan to extend the filetypes is still on track.

Related:
Gmail attachments

Google Chrome, the Default Browser in Google Pack

Now that it's no longer in beta, Google Chrome has been added to Google Pack. Firefox bundled with Google Toolbar is still available, but you need to explicitly select it. Adding Chrome to Google Pack means that existing users will be informed about the new software and the new users will install Chrome instead of Firefox.

Google contributed significantly to Firefox's popularity by promoting it on the homepage, including the browser in a software bundle and encouraging publishers to promote Firefox. Google's official alternative to Internet Explorer is now Chrome.

December 11, 2008

Google Chrome 1.0 Released

"We've heard a lot of feedback about product bugs and feature requests and have worked hard to prioritize work on them. We're excited to announce that with today's fifteenth release we are taking off the "beta" label," explains a post from Google Chrome Help Announcement blog. Ironically, the post doesn't look very well in Chrome.

There aren't many differences between the first release of Google Chrome and the version released today: besides fixing bugs and improving the support for plug-ins, Chrome added a bookmarks manager. The browser still lacks many basic features and customization options: previewing feeds, print preview, customizable "new tab" page, form autocomplete (this feature will be added soon) and there are many issues that should have been fixed before even considering to remove the "beta" label.

Google Chrome is not out of beta because it's ready, but because Google wants to sign some deals with computer manufacturers like Dell that will preinstall the browser. " The Google's open source browser has a number of eager customers, including OEMs who can't offer the browser until it is in full release," mentions TechCrunch. Even German's Federal Office for Information Security said that Google's browser is not for general use because it's still in beta. If that's price to increase the adoption, then Google didn't have to do much: just pretend that Chrome is ready for prime-time.


"We have removed the beta label as our goals for stability and performance have been met but our work is far from done. We are working to add some common browser features such as form autofill and RSS support in the near future. We are also developing an extensions platform along with support for Mac and Linux," reminds us Google's blog.

It's clear that Google targets Internet Explorer's users and it will need to use an aggressive campaign to promote the browser and to succeed where Mozilla couldn't. But even if IE is slower and less secure than Chrome, it certainly has less glaring bugs than Chrome (open Google Book Search, click on a book, read 5-6 pages and then try to use the back button).

Gmail SMS

After more than a month since Gmail first added an option to send SMS from Gmail Chat and quickly removed it to fix some bugs, it's now available again. You'll find it in the crowded Gmail Labs, where it's called "Text Messaging (SMS) in Chat".

After enabling the feature, mouse over a contact from Gmail chat box, click on "Video & more" and select "Send SMS". For now, this feature only works for US phone numbers. "If your contact replies, the text message response will appear as a reply in Chat. These conversations are stored in your Chat history just like regular chats." The explanation is that Google assigns each Gmail user a virtual phone number so that your contacts can send replies.

"On the receiving end, when you get a text message from Gmail on your phone, it will come from a number in the 406 area code. (The l33t folks in the crowd will note that this spells G0O.) You can reply to this text on your phone just like you'd reply to any other text. The reply gets routed back to our Gmail servers and shows up in your friend's Gmail chat window. Each of your friends' messages will come from a different 406 number so you can reply to any message and it will get back to the right person. Messages from the same person will always come from the same number, so you can even bookmark it in your phone. If you get a message from somebody you don't want to chat with from your phone, just reply with the word BLOCK. If you don't want to get texts from anybody using Gmail, reply with the word STOP and we'll leave you alone," informs Gmail's blog.


At some point, the virtual phone number could be the same as the GrandCentral number and Gmail could become a centralized communication system, where you can send email messages, SMS, make phone calls, use video chat, share files and archive your entire communication flow.

{ Thanks, Niranjan. }

December 9, 2008

Google Street View Covers Almost the Entire US

After adding street-level imagery for Australia, Japan, Spain, France, Italy, and New Zealand, Google's mission for the US is almost completed. "Today marks our biggest launch of Street View imagery to date: we're doubling our coverage in the United States. Several states — Maine, West Virginia, North Dakota, and South Dakota — will be getting the Street View treatment for the first time. We've also added imagery for Memphis, Charleston (SC), and Birmingham, and we've filled in lots of gaps across the country," explains Google's blog.

Many people complained that the recent Google Maps redesign made it more difficult to find places that have street-level imagery, but this should no longer be necessary, at least for the US.


Street View turned out to be fun, useful, expensive, yet profitable and a test bed for new technologies.

December 8, 2008

Gmail Tasks

One of the most requested Google features is adding task management to Gmail or Google Calendar. This feature is now available as part of Gmail Labs and I predict that this will be the most popular experimental feature.


After enabling tasks, you can access this feature in two ways: either click on the "Tasks" link below "Contacts" to open a Gmail Chat-like dialog or create a task from an email by opening "More Actions" drop-down and selecting "Add to Tasks". When you convert an email to a task, Gmail keeps the message's subject and places a link to the mail.

Tasks can be reordered using drag&drop, you can add due dates and notes, but you can't assign priorities, share your tasks or get reminders.

Here are some useful shortcuts in Gmail Tasks:
* Open the tasks box by typing g then k if you have keyboard shortcuts enabled.
* Create a task from an email by pressing Shift+T if you have keyboard shortcuts enabled.
* Navigate between tasks using the arrows.
* Delete a task by deleting the text and hitting backspace.
* Organize your tasks by indenting them — just hit Tab to indent and Shift+Tab to un-indent.
* Ctrl+Up moves a task up the list and Ctrl+Down move it down.
* Hit Shift+Enter when in a task to show its details

Remember the Milk is still a much better service and its clean interface and the integration with Google's services (Gmail, Google Calendar, iGoogle, Gears) make you think it was created by Google. Gmail Tasks is a feature of Gmail Labs, the place where Gmail engineers try new ideas to get early feedback. "None of these features are really ready for prime time yet, so they may change, break or disappear at any time."

When this features comes out of Labs we should expect some integration with Calendar, notifications, sharing and sync options. I think that Google's task management belongs to Google Calendar, where most of these features are already available.

{ Thanks, Jeng. }

December 6, 2008

Gmail Gadget for Google Desktop

Google Desktop's integration with Gmail has always been slow and unreliable: Google Desktop could fetch and index the messages from a Gmail account, but this could take days. The new Gmail gadget for Google Desktop doesn't add your messages to the index, but it's a small version of Gmail's interface that sits in the sidebar. You can read your mail, send replies, star messages, perform searches directly from the gadget.


Here are some potential uses for the gadget:
* check your inbox from a fast-loading simplified interface
* find the email address of a contact: compose a message and use Gmail's auto-complete feature to obtain the address
* the fastest way to search Gmail: click on the Search option or type "/" and then enter your query
* preview your message while still viewing the list of messages, a feature that's not available in the standard interface
* add multiple instances of the gadget for different Gmail accounts (the gadgets works with Google Apps accounts too).

The gadget can be installed from this page and it's worth mentioning that it doesn't support notifications yet.

Toolbar, Gears, Chrome

Launched in December 2000, Google Toolbar started as a way to add features that were missing from Internet Explorer. Users had to visit Google's homepage to perform a search and the toolbar improved the experience by adding a search box to the browser. In the next versions, the toolbar added query suggestions, a pop-up blocker, a spell checker and other features that later became part of most modern browsers.

In May 2007, Google launched a plug-in that made browsers more powerful by integrating advanced features like offline storage, local database, location services. Google Gears added invisible features that allowed web applications to become more responsive and to work even offline.

The trouble with Google Toolbar and Gears was that users had to install them separately, the browser integration wasn't very smooth and there were many other things that could improve web browsing, but can't be added using a plug-in. A better JavaScript engine, a more reliable browser that crashed less, a fast and simple interface - it's hard to make all these things happen without building a new browser. If Google Toolbar made it easier to search using Google, Chrome encourages to use the web more because the browser loads instantly, you can find web pages faster and you spend less time waiting for pages to load.

A press release from 2000 explained that "Google exists to provide the world's best Internet search experience. Google accomplishes this for millions of users daily by delivering a powerful, fast, and easy way to find the most relevant information available." Google changed the scope of the mission from improving the way you search the web to improving the way you experience the web. A better browser, along with a faster Internet connection, great web applications and an open environment that encourages innovation bring more Internet users and, as a consequence, more Google users.

Picasa Web Albums Translates Comments

Believe it or not, Picasa Web Albums is a big success outside US and, since the interface is available in 38 languages, many people post comments in their native languages. Click on a featured photo and you'll certainly see at least a comment written in Spanish, Italian, Chinese, French or other language.

Google's photo-sharing service started to use Google Translate API to automatically translate comments in your interface's language. The translation is displayed below the original comment.


Of course, the translation is not perfect and Google didn't do a good job at properly disclosing that it's an automatic translation (there's a "Powered by Google Translate" tooltip when you hover over the translation). This is yet another integration of Google Translate in Google's services, after translating Google Reader subscriptions and YouTube's search results. What other services would you like to integrate machine translation?

December 5, 2008

Google Friend Connect, Publicly Available

Google Friend Connect, the service that lets you add social features to a site without writing any code, is now available to everyone. Users don't need to setup a special account for a new site: they can log in using an existing account from Google, Yahoo, AOL or using an OpenID. They can also import a profile and the list of friends from a social network, but the only options are Google Talk, orkut and LinkedIn.

Google provides some basic gadgets that allow users to interact with a site: the members gadget that lists some of the people who joined the site, the wall gadget that lets you post general comments about the site and the review gadget, which associates the comments with an item from site (a blog post, a video). Friend Connect also supports OpenSocial gadgets, but there's no official directory of gadgets.

Google's new service is not yet a good way to build a community because it doesn't integrate with a site. You can only customize the appearance of a gadget, but you can't integrate your existing commenting system with Friend Connect or gain access to in-depth stats about your members.

You need to upload two files for RPC relay and canvas view, which is not always possible if you use a hosted blog service. Fortunately, Blogger already has the two files, so it's even easier to setup Friend Connect.

I added the members gadget and the wall, where you can post comments and links to YouTube videos:


Here's a short video that explains how to use Friend Connect:

December 4, 2008

Google's Tighter Cost Controls

Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article that explains many recent Google decisions: from closing Lively to monetizing Google Finance.

"For much of its 10-year history, Google spent money at a pace that was the marvel of Silicon Valley. It hired by the thousands and dished out generous perks, including three free meals a day, free doctors, ski trips and laundry facilities, and subsidized personal trainers. It let engineers spend 20% of their time pursuing pet projects."


But Google's revenue growth has slowed down, the stock is now at less than $300 and Google is not invulnerable to the economy crisis. That means Google must act more responsibly and start to find more safe bets. Google says that it wants to "prioritize our resources and focus more on our core search, ads and apps business." That's the official explanation for closing Lively and for ending the agreement with Yahoo for providing search ads.
"We have to behave as though we don't know" what's going to happen, says Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt. The company will curtail the "dark matter," he says, projects that "haven't really caught on" and "aren't really that exciting." He says the company is "not going to give" an engineer 20 people to work with on certain experimental projects anymore. "When the cycle comes back," he says, "we will be able to fund his brilliant vision."

Google will encourage less experimentation, we'll see fewer projects that aren't related to Google's main services and it's less likely than ever to see GDrive, the online storage service that requires a lot of resources. The top priorities seem to be display ads, mobile ads and Google Apps, projects that could increase Google's revenues.

It's disappointing to see that Google, an engineering-driven company that used to be focused on building great products that don't necessarily bring money, is now forced to changed its goals and become more profit-driven. Hopefully, this is not the end of Google as we know it.

Here are some interesting extract from the IPO letter sent by Google's founders to investors in 2004:
Our goal is to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible. In pursuing this goal, we may do things that we believe have a positive impact on the world, even if the near term financial returns are not obvious. For example, we make our services as widely available as we can by supporting over 90 languages and by providing most services for free. (...) Many companies are under pressure to keep their earnings in line with analysts' forecasts. Therefore, they often accept smaller, predictable earnings rather than larger and less predictable returns. Sergey and I feel this is harmful, and we intend to steer in the opposite direction. (...) Our long term focus does have risks. Markets may have trouble evaluating long term value, thus potentially reducing the value of our company. Our long term focus may simply be the wrong business strategy. Competitors may be rewarded for short term tactics and grow stronger as a result.

Google has had adequate cash to fund our business and has generated additional cash through operations. This gives us the flexibility to weather costs, benefit from opportunities and optimize our long term earnings. For example, in our ads system we make many improvements that affect revenue in both directions. These are in areas like end user relevance and satisfaction, advertiser satisfaction, partner needs and targeting technology. We release improvements immediately rather than delaying them, even though delay might give "smoother" financial results. You have our commitment to execute quickly to achieve long term value rather than making the quarters more predictable. (...)

We will not shy away from high-risk, high-reward projects because of short term earnings pressure. Some of our past bets have gone extraordinarily well, and others have not. Because we recognize the pursuit of such projects as the key to our long term success, we will continue to seek them out. For example, we would fund projects that have a 10% chance of earning a billion dollars over the long term. Do not be surprised if we place smaller bets in areas that seem very speculative or even strange when compared to our current businesses.

Private Albums in Picasa Web

Picasa Web Albums added a new option that makes your albums truly private. If you edit an album's properties and select "Require sign-in to view", only the people you are explicitly sharing the album can see it.

"Select the 'Require sign-in to view' option to set the highest level of privacy for your album -- you specify who has permission to view it, and visitors must sign in to their Google Account to verify their identity. Anyone not included on the album's 'Shared with' access list will be unable to view the album," details the help page.


The access list is displayed in the album's sidebar and you can add or remove people from that list at any time. The only problem is that your friends need to have Google accounts to validate their identity and access the album.

Until now the only alternative to making the album public was to make it unlisted, but the album still had a web address that allowed anyone who knew it to view your album. If you try to view an album that has the new visibility option enabled, you'll get this error message:


Since you now have three levels of visibility and it's difficult to remember which albums are unlisted or private, Picasa Web Albums' homepage displays the access setting next to each album using an icon.


{ Thanks, Michael. }

YouTube Changes

There are many changes going on at YouTube and many of them aren't likely to improve user experience. Let's start with the search box that is displayed before playing a video in an embedded player. It was a great feature when it was displayed at the end of a video, but now you'll see it before playing the video and every time you pause it.

There's a parameter that can be added to your embedded videos if you don't want to display the search box: edit the code and add &showsearch=0 after http://www.youtube.com/v/VIDEOID&hl=en&fs=1.


YouTube updated the header and there's a new overlay that shows the duration of a video over the thumbnail. YouTube's blog says that the thumbnails will no longer be selected from the 25/50/75 points of the video's index, but they'll be selected algorithmically to minimize the impact of manipulative thumbnails.


Another change, which caused considerable uproar, is demoting videos that include suggestive content and profanity. "Videos that are considered sexually suggestive, or that contain profanity, will be algorithmically demoted on our 'Most Viewed,' 'Top Favorited,' and other browse pages. The classification of these types of videos is based on a number of factors, including video content and descriptions." Probably YouTube didn't like that the list of popular videos usually looked like this (NSFW). Users didn't understand YouTube's goal and they started to call the change "censorship".

"Algorithmically demoted... That's a nice way to make a video that is top favorited or most viewed not be in that category anymore for no apparent reasons. Angry parents and other narrow-minded people shouldn't get through with putting the pressure on youtube. Where's the freedom of saying or expressing what you want?," commented dirtbiker100890. "One of the main reasons I watch videos on youtube is because people have been able to say what ever they want, for the most part. If the youtube staff starts censoring everything then I won't have much of a reason to come here anymore," thinks GeneralCrazyIvan.

YouTube shouldn't demote a video because it includes suggestive content or profanity, but only if it uses misleading thumbnails or descriptions to artificially increase popularity. YouTube could include a preference that filters suggestive content and profanity, so the videos will be excluded from search results and the list of popular videos.

"Videos featuring sexually explicit content like real sex acts are not allowed. Other content like nudity and dramatized or implied sexual conduct may be considered sexually suggestive depending on whether or not it is intended or designed to arouse viewers," explains a help page.

From now on, videos that include suggestive content will be filtered from the lists of popular videos and they'll be age-restricted, so you'll have to confirm your age before viewing them.