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

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January 31, 2009

7 New Languages in Google Translate

Expect 7 new languages in Google Translate soon: Albanian (9-13 million speakers*), Estonian (1.1 million speakers), Galician (3-4 million speakers), Hungarian (15 million speakers), Maltese (around 400,000 speakers), Thai (60-65 million speakers) and Turkish (63 million speakers). Many of the comments from a previous post requested Turkish, so Google listened to the feedback.


Another change is that the English dictionary has been improved significantly and it includes synonyms, antonyms, pronunciations, detailed definitions and examples from Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner's English Dictionary.


Update (a day later): As previously announced, the new languages have been added to Google Translate.


* Source: Wikipedia.

Google Flags All Search Results as Malware

Many users report that Google started to flag all search results as malware. The problem is that Google no longer links to the search results flagged as malware and it sends users to a diagnostic page. Apparently, the bug has been fixed in about half an hour.

"This is by far the strangest thing I have ever seen on Google, but I don't know if it is happening to everyone or just me. With every search I do (as of two minutes ago), every page is marked This site may harm your computer," reported Albert Rodenius.

"Google has been acting up in extremely odd ways the last 24 hours. Right now, every single site on the web gets the message This site may harm your computer in its search result. (I never knew the Internet was that dangerous). Second, the number of server errors over the past 24 hours I've run into has been astonishing; over half my Google search queries have returned 404, long before the unsafe sites problem showed up. Now, most of the time when I click on the This site may harm your computer link, I get a server error," mentioned Greg Spira, a reader of this blog.


{ Thanks to everyone who reported the issue. Screenshot from Aris Giannakakis. }

Update: Google's blog says that "this was clearly an error, and we are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to our users. (...) Google flags search results with the message This site may harm your computer if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. (...) Since each case needs to be individually researched, this list is maintained by humans, not algorithms. We periodically receive updates to that list and received one such update to release on the site this morning. Unfortunately (and here's the human error), the URL of '/' was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and '/' expands to all URLs. Fortunately, our on-call site reliability team found the problem quickly and reverted the file. Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes."

January 30, 2009

Manual Feed Updates in Google Reader

If your Google Reader subscriptions aren't up-to-date or you suspect that a blog has published posts that haven't been indexed by Google Reader, just click on "Refresh". That button usually checks if there are new posts cached by Google Reader, but when you open an individual subscription the button forces an update and loads the new posts. Alternatively, you could just press "r" to update the feed.

In the screenshot below, you can see that Google Reader loaded two new posts from VentureBeat after clicking on the "Refresh" button.


{ via Google Reader's Twitter page }

Google Web Accelerator Discontinued

Last year, Google removed the download link from Google Web Accelerator's homepage as a sign that the product is no longer supported. Web Accelerator was a Labs experiment launched in 2005 that intended to speed up web browsing by prefetching content and downloading cached web pages from Google's servers.
Google Web Accelerator uses various strategies to make your web pages load faster, including:

* Sending your page requests through Google machines dedicated to handling Google Web Accelerator traffic.
* Storing copies of frequently looked at pages to make them quickly accessible.
* Downloading only the updates if a web page has changed slightly since you last viewed it.
* Prefetching certain pages onto your computer in advance.
* Managing your Internet connection to reduce delays.
* Compressing data before sending it to your computer.

The product was designed for broadband connections and it was only available for Windows. Web Accelerator became famous for a security problem: the software transferred unencrypted cookies to Google servers, which were cached and then sent to other Web Accelerator users. Even though the issue was fixed in the next releases, Google Web Accelerator was quickly forgotten and few people noticed that it didn't work well in Firefox 3 and it blocked YouTube videos.

Instead of updating the software, Google decided to discontinue it. "Google Web Accelerator was a great experiment which provided us with a lot of material for developing future products to serve our users," explained a Google spokesperson in October 2008.


Note: you can still download Web Accelerator from Google, but the caching service no longer works.

First Official Description of GDrive

Brian Ussery noticed an interesting reference to GDrive in a file used by Google Pack. The file includes "localized information which is sent to translators".

The product category for GDrive is "online file backup and storage" and there are two lines that describe the application:

"GDrive provides reliable storage for all of your files, including photos, music and documents. GDrive allows you to access your files from anywhere, anytime, and from any device - be it from your desktop, web browser or cellular phone."


If the description is accurate, we can conclude that GDrive will provide a software that could be included in Google Pack, you'll be able to store any kind of files and you'll be able to access them from your mobile phone.

{ Thanks, Brian. }

January 29, 2009

Chrome's New Tab Page in Firefox

The latest update of Google Toolbar 5 for Firefox added the "new tab" page from Chrome. When you open a new tab, the page shows 9 thumbnails of the most frequently visited pages, recent bookmarks and pages from recently closed tabs.

Unlike the similar feature from Google Chrome, you can disable the page and you can remove the thumbnails you don't like.


The goal of "new tab" page is to present a list of pages you are likely to visit, but I'm not sure that it's actually useful. Opera's speed dial lets you pick the pages and this could be a better approach.

"The new tab page is the default starting point for all tabs - it is designed to get the user where they want to go, and is not meant to be an information resource like the user's home page; that is, the new tab page is not intended to be a destination, but rather a jumping-off point to other destinations - we strongly want to avoid cognitive load and distractions for the user, especially those creating new tabs for other purposes," explains Google.

If you like the feature from Chrome, but your main browser is Firefox, "new tab" page is now included in Google Toolbar. You can also try an extension that brings Opera's speed dial to Firefox.

{ Thanks, Hebbet. }

Chrome Ad from Google Japan

Google Japan created a small ad for Chrome, the browser that moves fast, evolves rapidly and loads pages quickly.


An example of quick patch is that the latest Chrome version spoofed Safari's user-agent to make Hotmail work properly. "Normally you think of web pages being faster to update than client-side software downloads. In this case though, Chrome updates near-weekly, much faster than Hotmail did. Another illustration that velocity and speed of iteration matter," commented Google's anti-spam guy. And probably another example that web developers ignore browsers with small market share.

Update: Check out the behind the scenes photos.

10 Good Things About Offline Gmail

Gmail's offline version is a surprisingly solid alternative to desktop mail clients. Despite the shortcomings of an initial release (attachments can't be added to messages composed offline, you can't customize which messages are downloaded, the contact manager is not available offline), there are many good things about the offline Gmail:

1. You can easily create proper shortcuts for Gmail from the settings page.


2. Now that's available offline, Gmail can truly become an application rendered by Chrome.

3. Some of the attachments are available offline and you can copy the files from Google Gears' cache.

4. Even if your Internet connection goes down, you can continue to read your messages and post replies, so you don't have to until the connection goes back up.

5. Gmail finally becomes usable if you have a slow or unreliable network connection. Enable the "flaky connection mode" and Gmail will cache your messages. "In flaky connection mode, you access the mail that's stored locally on your computer, regardless of your connection status. This makes it much faster to read and send mail, which is nice when you're on a slow or flaky connection. Your account will continue to sync in the background when it's able to do so, with no disruption to your experience."

6. Even if you have a fast Internet connection, it's faster to load data from your computer than from Google's servers, so the "flaky connection mode" is a good way to speed up Gmail.

7. Most Gmail features work even when you are offline, including themes, Gmail Labs and keyboard shortcuts.

8. You can cache messages for more than one account and switch between them.

9. The change of the online/offline status is seamless and you don't have to manually sync data.

10. This is the best implementation of an offline Google app.

January 28, 2009

Find Images that Have a Certain Size

Most image search engines offers an option to filter the results by size, but you can only choose between small, medium and large images. Google Image Search has an undocumented parameter that lets you specify the exact dimension of the results:

imagesize:WIDTHxHEIGHT.

Here's an example: [imagesize:640x480 muffin] finds 640px x 480px images related to muffins.


The operator could be useful if you need to find wallpapers for your computer, logos, illustrations for a school project or any other images that have standard sizes.

{ Thanks, Michael Garmahis. }

Offline Gmail

Adding offline support for Google services turned out to be a difficult task: even if Gears-enabled versions of Google Calendar and Gmail have been tested for more than a year, offline Gmail will be available starting from today in Gmail Labs.


What's the point of creating an offline version of Gmail when you can use mail clients like Mozilla Thunderbird or Outlook? You don't need to install additional software other than Google Gears and you can continue to use Gmail's familiar interface.

Gmail's blog explains how this feature works and which Gmail features are available offline:

"Once you turn on this feature, Gmail uses Gears to download a local cache of your mail. As long as you're connected to the network, that cache is synchronized with Gmail's servers. When you lose your connection, Gmail automatically switches to offline mode, and uses the data stored on your computer's hard drive instead of the information sent across the network. You can read messages, star and label them, and do all of the things you're used to doing while reading your webmail online. Any messages you send while offline will be placed in your outbox and automatically sent the next time Gmail detects a connection."


"And if you're on an unreliable or slow connection (like when you're "borrowing" your neighbor's wireless), you can choose to use "flaky connection mode," which is somewhere in between: it uses the local cache as if you were disconnected, but still synchronizes your mail with the server in the background."


Since this is still an experimental feature, Google chose to come up with an algorithm that decides which messages are cached locally and you can't set how many messages are downloaded.

We try to download your most recent conversations along with any conversations that seem to be important (regardless of their age). We also try not to download uninteresting conversations. This process is done heuristically and as with any heuristic can and will miss things. We'll continue to tune things up, but more importantly, we'll eventually provide a UI that will allow you to change the settings. Here's a sketch of how these messages are selected:

* Synchronization is based on the date of conversations. The system estimates a period of time to cover (at least 1 week in length) that results in approximately 10,000 messages being downloaded. For an average user, this means Gmail will end up downloading several years of mail.

* Additionally, we'll download any conversation marked with a label that contains less than 200 conversations, has at least one conversation that has been received in the last 30 days and also has at least one conversation that's outside the estimated time period. For many users, this list of labels will include Starred and Drafts.

* Finally, the system determines a list of labels to exclude conversations from being downloaded. For example, Trash and Spam are always in this list, along with any label that contains mostly unread conversations (unread count greater than 99%). So, we won't download a conversation if it contains only labels in this list. A typical Trashed message will not be downloaded, but a Trashed message that contains the label "alpha" will.



Among the most significant limitations of the offline versions: you can't add attachments to your messages, the contact manager is not accessible, the search results are limited to the local cache.


How to get this feature?

Offline Gmail will be slowly rolled out this week to the English interface of Gmail. Here's how to enable the feature:
  1. Change the language of your Gmail interface to English
  2. Make sure you use a browser supported by Gmail Labs and Gears: Internet Explorer 7.0+, Firefox 2.0+, Safari 3.0+, and Google Chrome. You can't use Gmail Labs in Internet Explorer 6.
  3. Wait until this feature is added to your account. When you see "Offline Gmail" in Gmail Labs, enable the feature, save the changes and click on the "Offline" link that will be displayed next to your username.


January 27, 2009

Ten Years of Google (Video)

This video highlights some of the most interesting services released or acquired by Google in the past 10 years: from web search to search ads, from image search to Google News, from Gmail to iGoogle, from Google Earth to Street View, from YouTube to Android and Chrome. And these are only the first 10 years.


{ Thanks, Dom Elliott. }

January 26, 2009

GrandCentral 2.0, Almost Ready to Be Released



Jeff Huber from Google writes that "a new [GrandCentral] version on new infrastructure will be coming soon" in a comment of a story about a recent certificate error in GrandCentral.

David Pogue adds: "Everyone from GrandCentral still works on GrandCentral, and the 2.0 version is imminent. A PR guy explained to me that it's taken a year to merge the GrandCentral servers with Google's, but they're nearly done."

Jeff Hubert posts an interesting list of acquisitions and the resulting Google products, but the only surprising news is that Zingku, the mobile social network acquired by Google in 2007, was used to create Google FriendConnect:

"Writely + XL2Web + TonicSystems -> Google Docs,
Keyhole -> Google Earth/Maps,
Urchin + MeasureMap -> Google Analytics,
JotSpot -> Google Sites,
Zingku -> Google FriendConnect,
Android -> Android,
DoubleClick -> DoubleClick,
Feedburner -> AdSense for Feeds (in-process);
sorry about Dodgeball".

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

More Signs of a Google Webdrive

The long-awaited and much-delayed GDrive is likely to be released in the near future as more pieces of its integration are revealed. Cédric Vergé noticed a change in one of the CSS files for Google Apps: there's a class named "webdrive" and an icon for the new service.


When Google released Picasa for Mac, many people wondered what's the mystery behind a menu option titled "Google Web Drive":


Last week, Tony Ruscoe found some traces of an internal Google document which mentioned an update for Google Docs, which will slowly morph into GDrive. Apparently, Google Docs will be the web interface for GDrive, while a Windows/Mac client will integrate the service with the operating system and make it easy to synchronize files.

{ Thanks, Cédric. }

January 23, 2009

Street View for Central Europe (Not from Google)

Until Google manages to gather Street View imagery for the entire world, there's a big opportunity for other companies to offer a similar service.

Norc is a street-view service created by the Romanian company eXtreme Soft Group, which covers cities from 5 European countries:

* Austria: Wien
* Czech Republic: Prague, Brno
* Poland: Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, Wroclaw
* Slovakia: Bratislava, Trnava, Kosice, Banska-Bystrica, Zilina, Nitr
* Romania: Bucureşti, Ploieşti, Constanţa, Braşov, Cluj-Napoca, Timişoara, Iaşi, Sibiu, Piteşti, Târgovişte



Norc uses Google Maps API to let you find a location, but the search feature doesn't offer good results. Maximize the Street View window to better see the panoramic images and use the arrows to navigate.

If you know other services inspired by Google Street View that have a significant coverage, post their links in the comments.

{ Thank you, Vasile. }

January 22, 2009

Comparison of Google Talk's Official Clients

Google has way too many separate implementations of Google Talk and very few features are available in all clients:


Features / implementations
Google Talk
Gadget
Labs Edition
Gmail Chat
iGoogle and orkut iPhone version
Requires installing software
Yes (Windows)
Flash plug-in
Yes (Windows)
No (some features require plug-ins)
No
No
Tabs
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Themes
Yes
No
No
Yes
Yes
No
Gmail notifications
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
No
Calendar notifications
No
No
Yes
No
No
No
Invisible status
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Music track status
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
Text chat
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Multi-user chat
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
Features / implementations
Google Talk
Gadget
Labs Edition
Gmail Chat
iGoogle and orkut iPhone version
Copy the text of a message
Yes
No
No
Yes
Yes
No
Saving messages to Gmail
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Audio chat
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
No
Voicemail
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
Video chat
No
No
No
Yes
No
No
Send SMS
No
No
No
Yes
No
No
AIM integration
No
No
No
Yes
No
No
File transfer
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
View photos (Flickr, Picasa Web)
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Play videos (YouTube, Google Video)
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No

You can also use any other client that supports Jabber, but most of the features above won't be available.

Video Preview in Gmail Chat

Gmail Chat added a feature that was initially released in the Google Talk gadget: playing videos from YouTube and Google Video without opening a new page. If you paste a link to a video from YouTube or Google Video in a conversation, Google shows a clickable thumbnail that can trigger an inline video player.


If you tried the audio/video chat plug-in for Gmail and it didn't work well, there's a chance that the latest updates solved your issues: incompatibility with Creative camera drivers, errors when sending and receiving video for CPUs without the SSE2 extensions, lack of support for many USB cameras on a Mac OSX.

{ via Gmail Blog }

Downloading Files from an Archive

One of the most interesting features available in Free Download Manager, an open source software for Windows, is that you can preview ZIP archives and select the files you want to download. This can be useful if you only need a README file from a big archive or if some of the files are unnecessary.


January 21, 2009

iGoogle Theme Creator

One week ago, Google Blog announced an official tool for building themes for iGoogle. "Now, you too can capture memories and images on your iGoogle homepage by building a custom theme. We've just released our new tool for creating iGoogle themes. It's an easy way for iGoogle users to spruce up their personalized homepage without needing to know how to use XML, etc. All you need is an image, and we'll provide the rest."

The idea is great as people will always like to see a personal photo on their homepage. As usually, iGoogle managed to make another mistake: the theme creator page has been down until today.

Now that it's finally available, you can see the tool is very basic and it only lets you upload an image, choose a header text color and a theme color. It's very difficult to crop a photo so that a certain region is visible, the color palette doesn't include too many options, you can't find the themes you've created to apply them to other pages and you need to accept a license agreement after creating a new theme.


If you need more control, try the two advanced editor previously mentioned or create your own XML files using iGoogle's API.

{ via Blogoscoped }

January 20, 2009

Google and Niche Services

Google continues to end projects, the most recent one being AdWords for Print. The blog post that explains the decision shows the big picture at Google:

"In the last few months, we've been taking a long, hard look at all the things we are doing to ensure we are investing our resources in the projects that will have the biggest impact for our users and partners. While we hoped that Print Ads would create a new revenue stream for newspapers and produce more relevant advertising for consumers, the product has not created the impact that we — or our partners — wanted. (...) As we grow, it is important that we focus on products that can benefit the most people and solve the most important problems. By moving resources away from projects that aren't having the impact we want, we can refocus our efforts on those that will delight millions of users."

That's the reason why Google closes or stops investing in small projects that couldn't attract a big audience. Google Answers, Google Notebook, Browser Sync, Lively, Hello weren't very popular and Google decided to close them. Some of them were open sourced and migrated to Google App Engine, while others became start-ups. This is a big opportunity for start-ups: create services that aren't likely to go mainstream in the near future.

January 19, 2009

iGoogle Redirects iPhone Users to the Standard Mobile Interface

iGoogle continues to make mistakes. After testing the new version of iGoogle without providing an option to end the experiment, after ignoring most of the complaints regarding the new interface, Google decided to redirect iPhone users to the standard mobile interface, instead of sending them to the iPhone-optimized interface. Apparently, G1 users were also affected by this strange decision.

"We've decided to direct iPhone users to the standard mobile iGoogle page. We've found that people hit iGoogle from lots of different phones -- we want to ensure you'll all see the same version. Most or all of your existing content should translate over to the standard mobile version. The only exception would be any gadgets that aren't compatible with most mobile browsers," explains a Google engineer.

The problem was that the iPhone-optimized interface included all the gadgets from the desktop version and the tabs, it was sleek and easy to use on a touch screen, while the standard mobile version only shows feeds and a small number of gadgets. Degrading user experience and taking away a lovely interface is not the best way to encourage people to use iGoogle.

iGoogle's forum has a long thread with complaints and some users suggest to change the user-agent in Safari because the iPhone interface is still available for other browsers. Here's one of the few polite messages from the thread:

"I have to admit I am quite surprised by the unofficial news that you have removed your previously excellent iGoogle adaptation for iPhone. I can understand that in times of consolidating services in order to increase your internal efficiency you need to keep down the number of platforms. But removing the iPhone support without properly notifying your users in advance and explaining the reasons why you do this is perhaps not the smartest move if you want to keep loyal customers and brand value. And especially since you yourself have found that iPhone users are very active web users compared to the other mobile platforms."

Longer Google Snippets

"Snippet = A short description of or excerpt from a website which appears in Google search results. Snippets are created automatically based on the site's content or the content of pages that link to the site." (Google Search glossary)

In some cases, Google shows longer snippets for search results if the pages provide simple answers for your query. Google previously tested a sidebar that allowed you to increase the size of the snippets and highlight extracted facts like dates and locations, but the tests probably showed that people didn't use the advanced options and that it's a better idea to automatically increase the length of a snippet if there's a high density of information related to your query.

Search Engine Roundtable suspects that "the longer your search query, the longer the snippet might get", but this is not always the case. Google tries to be smart and not overwhelm users with irrelevant information, that's why snippets are usually concise.


Here's how Larry Page described snippets in 1998, when the feature has been launched: "We recently added some new features to Google. The most significant is a summary for each result that highlights where your query matched. This makes for a much more informative summary than most search engines provide. You can actually see where your query matched without having to download each page."

Related:
Find facts from snippets
From search results to content creation

January 18, 2009

Text Ads in Google Image Search

After months of experimentation, Google choose to show text ads above image search results. It's not clear if the ads are actually useful for those who visit Google Image Search to find images, but Google mentioned last year that the volume of commercial queries has increased significantly.

"Whenever we make changes like these, we carefully evaluate users' reactions to ensure we're holding true to our basic principles: that ads by Google should always be relevant and useful. Of course, these experiments benefit Google because they generate revenue from new sources — but by ensuring that we show the right ads at the right time to the right people, we'll add value for users too," explained a Google blog post from November.


In 2006, Google estimated that it could earn $80-200 million a year by including text ads in Image Search. Google decided not to monetize Image Search because the experiments showed that people used the service less. I wonder if the experiments from 2008 showed different results.

It's worth mentioning that the only other important image search engine that shows ads is Ask.com Image Search.

Google Preferred Sites

Preferred Sites is a new experimental feature for Google Search that lets you personalize the results by adding a list of sites you want to appear more often when you search. Based on your search history, Google suggests some frequently-visited sites, but you can add any other site.

The help page explains more: "The preferred sites feature lets you set your Google Web Search preferences so that your search results match your unique tastes and needs. Fill in the sites you rely on the most, and results from your preferred sites will show up more often when they're relevant to your search query."

Some use cases for the feature: adding sites you trust for finding a certain kind of information (movie reviews, sports results), adding more obscure sites that aren't likely to appear in the top results (local news sites) and a partial replacement for bookmarks.

The feature is an experimental feature that can be found in Google's preferences page if you are logged in and you were selected to test it.


Here's what happens when I add GSM Arena and search for [Nokia 6080]: the result from GSM Arena is marked as "My preferred site", but there's no significant ranking change even though Google mentions that "your Preferred Sites were used to improve search results".


After adding IMDB and New York Times, the results for [how to lose friends and alienate people] were changed dramatically: two pages from nytimes.com were promoted to the top 3 results, but they weren't in the first 30 results for a regular search.

Preferred Sites is an extension of Google SearchWiki, the feature that allowed you to make per-query changes. If the feature goes live to everyone, people will be able to pick a list of authoritative sites and influence all search results.

January 17, 2009

YouTube Tests Video Downloads

Yes, you can download YouTube videos using hundreds of sites, scripts, extensions and applications and that's because YouTube's interface didn't offer a download option. Initially, the only format available for download was FLV, which was only intended to be played using Adobe Flash. Then YouTube started to test higher-quality versions for videos, including MP4 (H264 with AAC audio). Now you can export all YouTube videos as MP4 and it would be trivial for YouTube to add this option, which is already available at Google Video.

YouTube's terms of use still insist that the videos can only be accessed for streaming, "a contemporaneous digital transmission of an audiovisual work via the Internet from the YouTube Service to a user's device in such a manner that the data is intended for real-time viewing and not intended to be copied, stored, permanently downloaded, or redistributed by the user".

But things are starting to change: the videos from Barrack Obama's YouTube channel ChangeDotGov have a small download link below the player. "YouTube is rolling this out slowly, initially with content that aspires to be consistent with principles of open government. I'm told it will be offered more generally. In any case, it is an important development. There have always been hacks for slurping down YouTube videos. But it is a valuable step that YouTube encourages and supports this sharing," notes Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Stanford University.

Why would you download videos? To be able to watch them without having an Internet connection, to download them faster using download accelerators like Flashget or Free Download Manager, to use some of the content in your videos or to have an offline version just in case the video is no longer available at YouTube.

Upcoming Gmail Features: Contact Deduplicator, Better Video Chat

Gmail's Product Manager Todd Jackson told CNet some of the Gmail features that will be released in the next months, but hopefully the best new things are still secret.

The video chat plug-in for Gmail will show higher-quality videos and this is one of the reasons why Google chose not to use Flash. "Jackson says the plug-in route will be able to provide even higher-quality video as people's connections improve, going to Video Graphics Array (640x480 pixels) all the way up to high definition."

Gmail's contact manager will add a feature that's even in Hotmail, not to mention some business-oriented mail clients: removing duplicates. "Jackson says a de-duper is on the way and that contacts will have more of a presence both in your inbox and in conversations."

Regarding email attachments, CNet suggests that Gmail could increase the already generous limit of 20 MB, but Gmail's Product Manager hints at something else. "We know people's file sizes are getting bigger. They want to share their files, keep them in the cloud, and not worry about which computer they're on. Google wants to be solving these problems."

Will Google release a more comprehensive solution for storing and sharing files, now that Gmail's storage quote increases much slower, small projects like Google Notebook enter hibernation and Gmail starts to limit the way you use free products like Google Apps Standard Edition?

January 15, 2009

Share Personal Information with Your Gmail Contacts

Google Profiles has a new feature that lets you share information about yourself with your contacts. "This information is not public.You control who sees it. Once you've entered your contact information here, you can share it with your friends and family, so they always have the most up-to-date information."

You can add your email addresses, phone numbers, and home address, and allow all your contacts or specific contact groups, like Friends or Family, to see this information on your profile. For some reason, Google doesn't prefill some of the fields like the email address or your Google Talk ID and you can't share the data with contacts that are not part of a group.


It's not clear if the shared data will be used in Gmail, but Microsoft offers a similar feature called Windows Live People that's integrated with Hotmail. "Windows Live People allows real-time updates to contact's information. Suppose one of the user's contacts just moved and has a new home address. When that contact enters their new information in Windows Live People, the user's contact list across Windows Live services is automatically updated in real time."

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

Google Closes Many Services

Google decided to close many services that were either redundant, not very successful or unrelated to Google's core business.

After Google acquired YouTube, Google Video morphed into a video search engine, but you could still upload videos. Unlike YouTube, Google Video didn't have a limitation for the duration of a video. "In a few months, we will discontinue support for uploads to Google Video. Don't worry, we're not removing any content hosted on Google Video -- this just means you will no longer be able to upload new content to the service," mentions Google Video Blog.


Google Notebook, one of the best Google services, is also about to be discontinued. "Starting next week, we plan to stop active development on Google Notebook. This means we'll no longer be adding features or offer Notebook for new users. But don't fret, we'll continue to maintain service for those of you who've already signed up." After launching SearchWiki, Google Search removed the integration with Google Notebook and the integration with Google Bookmarks turned out to be a bad idea. The project was probably discontinued because it couldn't become a part of a more significant service, but it's disappointing to close a project that gained a lot of visibility and could become a clipboard for many Google services.



Other services that will be discontinued include Google Catalogs, a database of mail-order product catalogs last updated in 2006, Dodgeball, a mobile social network acquired by Google in 2005 that stagnated after its founders left Google, and Mashup Editor, a project that will be replaced by the more powerful Google App Engine.



Jaiku, the microblogging service acquired by Google, will migrate to Google App Engine and will no longer be actively developed. "As we mentioned last April, we are in the process of porting Jaiku over to Google App Engine. After the migration is complete, we will release the new open source Jaiku Engine project on Google Code under the Apache License. While Google will no longer actively develop the Jaiku codebase, the service itself will live on thanks to a dedicated and passionate volunteer team of Googlers. With the open source Jaiku Engine project, organizations, groups and individuals will be able to roll-their-own microblogging services and deploy them on Google App Engine. The new Jaiku Engine will include support for OAuth, and we're excited about developers using this proven code as a starting point in creating a freely available and federated, open source microblogging platform."


"Google engineers have long been at the top of the heap when it comes to the Google pecking order. Now, neither products nor engineers seem to have a protected status, as Google goes into the grim economic times predicted for 2009," writes Danny Sullivan. Google closed 3 new offices, slowed down hiring and no longer encourages wild experiments.

"Matt [Cutts] insisted that the early spirit of freedom and experimentation was still there in the culture. But when I pressed him on whether even Google could afford that luxury in harder times, he admitted that people like him now had perhaps to be a little more focussed on the bottom line. But he said the one day in five spent on personal projects was not being discarded," reported BBC News.

{ via SEL. Thank you, Kevin. }

January 14, 2009

Google Shared Storage

In 2007 Google added an option to pay for additional storage for Gmail and Picasa Web. The prices have changed since then: for $20/year you get 10 GB instead of 6 GB, for $75/year you get 40 GB from 25 GB, for $250/year you get 150 GB instead of 100 GB and $500/year is the price for 400 GB, up from 250 GB.

Google's offer doesn't look very good if you compare it with the storage offered by Yahoo Mail and Flickr. Yahoo Mail promises to offer "unlimited storage" if you don't abuse the system. "The purpose of unlimited mail isn't to provide an online storage warehouse. Usage that suggests this approach gets flagged by our anti-abuse measures."

Flickr is less generous: you can only upload 100 MB of photos each month if you have a free account. Picasa Web Albums offers 1 GB of storage for free, but a Flickr Pro account costs $25/year and you get "unlimited storage".

Google's offer would make sense if you could use the storage in a service like GDrive, but uploading photos and storing more attachments in Gmail is not enough. There's no defined limit for uploading videos at Google Video, but you need to pay if you want more than 1 GB of storage at Picasa Web Albums.
Google offers a way to purchase more storage space to use with some of its products (currently Gmail and Picasa Web Albums). This extra storage acts as overflow when you run out of free storage space in either product. If you've filled your free storage (5 7.2 GB and counting for Gmail or 1 GB for Picasa Web Albums), you'll automatically use your purchased space to store more pictures and messages up to your new storage limit.

Your shared storage space will be used by whatever product needs it. Picasa's free storage is for photos only, and Gmail's is just for Gmail messages, but the shared storage can be all photos, all messages, or a mix of both. You can't set aside shared storage space for one product - it will be used by any product that's over its free storage quota on a first-come, first-served basis.

Transit Layer in Google Maps

Google Maps already shows information about public transportation when you get directions, but now you can see more transit data in a new layer. To enable the layer, click on "More..." and select "Transit" if the option is available.

Google Maps blog lists the cities where the new layer has been enabled and some of them aren't covered by Google Transit yet. "Whereas the main Google Transit product has the goal to provide full schedule information and routing, the objective of the Transit Layer is to overlay lines visually on Google Maps. Think of a virtual metro map on top of Google Maps -- even when we don't have itinerary planning available, we want you to be able to see public transit options that are available."

Here's the full list of cities where you can see the transit layer: Belo Horizonte, Berlin, Bordeaux, Brasilia, Cairo, Capetown, Caracas, Chicago, Copenhagen, Dallas, Dortmund, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Ekaterinburg, Essen, Frankfurt, Genoa, Guadalajara, Hamburg, Helsinki, Johannesburg, Kazan, Köln, Lille, Lisbon, London, Lyon, Madrid, Marseille, Medellin, Mexico City, Melbourne, Monterrey, Montreal, Munich, Naples, Nizhniy Novgorod, Oslo, Paris, Perth, Portland, Porto, Porto Alegre, Prague, Pretoria, Recife, Rennes, Rio de Janeiro, Samara, San Francisco, Santiago, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Tunis, Vienna, Warsaw.


Send and Archive: a Multi-Action Gmail Button

You receive a message in Gmail's inbox and after sending a reply, Gmail shows your conversation and a list of options: "back to Inbox", "Archive", "Report spam", "Delete", "Older" and more actions. Most of them don't make any sense in this specific context, but they're kept for consistency. You'll probably go back to the inbox and read the next message, but if you like to have a clean inbox you'll also archive the message you've just replied to.

A new feature available in Gmail Labs lets you automatically archive a message after sending a reply. The default button becomes "Send & Archive" and it will perform the following actions:

* send the message
* archive the conversation
* go back to inbox



"More often than not, as I reply to a message I also want to archive it so I can enjoy the satisfaction of a pristine inbox. Having clicked "Send" followed by "Archive" a few million times, I started to wish there was a way to just click once and accomplish both actions at the same time," explains Pal Takacsi, who added the small new feature.

Another multi-action button that would make many people happy could combine labeling conversations and archiving them. What other smart buttons would you like to see?

January 13, 2009

Google Quick Search Box for Mac

Last year, Google released a mobile app for iPhone that lets you search many data sources from a single location: web pages, local businesses, contacts. A similar application is now available for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and it's called Quick Search Box.

Nicholas Jitkoff, Quicksilver's creator, is one of the developers. The application is a powerful box that works as a program launcher, address bar, Google search box, desktop search box, calculator and weather gadget. The source code includes modules that integrate data from Google services like Google Bookmarks, Gmail and Picasa Web, so the application has the potential to become the central point for accessing Google.

"For the last year, we have been working on a new, open-source quick search box. Today, we are releasing our first developer preview for the Mac. This Mac version is much more experimental than its iPhone sibling, Google Mobile App, and through it you will be able to see many of the areas we are exploring: contextual search, actions, and extensibility. It is by no means feature-complete, but is a very good indication of things to come," explains Google.


{ Licensed as CC-Noncommercial by phnk. }

Quick Search Box is also a feature of Google Desktop, but it's unfortunate that Google didn't integrate more data sources. My favorite Windows Vista feature is the ubiquitous search box. Some interesting alternatives are Launchy, an extensible application launcher for Windows and Linux, and Mozilla Ubiquity, an experimental project that makes web applications more useful. All of them are powerful command-lines that expose information from your computer or the web.

Gmail Is Different. Here's What You Need to Know

Most people find Gmail confusing because they don't understand basic features like labels, archiving, filters. So you'll hear them asking for folders or wondering how to remove messages from the inbox.

This knol written by gravi_t, an active member of the Gmail group, does a good job at explaining the features that make Gmail different.

Imagine this:

- each email is a piece of paper
- labels are post-it notes, sticky notes
- there are default labels, like "Inbox", "Sent items", "Trash" ("Bin"), "Spam"
- you can also create labels (i.e. sticky notes)

This means that - unlike in other email services - you do not put the emails into folders. You actually attach labels to the emails.

Only one copy of your emails:

- you only just have ONE existing copy of your emails
- no matter how many labels (post-its) you stick on them
- you can attach as many labels to this one copy as you want, just as you can stick a lot of post-it notes to the same one piece of paper

This is why your email disappears from everywhere when you delete it; because deleting the email means deleting the "piece of paper"!!

The knol is licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial and Google should use some of its content in the "welcome" message.


Tip: To find when you created a Gmail account, go to "All mail", click on "Oldest" and you'll see the first messages you've received. You'll need this information to get access to a compromised Gmail account.

{ Thanks, Anonymous. }

January 10, 2009

Copy Google Documents to Your Account

Someone sent me the link to a document published using Google Docs, but I didn't have the permission to edit the document. I wanted to save the document to my Google Docs account, but none of the options offered by Google allowed me to do that.

One of the ways you could create a duplicate for the document is to replace

http://docs.google.com/View?docid=AAAAA

with

http://docs.google.com/DocAction?action=copy&docid=AAAAA

where AAAAA is the document ID.

To automate the process, I created a small user script that adds an option to duplicate the document. The script works in:

* Firefox, if you install Greasemonkey
* Chrome, if you install the latest pre-beta version
* Opera (no add-on required)
* Safari, if you install GreaseKit
* Internet Explorer, but you need to install a plug-in like IE7Pro

Here's a sample document to try it. After installing the script, open the document, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Copy to my account".


Another idea is to upload the document to Google Docs, but you need to edit the URL to remove the footer and add the .html extension. Replace

http://docs.google.com/View?docid=AAAAA

with

http://docs.google.com/View?docid=AAAAA&hgd=1&.html

Related:

Download published documents and spreadsheets
Tips for linking to Google presentations

January 9, 2009

New Google Favicon

Google changed its favicon last year and many people said that the new one was ugly. Probably this the reason why Google decided to use another favicon starting from today. The new favicon uses all the colors from Google's logo, while keeping the same lowercase "g".

Marissa Mayer's description from last year is very appropriate. "We wanted something distinctive and noticeable (...). We wanted something that embraced the colorfulness of the logo, yet wouldn't date itself." Adam Howard, a reader of this blog, thinks that the new favicon "looks like a mini paint-by-numbers".

Here are all the three Google favicons, starting with the new one, followed by the simple favicon added last year and the initial Google favicon, which is still my favorite:



Update: Marissa Mayer tells the story of the new favicon:

"Back in June, we rolled out a new favicon — the small icon that greets you when you access Google on your URL bar or your bookmarks list — and we encouraged our users to submit their ideas for this important piece of Google branding. We were impressed by the volume of submissions we received, and today we are happy to introduce a new Google favicon inspired by those submissions by our users. André Resende, a computer science undergraduate student at the University of Campinas in Brazil, submitted the design that inspired our new favicon: . His placement of a white 'g' on a color-blocked background was highly recognizable and attractive, while seeming to capture the essence of Google."

{ Thanks, Daniel, John and Adam. }

January 8, 2009

Google Chrome 2.0 Pre-Beta

Google Chrome's development is high-paced and version numbers are not very significant, but it's weird to see a pre-beta release of Chrome 2.0, four months after Chrome 0.2. There are many new things in Chrome 2.0:

* form autocomplete, one of the most obvious missing features from the initial release


* full-page zoom, which resizes images and embedded objects too, not just text. It's important to know the keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl - to zoom out, Ctrl + to zoom in and Ctrl 0 to go back to the normal view.


* autoscroll by middle-clicking on a page and indicating the direction


* profiles are a great way to separate Chrome's settings in different categories: you could create a work profile with its own homepage, bookmarks and browsing history and profile for your personal projects. The great thing about Chrome is that you don't have to close the browser to change your profile: just open a new window in a separate profile.


* support for Greasemonkey scripts (or user-scripts). To enable this experimental feature you need to right-click on Chrome's shortcut from your desktop, select Properties and add -enable-user-scripts in the Target field. For now, you'll need to place the scripts in c:\scripts, but the location will change in the next builds.


* other important improvements: updates to WebKit and the V8 JavaScript engine, a better implementation for SafeBrowsing (malware/phishing protection), new code for the HTTP network protocol.

How to get the new version?

1. If you don't have Google Chrome, install it from google.com/chrome
2. Subscribe to the developer preview channel. This is required even if you've previously subscribed to the channel.
3. Wait until the new version is downloaded (you may force the update by opening the "About Google Chrome" dialog).


"The Dev channel is where ideas get tested (and sometimes fail). The Dev channel can be very unstable at times, and new features usually require some manual configuration to be enabled. Still, simply using Dev channel releases is an easy (practically zero-effort) way for anyone to help improve Google Chrome."

If you don't like the new version, you can always downgrade to the most recent stable version by reinstalling Chrome.