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

Send your tips to

December 31, 2007

Top Google Apps in 2007

This is a top of the Google products that improved the most in 2007. For reference, here's the chart from last year:

10. Picasa + Picasa Web Albums
9. Blogger
8. Google Books
7. Google Calendar
6. Google Reader
5. Google Maps + Google Earth
4. Google Docs & Spreadsheets
3. Google Video + YouTube
2. Gmail
1. Google Search

... and here's the chart for 2007:

10. Google News launched an image version, added videos, comments from people in the news and started to host original content from news agencies. Google News also links to results from Blog Search and integrates news archive results.

9. Picasa Web Albums upgraded from 250 MB to 1 GB of free storage, added labels, a mobile version, an API, the option to geotag photos. You can search for public photos inside Picasa Web Albums and these photos can now be a indexed by Google Image Search.

8. Google Notebook has finally become more accessible this year by integrating with Google Bookmarks and being a part of Google Toolbar 5. Notes are a special type of bookmark that includes clips from the web page, comments and can be shared with other people. Google Notebook also added labels, a mobile version, exporting to Google Docs.

7. Google Personalized Homepage, now known as iGoogle, added features that should make you feel at home: create gadgets without writing code, dynamic themes, customizable layout, sharing tabs, Google Desktop gadgets.

6. Google Reader added trends, support for embedded content (e.g. YouTube videos), an offline version, search, recommendations, drag-and-drop feed management, shared items from your friends. Google's feed reader also updates feeds faster, using the ping mechanism from Blog Search.

5. Google Docs integrated with Gmail by adding a link next to attachments, added a better document list interface and a mobile version. In September, Google Presentations was launched with a basic set of features and probably in a alpha version. Among the many other small updates, it's worth mentioning: sharing documents with an URL, conditional formatting, autofill powered by Google Sets, importing online data and a storage API.

4. YouTube frequently updated its interfaces, launched a mobile version (it's also available as an iPhone application), customizable players, a bulk uploader, a Google Data API (that means a lot of new feeds). YouTube also introduced overlay ads and shares revenue with some content creators. The much-anticipated video identification technology might solve some of the issues with copyright infringement, but its success is probably limited. On the Google Video side, it added third-party sites in the index and became a video search engine.

3. This year, Gmail finally allowed anyone to sign up for an account. Gmail increased the maximum attachment size to 20 MB and the free storage quota to 6GB, while adding an option to pay for more storage. Gmail also added one of the most popular feature requests: IMAP and a a presentation viewer. It launched a new version with a rewritten AJAX backend and a lot of new features: AIM integration, colored labels, new contact manager, group chat, prefetched messages. Gmail 2.0 was launched for a limited number of users and had performance problems, but they were solved in less than a month after launch.

2. Google Search added more features than ever: personalization based on search history and location, plus boxes that extend the classic snippets, universal search results from specialized search engines, more fresh results and faster indexing, easier to access subscribed links. There's also a Google Labs site for search experiments that lets you preview new features and interfaces.

1. Google Maps added street view for 23 US cities, public transit directions for a small number of areas, changing routes using drag-and-drop, embeddable maps. You can now create personalized maps, collaborate with your friends and even allow anyone to edit your maps. Google Maps integrates mashups using mapplets, and includes geographic content from the web in the search results. Google Maps Mobile is now available for Windows Mobile devices, Symbian, iPhone and launched a feature that simulates GPS to detect your location. There's also a way to access local search by voice: GOOG-411. Google Earth has an option for exploring the sky, a flight simulator and many new layers, including one for YouTube videos and another one for weather.

2007 was definitely the year of Google Maps, but Google also added mobile interfaces for most of its applications and sprinkled social features to prepare for another great year.

December 30, 2007

Winning Even When You Lose

* April 1, 2004: Gmail launches in a private beta and starts to offer 1 GB of free storage.
* May 13, 2004: Yahoo increases the free storage from 4 MB to 100 MB. In 2005, Yahoo Mail's free storage grows to 1GB and now it's "unlimited".

* August 25, 2005: Google Talk launches. "Built to support industry standards, Google Talk enables Google users to connect to the Google Talk service and exchange IMs using any client that does the same, including Trillian, Adium, iChat, GAIM, and Psi."
* October 12, 2005: "Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft Corp. today announced a landmark agreement to connect users of their consumer instant messaging (IM) services on a global basis. The industry's first interoperability agreement between two distinct leading global consumer IM providers will give MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger users the ability to interact with each other, forming what is expected to be the largest consumer IM community in the world, estimated to be more than 275 million strong."

* July 2007: To bid for the 700MHz spectrum in the US, Google asks four conditions, the most important being to allow people to use any application and any device (these two conditions were accepted).
* November 27, 2007: Verizon Wireless announces "that it will provide customers the option to use, on its nationwide wireless network, wireless devices, software and applications not offered by the company".

* November 2, 2007: Google launches OpenSocial, "a set of common APIs that make it easy to create and host social applications on the web".
* December 13, 2007: Facebooks opens its application platform. "Now we also want to share the benefits of our work by enabling other social sites to use our platform architecture as a model. In fact, we’ll even license the Facebook Platform methods and tags to other platforms."

At the end of the day, it's not important if your product doesn't win when your offerings can make changes for everyone.

2007 Metrics

Last year, when I posted some stats for this blog, I didn't realize that many blogs do that. These stats aren't very important to me, but I'll still post some numbers that could reflect the evolution of this blog. The stats are provided by Google Analytics and FeedBurner.

Unique visitors: 3,977,796 (5,217,234 visits)
Pageviews: 7,704,133

Top referrals:
1. google [search results]: 53.12%
2. direct: 10.32%
3. 8.46%
4. [referral]: 7.75%
5. yahoo [search results]: 1.65%
(followed by:,,,,

Top countries:
1. US: 45.40%
2. UK: 8.10%
3. Canada: 5.44%
4. India: 4.27%
5. Australia: 2.57%
(followed by: Germany, France, Netherlands, Spain, Italy)

Top cities:
1. London: 2.68%
2. New York: 1.77%
3. Los Angeles: 0.98%
4. Sydney: 0.88%
5. Chicago: 0.88%
60. Mountain View: 0.24%

Interesting corporate networks:
60. Opera Software ASA (most popular posts: Google Talk for mobile phones, Gmail Mobile Java application)
61. Google Inc. (Google Pack adds StarOffice)
106. Microsoft Corp. (Google Earth Flight Simulator)
217. Cisco Systems Inc. (Google Earth Flight Simulator)
267. Yahoo Inc. (Picasa Web integrates with Google Image Search, Google intends to integrates its social apps)
448. Sun Microsystems Inc. (Google Pack adds StarOffice)
450. Apple Computers (Google Phone, Screnshots of YouTube's new player)

Top browsers:
1. Firefox: 52.55%
2. Internet Explorer: 38.53% (IE7: 50%, IE6: 49.25%)
3. Safari: 4.13%
4. Opera: 3.03%
8. Netscape: 0.13%

Top operating systems:
1. Windows: 85.49% (XP: 84.85%, Vista:9.90%)
2. Mac: 9.10%
3. Linux: 4.63%
4. iPhone: 0.05%
5. FreeBSD: 0.04%
6. SunOS: 0.03%
7. SymbianOS: 0.02%
8. Playstation Portable: 0.02%
9. iPod: 0.01%
10. PalmOS: 0.01%

Top posts from this year:
1. Google Earth Flight Simulator
2. Screnshots of YouTube's new player
3. Google Pack adds StarOffice
4. Google Presently
5. Easter egg in iGoogle

Top posts linked from
1. Plus Box: a new way to look at search results
2. Google Page Creator has a sitemap
3. Google Web History
4. Live Search launches a major update
5. Screenshots of Google Talk's integration with AIM

Feed subscribers: 51,344 (number for Dec. 29)
In February, Google started to report the number of subscribers and that's the explanation for the sudden growth.

Top feed readers:
1. iGoogle/Google Reader: 58%
2. Netvibes: 15%
3. Bloglines: 7%
4. BlogRovR: 4%
5. Firefox Live Bookmarks: 2%
6. Outlook 2007: 2%
7. Newsgator Online: 2%
8. My Yahoo: 1%
9. Windows RSS Platform: 1%
10. Zhuaxia: 1%

There's also a chart that has a questionable ranking system, but people find it valuable: Technorati Top 100. Google Operating System is currently at #67:

Some conclusions: unlike last year, when most of the traffic was artificially inflated by social news sites (most notably, Digg), this year search engines ranked Google Operating System much better (in some cases, inaccurately) and other sites linked to my posts without having to see them at Digg. As usually, popular things are not necessarily better and they don't necessarily reflect the truth.

December 29, 2007

Updates from Your Gmail Contacts

One of the reasons why the chat box can no longer be disabled in the new version of Gmail is that it will include some new features: updates from your contacts. Yes, they are the same contacts you barely know, but these updates will help you learn more about them.

Gmail's code suggests that you'll be able to delete the updates you don't like, reply by email or post a comment. It's not very clear what kind of updates you will receive, but they're probably the latest important actions of your contacts from different Google services.

JavaScript code from Gmail

Picasa Web Albums already shows on the homepage a list of recent activities from the people you've subscribed to (not necessarily your contacts):

Google Reader has recently started to display shared items from your Google Talk contacts, a feature that stirred passionate debates.

Google Shared Stuff shows the web pages shared by your Gmail contacts. "A shared stuff page is a collection of all the links that you want to share online. Your shared stuff page is publicly visible, so you can use it you to share links with your friends and others on the web," Google mentions about the obscure service.

orkut, Google's social network, added in September a feature that shows the latest updates from your orkut friends:

The Gmail updates will probably gather all this information, merge it with recent activities from other Google services and display it in a continous stream, similar to Facebook's newsfeed. Deriving a social graph from your address book is not always the best idea if we take into account that Gmail automatically adds people in your list of contacts. Social applications are Google's weakest point, as it didn't manage to create strong communities around any service. Integrating these applications and adding a unified social layer might appear artificial, especially if the users didn't ask for it and they don't have the tools to control the sharing boundaries.

December 28, 2007

Google in 2000

What search engine did you use in 2000? It's very likely that the answer is not Google. Three months before Google became the default search provider for Yahoo, Google's search results looked slightly different than they look today. Google showed relevant categories from DMOZ, the snippets were much shorter, the "related pages" feature was called GoogleScout, "I'm Feeling Lucky" was added to every search results pages and you could choose the number of search results from a drop-down. At that time, Google didn't offer any specialized search engine, but it added at the bottom of the page a list of links to competitors (you probably used one of those search engines). The number of search results was much smaller because Google only indexed around 200 million web pages and Google was still looking for ways to monetize the search engine.

Google still hosts a search results page from April 2000, even if it's slightly modified because it was a part of an April Fool's Day prank called Mentalplex. Here's a slightly updated search results page from later that year.

The same year, Google introduced text ads, but they were rather primitive. "Google has recently started to include text-only banner ads on their search engine, but you may have not noticed the change because most searches currently don't include a banner ad along with the search results," reported in January 2000. Here's how the advertising system worked at that time:

"Google uses its Patent-Pending PageRank Technology and sophisticated query classification to create a Virtual Directory. In other words, Google categorizes the thousands of different search queries into the Internet's most popular and targeted areas. Advertisers simply select from a wide range of available categories most appropriate to their business. Google will match the appropriate ads to the category most relevant to the user's search."

The web could still be approximated by directories, collections of high-quality sites manually categorized by editors. In March 2000, Google integrated data from the Open Directory Project: "1.5 million entries, arranged in over 200,000 categories, selected and maintained by a volunteer corps of more than 22,000 editors." Larry Page concluded that "the addition of Netscape's Open Directory Project creates the most comprehensive and robust search resource for finding information and browsing the Web. We've combined the best aspects of search and directories to create an enhanced tool for easy access to information contained on the Web."

Google's traffic started to grow at an alarming rate. "Google ended 1999 averaging about 7 million searches each day, a roughly 70,000% increase over the 10,000 searches per day that were performed on the Google site in December 1998! This explosive growth reflects the total number of searches performed by users on and on our corporate partner sites. As of the middle of January, we are averaging more than 10 million searches each day," reported Sergey Brin and Larry Page in the company's newsletter. Google wasn't satisfied and launched an affiliate program that enticed webmasters to add a Google search box to their sites. "By signing up for our affiliate program (...) you'll be able to place a Google search box on your site and begin receiving 3 cents for each search you send our way." At the end of 2000, Google handled more than 100 million search queries a day.

2000 was also the year when Matt Cutts joined Google. "When I joined in 2000, Google was a scrappy underdog search engine. Back then, Altavista was vastly more popular and reported 50 million searches a day. Google was popular among savvy webmasters and at many universities, and usage was growing quickly by word-of-mouth, but the smart folks at Google were eager for the company to be more well-known."

An example of positive feedback from 2000 (Usenet, via Google Groups):

"Try I've been most impressed with its ability to return good, relevant hits. Another big bonus with Google is that the site is almost completely clear of bandwidth-hogging graphics and advertising. The web site has to be the fastest I've ever seen."

2000 is the year that made Google a successful search engine, even if many people wondered what's the revenue strategy. "The company's adamant refusal to use banner or other graphical ads eliminates what is the most lucrative income stream for rival search engines. Although Google does have other revenue sources, such as licensing and text-based advertisements, the privately held company's business remains limited compared with its competitors," concluded Business Week in December 2000. "Now comes Google's big test. Can it keep forswearing pay-for-placement deals that allow commercial sites to buy high rankings in searches? Yahoo has begun cutting these deals in droves, matching lesser competitor LookSmart. But Brin says he isn't worried: When somebody searches for 'cancer,' should you put up the site that paid you or the site that has better information? Brin is betting better information will win the day. "

December 27, 2007

Google Mini-Labs

It's interesting to notice that the last important addition to the Google Labs page was Code Search, a product launched in October 2006, the same month when Sergey Brin talked about a new initiative: "features, not products". Instead of building separate products that do one thing really well, Google started to integrate the new ideas into existing products.

But adding experimental features into already mature products could cause a lot of frustration, so Google launched mini-labs for Google Search, Blogger and others products should follow. Google Experimental lets you join some search experiments and integrate them in Google's main interface. Blogger in Draft adds features that are not yet released in Blogger and gathers feedback from the early adopters. Google Enterprise Labs has new features for Google Search Appliance and Google Mini.

Gmail launched a new version in October, but unlike the previous mini-labs, Gmail 2.0 is opt-out and not everyone can have it. Google Apps admins have a new option to add the features from Gmail 2.0, but it's not yet functional:

"We're happy to announce today that we are offering domain administrators the option of obtaining new features in your Google Apps accounts at the same time as we launch to our consumer users. You'll find this option in your control panel, and only in Next Generation, U.S. English settings. We feel this option strikes a balance between those of you who would like to immediately release new features to their users, and those who prefer to wait for our team to ensure that the features are useful and stable for our consumer users before we roll them out to all Google Apps users," notes a Google Apps advisor.

When Google Reader added the most controversial feature since its launch (sharing with friends), it was labeled as experimental: "This is still a very experimental feature, so we'd love to hear what you think of it." The feature was added without offering the option to disable it, even though it wasn't a low-impact addition.

So how to innovate, how to bring fresh ideas and experiment with interesting new features without confusing or frustrating users who have high expectations from your product? An idea is to show to the general public a reliable product and have a mini-lab with features that are not yet ready for prime-time. Those who like fast changes, features that could disappear a week after the launch or those who like to discover bugs and provide an early feedback can opt-in to the beta version. So instead of having a single Google Labs, we'll have mini-labs for all Google products.

Creating a Backup for Your Google Account

Using a single account for all the Google has a lot of advantages but if, for some reason, you can't access the account or Google temporarily disables it, you lose a lot of important data. Fortunately, you can set up a Google account that should give you access to some of the information from your account. (You should also backup important data in other ways: download Gmail messages using POP3/IMAP in a mail client, export your documents from Google Docs, back up your Blogger blogs etc.)

* If you use Gmail, you could create a Gmail account whose only purpose is to fetch messages from your main account. Set up mail fetcher in the backup account and add the main account as a custom From address. This way, you'll be able to read all the messages from your account and even send mail.

* Add the backup account as a Google Talk friend from Gmail Chat or from other Google Talk interface. As a side effect, you'll have access to your shared items from Google Reader.

* For Blogger, add the backup account in the blog authors section: Settings > Permissions > Add authors. The account should have admin privileges so that you can create, edit and delete posts.

* In Google Analytics, go to Access Manager and add the account as an admin. You'll have access to all reports and profiles in the backup account.

* Google Calendar lets you share the main calendar with other people and even give them the right to edit events. Click on "Manage calendars" at the bottom of the window, share the main calendar and add the backup account. You should select "make changes and manage sharing" from the drop-down.

* If you're the owner of a group in Google Groups, go to the member invitation section, select "Add members directly" and add the backup account. Then change the membership type of the new account to "owner". It's also a good idea to select "no email" in the subscription type.

* Add the backup account as a collaborator for some of the most important Google documents and notebooks.

* Other Google services only allow you to export your data: Google Reader (Settings > Import/Export), iGoogle (share each tab with the backup account), Gmail contacts, Google News personalization (scroll to the bottom of the homepage and click on "Share your personalized news with a friend").

The backup account will not have all the data from your main account, but you'll still be able to read your email, send messages, publish blog posts, check your calendar, add new events, access important documents etc.

December 26, 2007

Predictions for Google's 2008

Some of these items are obvious, others are mostly wishful thinking.

1. Google will try to unify its application and transform them into a big social network. The Maka-Maka project (or Google's activity stream) will enhance the already existing profiles. If Google doesn't understand that your Gmail contacts aren't necessarily your friends, we'll see a huge privacy backslash.

2. Google should finally go beyond indexing text and start to use image analysis and speech recognition in Google Image Search and Google Video. The NevenVision acquisition should produce visible results in the image search engine and we could see better results for famous people or the option to find similar images.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Google will launch a people search engine that gathers data from the web, especially from social networks.

10. 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.

11. One word: sync. 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.

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

13. Google will differentiate commercial search results by integrating data from Google Base. Google will continue to try to promote Checkout, this time by showing small badges next to the search results from sites that accept Google Checkout.

14. 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.

15. Picasa Web Albums will add some of the photo editing features from Picasa and will increase the free storage.

16. GDrive will finally launch, but it won't offer infinite storage or advanced features. It will let you access the files stored in different Google applications and upload new files from a single interface. Storage: 20 GB.

December 25, 2007

Google News Archive's Updated Timelines

Google updated News Archive, the service that extends the reach of Google News to older events. The timeline view includes web pages that describe events from the past, shows charts and better snippets (here's the old interface). But there's something interesting about this service that will probably be implemented in Google's main search interface: the search results actually create a readable web page. There are many sites on the web that try to capture the most important events related to a person, a concept, a technology and Google dynamically builds meaningful timelines. Google also adds links to some parts of the snippets and points to the search results for that terms, the same as online encyclopedias link to related articles.

At some point, search engines will learn so many things from web pages, from books and scientific papers that search results will be replaced by a coherent answer that uses information from a lot of sources. For now, Google tests some alternate views that add a new dimension to search results.

Popular Christmas Gifts in the US

Google Hot Trends is a great way to see what are the most popular Christmas presents, at least in the US. You only need to look at the URLs entered in Google's search box (people still haven't discovered the address bar):


Can you guess the presents? Did you receive something similar? Note that the list is updated every hour, so you may see a different hierarchy.

{ Thanks, TomHTML. }

December 24, 2007

Gmail's Christmas Card

Some people noticed a new Gmail login page specially created for Christmas (or holidays, if we want to be politically-correct).

"There may be snow outside, but hopefully there snow spam in your inbox. May your inbox be filled with joy this holiday season and beyond."

Gmail didn't add an option to create Christmas cards, but YouTube lets you send video cards. You can also add the Holiday Village theme to the iGoogle page, download some Christmas gadgets for Google Desktop, try to guess what's the next Google doodle and track Santa in Google Earth.

{ Found by Pavla Kopecna. }

December 23, 2007

Gmail and Google Maps Have the Same Number of Users

Last year, one of my blogs had 5 visitors, but the number increased dramatically to 63 last week. The growth is huge: 1160%, more than YouTube, Facebook or any Google service.

That's the main idea from TechCrunch's iGoogle Google's Homegrown Star Performer This Year, an article which announces us that, according to comScore data, iGoogle is the Google service with the biggest growth: 267.24%. Of course, my blog had a much bigger growth and relative percentages are meaningless.

Google's worldwide unique visitors (Nov. 2006 - Nov. 2007).
The numbers are in thousands. Source: comScore via TechCrunch.

Much more interesting is that Gmail and Google Maps have almost the same number of unique visitors: around 90 million. They're also the most visited Google services hosted at, after Google web search and image search (YouTube, Blogger and orkut aren't included in comScore's study).

It's also worth noting that Blog Search, Product Search, Google Calendar and Google Finance have negligible traffic and iGoogle has less users than Book Search. Product Search (previously known as Froogle) replaced Google Video on the homepage this month, so the current navigation bar should increase the number of users for the service.

Some conclusions: catchy names work better (Froogle had more traffic than Product Search and iGoogle has more traffic than Google Personalized Homepage), Google has yet to figure out how to use Gmail's popularity to increase the usage for other Google apps, Blog Search has the potential to become much more popular if Google integrates it in Google News, Google's navigation is still confusing and frustrating.

Best New Google Features that Don't Require Login

This post is for those who think Google is still a search engine and wonder why news sites constantly talk about new Google features while Google's homepage still looks the same. Here's a list of my favorite Google updates from this year that should be useful even if you don't use Gmail, Google Docs and you don't have a Google account.

1. Play videos from Google Search
Google lets you play videos from YouTube and Google Video directly from the search results pages. That means you can search for a song, an artist, a TV show and play videos just by clicking on "watch video". E.g.: Mika.

2. Better translations
This year, Google moved to its own statistical translation system, which provides better translations, improves faster and it's easier to scale to new languages. You can access the service if you click on "Language tools" at, from or if you translate search results from foreign languages.

3. More recent web pages
Google indexes web pages faster so you can find them minutes after they're published. If you want to restrict your search to recent pages, there are more options in the advanced search that let you find pages first seen by Google in the past 24 hour, past week and other intervals.

4. Find geographical information
Google Maps is more than a search engine that finds local businesses, shows maps and directions. It's also useful to find content related to a certain place through mapplets or directly from the search box. Find photos, videos, books and maps from the web.

5. Free 411 in the US
GOOG-411 lets you find a local business and connect to it by calling to 1-800-GOOG-411. The service is free and doesn't have human operators.

6. Trends in search results
If you wonder what are the most interesting searches at the moment, try Google Hot Trends. The data is updated every hour and shows the queries that had the most spectacular evolution. For now, Google Hot Trends is only available for the US English version of Google.

7. Explore the sky
Google Earth 4.2 lets you switch to the sky mode and explore stars, constellations, galaxies, find information and high-resolution images.

8. Find faces in Google Image Search
You can restrict image results to faces by going to advanced search and selecting "faces" in the content types section. Google's face detection is really good and you can use this new option when searching for people.

9. Go mobile
Most Google's services have a mobile version and they should be available by going to on your mobile phone (or on your computer). There's a unified interface for iPhone, a great mobile version of Google Maps that finds your location even if you don't have GPS and a mobile YouTube.

10. Download StarOffice for free
Of course, you can always get OpenOffice, but Google lets you download for free a more business-oriented version that normally costs $70. The price is that you need to install Google Pack, collection of applications recommended by Google. You can still choose the software you want to install and it's easy to uninstall Google Pack while still keeping StarOffice.

Weave: Integrating Online Services with Firefox

While social bookmarking sites like have a lot of fans, most people aren't comfortable with publicly displaying their bookmarks. Even if many sites allow you save your bookmarks online, the integration between the services and browsers is still not very good, you have to install plug-ins and learn how to bookmark sites and manage your bookmarks.

This year, browsers started to realize that they have a great opportunity: to extend their local bookmarking services and add an online layer. The first browser that integrated this feature was the IE-based Maxthon, then Opera added a bookmark synchronization feature to its desktop and mobile clients. Now Mozilla tests a similar service called Weave, that's available as an extension for Firefox 3 Beta 2, but unlike Opera and Maxthon, Mozilla's product will be open to third-parties.

As the Web continues to evolve and more of our lives move online, we believe that Web browsers like Firefox can and should do more to broker rich experiences while increasing user control over their data and personal information. One important area for exploration is the blending of the desktop and the Web through deeper integration of the browser with online services. (...) Just like Mozilla enables massive innovation by making Firefox open on many levels, we will aim to do the same with Weave by developing an open extensible framework for services integration.

For now, Weave lets you synchronize your bookmarks and your history, but the service should be extended to other kinds of data: passwords, cookies, settings, sessions, extensions. In this limited test, the only service provider is Mozilla, but once the platform matures, we can expect to see important service providers like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft. Instead of using Google Toolbar, you'll be able to bookmark web pages to Google Bookmarks directly from Firefox.

And if other browsers support this platform, you should be able to access the same personal data in Firefox, Opera or other browsers, at home or at work, from your computer or your mobile phone.

Here are some use cases from Mozilla:
* Automatic backup and restore - Dan's hard drive has died. Like many folks, Dan had never gotten around to getting that backup solution he knew he needed. Dan feels miserable when he thinks of all the software he needs to install, the stuff he's lost, and all the account names and passwords he'll never remember. Then he realizes that his family photos, email and calendar are all hosted online, as well as all of the services he uses to manage his life: his banking, shopping, purchased music and more. With his replacement computer in hand, he installs Firefox, logs in to his Mozilla account and resumes his online life without skipping a beat.

* Personalization made portable - Myk likes to visit his Mom on weekends. He doesn't have a laptop, so he uses his mom's computer when he visits. He used to be annoyed because, though he installed Firefox on his Mom's PC, he missed having easy access to his favorite sites and RSS feeds, and having to remember all his account names and passwords. He logs into his Mozilla account and his personalized experience returns. And, just as importantly, when he logs out, all of the cookies, bookmarks and other information is cleared from his Mom's PC so that she doesn't accidentally log in to his email account or anything else he was browsing.

Hopefully, Mozilla's project will become a part of Firefox 4 and other browsers will work in a similar direction. This way, it will be easier to decide who stores your data and to have your data with you permanently.

For now, Weave is available as an experimental extension for Firefox 3 Beta 2. If you use Firefox 2 or an earlier version, you can install Firefox 3 without conflicting with your current version, but it's recommended to create a new profile. You can find more about Firefox 3 from Ars Technica, but one thing is for sure: Firefox 3 is really fast.

December 22, 2007

Elections Section in the US Google News

Google News has a new section for the US elections. The elections page also includes a tabbed gadget that shows videos, news and blog posts related to your favorite candidates. While the gadget is customizable, the changes aren't persistent and don't propagate to the entire elections section.

Earlier this year, YouTube and CNN organized two debates with the presidential candidates and most of the questions were from YouTube users. Some of the candidates visited Google's headquarters and spoke with Googlers: from the eight videos, Ron Paul's conversation was the most popular.

Yahoo News has a nice dashboard with up-to-date information from polls, search queries and predictions. I wonder why Google doesn't link to Trends charts that compare the candidates.

December 21, 2007

Remember the Googley Milk

There's so much Google in Remember The Milk, a popular task management service, that you may wonder why Google didn't acquire it. Remember The Milk has a simple interface, can show your tasks inside Google Calendar, Gmail, iGoogle, and makes your tasks available offline thanks to Google Gears.

The integration with Gmail is available only in Firefox (through an extension) and only in the new version of Gmail. "Remember The Milk for Gmail is a Firefox extension that allows you to manage your tasks in Gmail (complete, postpone, and edit tasks), add new tasks (and connect them with your emails, contacts, and Google Calendar events), automatically add tasks for starred messages or specific labels, and much more!" So you can add events to Calendar directly from Gmail, you can flag messages for follow-up and see which tasks are connected with a certain contact. You can also create tasks every time you star or label a message and let RTM to auto-complete tasks using names from your contact list or Google Calendar events.

"It happens to be the product that inspired us when we started building RTM back in 2004 -- that's right, the one and only Gmail. We've always thought it would be incredibly cool if you could manage your tasks alongside your mail -- and have your tasks know what's on your calendar and who your contacts are too," explained RTM's blog.

And Remember The Milk fits great in the landscape by using visual elements from Gmail Chat, Google Reader, by using even small features from Gmail (like undo) and creating a section for tasks in the settings. This is definitely the service that has the best integration with Google services and it looks so good in Gmail that it should be a part of Google's mail application.

Orkut OneBox for People Search

Most of the data from Google's social network orkut wasn't included in search results because orkut requires authentications to see profile pages. Now Google intends to index the information from user profiles and show it in search results as an OneBox.

"Some orkut profiles will appear in Google search results as an orkut OneBox. A OneBox is a summary of your orkut profile, including key details like your name, photo and location. A OneBox appears only when someone who is logged in to orkut performs a search on for another orkut user. Keep in mind that this project is still in its experimental stage, so for now, only a small percentage of orkut users will see the OneBox in their search results," mentions Google in orkut's help center.

In the privacy sections of the settings page there's an option that lets you remove your profile from the orkut OneBox, but the description doesn't correspond to the one from orkut help center: "show my orkut information when my orkut friends search for me on".

As previously mentioned, orkut could be the base of a new people search service that integrates data from different sources.

{ Thanks, João. }

December 20, 2007

Let's Test Powerset

Powerset, the search engine that shows results for natural language queries, started to let its testers enter any query.

From the about page: "Our unique innovations in search are rooted in breakthrough technologies that take advantage of the structure and nuances of natural language. Using these advanced techniques, Powerset is building a large-scale search engine that breaks the confines of keyword search." For now, Powerset only indexes pages from the English Wikipedia and it's not publicly available (but you can request an invite).

For example, Google shows almost the same search results for [Pyra Labs acquired by Google] and for [When was Pyra Labs acquired by Google?]. Even if the answer can be found in one of the first snippets, Google doesn't highlight it or display it prominently, like you can see in Powerset.

Do you know a query that shows irrelevant results at Google? Post it in the comments and I'll upload a screenshot of Powerset's results. Obviously, to compare Powerset's results with Google results, you need to restrict Google to, the only site currently indexed by Powerset.


Query #1 (from Matt Cutts): How many states are in the United States?
Conclusion: the first 10 Powerset results are terrible. On the other hand, Google shows the answer in a OneBox, but also a strange book search OneBox at the top: "How Many Doctors Do We Need?" by Duncan Yaggy, Patricia Hodgson.

Query #2: What Nobel Prize winners were born in Russia?
Conclusion: Google's results are better even if you restrict them to Wikipedia. The top result from Wikipedia (the third Google result) is a page titled Noble laureates by country. Only few of the people mentioned in Powerset's results are Russian who won the Nobel prize and there's no complete list.

Query #3: Who was the last president of United States?
Conclusion: The results #3, #4, #6 mention George W. Bush, but there are other names of former presidents. Google's fourth result has this title: "George W Bush: Last President Of The United States Of America?".

Query #4: Who are the founders of Yahoo?
Conclusion: the second result includes the answer, but it's only partially highlighted in the snippet. Google's top results has a good snippet: "The two founders of Yahoo!, David Filo and Jerry Yang, Ph.D. candidates in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, started their guide in a campus."

Post Blogger Comments Using Your Own Domain

Blogger has recently added support for posting comments by authenticating with OpenID. The integration is now live for all Blogger blogs and that means you no longer have to show your identity by using a Google account. You already have an OpenID if you have an account at AOL, WordPress, LiveJournal or at one of the other OpenID providers. You can be your own OpenID provider, but this is a little more complicated.

A simple way to use your own domain as an OpenID is to delegate it to another OpenID provider. That means you should get an OpenID from a site like MyOpenID and add these two lines in the head section of your homepage (you should replace with the real OpenID):

<link rel="openid.server" href="" />
<link rel="openid.delegate" href="" />

Now you can use your domain or subdomain everywhere you're allowed to enter an OpenID. To post a Blogger comment, select "Any OpenID" from the drop-down and enter your URL. You'll be redirected to the OpenID provider to enter your password.

Google removed the option to enter your URL when you don't sign up with a Google account, but you can still show the URL if you use OpenID.

Update: Blogger brought back the option to enter a URL when post unauthenticated comments.

Google Gears Wants to Upgrade the Web

"A gear is a component within a transmission device that transmits rotational force to another gear or device." (Wikipedia)

Most people think that Google Gears is a way to make web applications work offline, but it's much more than. Google Gears addresses many limitations from today's browsers and wants to make the browsers more powerful.

Here's a list of features that could be included in the next releases, but you can find more in Google Gears wiki:

* image manipulation - "a module to give Javascript a way to resize, crop and compose images together on the client side. This will allow, for example, images to be resized into a web-friendly format before being uploaded to a photo album. Another use is for composition of images together as an efficient alternative to server-side composition or CSS layering. Yet another use is for basic photo editing - a user can edit a photo with instantly applied changes before uploading it to the server."

* location - "an abstraction for the various LBS APIs that currently exist on mobile platforms (GPS-based, network/cellid-based). The API consists of the Location class, which encapsulates various location attributes (latitude, longitude, etc), and also provides the means to query the platform for a location fix." This suggests that Google Gears will be available for some mobile phones.

* desktop shortcuts for web applications that lets you click on an icon from your desktop and open the "application" in your browser. This could make the transition from the desktop to the browser easier, even if some people could find it confusing. Mozilla Prism is a similar initiative.

Google's Dion Almaer describes Gears in a very plastic way. "We get to drive a few makes of cars (browsers) on the (information) highway. When we want new features, we have to wait for a new model to come out, and recently it feels like Cuba. The top selling car is a 1950’s Chevy. As drivers that are passionate about the driving experience, the Gears team is trying give everyone a foundation to replace the engine, even as you drive."

Google Gears is still in an early phase of development and it could include many other features, but it will be interesting to see how Google intends to push its adoption. The Gears-enabled services could ask the users if they want offline access or other fancy features, Google could also include it in the toolbar or distribute it with popular applications from third-parties. For now, Google Reader, Remember the Milk and Zoho Writer are the most important applications that use Gears, but next year most Google services will use Gears.

December 19, 2007

Who Are My Gmail Contacts?

Google has an awkward way of dealing with contacts in its communication apps. In Gmail, your contact list includes all the people you've ever replied, but you can also add other contacts manually.

"Email addresses are automatically added to your Contacts list each time you use the Reply, Reply to all, or Forward functions to send messages to addresses not previously stored in your Contacts list," according to the help center. While this should save you some time and effort, your contact list will include a lot of people you wouldn't have normally added. For example, if somebody sends me a tip for this blog and I reply to thank him, my contact list includes that person. Gmail doesn't have an option to turn off this feature, so all you can do is to either ignore your contact list or create a group that contains only your real contacts.

By default, if your conversation with someone includes more than 2-3 replies, that person is automatically added to your list of Google Talk friends. To chat with someone you normally need to ask for permission, but this feature bypasses the annoying question because Google assumes you really know that person. Fortunately, you can disable it in Gmail's settings and Google Talk, but not many people will do this. "If there are other Gmail users whom you frequently email, you'll be able to chat and see each other online without having to send an invitation. Gmail automatically determines which contacts you'll be able to talk to without having to invite each other." (Gmail help center)

So the rules are simple:

Rule #1:
if you reply to someone's email, that person is added to your Gmail contact list.
(Error #1: you may not know that person)

Rule #2 (opt-out):
if you reply to someone's messages more than 2-3 times, that person is added to the list of Google Talk friends.
(Error #2: see error #1. Also that person may not be your friend.)

So it's quite likely that your Gmail contact list and Google Talk friends list include people you don't know. Now that we have these two lists (obviously, Google Talk friends are also Gmail contacts), you may wonder where you could use them.

In Google Shared Stuff, a rather obscure social bookmarking site, all the web pages you bookmark are public, but there's also a page with "stuff from people you know". That page shows the most recent bookmarks from your Gmail contacts, but many of these contacts are people I don't know.

Google Reader added a feature that shows shared items from your Google Talk friends. Here's how it was introduced:
One of my favorite uses for Reader is to share interesting stuff with my friends. I click "Share" whenever I find an interesting item, be it hilarious or serious. This way, all my friends can subscribe to my shared items (and I to theirs), and we can easily see if a friend has found something interesting. This can be inconvenient, as I have to distribute my shared items link to my friends and vice-versa. So, we've linked up Reader with Google Talk (also known as chat in Gmail) to make your shared items visible to your friends from Google Talk.

Except that, according to the rule #2, my Google Talk friends aren't necessarily my friends.

Google will probably continue to use your contact list for other services, so at some point your Gmail contacts or Google Talk friends might see your public documents, photo albums, notebooks, personalized maps, blog posts. All of these public actions dynamically generate a news feed (the way you know it from Facebook) and your contacts should be entitled to find things about you. The main problem is that your contact list has been generated automatically and has little to do with you. Those people aren't necessarily your friends, your family, your co-workers, they're just some people you happened to email at some point.

Before using theses random lists of people to broadcast information about you, Google should clearly define their purpose and let you manage them. The problem with creating a social layer over Google's web apps is that Google is not a social network and your contacts are not your friends and not even people you know.

Translation Service for Google Talk

Google launched translation bots for a lot of language pairs, even more than the ones available at Google Translate. To use them in Google Talk or in any other IM client that supports Jabber, you need to add one of the bots as a friend, start a conversation with the bot and enter the text you want to translate. Google's bots have a simple format for addresses:


For example, if you want to translate text from English to French, you need to add To translate Chinese text in English, add Here's the list of languages pairs and you'll notice many new pairs, displayed in bold below (some of the language pairs were subsequently added in June 2008):

ar2en, en2ar (Arabic<->English)
bg2en, en2bg (Bulgarian<->English)
cs2en, en2cs (Czech <-> English)
da2en, en2da (Danish<->English)
de2en, en2de (German<->English)
de2fr, fr2de (German<->French)
el2en, en2el (Greek<->English)
es2en, en2es (Spanish<->English)
fi2en, en2fi (Finnish<->English)
fr2en, en2fr (French<->English)
hi2en, en2hi (Hindi<->English)
hr2en, en2hr (Croatian<->English)
it2en, en2it (Italian<->English)
ja2en, en2ja (Japanese<->English)
ko2en, en2ko (Korean<->English)
nl2en, en2nl (Dutch<->English)
no2en, en2no (Norwegian<->English)
pl2en, en2pl (Polish<->English)
pt2en, en2pt (Portuguese<->English)
ro2en,en2ro (Romanian<->English)
ru2en, en2ru (Russian<->English)
sv2en, en2sv (Swedish<->English)
zh2en, en2zh (Chinese<->English)
zh-hant2en, en2zh-hant (Traditional Chinese<->English)
zh-hant2zh, zh2zh-hant (Traditional Chinese<->Simplified Chinese)

While this is a great interface for translating short texts (you can access Google Talk from Gmail, from or in many other ways), you can also use the bots to translate conversations in real-time. You need to invite the two corresponding bots in a group chat, so this doesn't work in the desktop client, which still does not support group chats. For some reason, when I invited one of the bots, it was offline, but it still translated my messages.

It would be great if Google adds this as a standard feature of Google Talk and you only need to enter your native language, but the translation quality is not that great and it could cause problems in some situations. The good news is that Google's statistical translation system advances really quickly and you'll see more and more languages pairs in the future.

December 18, 2007

Holiday Village, the New Winter Theme for iGoogle

There's a new winter theme in iGoogle: Holiday Village. This mysterious theme has appeared and disappeared for almost a week and many people wondered why Google doesn't release it for everyone. Apparently, Google realized that Christmas isn't far away and the theme should be available in your iGoogle pages.

Here's the description: "watch the snowflakes fall and the lights twinkle in this cozy and quaint alpine village."

If you can't see the theme, you might try to copy this code in your address bar while visiting iGoogle and then press Enter. It seems that not all computers can access the theme's files, so this code could reset the theme to the default one.


You can see more images in this slideshow.

The previous winter theme

December 17, 2007

Slowly Transitioning to Online Software

New York Times has a long article about the differences between Google and Microsoft in terms of vision. "The growing confrontation between Google and Microsoft promises to be an epic business battle. It is likely to shape the prosperity and progress of both companies, and also inform how consumers and corporations work, shop, communicate and go about their digital lives. Google sees all of this happening on remote servers in faraway data centers, accessible over the Web by an array of wired and wireless devices — a setup known as cloud computing. Microsoft sees a Web future as well, but one whose center of gravity remains firmly tethered to its desktop PC software."

Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, envisions that 90% of today's computing tasks can be moved online. "To explain, Mr. Schmidt steps up to a white board. He draws a rectangle and rattles off a list of things that can be done in the Web-based cloud, and he notes that this list is expanding as Internet connection speeds become faster and Internet software improves. In a sliver of the rectangle, about 10 percent, he marks off what can't be done in the cloud, like high-end graphics processing." (my emphasis)

Google also thinks that people don't use all the features that are available in many desktop applications. "If you're creating a complex document like an annual report, you want Word, and if you're making a sophisticated financial model, you want Excel. That's what the Microsoft products are great at. But less and less work is like that," said Google's Dave Girouard.

And for Google, things are going in the right direction: more people have access to fast Internet connection, users don't want to keep their data on a single computer as they found the advantages of sharing and collaborating online. There's also the advantage of a much lower price for storage and computing. Google's "vast data centers are designed by Google engineers for efficiency, speed and low cost, giving the company an edge in computing firepower and allowing it to add offerings inexpensively."

For now, 2.000 companies start to use Google Apps every day (most try the free version), Google Docs had 1.6 million US users last month (, Gmail doubled its US users to 20.1 million in November (source:comScore).

Replacing desktop software with web applications

December 16, 2007

Google Is All About Large Amounts of Data

In a very interesting interview from October, Google's VP Marissa Mayer confessed that having access to large amounts of data is in many instances more important than creating great algorithms.
Right now Google is really good with keywords, and that's a limitation we think the search engine should be able to overcome with time. People should be able to ask questions, and we should understand their meaning, or they should be able to talk about things at a conceptual level. We see a lot of concept-based questions -- not about what words will appear on the page but more like "what is this about?" A lot of people will turn to things like the semantic Web as a possible answer to that. But what we're seeing actually is that with a lot of data, you ultimately see things that seem intelligent even though they're done through brute force.

When you type in "GM" into Google, we know it's "General Motors." If you type in "GM foods" we answer with "genetically modified foods." Because we're processing so much data, we have a lot of context around things like acronyms. Suddenly, the search engine seems smart like it achieved that semantic understanding, but it hasn't really. It has to do with brute force. That said, I think the best algorithm for search is a mix of both brute-force computation and sheer comprehensiveness and also the qualitative human component.

Marissa Mayer admitted that the main reason why Google launched the free 411 service is to get a lot of data necessary for training speech recognition algorithms.
You may have heard about our [directory assistance] 1-800-GOOG-411 service. Whether or not free-411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. I myself am somewhat skeptical. The reason we really did it is because we need to build a great speech-to-text model ... that we can use for all kinds of different things, including video search.

The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. ... So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we're trying to get the voice out of video, we can do it with high accuracy.

Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, seems to agree. "I have always believed (well, at least for the past 15 years) that the way to get better understanding of text is through statistics rather than through hand-crafted grammars and lexicons. The statistical approach is cheaper, faster, more robust, easier to internationalize, and so far more effective." Google uses statistics for machine translation, question answering, spell checking and more, as you can see in this video. The same video explains that the more data you have, the better your AI algorithm will perform, even if it isn't the best.

Peter Norvig says that Google developed its own speech recognition technology. "We wanted speech technology that could serve as an interface for phones and also index audio text. After looking at the existing technology, we decided to build our own. We thought that, having the data and computational resources that we do, we could help advance the field. Currently, we are up to state-of-the-art with what we built on our own, and we have the computational infrastructure to improve further. As we get more data from more interaction with users and from uploaded videos, our systems will improve because the data trains the algorithms over time."

Google is in the privileged position to gain access to large amounts of data that could be used to improve other services.