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September 30, 2008

Google Time Machine: the Web in 2001

Google brought back the index from January 2001 to show how many things have changed in almost 8 years. At that time, Google's index included 1,326,920,000 web pages and it was the most comprehensive index of a search engine.

Google explains that the index from January 2001 is the earliest available. "Well, for various technical reasons that are too boring to go into, earlier versions of our index aren't readily accessible. But we did still want to offer users a chance to search an older index as a way of looking back at web history, and the January 2001 index is the best we can do."

As Wikipedia informs us, January 2001 was an important month: Wikipedia is founded, George W. Bush becomes the 43rd President of the United States and Apple introduces iTunes.

A search for Gmail returned results about a Linux mail client and the Garfield email service:

If you search for Google, you'll find references to very few Google services: Google Directory, Google Toolbar and specialized search engines for Apple, Linux, but not yet Microsoft.

In 2001, Google's algorithms were less smart than today:

Unfortunately, Google doesn't use the interface from 2001 and the exclamation mark has been removed from the logo in 1999. Here's an original Google SERP from May 2001, courtesy of Christina Wodtke:

Another anachronism is this error page titled "2001 problems":

For more Google nostalgia, don't miss Google's special site for the 10th birthday.

{ via Blogoscoped }

Google Photo Search

Google Image Search has a new option that allows you to restrict the results to photos: just select "Return images that contain photo content" from the advanced search page.

A simple way to find photos would be to restrict the results to JPEG files, but a search for Gmail shows that many people use the JPEG format for logos and screenshots. If we use Google's image analysis technology, we'll find more photos related to Gmail, including the Gmail soap, Gmail Theater and Gmail's product manager Keith Coleman.

The other two content restrictions available in Google Image Search are for images that contain faces and for images that illustrate recent news articles. Microsoft's image search engine has more advanced options for refining your search: you can find photos, illustrations, faces and portraits.

Lively, a Future Platform for Online Games

"X-Ray Kid is the team that was recruited by Google to establish the visual style and aesthetic direction" for Lively, the 3D chat service launched in July. "It's been 2 years of work, dozens of original character designs, each with hundreds of unique animations, thousands of clothing variations and original sound content. In addition, we also produced numerous themed environments, hundreds of objects, animated room buddies, and the list goes on," explains the game development studio.

Kevin Hanna, creative director at X-Ray Kid, offers some insights on Lively's future in an interview for Kevin says that there are lot of interesting features that will be added to Lively:
Some of my favourite stuff has yet to come out. There's a lot of different characters, and cute animals and stuff, but we didn't do anything really genre-pushing. I think with the next step we're going to be still within that style, but really pushing the different genres of known game types. (...) There is a longer term goal of opening up the API so the architecture of Lively could be used as an online games platform.

Google has already bought AdScape, a company that monetizes games by placing relevant advertising, and some speculated that Google intends to acquire Valve, the company that developed Half Life.

September 29, 2008

Google Groups Video Results

Google adjusted the interface for video results that are part of universal search. Until now, Google promoted two videos in the first 10 results if the query was strongly associated with videos, but they looked like standard results. The new interface separates the two results from Google Video and this is more in line with other types of OneBoxes (images, local business, news) that evolved into universal search results.

Another change is that the image results group has 4 images instead of only 3 and it can be displayed inside the list of search results, not just at the top or at the bottom. When the image results group shows up at the top of the page, the thumbnails are significantly larger.

Building an universal search engine that manages to rank web pages, images, videos, books, maps turned out to be a difficult task, so Google tries to do something easier: rank OneBoxes for different specialized search engines and display them in appropriate places. You can find a version of Google that doesn't include universal search results at

September 26, 2008

More Languages in Google Translate

Google Translate added 11 new languages: Catalan, Filipino, Hebrew, Indonesian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Ukrainian and Vietnamese. Google's machine translation service now supports 35 languages and you can use it to translate text between any combination of languages.

In most cases, Google uses English as an intermediary language, so when you translate a text from Indonesian to Vietnamese, Google translates the text to English and then it translates the result to Vietnamese. You'll get the best results when one of the languages is English, since Google needs a single translation.

"Most state-of-the-art, commercial machine-translation systems in use today have been developed using a rule-based approach, and require a lot of work to define vocabularies and grammars. Our system takes a different approach: we feed the computer billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages. We then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model," explains Google.

One of the advantages of this approach is scalability: if Google finds enough parallel text to create a good translation model for a language, it will be added to Google Translate. When Google licensed Systran's technology, Google Translate was only able to translate between English and French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, but this has changed when Google developed its own translation technology. Microsoft followed suit and Windows Live Translator switched from Systran to Microsoft's machine translation system.

As Microsoft notes, it's important to keep in mind that "automatic translation enables you to understand the gist of foreign language text, but is no substitute for a professional human translator if fluency is required," at least not yet.

September 25, 2008

Google Toolbar 5 for Firefox

If you liked Google Toolbar 5 for Internet Explorer, but you didn't want to use Microsoft's browser, there's now a version for Firefox that includes similar features: support for Google gadgets, integration with Google Notebook, multiple profiles for AutoFill and synchronized settings.

The Firefox version doesn't include all the features that are available in Google Toolbar 5 for IE: there's no find bar, pop-up blocker, Browse by Name because Firefox already has these features. Customizable layouts, highlighting search terms, Word Find and Google Docs integration are the four Firefox-only features.

If you use Google Toolbar on multiple computers, enable synchronization to save AutoFill profiles, custom button and other settings to a Google account. Since bookmarks and notes are saved to the same Google account, you'll see the same Google Toolbar anywhere you go.

Google Toolbar 5 for Firefox -

The Best Gmail Error Message

You can't get a funnier error message than this:

Dear valued user,
You have reached the error page for the error page...
You win!!

Sometimes even the error pages can't be displayed and you need to come up with a plan B. Gmail's meta-error page is simple, yet effective: Google can't always win.

This reminds me of a similar error message from Google Reader: "Oops! That wasn't supposed to happen".

{ The first screenshot is licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial by Viofiddler. The second one is licensed as Creative Commons Attribution by Ashley Dryden. }

Google Moderator

Google Moderator is a small application initially created for submitting and voting on the questions for Google's tech talks.

"At Google, we host a large number of "tech talks". These talks cover a wide rage of Computer Science topics like research in machine learning and methods for ranking images based on text queries. I've enjoyed attending these tech talks, but as the number of attendees has grown over time, the question-and-answer part of the talks hasn't been able to scale," explains Taliver Heath.

The application turned out to be useful for other things, like the company's meetings, and Google decided to launch it publicly on the App Engine platform.

I created a list of suggestions for Google's services and anyone can add new suggestions or vote on the existing ideas. The most popular ideas are displayed at the top, but Google Moderator also lists random suggestions to make them more visible.

September 24, 2008

Google Contacts

One of the most visible changes in Gmail 2.0 was the new contact manager with better search options and more flexible exporting. You might have noticed that the contacts list doesn't load instantly and that's because Gmail opens a separate web page in an iframe.

Google has recently updated the stand-alone contacts page by adding a logo and a more prominent search box. Unfortunately, the URL is not user-friendly:

The page should be useful if you have a Google account that is not connected to a Gmail address and you would like to access your list of contacts from services like Google Docs or Google Reader.

{ Thanks, Tony. }

Compare Political Quotes

Google Labs added a new experimental service: In Quotes, which compares what different politicians say about popular issues like health care, taxes, environment. The service uses a feature from Google News that detects quotes in news articles and a public API that offers programmatic access to the quotes.

"These quotations are a valuable resource for understanding where people in the news stand on various issues. Much of the published reporting about people is based on the interpretation of a journalist. Direct quotes, on the other hand, are concrete units of information that describe how newsmakers represent themselves. Google News compiles these quotations from online news stories and sorts them into browsable groups based on who is being quoted," informs the FAQ.

Automatically detecting quotes is not an easy task, so not all the quotes are correctly attributed. Google truncates long quotes because they're treated the same as search results snippets.

For now, Google selected a small number of political figures from the US, Canada, India and the UK, but it would be interesting to create a service that allows users to enter two or more names and then save the interesting quotes.

September 23, 2008

Android Makes its Debut in T-Mobile G1

After less than a year since the initial Android announcement, T-Mobile USA launches today the first handset that uses Android's software stack: a smartphone built by HTC, which is known for manufacturing Windows Mobile portable devices.

T-Mobile G1 showcases some of the most advanced capabilities of Android, by including a touchscreen, QWERTY keyboard, accelerated 3D graphics, Wi-Fi and 3G support, GPS and accelerometer. The device won't have an impressive design and it won't be as easy to use as an iPhone, but it will certainly be able to run a lot of interesting applications.

Android's marketplace will accept any applications without a preliminary review, so that users decide whether they're useful. That means Angelo DiNardi's MailWrangler application won't be rejected because it duplicates the functionality from a built-in application. "Developers will be able to make their content available on an open service hosted by Google that features a feedback and rating system similar to YouTube. (...) Content can debut in the marketplace after only three simple steps: register as a merchant, upload and describe your content and publish it," explains Android's blog.

Even if the first device fails to impress, it will still be a success because Android pushes the boundaries further. "Consumers will see cheaper and more innovative mobile devices and services, which will inevitably feature more engaging, easier-to-use interfaces - as well as a rich portfolio of applications," envisions Open Handset Alliance's FAQ.

We will find more at 10:30 a.m. EDT, when T-Mobile and Google will announce the device in a press conference webcasted live.

Update. HTC has more information about the device:

Processor: Qualcomm MSM7201A, 528 MHz
Size: 117.7 mm x 55.7 mm x 17.1 mm (4.60 in x 2.16 in x 0.62 in)
Weight: 158 grams (5.57 ounces)
Display: 3.2-inch TFT-LCD flat touch-sensitive screen with 320 x 480 (HVGA) resolution
Camera: 3.2 megapixel color camera with fixed focus
Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, 1150 mAh
Talk Time: 406 minutes
Standby Time: 319 hours
Memory: microSD memory card, 1 GB included
Special features: Digital Compass, Motion Sensor

Update 2: CrunchGear informs that Amazon's MP3 music store will be preloaded on the device. "T-Mobile G1 users can search, download, buy and play music from Amazon MP3, which offers over 6 million DRM-free MP3 songs. (...) Downloading music from Amazon MP3 using the T-Mobile G1 requires a Wi-Fi connection but searching, browsing, listening to samples and buying MP3s can be done wherever customers are connected to the T-Mobile network."

Update 3. More details from T-Mobile's press release: three color options (white, brown and black); music player that supports MP3, M4A (iTunes AAC, DRM-free), AMR, WMA, MIDI, WAV, OGG Vorbis; pre-installed 1 GB Micro SD memory card; built-in instant messaging client with support for Google Talk, AOL, Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.

Update 4: The phone costs from $179.99 to $399.99, it's locked in the T-Mobile network and it requires a 2-year subscription and a data plan that costs $25 or $35, depending on the number of messages included. T-Mobile customers from the US can pre-order the phone starting from today, but the phone will be available in stores from October 22. T-Mobile promises to launch G1 in the UK one month later and in the first quarter of 2009, for the rest of Europe.

Update 5: The entire press conference showed a surprising lack of enthusiasm until Larry Page and Sergey Brin came on stage. There were very few interesting questions about the device: we found that G1 is targeted to consumers, it doesn't support Exchange and there's no way to buy it unlocked.

Update 6. T-Mobile G1 tour (the most exciting phone in the history of phones?):

Update 7. An overview of Google's services connected to G1: search, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Contacts, YouTube. There's too much Google integration: the phone even has a Google logo on the back.

Update 8: is now live and it shows an interesting video about running multiple applications in Android:

This playlist highlights some cool G1 features, including the not-yet-available-in-iPhone copy & paste.

{ T-Mobile G1 image courtesy of Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins. }

September 22, 2008

Embeddable Google Books

Google made it easy to embed in a site any book available at Google Book Search. You can add a fully-functional widget using this code:

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<script type="text/javascript">

where you should replace GkCpLIk7aisC with the corresponding book ID, which can be obtained from the URL. Here's the result for "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens:

"As on the Book Search site itself, you can search within the book, zoom in and out on the page, and browse up to 20% of the book," explains Inside Google Book Search. The new widget is already used by online catalogs like and social book sites like weRead to preview books.

This is just one of the three Google Books APIs that allow programmatic access to more than one million books.

September 20, 2008

More Internal Links in Google Knol

Knol, Google's knowledge repository, has recently improved the way articles are interlinked. When you create a link, Knol shows search results for the selected text, promoting its own content.

Some knols include an automatically-generated list of related knols in the sidebar:

Unfortunately, it's hard to find high-quality articles other than the knols featured on the homepage. The top search results for [Yahoo], [marine biology], [Alan Turing] and many other popular queries are articles copied from Wikipedia. Knol could easily filter these articles from search results, especially considering that Wikipedia has a conflicting license.

Did you spot any interesting knols? I found a well-documented history of Arctic explorers, a tutorial about photography composition and an introduction to usability.

Useful links:
* Knol's changelog
* the most visited knols

September 19, 2008

A Simple Way to Refine Searches

In many cases, finding some information using a search engine is an iterative process: you type a query, study the results and then you adjust your keywords. Sometimes your query is too ambiguous and you need to clarify its meaning by adding or subtracting keywords.

Xippee is a plug-in that makes it easy to refine your query using words from the search results pages. Let's say that you want to find some news about the Chrome game and you search for [Chrome]. Most of the results are related to Google's recently-released browser, so you can just select "Google", click on the "-" button and you'll get the results for [Chrome -Google].

Xippee works in Internet Explorer 7, Firefox, Opera, Safari and you can use it in Google, Yahoo and Live Search.

September 18, 2008

Sergey Brin Launches Personal Blog

The most outgoing Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, launched a personal blog at "While Google is a play on googol, too is a play on the much smaller number - two. It also means in addition, as this blog reflects my life outside of work," explains Sergey Brin.

The first blog post is somber: Sergey discovered that he has a "higher chance of developing Parkinson's in [his] lifetime than the average person".
My mother had always been haunted by Parkinson's because her aunt had suffered from it. I had often reasoned with her that since Parkinson's is not hereditary (there is not a strong correlation of Parkinson's incidence among close relatives), she had little to fear.

In 2004, my wife, Anne, introduced me to her future cofounders in 23andMe as they were studying the genetics of Parkinson's Disease. As with my mother's fear, I was skeptical about the study. I reasoned that if there was much to be learned about Parkinson's in the genome, there would have to be a high percentage of inherited cases. In fact, I appeared to be right in that this particular study did not bear immediate fruit. (...)

So, when my wife asked me to look up G2019S in my raw data (23andMe scientists had had the forethought to include it on their chip), I viewed it mostly as entertainment. But, of course, I learned something very important to me -- I carry the G2019S mutation and when my mother checked her account, she saw she carries it too.

The exact implications of this are not entirely clear. Early studies tend to have small samples with various selection biases. Nonetheless it is clear that I have a markedly higher chance of developing Parkinson's in my lifetime than the average person. In fact, it is somewhere between 20% to 80% depending on the study and how you measure.

{ via Bradley Horowitz }

Popular Names for iGoogle Tabs

iGoogle has a very cool feature that populates tabs with gadgets and feeds just by entering a title. When you create a tab, there's an option called "I'm feeling lucky. Automatically add stuff based on the tab name".

To make things even easier, iGoogle started to suggest popular names sorted by the number of users. There are 227,300 users that have tab named "Lifestyle", 3,725,200 users that named a tab "Music" and 21,070,090 users that couldn't find a better name than "Home".

Here's the top 10 for English:

1. Home - 21,070,090 users
2. News - 6,755,900
3. Games - 4,103,500
4. Entertainment - 4,002,300
5. Music - 3,725,200
6. Humor - 3,712,500
7. Sports - 3,667,300
8. Technology - 3,016,700
9. Cooking - 2,203,700
10. Politics - 2,170,700
?. Name this tab - 490,000

and the top 10 for French:

1. Accueil - 1,757,000 (Home)
2. Actualités - 590,100 (News)
3. Dictionnaire - 375,100 (Dictionary)
4. Google - 371,300
5. Musique - 346,100 (Music)
6. Jeux - 297,800 (Games)
7. Informatique - 291,600 (IT)
8. Photos - 282,700
9. Culture - 242,600
10. Radio - 237,700

For other languages, use this URL:
and replace LANG_CODE with a language code supported by iGoogle.

September 17, 2008

The iGoogle Experiment

iGoogle Developer Blog announces developers that the experimental version of iGoogle is a success and that more users will be a part of the experiment.

"It's been a few weeks since I've provided an update on the status of the canvas view launch. Our experiments with a small percentage of users have been going well, and we've been making some small changes and adjustments based on user feedback (such as reducing the width of the left nav). In the next few weeks we plan on ramping up the number of US English users with the canvas view."

Canvas view is one of the features from a major update for iGoogle that will bring support for OpenSocial gadgets, activity streams and more social apps. The trouble is that Google randomly selected a list of users to join the experiment, without providing a way to opt-out*. Most people didn't understand the implications of the update and only noticed the new design (the horizontal tabs have been replaced by a vertical menu), the missing functionality (you can't move a gadget to a different tab) and the broken gadgets (Gmail's canvas view displays the messages inside iGoogle, but it doesn't have a reply button).

Some people complained in iGoogle's discussion board, but Google didn't admit its mistake and continued to expand the experiment. Here's an interesting comment from a user:

"Your methodology is very heavy-handed. I am a retired executive from the old-days of computing (IBM and the BUNCH). We could never have imagined changing the interface of our customer's tools without asking permission. In many cases, we would have to support old versions of software for years after we thought we had newer and better products, just because our customers had gotten used to the way the old versions worked and had modified their habits to accommodate us. It would be considered the highest form of arrogance to force changes on them without their permission. Part of the wrath you are hearing from your users is because of your methodology, and the fact that it's way too hard to give you feedback."

Things have changed and web applications update much faster, often without providing an option to revert to a previous version. But it's extremely arrogant to replace a working version of a popular application like iGoogle with an unfinished version, without providing a way to opt-out. iGoogle was supposed to be a personalized Google homepage, a place where you can choose your favorite gadgets, feeds, themes.

When Flickr started to test a new interface for the dashboard, it placed a small link: "Would you like to try a new version of this page?". FriendFeed used a different address to test a new design and improve it based on the feedback. Gmail still links to the "classic" version to test how many people are satisfied with the new one. But iGoogle decided to try a different path and many unhappy users migrated to My Yahoo, Netvibes or other similar services.

"Our experiments with a small percentage of users have been going well, and we've been making some small changes and adjustments based on user feedback (such as reducing the width of the left nav). In the next few weeks we plan on ramping up the number of US English users with the canvas view."

* Some users managed to revert to the classic interface by going to and pasting in the address bar:

Street View and Walking Directions in Google Maps Mobile

The latest version of Google Maps for mobile phones brings two popular features that were only available in the desktop version: Street View and walking directions. You can download the application by visiting from a supported mobile phone.

Street View is integrated in the local search results and you can see Street View imagery next to each step from driving or walking directions.

I tried to install the new version, but Google Maps linked to GMM 2.2.0, an earlier version launched in June.

Update. Here are the direct links for Google Maps 2.3.1:

* Java-enabled phones:

* BlackBerry:

* the native versions for Windows Mobile and Symbian haven't been updated

Google Should Learn About Contacts APIs

Garett Rogers noticed a new option in the chat widget from the experimental iGoogle: invite friends to Google Talk. Unlike the similar feature from Gmail, iGoogle provides a simple way to import your contacts from Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, AIM and send mass invitations. The problem is that Google asks the username and password for a third-party email account, instead of using the APIs provided by Yahoo and Microsoft.

Google explains that it doesn't keep your username and password, but it's a really bad practice to teach your users to type their credentials on third-party sites. "Big internet companies stand to lose the most from widespread abuse of the anti-pattern, because they're the ones most likely to be targeted by phishers," says Simon Willison.

It's ironic that Google has a Contacts Data API and the introductory blog post has the following message:

"Have you ever been on a web-site that asked you for your Google username and password so that it can import your Gmail contact list? Did you think twice before giving out that information, hoping the web-site would not use it to access your credit card information stored with Google Checkout? Now you don't have to! We're happy to announce the availability of our Google Contacts Data API that gives programmatic access to your contact list. (...) We hope that APIs like this one mean you will never have to give out your username and password to other sites again. Please encourage all sites you use to switch to this API for accessing your Google contact data."

Flickr heard Google's message and it uses the contacts API to import the address book from Gmail. This way, Flickr doesn't have access to your password and it can only use a small portion of the data stored in your Google Account.

September 16, 2008

The First Android Phone Will Be Launched Next Week

HTC Dream, the first mobile device that uses Android will be introduced on September 23 by T-Mobile at a press conference in New York. "HTC says it expects to ship 600,000 to 700,000 units of the smart phone, dubbed the Dream, this year," according to Wall Street Journal.

The phone will be available at the end of October, but you can see a demo from Google Developer Day in London.

Andy Rubin, Google's director of mobile platforms, is aware that the first Android-powered mobile phone is very important for the public perception. "If we come out with a dud, people will go, 'Well, that was a waste of time'". Reuters reports that the device will ship with a beta version of the Android application marketplace and Google will not make money from selling applications. "We made a strategic decision not to revenue share with the developers. We will basically pass through any revenue to the carrier or the developer."

{ via Information Week }

Google Audio Indexing

Google's efforts to improve video search by using speech recognition technology started to become visible in July, when Google launched a gadget for searching inside the political speeches from YouTube. The gadget has been expanded into a new service called GAudi (Google Audio Indexing), which is now available at Google Labs.

"Google Audio Indexing is a new technology from Google that allows users to better search and watch videos from various YouTube channels. It uses speech technology to find spoken words inside videos and lets the user jump to the right portion of the video where these words are spoken. (...) Political videos and election materials are a special case of broadcast news content, a domain that has received a lot of academic and industry attention and is known to perform well," explains the FAQ.

The interface is attractive because you can find all the mentions of your keywords and go directly to the appropriate sequence. And if you find an interesting video, there's another search box that lets you search inside that video.

Google's technology is far from being perfect, so you'll find many mistakes. In the video "Barack Obama on the 40th Anniversary of the Prague Spring", "Czechoslovakia" is incorrectly detected as "tech also but there", "free" is replaced by "forty" and there are many other mistakes.

{ Thanks, Kevin and Pat. }

Gmail's Forgotten Attachment Detector

Gmail Labs added two new experimental features: a "Mark as Read" button and a very basic script that warns if you write about attaching documents but you forget to actually attach them.

The attachment detector couldn't recognize patterns like "I attached a file", "Check the attached file", but it worked when using: "I've attached..." and "I have attached". Greasemonkey scripts like Gmail attachment reminder find their way in Gmail Labs and you no longer need to use Firefox or install a certain extension to use them.

{ Thanks, Carlos. }

September 15, 2008

Better Performance in Google Desktop 5.8

Google Desktop announces that the latest release focuses on performance and that's a great thing, considering that many users call Google Desktop a memory hog.

Google Desktop 5.8 improves the memory usage during startup, has a faster shutdown and detects the gadgets that slow down your computer. "To reduce memory usage, increase stability and reduce memory fragmentation, we reduced the number of different processes that Google Desktop runs, and we now recycle some of our processes frequently."

The blog post doesn't mention the biggest performance improvement: Google Desktop's main feature, indexing the files from your computer, is no longer enabled by default. In Windows Vista, Google uses the index created by Microsoft's desktop search service. If you want to enable Google Desktop's index, you need to select "Enable Enhanced Content Indexing" when you install the software or in the options page.

Enable additional features by using Google Desktop's index:

* Backup and view previous versions of your documents
* Search your web history, Gmail, and more
* View thumbnail previews of your images, videos, and web history

Google Desktop's wording makes you think that the "enhanced content indexing" is an advanced feature, when it should be the main feature of the software.

If you do enable desktop search, the initial indexing is much faster and the overall performance has been improved.

September 14, 2008

10 Videos About Google

Even if Google has been founded 10 years as a company, there aren't too many great videos about Google's history. I compiled a list of 10 videos: interviews with Google's co-founders, press events, an interesting documentary and some highlights from Googleplex.

1. "Charlie Rose" (PBS, July 2001) - a conversation with Larry Page (Google's CEO at that time) and Sergey Brin.

2. "60 Minutes" (CBS, 2005) - transcript. "To this day, Google has still never run a TV commercial. Their popularity has spread literally by word of mouth around the world, as people everywhere search for everything under the sun."

3. "Sergey Brin and Larry Page: Inside the Google machine" (TED conferences, 2004)

4. "Google - Behind the Screen" (Ijsbrand van Veelen, 2006). The documentary asks interesting questions like "How can you convince people that Google isn't a Big Brother company?", "What happens if a search engine becomes dominant?", but the answers from Google's executives aren't always convincing.

5. "Sergey Brin Speaks with UC Berkeley Class" (2005) - 40 minutes about Wikipedia, search engines, China, desktop software and more.

6. "Google Factory Tour" (a press event from 2005) - 340 minutes

7. "Googling the Googlers' DNA: A Demonstration of the 23andMe Personal Genome" (2008). Anne Wojcicki reveals interesting details about Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt - skip to minute 27.

8. "Marissa Mayer at Stanford University" (2006) - Marissa Mayer's 9 Notions of Innovation

9. "The Science and Art of User Experience at Google" (2006) - Jen Fitzpatrick

10. "Working at Google" (2008) - interviews with Google employees and images from Googleplex.

Google Chrome, a Shell for the Web

"In the long term, we think of Chromium as a tabbed window manager or shell for the web rather than a browser application. We avoid putting things into our UI in the same way you would hope that Apple and Microsoft would avoid putting things into the standard window frames of applications on their operating systems. The tab is our equivalent of a desktop application's title bar; the frame containing the tabs is a convenient mechanism for managing groups of those applications. In future, there may be other tab types that do not host the normal browser toolbar," explains a document about Chrome's user experience.

This philosophical shift might explain why there are few interface distractions and the browser is barely visible. Google Chrome is built for web applications that have their own menus, keyword shortcuts and status bars.

Chrome comes with intelligent defaults to minimize the interaction with the browser. The settings dialog doesn't include many options available in other browsers and the team hopes to "reduce the number of options further". The lack of customization is not a good news for advanced users, but normal users might appreciate the simplicity of the interface.

"The heck with more features, is Safari 3 faster, more stable, less memory-hungry and more compatible on the web at large? That's what I want to see in each release," commented Peter Kasting on an article from 2006 about Safari 3. Peter Kasting is now an engineer in the Google Chrome team.

September 12, 2008

More Advanced Search Options for YouTube

YouTube added some new options that allow you to filter search results by type. You can restrict the results to videos uploaded by YouTube partners, videos that have annotations or closed captions. There's also an option to restrict the results to feature length videos, but it doesn't seem to work yet.

Use the "partner videos" restriction to get official videos, annotations could be used for additional explanations or interactivity, while closed captions allow you to search inside the text of a video. The closed captioning features has been recently added to YouTube, so you won't find too many subtitled videos.

YouTube's interface doesn't let you combine the restrictions, but you can manually add parameters: (videos that have both annotations and closed captions) (partner videos with closed captions)

September 11, 2008

Gmail Reply Enhancements

After adding 3 experimental features related to labels, Gmail Labs has 3 new features that deal with replying to messages.

"Quote selected text" changes Gmail's replying behavior and it lets you include a selection from the original message. This is especially helpful when you reply to long messages from people who don't use Gmail. Your reply will only include the necessary context, not the entire message.

This experimental feature works only when you use the keyboard shortcut for replying (r), not when you click on "Reply".

"Reply to all" changes the default replying option when you receive messages addressed to more than one person. Instead of replying only to the sender, the default option changes to "reply to all". Just make sure that your reply is really useful for everyone.

"Vacation time" is an enhancement of the vacation responder that lets you enter when you intend to go on vacation. This way, you won't have to remember to turn on the vacation responder. "While planning my own vacation, I didn't want to worry about composing, starting and stopping my vacation auto-response while I was on vacation. Call me a purist, but that defeats the whole point of being on vacation," explains Darick Tong, the author.

What other features would you like to see in Gmail Labs?

{ via Gmail Blog }

The Missing Doodles

Google started to customize its logo in 1999 for the Burning Man festival, an annual art event that encourages creative self expression.

Since then, Google's Dennis Hwang created hundreds of doodles that celebrate interesting holidays and events, from Halloween to Father's Day, from Picasso's birthday to the 50th anniversary of the LEGO brick. Dennis told CNN that the events selected for Google's doodles are the subject of an internal debate. "We talk about interesting holidays that are coming up, or various international holidays or any current events or news events that we think are cool and geeky or 'Google-y' in some sense and then we just sort of give it a go."

In fact, most Google doodles are cheerful, celebrate birthdays and innovations. Instead of creating doodles for any important event, Google chose to decorate its logo for events that have a lot in common with Google's values: excellence, cheerfulness, universality.

Some people noticed that Google choose not to commemorate 9/11. "The murder of 3,000 individuals by Islamic fanatics on September 11, 2001 is, to Google, apparently less important than the first hot air balloon flight, which the company commemorated on June 4 with a stylized logo in which a balloon replaces one of the O's," asserted Paul McDougall from InformationWeek.

Like many times before, Google answered by reminding people that doodles are a part of the company's brand. "The doodle selection process aims to celebrate interesting events and anniversaries around the world that reflect Google's personality and love of innovation. Although we are aware that our list of doodles is not exhaustive, we try to select doodles that show creativity and innovation in a fun, quirky way. Generally, we choose doodles from a variety of categories, such as those that celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of artists and inventors. We try to be sensitive that a doodle is not the most appropriate way to recognize certain events, especially those that are more somber in nature."

Doodles are inherently childish and unpretentious. According to Wikipedia, "a doodle is a type of sketch, an unfocused drawing made while a person's attention is otherwise occupied. They are simple drawings which can have a meaning, a shape or just irregular forms. Doodling is mainly made by young people around the world, notably students. This activity is normally made during long or boring classes as the students begin daydreaming or losing interest."

So you can see doodles as glimpses from an imaginary Googleworld that gathers some of the greatest human achievements. The missing doodles are hidden somewhere inside this drawing:

("Up in the Clouds" by Grace Moon, winner of the Doodle 4 Google US competition)

Table of Contents, Dictionary and Thesaurus in Google Docs

It's no longer necessary to use bookmarklets if you want to add a table of contents in Google Docs because this feature is now available in the interface: Insert > Table of contents. To add a table of contents, your document needs to include headings from the Format menu.

Google Docs actually creates a bookmark for each heading from the document and displays the bookmarks hierarchically using lists. Unsurprisingly, when you open the document in Microsoft Word, the application treats the table of contents created in Google Docs as a list.

You can find more information about a word directly from Google Docs: click on the Tools menu and look up the word in Merriam-Webster's dictionary and thesaurus and in Encyclopædia Britannica.

In the Tools menu, there are two other options that allow you to search the web for the selected text. It would be nice to see the results in a pop-up box and to link to them directly from Google Docs, but this is not yet possible.

{ Thanks, Mike. }

September 10, 2008

Google Presently Redesigned

The three applications included in Google Docs have never been properly integrated and there's always an interesting feature that is only available in Google Spreadsheets or in the word processor.

Google redesigned Presently and added the old-fashioned menu already included in the word processor. The interface have been streamlined and there's more room for editing slides.

A notable new feature that can be found in the Slide menu is zooming in/out, but the keyboard shortcuts aren't very intuitive: Ctrl+Shift+left/right arrow.

Google Presently today

Google Presently at launch (September 2007)

Better Label Management in Gmail

Gmail Labs added 3 new experiments that improve the way you manage labels.

"Go to label" adds a keyboard shortcut for selecting a label. Gmail already has shortcuts for navigating to the inbox (g+i), drafts (g+d), starred messages (g+s), but you can now type g followed by l to get a box that lets you enter the name of a label. In most cases, you only need to type the first letters of the label and then press Enter.

If you like the colors that can be associated with labels, but you find the number of options too limited, there's a new option to add custom colors by selecting colors for background and text.

Probably the less useful experimental feature, "Navbar drag and drop" lets you reorder the boxes displayed by Google in the left sidebar: Gmail Chat, labels, Quick Links, Invite a friend.

The three new features can be enabled in Gmail Labs, a section available in the new version of Gmail and only for English interfaces.

Experimental Gmail features
Hidden labels in Gmail

{ via Gmail Blog }