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March 31, 2009

3-in-1 Google

Google tests a new homepage that replaces the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button with two new options that let you search using Yahoo and Live Search. "I'm Feeling Lucky" was rarely used and some people wondered if there's a connection between Google and The Pirate Bay, the popular search engine for torrents.

Google has always encouraged competition and the new options will certainly help Yahoo and Microsoft increase their market share. "We had a bug recently where we put a malware statement out for users, and in that time, Yahoo! searches gained very, very quickly. It looks like people will move very quickly from one search engine to another, for any number of reasons," explained Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

The main goal of the new features is to accelerate the innovation in search and to add variety to Google's monotonous homepage. Since the competition will be one click away, even the users who believed that Google is synonymous with web search will discover two alternative search engines.

To keep the number of words from the homepage constant, Marissa Mayer decided to remove the word "programs" from "advertising programs", a change that makes Google's homepage load 0.1415% faster in Google Chrome.

The new homepage will be slowly rolled out in the next hours to a small number of users from Santa Clara and King County. Apparently, some Yahoo engineers already found about the tests and they started to prevent the new users from going back to Google by displaying a peculiar message: "You could go to Google. Or you could stay here and get straight to your answers".

March 30, 2009

Try Your Query on a Different Search Engine

Google's search results pages haven't changed that much over time and most of the changes were subtle. An useful feature that has been removed was a list of competing search engines you could use if Google's results weren't very good. Here's an example from 2001:

"Try your query on: AltaVista Excite Google Groups (Deja) HotBot Lycos Yahoo!"

But Google's results have improved, the number of competing search engines has decreased and the list had to be updated frequently, so Google decided to remove the feature. Some add-ons have revived the feature: Customize Google is the most popular, but my favorite implementation is the Greasemonkey script "Try this search on", which lets you switch between different search engines.

Google's Matt Cutts had the idea to bring back the old feature as close to the original as possible and Tiffany Lane, another Google engineer, developed Retro Links, a Greasemonkey script that lists some alternative search engines at the bottom of the search results page. The list is customizable and you can choose between 42 services: Yahoo, Live Search, Flickr, Wikipedia, Gmail and many others.

I think it would be interesting if Google started to suggest third-party search engines that could provide useful results for your queries, based on your search history, location and relevance. In some cases, Google could even display results from other sites in some special OneBoxes: Flickr results sorted by "interestingness", Delicious bookmarks sorted by popularity, Twitter posts that are related to recent events etc.

March 29, 2009

Translate Gmail Messages

PCWorld reports that Google plans to offer users a gift for Gmail's fifth birthday.

"Google will announce the next step in Gmail's evolution, a new product with a European multilingual angle on Monday. At an event in Brussels to mark Gmail's fifth birthday, Google will look at the impact of cloud computing on how people manage their daily tasks, review Gmail's evolution to date and announce the next step in its progression, the company wrote in an invitation."

Most likely, the new product is a Gmail Labs feature that lets you translate messages written in a foreign language. I've found the screenshot that will be used for the feature, which will probably be another great use of the Google Translate API.

Similar features that use Google Translate have been implemented in Google Reader, YouTube, Google Maps, Picasa Web Albums, but the future is a powerful client that translates pages on the fly.

Update: Gmail Labs is now available in 47 languages, but the translation feature hasn't been released.

Google China Music Search, Now Available Everywhere

Google China Music Search (English translation), a service launched last year by Google to better compete in a market dominated by Baidu, is now publicly accessible worldwide and it has a new homepage. The service has been created in partnership with to offer legal MP3 downloads.

"The venture goes directly after Baidu's music search audience, by offering high-quality music files embedded with a digital "watermark" that lets record labels track how often their songs are downloaded. The idea: Better-quality files will draw users away from unlicensed downloads, and give labels and search companies valuable data needed to make money from advertising," explained Wall Street Journal.

While the service is now accessible everywhere, you can only download music if you are in China (or if you use a proxy). Google Music has a large collection of music and there's visual tool that lets you find songs by choosing the tempo, the genre and other characteristics.

Except for this regional service, Google doesn't have any full-fledged music-related product. There's a YouTube category for music videos, a very limited music search engine, a music player and a media server for Google Desktop.

{ Thanks, electronixtar. }

Real-Time Google Translate

Google China has recently released an experimental version of Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer that includes a lot of interesting features, but it's only available in Chinese.

The most exciting new feature is an integration with Google Translate that allows the toolbar to translate web pages that use AJAX extensively and even web sites that require SSL.

The screenshot below shows how Google Toolbar managed to translate all the text from Gmail, a web application that uses JavaScript to display the text messages. I didn't change Gmail's language to Chinese and all the messages are in English.

And here's an English-to-French translation for Google Docs. As you can see, Google Toolbar translated the navigation bar, the sidebar, the list of documents and even the contextual menu. When you use the interface and select an option, Google Toolbar detects the changes and translates the new messages almost in real-time.

When you use this feature for Google Reader, the toolbar translates all the posts as they are loaded.

Another interesting feature from the new experimental version of Google Toolbar is a sidebar for Google Bookmarks that brings many of the features that are already available in GMarks, a popular Firefox extension.

If you speak Chinese and you use Internet Explorer, try Google Toolbar, Labs Edition while keeping in mind that it's not a finished release. It's an interesting experience to use a software in a language you don't know, so you could try the toolbar even if you don't understand Chinese. For now, the toolbar is only available in Chinese, but the translation feature works for all the 41 languages supported by Google Translate (the main challenge is to find a specific language name). This is certainly the most advanced use of the Google Translate API and it shows that automatic translation is a feature which becomes even more powerful when it's integrated in the browser.

March 27, 2009

More Search Options in an Experimental Google Video Interface

Google tests a new "tool belt" format that exposes some advanced options and lets you refine the search results without visiting a special page. The format has been tested for web search, image search and now Google Video.

The experimental interface for Google Video includes a link to "search options" which displays a sidebar that lets you restrict the results to a certain video site, choose a date range, the duration of the videos and if they are embeddable. Most of the options are currently available in drop-downs below the search box and in the advanced search, but the new interface makes them more visible and encourages their use.

What I don't like is that Google devotes less space to the videos, it's more difficult to scan the results and the player's position changes when you scroll down.

To try the new interface, go to Google Video and paste in the address bar the following JavaScript code:

{ Thanks, Shaz. }

Import Your Old Hotmail Messages into Gmail

Now that Hotmail started to support POP3, you can import messages from Hotmail accounts into Gmail using the mail fetcher.

Go to the Accounts tab from Gmail's settings page and click on "Add a mail account you own". Type the Hotmail address and use the following settings:

Username: the complete email address
Password: your Hotmail password
POP Server:
Port: 995
Enable all the four subsequent options (the only option that's required is "Always use a secure connection (SSL) when retrieving mail").

Since the mail fetcher emulates a standard mail client that supports POP, it will check for new messages periodically. You also have the option to add the Hotmail address as a custom "From" address so you no longer have to compose messages in Hotmail.

Hosted by Google, but Not Open to Search Engines

Like many other sites, Google uses robots.txt files to prevent search engines from indexing some of the content from In most cases, Google includes search results pages and other pages generated automatically, which would pollute indexes.

But sometimes Google excludes useful content, either directly using robots.txt files or using addresses that are difficult to index:

* published documents, spreadsheets and presentations from Google Docs - I suspect that the main reason why search engines aren't allowed to index Google Docs pages is that many documents would become public if search engines indexed invitation URLs.

* public pages for Google Reader's shared items - most of the content from these pages is copied from other pages, but Google Notebooks can be indexed by search engines.

* the albums and the photos hosted by Picasa Web Albums (the photos are indexed by Google Image Search, while the albums are included in Google's main search results). Picasa Web's front-end uses AJAX and URLs like can't be indexed by search engines, which usually remove fragments.

* the answers and questions from Google Moderator, another AJAX app that uses addresses like The application powers a new section from White House's website called "Open for Questions", which also can't be indexed by search engines.

* the LIFE photo archive, which is only available in Google Image Search. "It's disappointing that Google gets exclusive access to index these images and every other search engine is out of luck. Exclusivity like this doesn't seem in line with Google's philosophy," says Andy Baio.

* the books scanned by Google that are available in Google Book Search (they're included in Google's main search results, as part of Universal Search)

* the patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office that are available in Google Patent Search

* the charts generated using Google Chart API

* the captions from videos hosted by YouTube and Google Video (they're indexed by YouTube and Google Video)

March 26, 2009

Drawing in Google Docs

Google Docs added a simple editor for drawings: you can insert shapes, draw lines and arrows, insert scribbles and text, change the color, the line width and other formatting options.

The drawing is inserted as an image, but it continues to be editable after you add it to the document. Google uses SVG in Firefox, Opera, Chrome and other browsers that support it and VML in Internet Explorer, so you don't need third-party plug-ins.

To try this feature, called internally Sketchy, go to the "Insert" menu and select "Drawing". This is one of the few features that works for all types of files that can be edited in Google Docs: documents, spreadsheets and presentations. It doesn't work well when two or more people edit the same drawing simultaneously and the interface is confusing: when you finish editing your drawing, you need to click on the "X" icon.

{ Thanks, Surendra. }

March 25, 2009

Find Custom Maps

The results provided by Google Maps are diverse: locations, addresses, local businesses, web pages, directions. Google Maps indexes pages that contain geographical content and it sometimes includes them in the list of search results.

Until recently, Google Maps only pointed to items from custom maps and geo-feeds, but now you can find the maps in the list of results. For example, a search for [president birth places] returns a map that shows where each president of the US was born.

You can restrict your search to custom maps and GeoRSS feeds by clicking on "show search options" and selecting "related maps". The index includes the public maps created from the "My Maps" interface.

Google Maps tries to go beyond basic queries like "pizza in ny" or "louvre, paris" by using the web index. Google LatLong gives some examples of complicated queries that return useful results: bridge collapse in MN, falafel carts in nyc. Unfortunately, Google Maps has a very basic understanding of queries and can't always differentiate a general query like "places to go in London" from a search that asks for directions.

{ via FriendFeed }

Find and Replace in Google Docs

Google Docs finally replaced the partially functional "find & replace" dialog inherited from Writely with an inline bar that actually works. Just select "Find & replace" from the "Edit" menu or type Ctrl+F to make the bar visible. To find the next match, click on "Find next" or type Ctrl+G.

The option can be used to find a text in your document and to replace it with a different text. If you click on the small arrow next to the first input box, you'll be able to set some restrictions: case matching, finding only whole words or using JavaScript-style regular expressions. For example, to remove all the email addresses from a document, use the following regular expression for email addresses:


If you know some other potentially useful regular expressions in a word processor, share them in the comments.

{ via Google Docs Blog }

In Google We Trust

This is a guest post from Fixer Dave, a Google user who's disappointed about the latest developments in the Google land.

I chuckle when people tell me that they never use online services. "Read the EULAs" they tell me. They can do anything they want with your data, don't you know! Yes, I know, and I don't really care. You see, I've sold my soul to Google. I let them know everything about me, and, in return, they give me all these super-cool web-based applications that make my life so much easier. It's a pretty good deal, if you ask me. It's not like I'm some kind of secret agent or something. For the price of my online soul, I get the Google suite: Gmail, Picasa, News, Calendar, Notebook, Bookmarks, Docs... It's great, it really is.

Well, it was great; I'm not so sure anymore. Google has always been special to me, a "don't be evil" enterprise. They have wowed me, over and over again, with the cool free stuff they just keep pumping out. I mean, how can you not trust a company that gives you access to an amazing tool like Google Earth, for free? Google is, well, Google. You'd never equate them to the likes of RIAA, or Microsoft. But, a couple of things have come along to set me back, make me wonder about what's going on, and make me think again about this whole "don't be evil" thing.

The first thing that happened was that Google announced they were going to stop development of Google Notebook. Now, Notebook is a very, very cool application. With the browser plug-in installed, it lets you easily clip bits of web-pages into notebooks which they store online, for free. I find it immensely useful and promote it to everyone I know. It just works great; it's one of the best things Google ever did. But, if you want to try it out, well, you're too late. Google says I can keep my data, so they're not being evil about it, but no new users can sign up for the service. This shocked me in a way that's hard to explain. From the moment I first heard about Google, they've been innovating, expanding, doing new and wonderful things. A trip to the labs was like going to a candy store. But, this was the first time I've ever experienced them stop offering a service. Sure, they may have stopped other stuff, but this is the first time for me. Google stopped a service. Google stopped.

The next thing was a cryptic email about "Interest-Based" Adsense. That was another shock. I know Google tracks me as I browse the web; I can see it in my Google Web History page. I also have no doubt that they track a lot more than what they put up on this page. They know things about me that I've totally forgotten, and it doesn't bother me. But, having them package up these histories and then auctioning them off to advertisers does bother me, a lot actually. That's just a little bit evil, don't you think?

It bugs me because Google could have gone so many other ways, where they could increase their revenues without selling out the people that trust them. I can think of several ways that Google could have their users signing up for interest-based advertising, ways that would have people jumping at the opportunity to be part of something. Instead, Google went the way you would expect any other corporation to go in tough times. They're laying people off, shutting down innovation, and grabbing revenue the easiest way they can get it. It just doesn't seem like Google anymore; it's like there's been a coup and the bean-counters have seized control. I get the feeling that Google has become a corporate adult, with all the loss of innocence that entails. I'm not so sure that I can still trust them. I just don't know. While I'm not quite ready to pull back from the cloud, I'm starting to think that maybe I want my soul back.

March 24, 2009

Google Translate, Added to the Navigation Menu

Google Translate has been added to the navigation menu for almost all localized versions of Google's homepages: from Google UK to Google Japan and Google Canada, but not the main That means you can now type the text you want to translate in Google's search box and then select "Translate" from the "more" drop-down.

In less than three years, Google Translate added support for 41 languages, becoming the most comprehensive translation service available for free. "Google Translate recently added Turkish, Thai, Hungarian, Estonian, Albanian, Maltese, and Galician to the mix. The rollout of these seven additional languages marks a new milestone: automatic translations between 41 languages (1,640 language pairs!). This means we can now translate between languages read by 98% of Internet users," explained a Google blog post from February.

Even if Google's statistical translation system doesn't always produce coherent translations and sometimes proper nouns are translated incorrectly, Google Translate constantly improves as more parallel text adjusts the language models.

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

More Google Search Insights

Google Insights for Search, a more advanced version of Google Trends, started to show data for three specialized search engines: Google Image Search, Google News and Froogle. You can now see the most popular queries from Google Image Search in United Kingdom, the most popular news-related searches in Quebec or the locations where "Michael Jackson" was a popular news search in 2009.

Insights for Search offers a very interesting feature for disambiguating queries. For example, you can find data about the query "tiger" and restrict it to the computers & electronics category or the sports category. Google suggests the appropriate categories and subcategories and it shows their relative popularity. It would be interesting to see a similar feature for web search results.

{ via Inside AdWords }

March 20, 2009

Find Images that Contain a Certain Color

Google Image Search has a new option that lets you restrict the results based on their color. For now, the option is not available in the user interface, but you can tweak the search results URL to try it.

Searching for [red bird] shows good results, but you can still find some unrelated images. What if you search for [bird] and restrict the results to red images? Here's the URL:
(you can replace "red" with "blue", "green", "teal", "purple", "yellow", "orange", "pink", "white", "gray", "black" and "brown")

You can try the new feature using this simple drop-down:

Web Search Tips for Internet Explorer 8

Internet Explorer 8 has many useful features that improve the way you search and browse the web. If you like to search from the address bar, you can now get suggestions from the default search engine if you prefix your query with "? ". IE8 also shows previously visited pages that match the text you typed, but it only searches titles and URLs.

One of my favorite features is that the new version of Internet Explorer knows when you're using a search engine directly, without typing the query in IE's search box. The browser detects the query and displays in the built-in search box so you can easily find results using a different search engine.

Another interesting integration lets you find the matches of your query in a search result. After clicking on the result, go to the browser's search box and click on "Find" to see the exact matches and navigate to them.

If you open search results in separate tabs, IE uses distinct colors to visually group the related tabs. Right-clicking on a tab you'll find the option to ungroup the tab and to close the entire group.

Some of the search provides that are available in IE's add-on gallery offer enhanced suggestions. For example, Wikipedia lets you navigate directly to one of its pages, Yahoo and Live Search show instant answers for weather, while Amazon includes product images.

All of the search engines are accessible from the contextual menu so you can search for a text you select. They're added to the list of accelerators, which can include any web service that provides useful information about the selected text or the web page you visit: mapping addresses, translating text or bookmarking the page.

Unlike other browsers, Internet Explorer 8 encourages users to use multiple search engines and makes it easy to switch between them. Sometimes you can even obtain instant answers while you type a query or when you select an accelerator that supports previews.

Google Tests Enhanced Suggestions for IE8

Internet Explorer 8 has been released today and there are many reasons to download it if you use a previous version of IE. Microsoft has finally released a standard-compliant browser, tabs run in separate processes, the annoying modal dialog for finding words in web pages has been replaced with a less intrusive bar, the search box includes suggestions, the browser is faster and more polished.

Speaking of search suggestions, Google tests two features that could save a few clicks: displaying the top result for navigation queries, which usually have a single best answer, and showing ads related to the query at the bottom of the list of suggestions. I don't see the two features, but Sterling, a reader of this blog, spotted them while testing IE8.

Google also tests enabling search suggestions in Image Search:

In other news, Google Maps Germany added a questionable feature that shows suggestions when you start to enter a location, after being tested in Google Maps China. If you are logged in, the first suggestions are from your list of saved locations.

{ Thanks, Sterling and Luke. }

March 19, 2009

Undo Sending a Gmail Message

If you ever send a Gmail message too early or you change your mind after you press "Send", there's a feature that will help you. It's called "Undo Send" and you can find in the crowded space of experimental features from Gmail Labs.

After enabling the feature, Gmail will show an "undo" link when you send a message. You have to react quickly because the link disappears in 5 seconds and there's no way to bring it back. If keyboard shortcuts are enabled in your Gmail account, a better option than clicking on "undo" is to press "z". When you undo sending a mail, Gmail saves it as a draft and you can continue editing the message or discard it.

"Sometimes I regret sending a message the morning after. Other times I send a message and then immediately notice a mistake. I forget to attach a file or email the birthday girl that I can't make her surprise party. I can rush to close my browser or unplug the Internet — but Gmail almost always wins that race. (...) I could undo just about any other action in Gmail — why couldn't I undo send? (...) My theory (which others shared) was that even just five seconds would be enough time to catch most of those regrettable emails," says Michael Leggett from Google.

I don't think that 5 seconds are enough to realize that sending the message was a mistake, but it's a good trade-off between functionality and the need to provide a reliable service. A simple improvement could be a configurable delay before sending messages.

{ Thanks, Niranjan. }

Alternative Answers for GoogleLookup

One of the most interesting functions available in Google Spreadsheets is GoogleLookup, which uses an automatically-generated database of facts to find answers for questions like "What's the population of Quebec?" or "How many employees does Google have?".

Unfortunately, the answers aren't always accurate and it would be useful to choose a different result or to edit the existing one. A recent Google Spreadsheet update added a way to change the answer: click on the cell you want to edit, select "More options" and choose one of the other two alternative answers. Maybe Google will go one step further and provide an interface for editing the facts or flagging the facts that are inaccurate.

To use GoogleLookup, create a Google Spreadsheet and type in a cell:
=GoogleLookup("name", "attribute")

Some examples:
=GoogleLookup("Quebec", "population")
=GoogleLookup("Google", "employees")

Google Spreadsheets has a special function that returns information related to the Men's and Women's NCAA Division I Basketball Championship in the US and there's also a function for stock market quotes.

Homework: Create a spreadsheet that displays facts about 20 people, companies or geographical locations by using the Google Sets-powered AutoFill feature to generate the list of entities and GoogleLookup to find the facts. You can make the spreadsheet public and share the address in the comments.

March 18, 2009

Google Street View for UK and Netherlands

Google Maps added street view imagery for many major cities in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast, Amsterdam and Rotterdam are some of the cities added to Google Street View.

"Having checked my old house in Sheffield, which I moved out of last year, I can tell that the photo was taken in the last nine months, so it's much more up-to-date than the Google Maps imagery for the area," noticed Tony Ruscoe.

More interesting photos at Google Maps Mania blog.

Gmail Media Previews

Gmail launched four new experimental features in Gmail Labs that show previews for some of the links included in an email. For now, Google supports YouTube videos, images from Flickr and Picasa Web Albums and Yelp reviews.

Here's an example: if you receive a message that includes links to YouTube videos and Flickr images, you'll see a list of previews below the message.

"Gmail currently automatically detects package tracking information, addresses, and event information and shows quick links to delivery status, maps and directions, and Google Calendar. So why couldn't Gmail automatically detect links in emails and show videos, photos, and ratings right inside these messages as well?" asks the Gmail blog.

While the previews are useful, placing them below the message is unfortunate. A Firefox extension like Interclue does a better job at showing smart previews for many other kinds of content and it's not limited to Gmail.

First Google Chrome Extensions

A design document shows an example of Google Chrome extension. For now, extensions are just fancy wrappers for user scripts, but there are plans to make them more useful by exposing browser features and allowing developers to create interfaces.

Before trying to install the extension linked at the bottom of Google's tutorial, you need to have a recent developer build or Google Chrome 2.0 beta.

To enable the support for extensions, edit the target field of the shortcut you use to launch Google Chrome. Right-click on the shortcut, select "Properties" and append to the Target field a space followed by:

--enable-extensions --load-extension="c:\myextension"

Download the extension, extract the content to c:\myextension and launch Google Chrome. The only visible effect of the extension is that it replaces the logo from Google's homepage with a lolcat, but you can edit the file foo.js and enter a different URL for the image.

March 17, 2009

Google Chrome 2.0 Beta

Google fixed many of the bugs from Chrome 2.0, released as a developer preview in January, and you can now try a more refined beta version. I've been using the new version since January and it's very stable. Here are some reasons why you should try it:

* Chrome 2.0 uses more recent releases of WebKit and V8, so it has a better performance. "The best thing about this new beta is speed — it's 25% faster on our V8 benchmark and 35% faster on the Sunspider benchmark than the current stable channel version and almost twice as fast when compared to our original beta version," explains the new Chrome blog.

* Full-screen. It may not mean much, since Chrome already minimizes the space used for the interface, but it's sometimes useful.

* Full-page zoom. Chrome no longer resizes just the text from a web page, so the enhanced zoom adjusts the entire page proportionally. Too bad that text zoom hasn't been preserved as an option.

* Form autofill. The browser saves the text from input boxes and you only need to type the first letters of a previously entered text to select it. "The next time you fill out the same text boxes, Google Chrome automatically shows you what you've entered previously, if what you're typing matches what you've entered before. This text appears right below the field you're filling out. To auto-populate the text field with the saved info, simply select it with your mouse or arrows on your keyboard," mentions the help center.

* Sort the bookmarks by title. Open the bookmark manager, select a folder and click on Organize > Reorder by title.

* Scroll using the mouse wheel.

* Mouse gestures for resizing windows: you can drag a tab to various locations on the screen to place it in a docking position or to maximize it.

* Greasemonkey support, with some limitations. Not all the Greasemonkey extensions will work, there's no user interface for adding scripts, but it's a simple way to extend the limited features offered by Chrome.

The beta version has a special download page and it's the same as the version For a complete list of release notes, check this page.

In other Chrome news, Ubuntu users can try a very early release of Chromium for Linux, a pre-alpha build that lacks basic features like tabs. I installed this version in Ubuntu Intrepid, but the web page view didn't display anything, even the browser appeared to load pages.

{ Thanks, Stefano. }

orkut Birthdays in Google Calendar

orkut, Google's social network, lets you keep track of the birthdays of your friends. There's a birthday reminders section that can be enabled in the settings and you can add a gadget to Google's personalized homepage.

orkut's blog announced that there's another way to view the birthdays: in Google Calendar. "Now, in conjunction with Google Calendar, you can see all of your orkut friend's birthdays for the whole year. If you've already used Google Calendar before, you will shortly see a link (right below the "upcoming birthdays" section) where you can add your orkut friends' birthdays to your Google calendar."

If you don't see the promotional link, use this URL to subscribe to the calendar. Google uses a special kind of calendar that requires authentication and doesn't support notifications. That means you won't be able to receive email or SMS notifications that remind you of the birthdays.

{ via orkut blog and ToThePC. }

March 14, 2009

Ads Next to Picasa Web Albums Search Results

Google started to display text ads above the search results from Picasa Web Albums. In the recent months, Google turned to the services that weren't yet monetized to improve its financial performances: Google Image Search, Google News, Google Finance and now Picasa Web Albums.

"We've been testing different advertising formats for years (some have been more successful than others), and over the next few months, you'll see us continuing to experiment with new ads in new places. (...) Whenever we make changes like these, we carefully evaluate users' reactions to ensure we're holding true to our basic principles: that ads by Google should always be relevant and useful. Of course, these experiments benefit Google because they generate revenue from new sources — but by ensuring that we show the right ads at the right time to the right people, we'll add value for users too," explained Google in November.

Now that the revenues from advertising grow much slower than in the past, Google will probably launch more paid services like the App Engine or Google Apps Premier Edition. Even Google Checkout, a service that has been subsidized by Google for years, will use the same processing fees as PayPal from May.

How to Sort Tables in Google Docs

The word processor from Google Docs lacks a sorting feature for tables, but Firefox users can try an extension that adds the missing feature. Install TableTools, the best extension for managing tables, restart the browser and open the document that includes tables.

To use the extension, you need to right-click on the table and select one of the available options: sorting, filtering, copying data as tab-delimited text or as HTML. Google Docs replaces Firefox's contextual menu, so it's necessary to press Shift + Right-click in order to bring back the original menu. Select from the menu "Sort table column as" and choose the appropriate data type.

If you want to copy a table from Google Docs to Google Spreadsheets, select the cells, choose from the contextual menu: "Other table operations < Copy as tab-delimited text", and paste the text in a spreadsheet using Ctrl+V. Unfortunately, the filtering feature from TableTools doesn't work in a rich-text editor, but it's very useful if you visit a web page that includes long tables.

March 13, 2009

Google's Market Share in Your Country

Hitwise reported that Google's market share in the US was 72.11% in February. "Yahoo Search, MSN Search and received 17.04%, 5.56% and 3.74%, respectively, and are down year-over-year at -17%, -20%, and -10% respectively." comScore has different numbers and they show that Google's market share in the US is much lower: 63.3%.

A report from the AT Internet Institute shows that Google's market share in France was 91.23% for February 2009. The major search engines that trailed Google were Yahoo (2.43%) and Live Search (2.29%).

Most of the news articles that discuss Google's market share only include the US, but it's interesting to see how popular Google is around the world. That's why I created a Google Spreadsheet where you can enter Google's market share in your country. Make sure to provide a reliable source for your information and to include recent data. The spreadsheet can be edited by anyone and it's not necessary to log in using a Google account.

{ via Zorgloob }

Google, the Thinking Machine

"Google, la machine à penser" ("Google, the Thinking Machine") is a 50-minute documentary produced in 2007 that tries to explain Google's extraordinary success by analyzing its principles and idiosyncrasies. The documentary shows many of the things that define Google's corporate culture: from the colorful lava lamps, the hiring process to the recreation facilities and the internal debates.

Michael Malone, columnist at Wall Street Journal, describes Google as an "enormous predator" that manages to dominate almost any market it enters. In his opinion, Google is a huge organization that takes pragmatic and sometimes cynical decisions, while trying to portray a friendly image. At some point, a Google engineer says that Google Analytics is the most used analytics service because it's free and it works equally well for personal use and business use.

Unfortunately, the video is in French and I couldn't find an English subtitle, but there are many images from Googleplex that could be interesting even without a translation.

March 12, 2009

Google Voice, the New Version of GrandCentral

Google Voice is the name of the updated version of GrandCentral that runs on Google's infrastructure. At this time, the service is only available in the US to the existing GrandCentral users, but Google promises to extend its availability soon. The good news is that GrandCentral will continue to be free and you'll only have to pay for international calls.

"Google Voice gives you one number for all your phones -- a phone number that is tied to you, not to a device or a location. Use Google Voice to simplify the way you use phones, make using voicemail as easy as email, customize your callers' experience, and more. Google Voice isn't a phone service, but it lets you manage all of your phones. Google Voice works with mobile phones, desk phones, work phones, and VoIP lines. There's nothing to download, upload, or install, and you don't have to make or take calls using a computer," explains the new help center.

Google Voice Blog mentions that the service added many new features: "voicemail transcription, SMS support, conference calling, GOOG-411 integration, low cost international calling". Voicemails are now searchable, you can embed them in a web page and you can receive email notifications. Text messages sent to your Google number are automatically forwarded to your mobile phone and they are also available in the web account, where you can reply to the incoming messages.

The following videos show how to use Google's new voice service:

To request a notification when Google Voice becomes publicly available, use this form. "We expect to have the service ready for new users in a matter of weeks, and are focused on opening it as soon as possible," promises Google.

{ Thanks, Nathan. Via Blogoscoped. }

March 11, 2009

Optimize Web Pages for Google Image Search

Google Webmaster Central blog points to an interesting video about improving your ranking in Google Image Search.

Here are some insights:

* it's not important to get the top rankings, users often click on the next pages of results to find appropriate images. There are many "subjective" queries and users tend to explore instead of trying to find the perfect result.

* use images that are large enough.

* use high-quality images.

* include descriptive text next to the images.

* place the images so that it's not necessary to scroll too much in order to find them.

* Google Image Search clusters (almost) identical images and usually only one of them is displayed. If more than one page embeds the image, Google tries to find the most relevant page for that query.

* there are many new use cases for Image Search: inspiration, visual dictionary for foreign languages, shopping, research.

Behavioral Targeting in Google AdSense

As part of the integration with DoubleClick, Google announced last year that it would use DoubleClick's DART cookies to improve the way ads are displayed on the Google content network. The list of improvements included in-depths reports for advertisers and preventing ads from being displayed too frequently to the same user. "We are enabling this functionality by implementing a DoubleClick ad-serving cookie across the Google content network," mentioned Google at that time.

The integration will soon expand since Google intends to offer behavioral targeting or interest-based advertising, as Google likes to call it. "We think we can make online advertising even more relevant and useful by using additional information about the websites people visit. Today we are launching interest-based advertising as a beta test on our partner sites and on YouTube. These ads will associate categories of interest — say sports, gardening, cars, pets — with your browser, based on the types of sites you visit and the pages you view. We may then use those interest categories to show you more relevant text and display ads," explains a post from the Official Google Blog.

The DoubleClick cookie contains a unique ID that is associated with all your visited pages that include ads served by DoubleClick. If you're visiting a lot of pages related to music, Google will place you in one of the 600 predefined categories (most likely, music enthusiasts) and will use this information to show more ads about music. For now, Google will use interest-based targeting to show better ads when the content of a web page doesn't include enough information to serve contextual ads.

Google also launched a page where you can enter a list of categories that reflect your interests. If you don't likely the new targeting options, the same page offers two ways to opt-out: either by setting a special opt-out DoubleClick cookie or by installing an add-on that protects your cookie. Another option is to block all the cookies sent from Google promises to offer an option for AdSense publishers to disable interest-based targeting, but the publishers still need to change the privacy policy to reflect the new features.

While behavioral targeting is not new and many other companies are using it, Google tried to alleviate the worries about profiling users: it won't create sensitive interest categories like race or religion and it won't cross-correlate the data with other information saved in Google accounts.

Google tries to use the enormous reach of the content network (75% globally) to attract more display ads, but the risk could be too high: Google's ads were perceived as non-intrusive, relevant and complementary to the page where they were placed. Focusing more on display ads, using recently visited pages to target ads to users could change that perception and Google will lose its most important asset: user trust.

March 10, 2009

Google Noticeboard

Google Noticeboard is a new service from Google Labs India that intends to improve the way Indian communities share information online.
Google Noticeboard is an application that helps people access and share information over the Internet using public digital noticeboards. Using Google Noticeboard, communities can access a variety of relevant information. People can create text messages or record voice snippets and post them to one or more noticeboards. Typically each digital noticeboard carries publicly accessible messages. Compared to the notion of personal communication using email accounts, the Noticeboard metaphor allows user to engage in public communication with communities.

Communities with access to shared computers can use the Noticeboard for exchanging messages related to community announcements, social interactions, local buying and selling, and information that is of wider interest to the community. The Noticeboard may also be used for the community to engage in a dialog with benefactors, public servants, and other service providers who are geographically distant. For example, residents of an apartment complex can use the Noticeboard for posting announcements, or NGOs who own and operate computer centers in several villages can use the Noticeboard to enable village residents to communicate amongst themselves

Noticeboard uses a Firefox extension and requires to enable IMAP in Gmail to send messages. The service seems to be aimed at people that don't own computer and don't have an email address, but the interface is very basic and limiting. Google Noticeboard's user guide (PDF) has more information.

Google Video Upload, Powered by Gears

Google Video started to diminish the importance of the uploading feature by placing the "upload" link at the bottom of the homepage. What's surprising is that uploading videos to Google Video now requires Google Gears so you can upload huge files simultaneously (up to 1 GB) and see the progress.

In January, Google announced that it will discontinue support for uploads to Google Video in a few months. "We've always maintained that Google Video's strength is in the search technology that makes it possible for people to search videos from across the web, regardless of where they may be hosted. And this move will enable us to focus on developing these technologies further to the benefit of searchers worldwide."

Even though Google owns YouTube, a much more popular video hosting service, Google Video attracts a different audience that watches longer videos and doesn't like the extraneous social features from services like YouTube. Google could use the same back-end for both services and promote Google Video as the place where you can watch Charlie Rose's interviews, interviews from the archive of American Television or public domain movies.

Google Apps Status

Next time when you can't access Gmail, Google Calendar is down or Google Docs loads very slowly, visit the Google Apps Status Dashboard. Despite its the name, the page shows the latest status data not just for the Google services that are included in Google Apps, but for the corresponding consumer services as well.

"[The] page offers performance information for Google Apps services. Unless otherwise noted, this status information applies to consumer services as well as services for organizations using Google Apps."

Today's status for Gmail informs that "a small subset of users" couldn't access Gmail and that the service has been restored for most of the affected users in about 3 hours. "The rest of the users should be coming back online within the next 24-36 hours."

Looking back at the historical data, it's clear that the Google application which has the most issues is Gmail. Another Google service that shows a detailed status dashboard is Google App Engine and it would be nice to show similar information for other Google services.

March 9, 2009

Will Gmail Come Out of Beta?

Five years after its release, Gmail is still a beta application. Gmail continues to add significant features, but most of the interesting ideas are now in Gmail Labs: tasks, offline Gmail, sending SMS or adding iGoogle gadgets.

It makes sense to add experimental features in the Labs section and remove the "beta" label from Gmail's logo. Felipe Zamorano, a reader of this blog, noticed that the Gmail logos created for some of the themes have two versions: one that includes "beta" and another one without "beta".

Google has recently launched a Labs section for APIs and started to add deprecation policies for the APIs that graduated from Labs. "For these graduates, we're increasing our commitment with published deprecation policies and other critical support services. The Visualization API terms, Contacts Data API terms, and Picasa Web Albums Data API terms include good examples of transparent deprecation policies. They state that we'll support each version for at least 3 years from when it's deprecated or a newer version is introduced."

Maybe it's time to show the same commitment for popular applications like Gmail or Google Calendar and drop the "beta" label.

March 7, 2009

Sergey Brin on "To Tell the Truth"

2000 was the year when Google started to become really successful: it grew from 7 million searches a day to 100 million searches, Google was now the search provider for Yahoo and the initial version of AdWords was launched.

But not everyone knew about Google, its founders or even what's a search engine. Here's Sergey Brin on the game show "To Tell The Truth" in an episode originally aired on 21 February 2001:

{ via FriendFeed }

Translate PDF Files and Office Documents

This seems to be a recent change: Google Translate can now be used to translate PDF files and Microsoft Office documents. Google first converts the document to the HTML format and then it displays the translated HTML file.

The nice thing is that Google converts the documents on the fly even if they haven't been indexed by Google. Just paste the address of a document in Google Translate's textarea and wait until the translation shows up. Unfortunately, the service is not well-suited for long documents: it only translated the first 9 pages of a PDF file.

March 6, 2009

Google and Question Answering

Google's auto-complete feature is useful if you're not sure how to formulate your query, but it's very important how you start your search. A post from reddit compared the suggestions for queries that start with "when was" vs. "in which year was" or "why" vs. "for what reasons".

The suggestions for the formal question were fewer, more detailed and more fact-oriented. Compare "for what reason must seats in congress be reapportioned every 10 years" with "why men cheat".

In fact, most of the formal questions are copied from school assignments. As one of the reddit users noticed, "the stupid column suggests actual phrases most people will type into a Google search. The intelligent column suggests high school or college homework, mid term, finals and research questions typed verbatim as seen on the assignment."

Google has improved the way it handles questions, but it's still a better idea to reformulate your queries and replace "for what reasons" with "motivation" or "cause", "when does twilight come out on DVD" with "twilight DVD release date", "in what way did ernest rutherford contribute to our understanding of the atom and its parts" with "ernest rutherford contribution atom".

Google already rephrases some of the searches, like the examples listed below:

Whether you copy a question from a school assignment or you are really curious to find some information, type short keyword-rich queries in Google's search box.

{ via reddit }

Export Gmail Filters

I'm a big fan of Google's Data Liberation team and many of the posts from this blog showed how to export data from a Google account. The first notable project of the Data Liberation team was Google Blog Converters, a way to migrate the posts and comments from a blogging service to a different service ("the initial release provides Python libraries and runnable scripts that convert between the export formats of Blogger, LiveJournal, MovableType, and WordPress").

The most recent project is a Gmail Labs feature that lets you import and export filters. "Filter import/export, available today in Gmail Labs, helps you work with filters in bulk, rather than just one at a time. The basic function is simple: turn it on from the Labs tab under Settings, and from the Settings > Filters page you can download a file containing some or all of your filters or upload a file to create a set of filters all in one go."

You'll export an XML file that lists your filters. The file can be edited in a text editor like Notepad, using the format described here, with some changes. Hopefully, the Email Settings API will be available to all Gmail users, even as a simplified way of migrating Gmail's settings to a new Gmail or Google Apps account.

How to enable this feature?

Assuming that you have a supported browser, go to Gmail Labs, use your browser's find feature (Ctrl+F) to search for "filter import", enable the option and then click on "Save changes" at the bottom of the page. The new feature extends the Filters section from Settings by adding options to export some of the filters or import a file containing filters.