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October 29, 2009

Google's New Campus in Kirkland

TechFlash posted a tour of Google's new campus from Kirkland. "The company has 400 employees at the campus, brought together from two previous locations in the city. Among the features of the campus: a puzzle embedded in the carpet of one room; a very Googley indoor climbing wall; a high-tech wellness center and gym; conference rooms named after UNIX commands and mountain ranges; and tons of inside jokes for geeks, including the FooBar fruit bar as part of the Sudo Cafe."

"The three-building, LEED-certified complex, two buildings of which Google currently occupies, includes an employee gym, locker rooms, massage room, massage chairs, cafeteria, rock-climbing wall, doctor's office, foosball tables, pool tables – oh yeah, and offices. Google Kirkland, along with the smaller Google Seattle office in Fremont, is entirely responsible for Google Talk and Talk Video, and has its hand in a long list of products such as Maps, Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, Analytics, AdPlanner, AdWords and more," informs SeattlePi.

{ via Justin Uberti }

Google Sidewiki Bookmarklet

If you don't want to install Google Toolbar to use Sidewiki or if Google Toolbar is not available for your favorite browser (Opera, Safari, Chrome), you can now use a bookmarklet. It doesn't notify you when the current page is annotated and it doesn't open in a persistent sidebar, but it's a decent alternative.

"The bookmarklet is clever, but still I think it's too inconvenient to become very popular," comments Ryan Morehart. The worst thing is that you need to click on the bookmarklet whenever you visit a new page and every time you click on the bookmarklet, it opens a new pop-up window.

Google Sidewiki's team says that it works on a Chrome extension that will add more features and it will be better integrated with the browser.

{ Updated to correct an error. Thanks, Peter. }

Google Music OneBox 2.0

Google updated the music search OneBox, which used to include song titles, album names and some other information licensed from AllMusic. The new music search OneBox is only focused on finding music, previewing songs and easily buying them.

Search for an artist, an album name or even some lyrics and Google returns a list of songs that can be played with one click. Full music previews are provided by iLike and Lala, but Google also links to other music sites: Pandora, Rhapsody and imeem. When you click on a music result, Google opens a player in a pop-up window, which isn't very user-friendly.

"With Lala, you can hear one full length preview per song. Each subsequent play will be a 0:30 clip," explains Lala. This limitation is very easy to bypass: just clear the cookies for

The OneBox is limited to the US, probably because the music sites that partnered with Google can provide full previews only in the US. I didn't manage to trigger the OneBox, not even using a US proxy. The sample searches provided by Google include some additional parameters that need to be added to a Google URL:

Google says it will be "rolling this feature out gradually to users across the U.S. over the next day".

Not wanting to feel left out, Yahoo reminds users that it launched a similar feature last year. "Since launching a partnership with Rhapsody in September 2008 and launching the FoxyPlayer last year, music has been an integral part of the Yahoo! Search experience as well. We have found that nearly 6 percent of all Yahoo! searches are music-related."

October 28, 2009

Visual Refinements in Google Image Search

Similar images, the feature launched in Google Labs half a year ago, is now included in Google Image Search. It's a quick way to refine the results by selecting one of the results and finding similar images.

You'll find different versions of the same image, images from the same location or images that closely resemble the initial result. Google doesn't find more than 1000 similar images and only the top results are usually relevant.

A help center page lists two use cases for this feature: finding results for ambiguous queries like [jaguar] and refining broad queries. If you search for [Greece], it's not clear if you want to see a map or photos from Greece.

Bing has a similar feature, but the results are less consistent.

Google Maps Navigation for Android

One of the most requested features for Google Maps Mobile was to add turn-by-turn navigation. In the past, this wasn't possible because of the licensing fees that had to be paid for each user of the navigation system. Now that Google no longer uses data from TeleAtlas in the US, turn-by-turn navigation can be added for free.

Google's blog announces that Google Maps Navigation will be available in Android 2.0. The first mobile phone that comes with Android 2.0 is Motorola Droid. "This new feature comes with everything you'd expect to find in a GPS navigation system, like 3D views, turn-by-turn voice guidance and automatic rerouting. But unlike most navigation systems, Google Maps Navigation was built from the ground up to take advantage of your phone's Internet connection." And unlike other navigation systems, it's free.

For now, Google Maps Navigation is only available for the US, but it will certainly be available in other countries when Google collects enough mapping data.

Companies that provide navigation solutions aren't afraid that they'll lose their customers. "There's a lot of content included in our applications that gets updated on an ongoing basis--and that costs money. Millions of customers use our service because of its reliability, ease of use and additional features. People are willing to pay a premium to have something work all the time on their phones," said a TeleNav spokesperson.

October 26, 2009

11 Years of Google in 2 Minutes

Google UK's YouTube channel posted a video that highlights some of the most interesting events from Google's history. "From Stanford to Mountain View and around the world, featuring many different products, starting with BackRub (Search) up to Google Wave, StreetView and Chrome."

If you look closely, you'll spot at least one error in the video. Can you find it?

For those who want to learn more about Google's history, check this interactive timeline, the list of milestones and John Battelle's "The Search".

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

Google Social Search

Last week, Marissa Mayer announced at the Web 2.0 Summit a new experimental feature that will improve search results with web pages created by your social connections.

"Due to the ever-increasing popularity of social networks, we've been thinking about how your social network could influence and improve your search results. Social Search does just that by surfacing content in your search results that is written by your friends or people you follow. That way, you get the best resources from the web overall, plus the best results (blogs, reviews, travelogues) that are relevant to you, since they were written by people you know. Social Search will be launching soon on Google Experimental and Google Labs," explained Marissa Mayer.

The feature is opt-in and it's strongly connected to Google Profiles and Gmail. For example, if you add a link to your Twitter page to your Google profile, Google will find the people you follow and the content they produce: blogs, photo albums, videos, reviews. If your query returns useful results from your social connections, Google will display the results at the bottom of the search results pages.

In an interview from 2008, Marissa Mayer said that social search is very important. "We believe social search is any search aided by a social interaction or a social connection… Social search happens every day. When you ask a friend "what movies are good to go see?" or "where should we go to dinner?", you are doing a verbal social search. You're trying to leverage that social connection to try and get a piece of information that would be better than what you'd come up with on your own. (...) I think one way Google will be better is in understanding more about you and understanding more about your social context: Who your friends are, what you like to do, where you are. Given how things have transitioned online – everything from travel planning to purchasing books — my belief is that a lot of those physical questions we ask now will ultimately begin to transition to the online medium and that social context will be leveraged there."

Update: Google Social Search is now available in Google Labs. Join the first experiment and then type your query at If you don't see an OneBox at the bottom of the search results pages, click on "Search Options" and select "Social" to restrict the results to your social circle.

A help center page explains who is in your social circle:

* People you're connected to through social services, such as Twitter and FriendFeed, that you've listed in your Google profile.
* People in your Gmail (or Google Talk) chat list.
* People in your Friends, Family, and Coworkers contact groups for Google.

For some reason, Google decided to arbitrarily expand your social circle to people you don't even know. "If someone you don't know shows up in your social search results, it's likely that they're connected to someone you do know. Social Search includes results from public connections of your immediate social circle, since there's a high likelihood that you know them as well. For example, if you're following someone on Twitter, and that person is following five other people, those five other people are also included in your social circle."

Social Search also includes your Google Reader subscriptions, so it's now easier to search Google Reader.

{ via Search Engine Roundtable and Google Blog }

October 25, 2009

Google Docs Batch Export

Now you can export all your documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDFs from Google Docs in a ZIP archive.

The most difficult part is to select all your files: you need to go to the "All items" section, scroll down to the bottom of the documents list, click on the checkbox button from the toolbar and then on "select all visible". Google Docs uses "infinite scrolling", but it's not smart enough to select all the documents from a view.

After selecting all your files (or only some of them), right-click and choose "export". A dialog lets you choose the download format for each kind of file: Microsoft Office formats, OpenOffice formats, PDF or some other formats.

Click on "continue" and Google starts to compress your files and create an archive. If you have a lot of documents, Google can send you an email when the files are zipped.

{ Thanks, }

October 23, 2009

Portable Google Chrome started to offer a portable version of Google Chrome for Windows. Due to the licensing terms of Google Chrome, the site offers a small application that downloads Google Chrome's installer, extract its files and installs a portable launcher. Copy the resulting folder to a USB drive and you can launch Chrome on multiple computers without leaving traces.

A much better idea would be to run Chrome using "roaming" profiles and save your settings and data online. Hopefully, Google Browser Sync will return in Google Chrome. There's already an experimental feature that synchronizes bookmarks with a Google account.

{ via PortableApps }

Even More Results from a Site

Like most search engines, Google doesn't show too many results from a domain on a single search results pages. Until recently, Google displayed at most 2 consecutive results from a site, followed by a link that restricted the results to that site.

Some recent results show that Google adjusted this policy and it now allows 3 or even 4 consecutive results from the same site.

Google also displays 4 additional results bellow some forum threads and it makes it easier to find more results from a site without opening a new page.

Google Reader's Personalized Ranking

Google Reader added a feature that tries to sort the posts from your subscriptions based on your interests. The option is called "sort by magic" and it's available in any Google Reader view, but it's not enabled by default. "Your personalized ranking is automatically generated. It takes into account your past reading behavior (including liking and starring), and global signals. This process is completely automated and anonymous," mentions an article from Google Reader's help center.

The ranking algorithm was designed to prioritize the posts from subscriptions you frequently read and the posts that are popular among your friends and other Google Reader users. "Try clicking the like button on things you think are important or enjoy reading, and we'll learn to put items like that first," suggests Google.

Another change is that the list of recommended feeds and the "popular items" feeds have been consolidated in the new "Explore" section. "We use algorithms to find top-rising images, videos and pages from anywhere (not just your subscriptions), collect them in the new Popular items section and order them by what we think you'll like best," explains Google.

Google Reader is now more clever, as it uses attention data to personalize your reading list based on your past behavior.

October 22, 2009

YouTube Subscribes You to Activity Feeds

When you subscribe to a YouTube channel, you're no longer notified only when someone uploads new videos. Now YouTube subscribes you to "all videos uploaded, rated, favorited, and commented on" by a certain YouTube user.

You can change the default option by clicking on "edit subscription", selecting "Only videos uploaded by ..." and "Default to this for all future subscriptions", but not many people will find those options. This feature has been added last month, but I only found about it today.

YouTube's help center has more information: "A YouTube subscription means subscribing to a user's videos and their public activity (their favorites, their ratings, etc). By subscribing to a user, you'll receive updates and stay informed when something new occurs."

YouTube's options page lets you disable your activity feed. "If you'd like to change which of your actions are publicly available on your channel and Recent Activity Feed you'll need to make updates on the Sharing Settings page. There, you'll see many actions, and boxes next to these actions. When you select a box, it will appear on your channel, and users subscribed to you will be notified when you perform this action. For example, if you have "Favorite a video" selected, other users will see a subscription update when you add a new video to your Favorites."

It seems that YouTube is promoting its social component more aggressively by suggesting potential friends from the list of Google contacts, by enabling activity feeds and engaging interactivity.

Google Calendar Snooze

Google Calendar implemented a basic snooze feature for pop-up notifications. You can click on "remind me again in 5 minutes" in Google Calendar's web interface.

"When alerted to an event via a pop-up notification and dismissing it, the calendar interface will show you an option to remind you again shortly. Click on that link if you want to be reminded of the event again," explains Google.

Another implementation is available in Google Talk Labs Edition, a Windows client for Google Talk that shows Google Calendar notifications.

Enhanced Google Music Search

Google has a small music search engine that shows information about artists, albums and songs. You can use the music: operator in Google's search box to access the service. Unfortunately, the information is outdated, the links to reviews are broken and there's not much to see.

After many years of decay, Google decided to improve the service. CNet reports that Google will launch the new version of Google Music Search next week, in partnership with Lala and iLike. "The way One Box will work is that a person who keys in the names U2 or Coldplay, for example, will find a thumbnail photo of the artists, background information, as well as a listing of the music that they can preview."

"The new Google music offering will allow users to stream an entire song via a link from La La Media Inc.'s, or a sample from MySpace's music site The Lala link on the Google page will let users listen to a song once free of charge. In addition to offering a free streaming link, the new arrangement will offer options to pay 10 cents for an online-only version or about $1 to download an MP3," says the Wall Street Journal.

TechCrunch has some screenshots of the OneBox and the interface resembles Yahoo's music artist shortcut. Last year, Yahoo partnered with Rhapsody to allow users to play up to 25 full songs a month.

Here are some screenshots of Google Music Search as it looks today:

Google's most popular music-related service is YouTube and it's surprising that YouTube doesn't offer a better experience for watching music videos. YouTube could easily add information about music artists, lyrics, album arts, music charts. Later this year, YouTube will launch Vevo, a site that will feature Universal's music videos.

October 21, 2009

Better Twitter Results in Google Search

I posted in June that Google prepares a search engine for microblogging services like Twiiter. A Google blog post announces that Google has "reached an agreement with Twitter to include their updates in the search results". Real-time results from Twitter will probably included in a special OneBox triggered by keywords that are suddenly popular in Twitter.

"We believe that our search results and user experience will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this up-to-the-minute data, and we look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months. That way, the next time you search for something that can be aided by a real-time observation, say, snow conditions at your favorite ski resort, you'll find tweets from other users who are there and sharing the latest and greatest information," explains Marissa Mayer.

The most difficult problem that Google has to solve is ranking tweets, as most microblogging search engines sort the results by date and aren't able to filter spam and irrelevant results.

Twitter's blog explains why the company co-founded by two ex-Googlers partnered with Google. "Our friends down in Mountain View want to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. A fast growing amount of information is coursing through Twitter very quickly, and we want there to be many ways to access that information. As part of that effort, we've partnered with Google to index the entire world of public tweets as fast as possible and present them to their users in an organized and relevant fashion."

In the meantime, Bing has released a Twitter search engine that sorts the results by date and highlights the top links shared by Twitter users.

Fullscreen Google Tasks

It's not clear why Google doesn't treat Google Tasks as a standalone service: it's integrated with Gmail, Google Calendar, there's an iGoogle gadget and a mobile version, but no standalone interface. The most recent update is that the iGoogle gadget has a canvas view that's displayed when you maximize the gadget.

The gadget lets you create multiple lists, use the toolbar to clear completed tasks or to reorder tasks, sort the tasks by due date and view a list of the completed tasks.

If you don't want to use iGoogle, the URL of the canvas view is Bookmark the page and pretend it's the standalone version of Google Tasks.

Here's the full list of Google Tasks interfaces: - mobile version - Android version - iPhone version - iGoogle gadget - iGoogle gadget in canvas view
(replace /tasks/ with /tasks/a/your_domain/ for the Google Apps versions).

October 19, 2009

Google Map Maker Layer

If Google Maps doesn't offer high-quality maps for your country, you can improve them using Google Map Maker. "Google Map Maker allows you to create a map by adding or editing features such as roads, businesses, parks, schools and more. Using Google Map Maker tools, you can visually mark locations and add detailed information about them. Once you have submitted content, this information may be edited by other users or moderators. Your mapping contributions on Map Maker are eventually also made available on Google Maps," explains Google.

Google constantly updates Google Maps with data from Map Maker, but the changes aren't reflected immediately. To see the latest data from Google Map Maker, add this layer to Google Maps.

Google Map Maker lets you edit the maps for 174 countries because the maps licensed by Google aren't detailed enough.

Google's Homepage, a Canvas for Google Doodles

Michael Lopez, Web Design Lead at Google, answered a few questions about Google's doodles. He says that it usually takes 1-2 days to design a doodle and that Google's homepage is "the biggest little canvas an artist can display their artwork on".
The doodle selection process aims to celebrate interesting events and anniversaries around the world that reflect Google's personality and love of innovation. We know that our list of doodles is not exhaustive, but 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.

To see a gallery of Google doodles, check this page. Many of the doodles are only displayed in certain countries, so you should subscribe to Google's feed if you don't want to miss some doodles.

October 15, 2009

Preview Google Documents Inside Gmail

Gmail Labs has a new experiment that lets you preview documents, spreadsheets and presentations created using Google Docs. If you receive a message that links to a Google Docs file, you'll be able to preview the document inside Gmail.

"Opening these links in another tab or window is kind of annoying, plus it can be tough to keep the context of the email in mind while viewing the document," mentions the Gmail Blog. Previews are displayed at the bottom of the message, so I don't think you can maintain the context.

Gmail has 5 other experimental features that let you preview YouTube videos, Picasa Web and Flickr photos, Yelp reviews and voicemails from Google Voice, but I think these previews would be more useful if they were displayed inline, like Yahoo Mail's shortcuts or Interclue's tooltips.

Chrome OS, an Extended Google Chrome

As previously anticipated, Chrome OS is a Linux distribution that includes a custom version of Chrome as the default browser. Google has recently posted a build of the custom Chrome and some people installed the .deb package (it's no longer available officially, but you can download it from other sources).

Chrome for Chrome OS is not very different from the browser you can already install in Windows, Linux or Mac. The main difference is that the browser includes UI elements from a traditional operating system: clock, battery status, network settings.

Since Google Chrome will include most of the features that are necessary to use an operating system, it's obvious that the browser is the only visible component of Chrome OS, a lightweight browser-centric operating system.

There's no reason to anxiously wait for Chrome OS, when you can already use Chrome in your favorite operating system and get the same features. A metaphor has become reality, but the result fails to impress.

October 14, 2009

Use Google's Document Viewer to Read PDF Files Online

Google Docs Viewer is a handy way to view PDF, PPT and TIFF files online, without having to install plug-ins or additional applications. Unfortunately, Google didn't make it easy to use the viewer without having to manually generate URLs.

A Greasemonkey script automates the process by replacing all the links to PDF, PPT and TIFF files from a page with links to Google's document viewer. To use the script, you need to install Greasemonkey in Firefox or use a dev build of Google Chrome. It should also work in Opera, Safari + GreaseKit and Internet Explorer + IE7Pro.

Hopefully, the future versions of Firefox, Chrome and other browsers will allow users to associate content types with web services, so that you can open KML files in Google Maps, iCal files in Google Calendar or Microsoft Office files in Google Docs.

Integrated Interface for Google's Services

Integrated Gmail is a Firefox extension that adds Google Calendar and Google Reader to Gmail's interface. It's a simple way to switch between the three Google services without opening multiple tabs.

The extension is customizable, so you can add other Google services, reorder them and delete the ones you don't use. The interface for each service loads in a collapsible box and it's preloaded when you open Gmail.

You can add events or check your agenda while composing messages, read your feeds and chat with your friends from the same interface or copy some text from an email to a notebook.

The extension is not perfect, it might slow down browsing, but it's an interesting experiment and a good starting point for an official unified interface for Google's services. iGoogle, Google's iPhone interface and the support for gadgets in Gmail show that this idea has a great potential.

How Google Uses the Toolbar Data

Google Toolbar has a feature that lets you see the PageRank for all the pages you visit. It's not enabled by default, but Google Toolbar asks you if you want to enable the feature when you install the plug-in.

To show you the PageRank for any web page you visit, Google Toolbar sends the URL of the page to Google's servers. In other words, you're sending your entire browsing history to Google. If you don't enable the Web History service, the data is not connected to a Google account, but it's still useful.

Google Public Policy Blog mentions two uses of this data. "By getting a better sense of the most visited sites on the web, we're able to focus Google's automated malware scanners on the most popular URLs that users are currently visiting. Another example of the usefulness of this data is around measuring page load times. (...) For example, when your browser sends out a request to fetch Google Maps, we start the timer. When the page is finished loading, we stop the timer and send the elapsed time back to Google along with the Google Maps URL request."

As you can see from the screenshot above, Google Toolbar sends all kind of information to Google servers, including a parameter called querytime, that could be related to measuring page load times.

Google not only knows which are the most visited pages, but it can also track their loading times in a variety of hardware configurations.

October 13, 2009

orkut's New Conversational Interface

Google Chrome's homepage for Brazil has a screenshot that shows a new orkut interface. Google decided to use some ideas from services like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and make it easy to post messages and to see the messages posted by your friends.

Google's social network is popular in Brazil and India, but other social networks are trying to steal the crown. A ComScore report shows that "in August, Orkut's unique visitors in India dipped by 800,000 within a month, from 16 million visitors in July to 15.2 million visitors in August. On the other hand, Facebook grew its unique visitors in India by 700,000, from 7.5 million visitors in July to 8.2 million visitors in August."

orkut has never been an innovative service: many of its features were copied from other social networks. orkut's popularity in Brazil and India is probably the only reason why Google didn't discontinue the service.

Update (October 29): The new version of orkut, built using Google Web Toolkit, is now available via invitation. "We've concentrated orkut's principal actions onto your homepage, making it a one-stop-shop for nearly everything that you'd like to do. Now you can chat, watch videos, and browse and search within your full friends and communities lists without ever having to open a new page." Check orkut's blog for more information.

{ Thanks, Carlos. }

October 12, 2009

Share Folders in Google Docs

Google Docs has a new interface and an important new feature: sharing folders. You can now share folders with your contacts and even make some of your folders public. If you allow anyone to view or edit a folder, Google generates a publicly accessible URL for a page that lists all the files from your folder.

"When you share a folder, the new permissions are pushed to all sub-folders and docs within the folder. Normally this happens quickly, but occasionally, it could take a couple of minutes," explains Google.

Another change is that Google Docs has a Flash uploader that lets you upload multiple files at a time and to place the files in a folder.

{ Thanks, Albert. }

October 10, 2009

YouTube Shows Video Info

If you visit, right-click on a YouTube video and you'll find a new option: "show video info". YouTube displays a lot of information about the current video: resolution, bitrate, frame rate, file size, the number of dropped frames, volume. There's also an option to copy information useful for debugging.

In other YouTube news, Chad Hurley posts that the site serves more than one billion videos a day. "Three years after the acquisition, our platform and our business continue to grow and evolve. We are still committed to the same principles that informed the site early on, but we know things have changed. As bandwidth has increased, so has our video quality. (...) We're working hard to keep up with the fast pace of technology to bring you everything you would expect from the world's largest video site: better quality; a full spectrum of choices and tools for users, partners and advertisers; and ways to make the YouTube experience your own anywhere, anytime."

October 9, 2009

Sergey Brin on Google Books Settlement

There's been a lot of talk about the Google Books settlement that would allow Google to provide access to out-of-print books in the US. This would unlock a lot of valuable information and would make it available in the Google Books interface.

New York Times published a thoughtful op-ed piece by Sergey Brin called "A Library to Last Forever", which tries to explain why the settlement is beneficial to everyone.
The vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries. Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores. (...)

[Some] have questioned the impact of the agreement on competition, or asserted that it would limit consumer choice with respect to out-of-print books. In reality, nothing in this agreement precludes any other company or organization from pursuing their own similar effort. The agreement limits consumer choice in out-of-print books about as much as it limits consumer choice in unicorns. Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.

I wish there were a hundred services with which I could easily look at such a book; it would have saved me a lot of time, and it would have spared Google a tremendous amount of effort. But despite a number of important digitization efforts to date (Google has even helped fund others, including some by the Library of Congress), none have been at a comparable scale, simply because no one else has chosen to invest the requisite resources.

{ via Tom Stocky }

A Central Place for All Your Google Files

Google Sites added some new features: integration with Picasa Web Albums, feeds, custom templates.

The "insert" dialog from Google Sites is Google's first attempt to aggregate the user generated data from the most important Google services: documents, spreadsheets, forms, presentations, calendars, custom maps, photos, bookmarks. Everything is searchable and you can see a list of most of the documents created using Google services.

We'll probably see this dialog more often when Google adds it to Gmail, Google Calendar or when it morphs into a full-fledged service.

If you don't like that the dialog is part of Google Sites, there's a direct URL for the document picker (internally named "Google OnePick"), but you can't use it to open files.

October 8, 2009

Obscure Google Features

One of the most frequently used reason for removing features from Google's products is that not many people used them. Here's a recent example:

"Google Base has its own search page for users to search across everything that's been uploaded, but it isn't widely used. Instead, people search on Google Product Search for products, or on Google Maps to find houses for rent or sale. Therefore, we're planning to retire Google Base's separate search page in a few weeks."

Google Base search is not the only obscure Google feature. Even though it's difficult to estimate how often each feature is used, it's safe to say that the following features are rarely used:

1. Gmail mute. The option that lets you ignore boring conversations from mailing lists is available in Gmail's standard interface and it has recently been added to Gmail Mobile.

2. Google Reader's auto sorting. "This works by prioritizing subscriptions with fewer items. So, with this setting, your friend's blog with one item a month will not be drowned out by higher volume sites such as the New York Times because we'll raise the blog to the top."

3. Google Chrome's docking positions. "Drag a tab to pre-defined locations, or docking positions, on your computer monitor or browser window to quickly resize your browser window. When the docking icon appears, release the mouse over the icon to have the tab snap in place."

4. GoogleTournament function from Google Spreadsheets. "The GoogleTournament function returns live data for games occurring during the Men's and Women's NCAA Division I Basketball Championship."

5. Google Toolbar's "up" button lets you go up one level in a web site.

6. Google Music Search, used for showing outdated information about music artists.

Can you think of other obscure Google features that are probably used by a small number of people?

October 7, 2009

Decode Google's Barcode Doodle

Why would Google replace its logo with a barcode? Probably because barcodes were invented 60 years ago. "This invention relates to the art of article classification and has particular relation to classification through the medium of identifying patterns. It is an object of the invention to provide automatic apparatus for classifying things according to photo-response to lines and/or colors which constitute classification instructions and which have been attached to, imprinted upon or caused to represent the things being classified," explains the patent.

To decode the doodle, upload the image to and you'll notice that it uses Code 128 to encode "Google". There's also an online barcode generator.

It's not the first time when a doodle encrypted Google's name: Samuel Morse's birthday and Louis Braille's birthday were other opportunities for cleverly hiding Google's logo.

October 6, 2009

Google Cloudboard

Google tests a service called Cloudboard, an online clipboard that should make it easy to copy data between Gmail, Google Docs and other Google services. The service is not publicly available yet, but there are many references to it.

An internal feedback form (update: Google disabled the form) describes Cloudboard as a "server-side clipboard for Google Apps". Google provides an example of copying data from Google Spreadsheets to Google Docs: "if you copy a formatted cell range in Trix (cell border, colors, etc.) and then paste into Writely, it's transformed into a comparably-styled HTML table."

Google's feedback form includes many other examples: pasting excerpts from Google Spreadsheets to Gmail, copying multiple images from Picasa Web Albums, copying YouTube videos, copying an event and pasting it into Google Docs or Gmail, pasting copied items from Google Image Search, copying maps into Google Docs etc.

I've always thought that Google Notebook will be Google's web clipboard, but now that the service has been discontinued, Cloudboard will be the bridge between Google's services.

Google Explains What a Browser Is

Google found why people aren't eager to change their browsers: they don't even know what a browser is. Some think that the browser is actually a search engine, others are convinced that the only way to browse the web is to click on the big blue E from the desktop.

To explain Internet Explorer users that there are better alternatives out there, Google started with the basics: a short introduction to web browsers. "The web browser is the most important piece of software on your computer because every web page runs though it," concludes Google's short video.

Google even set up a web site that includes information about changing browsers, JavaScript performance, benchmark suites. The idea is great, but Google should avoid using technical terms. If many users don't know the definition of a browser, JavaScript or browser benchmarks need special introductory guides.

"A few of us at Google created to help teach people about web browsers. We wanted to show people that they have a lot of choice in browsers, since we noticed that most people were using the browser their computers came with."

"The browser their computers came with" is an euphemism for Internet Explorer, even though Safari is another browser that fits the description.

October 5, 2009

New Themes for Google Chrome

If the first batch of Chrome themes didn't include too many beautiful themes, you can now choose from a gallery of 95 themes designed by top artists like Jeff Koons, Yulia Brodskaya or Wes Craven. "We invited leading artists, architects, musicians, illustrators, filmmakers and fashion and interior designers from around the globe to create artwork for an unusual canvas: the modern web browser," explains Google. Apparently, the artists worked for free.

Chrome's themes are loaded almost instantly, so you don't need to restart the browser. Unfortunately, you can't pick a list of favorite themes or manage the themes you've already installed.

I've tried some of themes, but I went back to the default theme, which looks great and doesn't try too hard to be attractive. It's almost invisible.

October 4, 2009

Improving Google's Search Quality

Business Week has an interview with Scott Huffman, who runs Google's search evaluation team. Matt Cutts calls it "the deepest public discussion of how Google evals search quality that I've ever seen".

The interview has a lot of details about human evaluators, search experiments and the way Google measures search quality.

"People have a tendency to pick what we would call really popular queries [to compare search engines]. Look, I typed flowers in both and this one showed me pictures and this one showed me flowers to buy, and I like pictures better. But we get a lot of queries that are a lot more rare than that, and we feel that our gap in terms of the competition really opens up there."

But that doesn't mean popular queries aren't important.

"On a continuous basis in every one of our data centers, a large set of queries are being run in the background, and we're looking at the results, looking up our evaluations of them and making sure that all of our quality metrics are within tolerance. (...) Both broad query sets and navigational query sets, like "San Francisco bike shop" to the more mundane, like: Here’s every U.S. state and they have a home page and we better get that home page in the top results, and if we don't … then literally somebody's pager goes off."

Scott Huffman says that Google constantly improves ranking and search quality, even if that's not always obvious. People usually notice user interface changes and Google prepares many visible changes.

"We're doing a lot more on the UI side. We're trying to do a lot more experimentation — how can we push the envelope? You don't want to be just the 10 blue links. I see us definitely trying to be more aggressive with a lot of features that will start to show up on the search page. Even if you look at the search page today compared with a couple years ago, it's actually quite a bit different. On the UI side, my impression is that the bar for what people expect from search engines is higher today. That's partly because of the features Google and others have added."

October 3, 2009

Gmail Messages with Enhanced Content

Gmail added a feature that lets you interact with the messages sent by some companies without opening a new page. It's called "sponsored mail with enhanced content" and here's the description:
If you're subscribed to receive email from certain senders, the messages you receive from them will be enhanced with an interactive gadget that has up-to-date content from their website (you'll also see an icon in your inbox identifying these messages).

For example, if you receive a Pregnancy Bulletin newsletter from Babycenter, you'll be able to view up-to-date content, including the baby name of the day, and browse though the current top 100 baby names within the message. Aside from the convenience of being able to interact with certain websites from inside Gmail, the branded content will help identify that your messages are legitimate and not spoofed (we'll only show branded content when the sender authenticates their mail). We're currently testing this with a small number of senders and will decide whether to make it widely available based on user and partner feedback.

One of these partners is Netflix. "A Netflix email showed up in my Gmail inbox today, and it looked different than I had ever seen- a little Netflix logo showed up right in the inbox view, and when I clicked on it, there was a whole fancy pane below the email containing movie recommendations I could add directly to my queue," noticed Dan McGee.

MG Siegler was surprised to see a favicon next to a Netflix message. "I loaded up Gmail this morning expecting to see the usual assault on my inbox, when something new caught my eye. Apparently, Google has started inserting favicons, the little icons that many browsers put next to a website's URL or bookmark, next to messages. So far, I'm only seeing it for emails from Netflix."

It's not clear whether Google has a financial agreement with these partners or if the features will be available as part of an open API. Many of the experimental features from Gmail Labs enhance messages with previews and icons (YouTube previews in mail, Google Voice player in mail, Authentication icon for verified senders) and Gmail is an OpenSocial container, so a Gmail gadget API for messages is not far-fetched.

Better Google Support

Google has slowly moved most of the support groups to a new platform better suited for question answering. Unfortunately, you still needed to find the proper help forum where to post your question.

Now you don't have to visit Gmail's forum to post a question about Gmail. Just go to this page, type your question and choose the appropriate Google product from the drop-down. Google even lists similar questions and their answers when you type your question, which is great because many people forget to search before posting. By default, you'll receive an email notification when someone answers your question.

October 2, 2009

Google Tests Navigational Related Searches

Google tested many interfaces for displaying related searches: at the bottom of the page, above the search results, in the left or right sidebar. A recent experiment adds some related searches to the toolbelt, the sidebar that includes many advanced options.

Alistair Lattimore noticed that a search for [Circle on Cavill] returned a big list of refinements in the sidebar: restaurants, retail, apartments, for sale, map, parking, hotel, movies. Selecting one of the suggestions changed the query to [Circle on Cavill restaurants] or [Circle on Cavill retail], even though the search box didn't change the query.

Some would say that Google borrowed a Bing feature, even if Google tested it earlier or Hakia used it before Bing. What I find troubling is that Google combines site categorization filters like forums or reviews with search refinements.