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February 26, 2010

Google Adds Local Search Filter

Google's crowded "search options" sidebar has a new feature: restricting the results to sites related to nearby businesses. Google already determines your location and it shows results appropriated for your location, but now you can see only local search results.

There are 3 filters that help you restrict the results to a city, a region or a state. If Google can't find your location or you want to find results for a different location, click on "custom location" and enter a city.

Google Blog says that this feature is useful because the search engine no longer has to match your keywords to find a location.
Location has become an important part of the way we search. If you're a foodie looking for restaurant details, food blogs or the closest farmer's market, location can be vital to helping you find the right information. Starting today, we've added the ability to refine your searches with the "Nearby" tool in the Search Options panel. One of the really helpful things about this tool is that it works geographically — not just with keywords — so you don't have to worry about adding "Minneapolis" to your query and missing webpages that only say "St. Paul" or "Twin Cities."

The local search filter for web pages is not new: it used to available in Google Maps and as a Google Search experiment.

Translate Web Pages in Google Chrome

Google Chrome 5's dev build has a feature that detects the language of a web page and lets you translate it without opening a new page. The feature is borrowed from Google Toolbar, but Google Chrome is the first browser that translates web pages without requiring an add-on.

When you visit a page written in another language, Chrome shows an infobar that asks if you want to translate the web page. You can ignore the message, change the language that was automatically detected or translate the web page. If you click on "Translate", Google Chrome will translate the page and will no longer prompt you when you click on a link from the page.

"Look for the blue translation bar at the top of the page, whenever you come across a page written in a language that doesn't match the browser interface language you've selected. Translation is currently available for 52 languages. If you choose to translate a page, the text of that page is sent to Google's translation service for translation. Your cookies are not sent along with that request and, if the page you are on is encrypted with SSL, Chrome also sends the translation request over SSL," explains Google.

If you click on the "Options" button, Chrome lets you disable translation for the current language or for the site you're visiting. For now, there's no option to disable the feature or to manage a blacklist of domains and languages.

While this feature is brilliant and it work for almost any web page, including web apps like Gmail or Google Docs, I'm not sure if it's a great idea to translate pages encrypted with SSL. Someone could click on the "Always translate" option and inadvertently send confidential information to Google's servers.

To try this feature, install Chrome dev channel, a buggier and less polished version of Chrome, or wait until a stable Chrome 5 build is released. A similar implementation is available in Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer and Firefox. There's also a Chrome extension for translating web pages.

{ Thanks, Jason. }

February 25, 2010

Google and Antitrust Accusations

Google's popularity in search has been a constant problem in the recent years, especially for competitors and authorities. Some even called Google a search monopoly, even if there are many other search engines. Changing your search engine is certainly easier than switching to a new browser or a new operating system, but for many people Google is synonymous with web search.

The most recent complaints are from three European sites. Wired reports that "the European Commission has acknowledged receipt of three antitrust complaints against Google. Google claims it has done nothing wrong, and disclosed that British price comparison site Foundem, French legal search engine and Microsoft-owned Ciao from Bing were the complainants."

The three sites complained that Google abused its dominant position to promote its own services, while competing sites were penalized. Google says that it doesn't manipulate search results: "We understand how important rankings can be to websites, especially commercial ones, because a higher ranking typically drives higher volumes of traffic. (...) Our algorithms aim to rank first what people are most likely to find useful and we have nothing against vertical search sites -- indeed many vertical search engines like, Opodo and Expedia typically rank high in Google's results."

An interesting document submitted by Foundem to the Federal Communications Comission claims that Google uses "universal" search results to promote its own services:

"In May 2007, Google introduced what it calls "Universal Search" — a mechanism for automatically inserting its own services into prominent positions within its natural search results. (...) Universal Search transforms Google's ostensibly neutral search engine into an immensely powerful marketing channel for Google's other services. When coupled with Google's 85% share of the global search market, this gives Google an unparalleled and virtually unassailable competitive advantage, reaching far beyond the confines of search."

The document shows how Google Maps and Google Product Search became more popular after Google introduced Universal Search, while concluding that "Google can divert traffic from its competitors to its own services largely at will."

It's obvious that Google's services are better represented in search results pages than 3 years ago: videos are frequently promoted to the top results page and most videos are hosted by YouTube, many searches return local search results from Google Maps, Google Books results are only indexed by Google and they're sometimes artificially promoted. Universal Search made Google's specialized search engines more visible.

Even if some might think that Google Search, Google Maps and Google News are completely different services, they're complimentary products that work better together. If you enter a query like [ny pizza], it makes sense to show local businesses from New York instead of search results that match the query. Google could show results from Yahoo Maps or Bing Maps, but it wouldn't be able to improve the quality of search results.

Google's competitors miss that Google doesn't have to send users to other web pages. Google's goal is to show the most relevant answers for a query. Sometimes the answer is displayed while you type a query, in other situations the answer can be found in the snippets or in the new rich snippets.

Google Squared is an example of advanced search engine that aggregates facts from the web and uses them to generate descriptive collections. Google reveals the sources, but few people actually click on the links.

As search engines become smarter, web pages will only become footnotes for automatically generated responses.

Better Gmail Search

Gmail's blog announced that 6 labs features have graduated (Search Autocomplete, Go To Label, Forgotten Attachment Detector, YouTube Previews, Custom Label Colors, Vacation Dates), while 5 other features are retired from Gmail Labs (Muzzle, Fixed Width Font, Email Addict, Location in Signature, Random Signature). Google says that "these decisions were made based based mainly on usage," so that's the reason why obscure features like Muzzle, a quick way to hide Gmail chat status messages, or Email Addict, which blocked Gmail's interface for 15 minutes, were removed.

The good news is that 2 labs features will greatly improve Gmail search: "Search Autocomplete" and "Go To Label". If you have many labels, it's difficult to find one of your labels, especially if you added the label to the "more" dropdown. "Go To Label" adds a keyboard shortcut that lets you quickly open a label: type "g l" and then type the first letters of the label you want to find.

Gmail integrated "Go To Label" with the search box, so the keyboard shortcut only adds "label:" to the search box. If you don't like keyboard shortcuts, just type "label:" in the search box, followed by the first letters of a label.

The autocomplete feature is not useful only when you want to open a label you've created. You can also use it for built-in labels like "unread", "starred", "chat", "buzz", "muted". Type the first letters of the word "unread" and you should find a quick link that shows all your unread messages.

If you use Gmail's advanced search operators, the autocomplete feature shows common values for the operators. Type the "is" operator and Gmail shows a list of built-in labels.

Gmail's search box lets you restrict the results to messages that have attachments or to messages that include a certain type of attachment. Type "has" and you'll see a list of options that show messages with photo attachments, documents, videos or calendar events. You can also type natural language queries like: "photos", "documents", "attachments".

The search box is now the quickest way to find messages from one of your contacts: type the name of a contact or only the first letters from the name and you can read all the conversation with that person. If you want to restrict the results to the messages received from a contact, type "from:" before entering the name.

The other 4 graduated features have a more limited use:

* "Attachment Detector" shows a warning when you use words like "attached", "attachment" in a message without actually attaching a file.

* "YouTube Previews" lets you watch inside Gmail the YouTube videos linked from a message.

* "Custom Label Colors" is useful if you have many labels and the 24 color combinations offered by Gmail aren't enough.

* "Vacation Dates" improves Gmail's vacation responder by adding the option to enter the first day and the last day of your vacation.

February 18, 2010

Tag Clouds for Google Maps Photo Layer

Google Maps has a photo layer that shows high-quality images from Panoramio. Finding photos from almost any place in the world makes Google Maps more useful, but sometimes there are too many photos to choose from.

Now you can filter the photos displayed by Google Maps using the tag cloud generated by Google or using your own query. Restrict the photos to panoramas, landscapes, nature or buildings to create a custom photo layer.

Jonah Jones says that this is not the only improvement: "the photos now appear in piles when there are lots of views of the same scene". That means Google groups related images, so that they don't clutter the map.

Microsoft on Google Apps

Microsoft posted some videos on YouTube that discuss the disadvantages of using Google Apps in an organization, while recommending businesses to try Microsoft's solutions.

Microsoft suggests that Google Apps is not an enterprise-class service because it's incomplete, has simple tools that lack basic features like copy & paste, Google Docs is not fully compatible with Microsoft Office, while Google Apps is an "one-size-fits-all cloud service".

"Google Apps provides oversimplified applications that limit how productive your people can be. In fact, Google's own executives admit they don't believe their tools can replace Microsoft Office. That means your business may require extra tools just to complete your IT portfolio. Google Apps also has an unfamiliar and inconsistent user experience. Features are sometimes released unannounced and some aren’t even supported, which can increase support calls and risk for your business. Also, Google Apps is delivered exclusively online, so users need to be connected to the internet to get the most out of their tools," says Microsoft.

Microsoft's conclusion is that "Google Apps offer an attractive initial license cost, but it can increase operational costs in other ways. For example, you may have to deploy additional technologies to integrate Google into your organization, which raises costs."

Google has its own site that compares Google Apps with Microsoft Exchange. Google's main selling points are that Google Apps costs less than Microsoft Exchange, it doesn't require maintenance and it offers an excellent email solution. "Google Apps bring speed, flexibility, anytime, anywhere access and ease of use to employees – along with the cost savings based on Google's economies of scale and leadership in cloud computing."

Google Apps is far from perfect and Google Docs is certainly not a Microsoft Office replacement, but Google Apps is constantly improving and has many business-oriented features. To see how fast Google improves its products, watch Microsoft's videos and find the limitations that have already been addressed by Google: remote wipe for mobile devices, scheduling calendar resources, better copy/paste experience in Google Docs.

Microsoft's recent initiatives validate Google's online services: Microsoft Office Live and online Exchange compete with Google Apps:

"Cloud services from Microsoft make it easier for you to respond to shifting business needs, while we take care of a lot of the IT management burdens that can suck up your time—and your money. You don't have to worry about updates, service packs, or upgrades. We handle it for you, so you're running the most secure, up-to-date software."

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

February 17, 2010

Translating Text Using Google Goggles

Google tests a very useful feature: translating text using Google Goggles, the visual search mobile app available for Android phones. Instead of visiting Google Translate and typing the text you want to translate, you could use your phone's camera to photograph the text, send the photo to Google's servers and get the translation.

This feature is not yet available because it's quite difficult to perform OCR (optical character recognition) on a photo, especially if you don't even know the language of the text.

"Right now this technology only works for German-to-English translations and it's not yet ready for prime time. However, it shows a lot of promise for what the future might hold. Soon your phone will be able to translate signs, posters and other foreign text instantly into your language. Eventually, we're hoping to build a version of Google Goggles that can translate between all of the 52 languages currently supported by Google Translate — bringing even more information to you on the go," says Hartmut Neven.

Google tests an API for Google Docs that lets you perform OCR on a high-resolution image, but the results aren't impressive. Maybe the OCR service should be released in Google Labs.

How to Disable Google Buzz

Google Buzz is a service that integrates with many Google products, so it's quite difficult to completely disable it. For example, to use Google Buzz, you need to have a searchable Google Profile.

While you can click on "turn off Buzz" in Gmail, you don't disable Buzz. The setting only hides the Buzz section and you can display it again by clicking "turn on Buzz".

Fortunately, Google added a new option that lets you disable Buzz, but you need to delete your Google Profile. Go to the profile editing page, scroll to the bottom of the page and select "Delete profile and disable Google Buzz completely". Google claims that "this will disable Google Buzz integration in Gmail and delete your Google profile and Buzz posts. It will also disconnect any connected sites and unfollow you from anyone you are following."

Even if you delete the profile, you'll still be able to create another profile later and you won't lose your Google account. After clicking the red link, Google shows a new page that informs you that "you are about to delete your public profile, including any Buzz posts you have made and your connected sites settings". There's also a strange option enabled by default: "unfollow me from anyone I am following in Buzz, Google Reader, and other Google products".

It seems strange to see that the mass unfollowing is optional, considering that you are about to disable Google Buzz completely. The option also shows that there's a connection between Buzz followers and Reader followers, but I don't see why you need to unfollow from everyone in Google Reader to disable Google Buzz.

After you click on "Yes, delete my profile and posts", you'll notice that you didn't actually disable Google Buzz completely. You've deleted all your posts, removed your connections and the people you were following, but the Buzz section from Gmail is still there and you still have the same followers. Now you can click "turn off Buzz" and you'll disable Google Buzz.

It would be great to be able to remove Google Buzz from the "edit services" page, without having to delete the profile and remove Google Reader followers, while still seeing the Buzz section in Gmail.

Update: The option to delete your Google Buzz data can also be found in Gmail's settings.

Google. No Configuration Needed

Google usually releases products that don't require a lot of configuration. Sometimes Google's services try to be clever and use some existing data to derive the settings. Here are some examples of features that would normally require user input, but Google decided that it's not necessary:

1. Google Desktop has a small feed reader that shows the latest posts from your favorite sites. Google decided that it's too complicated to manually subscribe to each site, so the feed reader subscribes to all the sites you visit.

2. Google Chrome lets you customize your favorite search engines, but it adds all the sites you visit to the list of search engines, assuming that you've used their search pages. "Google Chrome automatically saves a list of the search engines you've encountered while browsing the Web. For example, if you visit, the browser auto-detects and adds the YouTube search engine to your list of search engines that you can access from the address bar," explains Google.

3. Gmail automatically adds email addresses to your contact list. If you've sent an email to someone, Gmail adds the email address to the contact list. "Email addresses are automatically added to your Contacts list each time you use the Reply, Reply to all, or Forward functions to send messages to addresses not previously stored in your Contacts list. If these addresses don't appear immediately, try waiting a few minutes or signing out of your account and signing back in," mentions Gmail's help center.

4. Gmail Chat's default settings help you add many people to your buddy list without having to invite them. "If there are other Gmail users whom you frequently email, you'll be able to chat and see each other online without having to send an invitation. Gmail automatically determines which contacts you'll be able to talk to without having to invite each other," informs Google Chat Help. It's not clear Google defines "frequently", but 2-3 email messages are enough to have a new buddy.

5. The initial version of Google Reader's friend sharing subscribed to the shared items of all your Gmail Chat friends. Even if the shared items were public, they weren't automatically sent to other people unless they subscribed to your feed. At that time, many Google Reader found the new feature intrusive or only annoying. "I think the basic mistake here (...) is that the people on my contact list are not necessarily my "friends". I have business contacts, school contacts, family contacts, etc., and not only do I not really have any interest in seeing all of their feed information, I don't want them seeing mine either. This is a major privacy problem," explained a user.

Google addressed the issues eight months later. "You've given us lots of feedback on the way our experimental sharing features work and we heard you loud and clear: you want more control over your sharing. We've been working hard to create a more flexible way to let you choose who to share with; you can now manage a Friends list within Reader, separate from your Gmail chat contacts."

6. Google Buzz's original implementation made the same mistake as Google Reader's friend sharing, but the changes affected more people. As Gmail's blog admits, Google Buzz automatically subscribed you to some of your Gmail contacts and automatically connected Google Reader shared items and public Picasa Web albums. "With Google Buzz, we wanted to make the getting started experience as quick and easy as possible, so that you wouldn't have to manually peck out your social network from scratch."

Sometimes features that don't require configuration have side-effects that might affect your user experience or your privacy. Gmail clutters the contact list and makes it difficult to manage, Gmail Chat automatically determines your friends using basic heuristics, while Google Buzz starts to share your public photos and favorite blog posts with the people automatically added to Gmail's chat list. A clever service might save you time, but it shouldn't make important decisions for you.

February 16, 2010

Server Clipboard in Google Docs

Bogdan, a reader of this blog, spotted a new Google Docs feature: server clipboard. It seems to be an implementation of Google Cloudboard, an online clipboard that should help you copy content between Google services like Gmail, Google Calendar or Google Docs. Cloudboard should make it easy to copy a spreadsheet in a Google Docs document or copy a Google Calendar event in a Gmail message.

I couldn't find this feature in Google Docs, so it's probably a test. Hopefully, the new clipboard will work well in all browsers without having to change advanced settings. Right now, if you click on Edit/Copy in Firefox, Google Docs shows this message: "Your browser does not allow access to your computer's clipboard. Instead, please use Ctrl-C for Copy, Ctrl-X for Cut and Ctrl-V for Paste, or use Edit menu above the browser toolbar".

Update. Some details from Google's help article:

"There are a few specific cases in which the best way to copy and paste is using the server clipboard menu. When you copy a selection using this menu, the content you copy is stored and associated with your Google Account. That means you can copy more than one selection and then choose which one to paste later; it also means you can copy something on one computer and then paste it on another."

The article mentions that you might see "different formats that you can choose from to paste what you've copied (for example, HTML or plain text)".

It's also interesting to see that Google stores all the content you copy to the server clipboard for 30 days.

"Content you copy to the server clipboard is stored on Google's servers and remains there until 30 days have passed since you last took action on (for example, copied) a given content selection. Even if a document is deleted, anything you copied from that document to the server clipboard will still exist on Google's servers for that 30-day period. You can delete all items stored on the server clipboard by clicking the drop-down menu and selecting Clear all items."

Show the Number of Search Results in Google Mobile Search

For some reason, Google decided that the mobile search interface should no longer display the number of search results. Even if the number of results is only an estimation, I sometimes find it useful. For example, if Google returns a small number of results, it's a good idea to try another query.

Google's mobile interface optimized for smartphones includes a "more" option at the bottom of the page. Click on "more", select "search within results" and you'll see a new page that shows the number of search results.

If you don't want to open a new page to see the number of results, check the URL of the "search within results" page. The last parameter (swrnum) shows the number of results.

February 13, 2010

Google Buzz Tips

Here are some tips that help you use Google Buzz in new interesting ways.

1. Send direct messages.

If you'd like to send a private message to someone, type @ and use Gmail's autocomplete feature to find the email address of your contact. After typing the message, make sure that the private option is selected, click on "Post to other groups" and create an empty group. You could call it "No one", "Empty group" etc. Now you can send your message.

When you send a private message, Google Buzz lets you select one or more groups that will receive message, but you can also include the contacts in your message.

2. Disable email notifications.

When someone replies to one of your Google Buzz messages, Google sends an email notification to your Gmail account. If you don't like the notifications or they clutter your inbox, create a filter that archives or deletes all the messages that are labeled "buzz" (a built-in Gmail label). Make sure you type label:buzz (you could also use is:buzz) in the "Has the words" box and ignore Gmail's warning.

3. Add more connected sites.

Google Buzz lets you import content from services like Google Reader, Picasa, Blogger, Twitter, Flickr, but it's not obvious how to add other sites. Let's say you want to add your FriendFeed profile or the feed of your site. To do that, you need to make sure that the site links to your Google Profile or to one of the services that are associated with your Google Profile.

Google explains how to add a link to your profile and how to include a special markup (rel="me") that offers more information about the link.

<link rel="me" type="text/html" href="" />

Unfortunately, you can't connect the site immediately after you add the link. Google needs to crawl the site before updating the connections. "When the site is re-crawled the mutual claim will be verified and feeds associated with the site will be made available within Google Buzz for the verified user."

4. Link to a Google Buzz message.

If a message is public, it has a permalink that could be used to share the discussion. Gmail shows the links without having to use additional options, but it's not obvious that the timestamp of the message is actually a permalink.

5. Quickly open Google Buzz.

If you've enabled keyboard shortcuts in Gmail, type g b from any Gmail view and you'll open Google Buzz.

Some other useful shortcuts:

Shift+l - like a message
m - mute (ignore) a conversation
r - add a comment
p / n - go to the newer / older conversation
o - expand conversation

6. Hide Google Buzz's counter.

Google Buzz's message counter is distracting, so it would be nice to hide it. Unfortunately, there's no Gmail option that lets you hide counter, but you can hide the link to Google Buzz. Drag "Buzz" to the "X more" drop-down and you can hide the Buzz label.

7. Subscribe to a Google Buzz account in a feed reader.

Google posts each public message to the user's profile page. Open the profile page and click on the orange icon displayed by your browser to subscribe to the feed. A Google Buzz feed has an address that looks like this:<USERNAME>/public/posted

8. Find public Google Buzz messages.

If you thought that Google Buzz's search box is restricted to your social connections, think again. Google Buzz's search feature shows the latest public messages that match your query.

Some useful searches:

author:<insertname> - find all the messages written by a specific user (you can also use a partial name instead of an email address)

commenter:<insertname> - find all the messages that have a comment from a specific user

has:photo, has:video, has:link - restricts the results to messages that include photos, videos or links (for example: vancouver has:photo)

source:flickr, source:twitter, source:reader- restricts the results to messages imported from Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader (for example: vancouver source:flickr)

9. Save searches

You can bookmark your favorite Buzz searches by enabling the Quick Links feature from Gmail Labs. After performing a search, click on "Add quick link" and add a name for your bookmark.

10. View Google Buzz photos in a slideshow

When you upload photos to Google Buzz, they're added to Picasa Web Albums. If you click on a thumbnail, Google Buzz will open a lightbox to help you quickly navigate between images. Unfortunately, there's no option to view the images in a slideshow, but Picasa Web Albums has this feature and there's a small link that opens the photo album. Click on "view all" and you can select the slideshow option, export photos using Picasa or print photos.

11. Add rich text messages

You can use the same tricks that work in Google Talk to write rich text messages:

*bold message*
_italic message_
-deleted message-

12. Google Buzz on a map

Use the address of the mobile Google Maps interface to see Google Buzz messages from all over the world. There's also a list view for nearby messages.

{ Thanks, KosciaK. }

Google Buys Aardvark

Google acquired Aardvark, a start-up that helps you find answers to your questions in an interesting way.

"Aardvark is a new kind of tool that lets you tap into the knowledge and experience of friends and friends-of-friends. Send Aardvark a question (from the web, IM, email, Twitter, or iPhone) and you'll get a quick, helpful response from someone with the right knowledge and experience to help," explains the FAQ page.

Instead of sending a question to all your Twitter followers or Facebook friends, you could use Aardvark and send the question to those that have the expertise to answer it. When you sign up for Aardvark, you need to enter your main interests. Aardvark automatically tags questions, tries to find the users that could answer the questions and sends them the questions.

Aardvark uses a lot of signals to determine the people that receive your question: related topics in profiles, how you're connected to people, who you trust, your history of training Aardvark, people who share your favorites (for taste-related questions), people in the right location (for location-related questions). It's quite clever and it's very similar to Google's ranking algorithms. Instead of matching a query to the best search results, Aardvark matches a question to the best people that can answer it.

"On average, we have to contact eight people to get two who are willing and online. But we look at thousands in order to build the list of the top prospects," explains Nicholas Chim, a senior engineer at Aardvark.

This is the future of social search and Google is already in the process of integrating social search with standard search results. For now, Google indexes existing user-generated content from your social connections, but it's not difficult to anticipate that Google Social Search will generate new content.

"When you need an answer to a very specific question, sometimes the information just isn't online in one simple place. For example, let's say you want to know if there's snow on Skyline Boulevard on a given day or the best time of year to plant beans in the Bay Area. You might find weather reports and planting guides on many different sites, but for these kinds of questions, a person with the right expertise can be a lot more useful than a webpage," mentions Google's blog.

Aardvark's acquisition is special for many reasons: Aardvark's chief executive is a former Google employee, the service is still available even if it was acquired by Google and it's the first acquisition directly added to Google Labs.

"Aardvark is meant for tips, advice, opinions, and recommendations that pull knowledge from a trusted network." Here's an example of conversation:

A Google Labs user posted a way to find if it's a good idea to ask a question using Aardvark:

"Ask subjective questions that are interesting for someone to answer and rich in context. My rule of thumb is to ask anything that could be better answered if I gave a second sentence of context. If no second sentence would really help get me a better answer (like "who was the 40th president?") then it's probably a better question for Google."

It will be interesting to see how Aardvark integrates with Google Buzz, Google Talk and Google Search.

February 12, 2010

YouTube Video Speed Stats

Video Speed History is a new YouTube feature that shows information about your video download speed and the average speed for your ISP, your city and your country. YouTube also shows the average global speed, which is now 2.91 Mbps.

YouTube's goal is to help you compare the video speed from your ISP with similar numbers from other ISPs. "Video speed is an important part of your viewing experience since it determines the amount of time you need to wait before you can start watching a video. It is also an important factor in determining the quality of the video you can watch. By making the video speed history data available, we hope to better inform you of speed issues as they relate to your viewing experience, and give you the ability to compare your speed numbers with other users in your region," mentions YouTube.

Average speed in the US = 3.62 Mbps

Average speed in Japan = 5.53 Mbps

Wired thinks that "this level of transparency could pressure ISPs not to slow down data from YouTube, because it will be clear to consumers if a given provider offers a poor connection". It's also a great way to compare ISPs and to test your Internet connection, but you should take the results with a grain of salt because the speed numbers are only for YouTube video traffic.

Tip. Some YouTube videos have an additional option in the contextual menu: "show video info". This feature shows information about the video and some streaming stats.

Google Maps Labs

When a product doesn't have many users, it's easy to add new features, even if they're still experimental. But how can you test new features in popular services like Gmail, Google Docs or Blogger? One solution is to launch a labs section with experimental features that can be enabled by early adopters.

Google Maps is the latest Google service that adds a labs section with cool features that aren't ready for prime time. As Google says, the features "may change, break or disappear at any time".

The most interesting feature available in Gmail Maps Labs is aerial imagery, which shows a "rotatable, high-resolution overhead imagery presented in a new perspective". Unfortunately, the aerial view is only available in a few locations from the US, including Googleplex.

"This new perspective gives users the ability to tilt their view of the world. In addition to seeing hotel rooftops like in our current "satellite" view, users can now see both the rooftop and sides of the hotel at an angle. In fact, users can rotate around all the sides of a hotel to get 4 different views from back to front," explained Google in a post from December.

Another great feature is drag&zoom, which lets you select a part of the map before zooming. This way, the results are more precise and if you don't have to constantly click on the map to find a location.

Did you know that you can search for * and Google Maps shows the top results from the current view? If you don't want to remember this trick, enable the "What's around here" option and Google Maps will add a new button that searches for *.

If you want to find the latitude and longitude of a point using Google Maps, enable "LatLng Marker", right click on a location and select "Drop LatLng Marker". If you use this feature a lot, you should enable a more advanced option that shows the latitude and longitude in a tooltip.

{ Thanks, Pascal. }

February 11, 2010

Google Buzz's Inefficient Photo Uploader

Here's another reason why limiting Picasa Web Albums to only 250 albums for the free version and 1000 albums for paid accounts doesn't make any sense. When you upload photos using Google Buzz, Google creates a new album to store your photos.

That means you can upload photos less than 250 times and Google Buzz albums clutter the interface. Another issue is that storing photos in separate albums is inefficient and you can't delete the albums because your photos will no longer be available in Google Buzz.

Picasa Web Albums limitations:

As you accumulate more pictures in Picasa Web Albums, please keep in mind your account limits. These limits differ depending on the storage plan you're using:

For users with the standard (free) one GB of storage, the following limits apply:

* Maximum number of web albums: 250
* Maximum number of photos per web album: 500

Users with upgraded storage have the following limits:

* Maximum number of web albums: 1000
* Maximum number of photos per web album: 1000

Google Buzz Makes Your Profile Searchable

An unexpected side effect of enabling Google Buzz is that your Google Profile automatically becomes searchable. Until now, you could edit your profile and only show your nickname publicly. When you activate Google Buzz, it automatically enables this option: "Display my full name so I can be found in search" and your full name becomes searchable. Google mentions that "changing your name here will change it in all Google products".

If you try disable the option in your Google profile, you'll no longer be able to post a new Google Buzz message until the option is enabled. Google will show this message:

That means Google Profile Search indexes all the profiles of Google Buzz users. Since Google Buzz is automatically enabled if you use Gmail, almost all Gmail users are listed.

February 10, 2010

Upload Multiple Photos to Picasa Web Albums

For some strange reason, you can't upload more than 5 photos at once in Picasa Web Albums and you need to manually select each photo.

Gmail and Google Docs use a Flash uploader, but Picasa Web Albums recommends to install Picasa if you want to upload photos. Internet Explorer users are lucky because they can install an ActiveX for uploading photos.

Fortunately, Google Buzz lets you upload multiple photos at once and it stores the files in Picasa Web Albums. That means you can use it to upload photos, without installing Picasa or the ActiveX control.

Open Gmail, go to the "Buzz" section, pretend you are posting a new message and click on "Photo". Select the photos you want to upload, add them to your message, but don't post the message.

If you go to Picasa Web Albums, you'll notice a new album that includes your photos. Using the "Organize and reorder" option, you can move the photos to another album.

Google Search Options for Q&A Sites

Google tests a new option that lets you restrict the results to Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers, Stack Overflow or Askville. After enabling "search options", users click on "discussions" and select the "Q&As" category.

Google's smart snippets include some useful information: the number of answers, the date of the most recent answers. Not all question answering sites show the status of a question, but Google is able to detect solved questions.

Depending on your query, you might want to read a brief answer or a detailed response. Google lets you find web pages that include short, medium or long answers.

You can try this feature by changing your Google cookie. Go to and paste this in the address bar:

If you're not in the US and Google redirects you to a different domain, replace with the appropriate domain.

February 9, 2010

Google Buzz

Google has never managed to create a successful social network. Orkut's success is limited to Brazil and India, iGoogle's latest update was a let down and Google Friend Connect is still in its infancy.

In 2007, Gmail's code included some details about a feature that showed updates from your contacts. Google intended to create activity streams and share them with your friends. That feature wasn't ready to be launched, but Google unveiled the first piece of the puzzle: unified profiles.

Interestingly, in 2007 four ex-Googlers launched FriendFeed, a service that allowed you to share interesting pages with your friends and use them as the starting point for a meaningful conversation. FriendFeed was acquired by Facebook last year.

It took Google more than two years to launch a product for sharing and discussing ideas with your friends. It's called Google Buzz and it's integrated with many Google services, including Gmail and Google Maps.

"Buzz lets you share updates, photos, links, and pretty much anything else you'd like with your Gmail contacts; it's an easy way to follow your friends, too. When you click Buzz in your Gmail account, you'll see the stream of posts from people you're following, and a box for you to post your updates," explains a help article.

Much like FriendFeed, Google Buzz lets you import content from sites like Twitter, Flickr or Google Reader. You can follow interesting people, flag the items you like, add comments and get notifications in your inbox.

"There's a FriendFeed in my Gmail," commented Paul Buchheit, the ex-Googler who created Gmail and co-founded FriendFeed.

Google Buzz will be added to your Gmail account in the coming days, but Gmail is just one of the interfaces that will integrate Google Buzz. You can already try Google Buzz on your mobile phone by visiting if you have an iPhone or an Android phone.

"We focused on making the sharing experience really rich by integrating photos, videos, and links. No more fuzzy little pictures: Buzz makes it easy to quickly flip through photos and experience them the way they were meant to be seen: big and full-resolution. And videos play inline so you can watch them without opening a new window. You can choose to share publicly with the world or privately to a small group of friends each time you post," informs Gmail's blog.

Update. Here's the launch event video:

February 8, 2010

Google's Super Bowl Ad

Google's search engine didn't become popular because of advertising. Many people liked that it returned relevant results, it was fast and had a simple interface, so they told their friends to try it.

Google rarely used traditional advertising to promote its products, but that started to change in 2007, when Google used billboards to promote GOOG-411. Last year, Google aggressively promoted Chrome using flashy ads.

Despite the noticeable cultural shift, it's still surprising to see that Google decided to promote its search engine at the Super Bowl.

"If you watched the Super Bowl this evening you'll have seen a video from Google called "Parisian Love". In fact you might have watched it before, because it's been on YouTube for over three months. We didn't set out to do a Super Bowl ad, or even a TV ad for search. Our goal was simply to create a series of short online videos about our products and our users, and how they interact. But we liked this video so much, and it's had such a positive reaction on YouTube, that we decided to share it with a wider audience," explains Eric Schmidt.

Google's CEO mentioned in a Twitter message that someone told him: "Hell has indeed frozen over." This is Google's first Super Bowl ad:

Google Chrome Safe Mode

Firefox has an option that lets you temporarily disable themes and extensions, so you can still use your browser even if one of your add-ons is buggy. It's called safe mode and it's "a special Firefox execution mode that can be used to troubleshoot issues in Firefox. In Safe Mode, you can reset some settings or disable add-ons that might be the source of the issue. By comparing Firefox behavior in normal mode to its behavior in Safe Mode with various items disabled, you may be able to diagnose issues."

Google Chrome doesn't have this feature, but you can open an incognito window to temporarily disable extensions.

If you want to create a shortcut that opens Chrome in incognito mode, duplicate an existing Chrome shortcut, right-click on the shortcut, select "Properties" and append this flag to the target value: --incognito (don't forget to add a space to separate the flag).

February 3, 2010

Chrome OS Tablet Mockups

Hot on the heels of the Apple iPad announcement, Google released some mockups for Chrome OS tablets.

"On tablets, the UI would be adjusted to handle larger touch targets. Initial explorations have maintained the same basic chrome layout, but enlarged the controls. Icons could be placed above tabs to provide larger, square targets. Panels would be placed along the bottom edge and could be opened with upward dragging motions," explains Google.

Even if Chrome OS was initially designed for netbooks, Google hopes to create an operating system that works on tablets, laptops and desktop computers. "Each would have vastly different input methods, available screen space, and processing power".

Chrome OS has the advantage of a simple interface optimized for web applications. This may seem too restrictive, but Chrome, Safari, Firefox and other browsers are quickly evolving and many popular apps are migrating to the web.

{ via TechCrunch }

Better Google Search Integration in Gmail

One of the few great Hotmail features is the web search integration. When you compose a message, Hotmail lets you add maps, movie listings, local search results, images from the web without opening a new page.

Google's AJAX Search API lets you add similar features to any application, so it was surprising to see that Gmail didn't include a gadget that integrates with Google search. Last year, Gmail Labs added a Google Search gadget, but it only displayed web search results.

The Gmail Labs feature has been improved and you can now find images, maps, news articles, simple facts, weather information, definitions and even use Google Calculator from Gmail. Depending on your query, the gadget shows web search results or results from specialized search engines. Sometimes you'll see information that's usually displayed in an OneBox.

The main problem is that the gadget displays a small number of images, news articles or local search results, but there's no option to see more results from the same category. Another issue is that the specialized results are displayed only if Google finds that they're appropriate for your query.

{ via Gmail Blog }