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January 5, 2011

Top 10 Google Labs Projects From 2010

Google Labs is the place where you can find a lot of experimental services that are developed by Google engineers in their "20 percent time". As Jeffrey Ressner points out, "Labs began [back in 2002] when Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to allow engineers and programmers to devote 20 percent of their time, or one day each week, to projects of their own choosing. It was a bold move, but Page and Brin figured the great minds they hired would be even more creative if they were given free rein to unleash their imaginations and cultivate their personal interests instead of spending all their energies on assigned tasks." Aparna Chennapragada, product manager for Google Labs, says that Google tried to "remove all friction between the idea and the experiment".

Features like Google Suggest or Social Search and services like iGoogle, Google Reader, Google Local or Google Docs started as Labs projects. Here are some of the best services and features released in Google Labs, Gmail Labs, TestTube and other similar places in 2010:

1. Google Scribe is a powerful tool that uses aggregated data from Web pages to provide suggestions as you type. It could become an useful Google Docs feature and it could improve the suggestions provided by the default Android keyboard.

2. Body Browser, a WebGL application developed by the Google Health team that shows a detailed 3D model of the human body. Try it in Chrome 9 beta or Firefox 4 beta.

3. YouTube Leanback - a YouTube interface designed for Google TV or any other big screen. The great thing about YouTube Leanback is that it doesn't require interaction, so you can quickly watch the videos added to the queue or the latest videos from your subscribed channels.

4. Apps Search - a Gmail Labs feature that lets you search your Gmail messages, Google Docs files and Google Sites pages from a single search box. If Google shows results from other services and improves the interface, this feature could become very useful. Imagine searching your contacts, calendars, bookmarks, files and your browsing history from a single search box.

5. YouTube's HTML5 player has improved a lot ever since it was launched, back in January 2010. It now supports WebM videos and it works in most browsers: Chrome, Opera, Safari and the latest beta versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer. YouTube even offers a new embedding code that triggers the HTML5 player if your browser supports it and Adobe Flash is not installed.

6. Aardvark, a social Q&A service acquired by Google last year, hasn't improved since its acquisition, but it has a lot of potential to make search more social. Google Spreadsheets also started as a Google Labs project, even though it was the result of an acquisition.

7. Public Data Explorer "makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate". This could be a great way to make Google Search more visual and more interactive.

8. Google Books Ngram Viewer is a Google Trends for books. It's useful if you want to see how often certain words or phrases have been used in books over time.

9. Google Reader Play - a new way to view your feeds and the most popular blog posts on the Web. The interface works well for photo blogs, comics and videos.

10. Google Calendar's Gentle Reminders replaces annoying pop-ups with a blinking tab and a notification sound. If you use Google Chrome, you'll also see desktop notifications.

It's interesting to see that most of the services are related to data visualization, cutting-edge browser features and productivity.


  1. The Google labs Ngram Viewer is either the greatest research tool since the Dewey Decimal System or the internet’s most colossal, pernicious time suck.

  2. Google Scribe is cool. YouTube's HTML5 player for me just isn't good enough as the Flash version, at least for the moment.

  3. They need to bring back google notebook! I'm still using it daily but I need the Firefox plugin, which is outdated.

  4. ditto, the google notebook! I use it daily and need it!

  5. Definitely need to upgrade the YouTube HTML5 player. It's better but still not nearly on-par with the Flash version.

    Love all the other Labs though. It feels like Gmail has as many or more labs than the rest of Google combined.

  6. Right on BOB!

    I have tried many substitutes for Google notebook and the plug-in from FireFox, but all fall short.

    Would it kill them to make a deal with FireFox for the plug-in to work with Google Notebook then ignore any improvements on it?

  7. Youtube HTML5 works very well with Firefox 4 beta. Much better than the flash version that requires plugin-container.exe and takes up way too much resources.

  8. @jasonvaritekfan : Youtube's HTML5 player though not better than the flash version has a huge corporate advantage as it will remove Google's dependency over Adobe. I haven't tried Google Scribe yet, let's see how it turns out.

  9. i was pretty much excited about google ngram viewer, but i think it was just much hyped

  10. I am outraged at google.
    Never saw or had this before....
    ALWAYS INCLUDE populating my reply.
    NEVER equested. no instructions to remove.
    no idea it happens and sends INAPPROPRIATELY until after the fact.
    NO ALERT from gmail.
    No fix, disable that works.

    GOOGLE GMAIL should be ashamed for springing this on us and not allowing us to opt out.


    Send me an email on how to disable. your instructions do not work. No way to remove always include, and it doesn't appear until after email is sent.

    Gmail needs an attitude adjustment. how dare you autopopulate this crap w/o approval, opt in.

    I want an explanation and a fix IMMEDIATEly. this has gone on for 2 weeks now.

  11. Google Scribe is cool. YouTube's HTML5 player for me just isn't good enough as the Flash version, at least for the moment.


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