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March 31, 2011

Blogger Views

Blogger added five dynamic templates that transform blogs into interactive apps. Just add /view to the URL of a blog that offers full feeds (for example: and you'll be able to try the new views: flipcard, mosaic, sidebar, snapshot and timeline. Blogger's templates offer features like infinite scrolling, progressive image loading, smart search, filtering posts by date, author or label. "These new views use the latest in web technology, including AJAX, HTML5 and CSS3," explains Google.

In the near future, bloggers will be able to customize the templates and use them without having to change the URL.

Microsoft's Antitrust Complaint

Microsoft will file a formal antitrust complaint against Google "as part of the European Commission's ongoing investigation into whether Google has violated European competition law". Brad Smith, Senior Vice President at Microsoft, says that Google's questionable business practices prevented competitors from gaining market share. As Brad Smith puts it, "Google has done much to advance its laudable mission to organize the world's information, but we're concerned by a broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative".

I was surprised to read some of the complaints.

"In 2006 Google acquired YouTube — and since then it has put in place a growing number of technical measures to restrict competing search engines from properly accessing it for their search results. Without proper access to YouTube, Bing and other search engines cannot stand with Google on an equal footing in returning search results with links to YouTube videos and that, of course, drives more users away from competitors and to Google."

YouTube is just a video sharing site. Google could prevent all the other search engines from indexing it and this shouldn't be a legal problem. But Google doesn't prevent other search engines from indexing YouTube: there are 284 million pages from in Bing's index. Google returns more results from (about 443 million pages), but Google owns YouTube and it can easily index all the pages. If Google prevents other search engines from indexing some videos, it's Google's problem: YouTube loses a lot of views and money from advertising.

"In 2010 and again more recently, Google blocked Microsoft's new Windows Phones from operating properly with YouTube. Google has enabled its own Android phones to access YouTube so that users can search for video categories, find favorites, see ratings, and so forth in the rich user interfaces offered by those phones. It's done the same thing for the iPhones offered by Apple, which doesn't offer a competing search service."

YouTube has some APIs for building apps, so you don't have to be a big company to develop YouTube apps. As a result, you'll find a lot of third-party YouTube apps in Apple's App Store, for example. Unfortunately, third-party apps can't use YouTube's official logo, YouTube's trademarks and there are other usage restrictions. That's probably the reason why companies like Apple, Microsoft, HTC need to partner with Google to create YouTube apps. If Microsoft couldn't reach an agreement with Google, then it's a business issue. Google has no obligation to allow other companies to create software that uses its APIs.

"Google is even restricting its customers'—namely, advertisers'—access to their own data. Advertisers input large amounts of data into Google's ad servers in the course of managing their advertising campaigns. This data belongs to the advertisers: it reflects their decisions about their own business. But Google contractually prohibits advertisers from using their data in an interoperable way with other search advertising platforms, such as Microsoft's adCenter."

AdWords offers some exporting features and even Microsoft admits that you can export AdWords data.

"One of the ways that search engines attract users is through distribution of search boxes through Web sites. Unfortunately, Google contractually blocks leading Web sites in Europe from distributing competing search boxes. It is obviously difficult for competing search engines to gain users when nearly every search box is powered by Google. Google's exclusivity terms have even blocked Microsoft from distributing its Windows Live services, such as email and online document storage, through European telecommunications companies because these services are monetized through Bing search boxes."

This seems to be a valid concern that needs to be addressed by Google. AdSense has some similar terms that prohibit using competing ad/search services on the same page, but not on the same site. The good news is that Google doesn't force the "leading Web sites in Europe" to use Google's search box and they can easily switch to Bing.

All in all, Microsoft doesn't have a strong case, but that doesn't mean that Google hasn't abused its power and that the investigation won't slow down Google. When you have 95% market share in Europe, you're almost a monopoly and an easy target for antitrust investigations.

More Google Social Search Results

When Social Search was released, Google displayed a small OneBox at the bottom of the first search results page that included relevant pages shared by your friends. A few weeks ago, Google started to show social search results anywhere on the page.

If that wasn't enough, Google added huge lists of social search results at the bottom of the second, third and fourth page of results. After the ten regular results, Google shows other ten results from your social circle. Sometimes Google's social results are useful, but that's not always the case. For example, a search for [Firefox 4] returns many outdated pages about Firefox.

It's interesting to notice that social search results need more space than the regular results:

March 30, 2011

Google +1

Google +1 is yet another attempt to make Google more social. It's Google's version of the Facebook "likes", a simple feature that's very powerful because it's part of a social network.

Google will show +1 buttons next to all search results and ads, while encouraging other sites to include the buttons. All +1's are public and they're tied to Google Profiles. The goal is to use this data to personalize search results and ads by recommending sites +1'd by your friends. Google Social Search already does this, but there's no support for Facebook likes, so Google had to come up with a substitute.

"+1 is the digital shorthand for 'this is pretty cool.' To recommend something, all you have to do is click +1 on a webpage or ad you find useful. These +1's will then start appearing in Google's search results," explains Google.

This feature is slowly rolled out to, but you can try it by enabling the +1 search experiment.

One thing is clear: Google won't have to translate "+1" when it will localize the service, but it will have a hard time translating "+1's", "+1'd" and other cryptic constructs. Google +1's URLs already look weird (here's the homepage:

Your +1's are listed in a profile tab, where you can manage them. There's also a page that lets you disable personalizing Google ads using +1's and other information from your Google profile.

Google now has the most important pieces of a social network (profiles, activity stream, likes, apps), but there's still no social network, no magic "glue" that connects the existing pieces. As Danny Sullivan explains, the "+1 social network" is made up of your Google Talk friends, the people from Gmail's "My contacts" group and the people you follow in Google Reader and Google Buzz, but you'll soon be able to connect other services like Twitter and Flickr. It's actually a meta social network, an artificial service that won't have too many enthusiastic users, just like Friend Connect.

Future Gmail Option: Disable Auto-Adding Contacts

Google's video that introduces the new Gmail ads shows another option that's not yet available outside Google. In the near future you'll be able to disable a feature that's often useful and sometimes annoying: automatically creating contacts when you send a message.

At the moment, "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," according to Gmail's help center. Gmail also adds the email addresses used when you compose a message.

The new option will allow you to disable this feature, but Google's description is strange: "Create contacts (sets whether sending or receiving a message can create a new contact)." Right now, Gmail doesn't automatically create contacts when you receive new messages. You need to reply to the messages first.

Here's the video (you can fast forward to 1:14 min).

{ Thanks, François. }

March 29, 2011

Google Docs Tests Pagination

Google Docs tests a new feature that paginates documents. It will be available from View > Document view > Paginated and you'll still be able to use the compact view.

Right now, you can paginate documents using print preview, but this only shows a read-only view and it's slow.

{ Thanks, Cédric. }

Personalized Gmail Ads

Gmail will soon start to personalize ads based on your preferences.
For example, if you've recently read a lot of messages about cameras, maybe you'd like to see an offer from your local camera shop. On the other hand, if you've reported these messages as spam, or marked them 'not important' you might not want to see that offer. Soon, some of you will start seeing fewer ads overall, and focused on subjects we hope will be important to you, at the right time.

Unlike Google Search, you can disable personalized ads from Gmail's settings page. Just make sure that this option is not checked: "Show more useful ads by using importance signals from across my messages".

"Only a few users will notice the change to begin with, but as we improve it we'll roll it out more widely. As always, ads in Gmail are fully automated - no humans read your messages - and no messages or personally identifiable information about you is shared with advertisers. We've already cut down the number of ads shown per Gmail user by more than a third, and we hope these signals will enable us to continue to show fewer, better ads in Gmail," explains Google.

Google also tests a new ad format that includes offers and coupons for your local area, which might be related to Google Offers, a service that will compete with Groupon.

Google Talk Guru

Google Talk Guru is a new Google bot that lets you ask simple questions. It's "an experimental service that allows people to get information like sports results, weather forecasts, definitions etc via chat. It works on many popular chat applications that support Google Talk."

Send an invitation to in Gmail Chat, Google Talk or any other Jabber client and find simple facts like "weather in London", "amplitude definition", "translate souris", "2^8", "web stanford" (which returns the top Google result for [stanford]).

The service is not as powerful as Google SMS, but it's still handy.

{ Thanks, Michael. }

March 28, 2011

Chrome Bookmarks Integrate with Google Search

Until recently, Google Bookmarks and Chrome Bookmarks were two separate features that didn't speak the same language. Even if you could save your Chrome bookmarks to a Google account, they weren't saved to Google Bookmarks. For some reason, your bookmarks are available in a special Google Docs folder.

Chrome bookmarks have a web interface, but it's likely that the obvious will happen: Chrome bookmarks could be saved to Google Bookmarks. Jérôme Flipo noticed that the Google Bookmarks OneBox already includes Chrome bookmarks. I've tried to find and Google's OneBox returned it even if it was starred in Chrome, not in Google Bookmarks.

March 24, 2011

Google Video Previews

Google's instant previews for video sites weren't very useful because most video sites use Flash and the software that generates thumbnails can't handle Flash. That's probably one of the reasons why Google replaced the standard screenshots with short clips from the videos. By default, the sound is muted, but you can change this setting. The feature is also available at Google Video next to some search results.

"When it comes to videos, people want to spend less time searching and more time watching. That's why we added an enhancement to Instant Previews—the ability to preview videos. Click once on the magnifying glass next to the title of any video search result in universal or video mode. For some videos, you'll now be able to play through a set of four short segments from the video to see if it’s what you’re looking for (video providers have to opt to make the previews available, so you won't find it for every video yet)," explains Google.

Even if Google announced this feature a couple of weeks ago, it's still spotty, so it may not be available for you. You can also try Bing's Video Search, which offers a similar feature that probably inspired Google.

Yahoo Search Direct

Yahoo has recently launched a new feature called Yahoo Search Direct that aims to find answers for simple questions. "Search Direct is the first fundamental shift in search in more than a decade. For the first time, driving users to a results page filled with an overwhelming number of links is not the end game. We believe Search Direct will be the simplest and fastest way to find answers, not links," suggests Yahoo.

Yahoo Search Direct doesn't show new information, but it highlights the top results and the instant answers, while displaying them as you type a query. It's a simplified version of Google Instant that only focuses on the navigational queries and the queries that request simple facts.

When I tried Yahoo Search Direct, I noticed at least two features that aren't Googley. Yahoo shows a list of "trending searches" when you click on the search box and even highlights the first suggestion. This is both distracting and confusing for the average user that expects relevant suggestions.

Another feature that's not very helpful is promoting your own services, instead of showing unbiased suggestions. When you type "w", Yahoo shows only two suggestions that seem to be manually added: "Yahoo! Weather" and "Yahoo! Widgets". Type "m" and Yahoo shows 8 suggestions that are related to Yahoo.

Yahoo Search Direct works best for queries that already returned OneBox-like instant answers: [weather in london], [MSFT], [SF Giants] and the main advantage is that the answers are displayed faster. Google tried something similar with Google Suggest, but this feature is no longer necessary now that the results are displayed as you type.

Yahoo's tool doesn't even show previews for long-tail searches, so it can't replace Google Instant.

Yahoo promises that this is "the beginning of a new era in search", but this seems to be just an exaggeration. "We've been focused on refining how you use search, enabling awesome experiences for search intents about sports, news, TV, movies, local, finance, shopping, travel, weather, trending searches or pretty much anything else. But this is just the beginning. The coverage and rich content currently available in Search Direct is a fraction of the future state. Users can expect search coverage and the use of rich content to increase dramatically in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Get ready to be more social and personalized, through a richer and more interactive experience – it's going to be sweet."

You can try the beta version of Yahoo Search Direct at, but it will soon be available at

{ Thanks, Niraj. }

Upgrading Documents to the New Google Docs Editor

Last year's update of the Google Docs word processor had an important flaw: no backwards compatibility. You couldn't open your old documents in the new editor and you couldn't even upgrade your existing documents to the new format. Even if it's not obvious, Google Docs has two word processors that handle two incompatible native formats.

The bad news is that Google can't provide a smooth upgrade path. The changes are so profound that the new Google Docs editor can't import your old documents properly. If you open a document created using the old Google Docs editor, you'll notice a message informing you that the document can be previewed in the latest version of the editor. After previewing the document, you have the option to update the document.

Unfortunately, if you update the document, you'll lose the revision history and some formatting options that were available in the old Google Docs.

"When you preview your upgraded document, you may notice that the formatting looks different. Older documents were basically webpages. To use them in the new version of Google documents, they need to be converted to a traditional word processing format. This conversion can be imperfect. It's not possible to edit the HTML of your document or use CSS after you upgrade," explains Google.

Another drawback is that you need to manually update each document. To make sure that you won't miss some features that were available in the old editor, Google didn't provide an automatic conversion option. Most people won't bother updating their documents and Google will be forced to keep the old Google Docs editor forever.

{ Thanks, Bogdan. }

March 20, 2011

Google Chrome's Experimental New Tab Page for Touch Screens

A recent Chromium build added a new option to the about:flags page: an experimental new tab page. The updated new tab page is a work in progress and it's optimized for touch screens. Right now, it only includes the web apps you've previously installed, which can be organized in multiple home screens.

"The idea with this touch NTP is to focus (for now) on apps, and make it easy
to arrange them into pages. You can swipe/drag to switch pages, and press
and hold to lift an app and rearrange it," explains Google.

I found an interesting comment in one of Google's JavaScript files: "Note that, while the product portion of the touch NTP is designed to work just in the latest version of Chrome, this hack attempts to add some support for working in older browsers to enable testing and demonstration on existing tablet platforms. In particular, this code has been tested to work on Mobile Safari in iOS 4.2. The goal is that the need to support any other browser should not leak out of this file - and so we will hack global JS objects as necessary here to present the illusion of running on the latest version of Chrome."

{ via ConceivablyTech. Thanks, François Beaufort. }

Installing an Application Using Internet Explorer 9

I tried to download the latest Chromium build using Internet Explorer 9 and it was one of the most painful downloading experiences. Microsoft tries to protect users from downloading malware and uses a feature called SmartScreen Filter that "checks software downloads against a dynamically updated list of reported malicious software sites". This feature was available in IE8, but the latest version of IE tried to improve it by analyzing application reputation.

"In analyzing software downloads actively in use on the internet today, we found that most have an established download footprint and no history of malware. This was the genesis of SmartScreen application reputation. By removing unnecessary warnings, the remaining warnings become relevant. With SmartScreen Application Reputation, IE9 warns you before you run or save a higher risk program that may be an attempt to infect your computer with socially engineered malware. IE9 also stays out of the way for downloads with an established reputation. Based on real-world data we estimate that this new warning will be seen only 2-3 times a year for most consumers compared to today where there is a warning for every software download."

Here's how difficult is to run mini_installer.exe, Chromium's installer:

Step 1: "Do you want to run or save this program"? Click "run".

Step 2: "This file is not commonly downloaded and could harm your computer." You have two options: "delete" and "actions". It's quite uncommon to label a button using a noun, but the only reasonable option is the generic "actions".

A help page explains that "when you download a program from the Internet, SmartScreen Filter will check the program against a list of programs that are downloaded by a significant number of other Internet Explorer users and a list of programs that are known to be unsafe. If the program you're downloading isn't on either list, SmartScreen Filter will display a warning that the file isn't 'commonly downloaded.' It doesn't necessarily mean the website is fraudulent or that the program is malware, but you probably shouldn't download or install the program unless you trust the website and the publisher."

Step 3: IE9 shows a modal dialog which informs you that "this program might harm your computer". Even though "SmartScreen Filter has little or no information" about the program, Microsoft's engineers thought it's a good idea to show two main options "don't run this program" and "delete program", followed by a cryptic "more options" drop-down. I clicked "more options" because I really wanted to install the program. (Update: this step was skipped the second time I tried to install the same file.)

Step 4: Microsoft finally shows the obvious option: "run anyway", but still recommends not to run the program.

There's a fine line between protecting users and annoying them, but IE9 managed to cross it.

March 19, 2011

Quickly Edit Google Calendar Events

You no longer have to double click on a Google Calendar event to edit its name. Now you can just click on the event's name and quickly edit it from the description balloon.

{ Thanks, Maarten. }

March 16, 2011

Google Docs Discussions

Google Docs improved the commenting system, by adding support for conversations.

"To start, we've improved the discussion flow by adding ownership and edit rights to individual comments. Each comment now has a timestamp and profile picture. Google Docs doesn't force you to delete comments. Instead, you can resolve comments to remove them from the visible document and view them later by clicking the discussions button at the top of any document," mentions Google.

One of the most useful new features is the support for notifications, which works just like in Google Buzz. Reply to a comment and the author of that comment will get an email notification. He'll be able to answer to your reply from the email interface, without having to visit Google Docs. Google also sends notifications if you're mentioned in a thread.

Unfortunately, discussions are only available for new documents. Google says that the explanation is that the new feature includes "a number of significant improvements".

{ Thanks, Andrew. }

New Chrome Logo

The latest Chrome Dev Channel release comes with a new Chrome logo that's more plain and boring, but looks better as a desktop icon. Even if not many people will switch to a different browser just because they don't like the new logo, Chrome lost some of its magic by switching to a visual identity that's no longer vibrant and picturesque. Here's the new Chrome icon:

... and the old Chrome icon:

There's also a new logo for Chromium, the open source browser that powers Google Chrome:

{ Thanks, Kuba, Stefan, Dani, Daniel and Cameron. }

Google's iPhone App, a Preview of the Mobile Search Interface

Google updated the search app for iPhone and unveiled a completely new interface that uses gestures for navigation. There are only two gestures, but they're so simple, powerful and intuitive that I'm sure they'll be used in other mobile Google interfaces.

"When browsing through search results or looking at a webpage, you can swipe down to see the search bar or change your settings. (...) We also included a new toolbar that will make it easier for you to filter your results. You can open this toolbar by swiping from left to right — either before you search or once you've got your results," explains Google.

The new gestures are easy to learn and they're more expressive than buttons. You can swipe down to see the search box even after clicking a search result.

March 15, 2011

No More Starred Results in Google Search

Last year, Google replaced SearchWiki with starred results. You only had to click on a star to bookmark a search result and to quickly find it later.

Unfortunately, this feature is no longer available and you have to find other ways to bookmark search results: bookmarklets, Google Toolbar and other extensions.

A Google employee confirmed this change. "The Star feature no longer exists on Google. The Star function continues to exist through though. Anything you previously starred will show up when you visit bookmarks."

Starred results and SearchWiki were really useful for refinding web pages, but probably not many people used them. These features were a lot more useful than Instant Preview, which is still available.

{ Thanks, Joel. }

March 14, 2011

WebM Plugin for Internet Explorer 9

Internet Explorer 9 will be released later today and one of the many new features is the native support for videos. Unfortunately for Google, Microsoft decided to only support H.264 videos by default, so you can't watch WebM videos without installing additional software.

To solve this problem, Google developed a WebM plugin for IE9. "They said elephants couldn't ride flying dolphins. They said that one of the world's most popular browsers couldn't play WebM video in HTML5. They were wrong," mentions Google half-jokingly.

The plugin only works on Windows 7 and Windows Vista, the two operating systems supported by IE9. Google suggests to search for WebM videos on YouTube, but I'm not sure if the plugin was really necessary since YouTube's HTML5 player also works with H.264 videos.

Last month, Microsoft released a plugin for watching H.264 videos in Google Chrome that will be useful when Google drops support for the popular codec.

Google Toolbar 8, Powered by Google Chrome

After Google released Chrome, Google Toolbar's development slowed down. That's because Google Toolbar is no longer the primary vehicle for adding browser features and Google mostly focused on improving Chrome.

Google Toolbar 8 is a completely new version of Google's add-on that was available as part of Google Labs. "Google Toolbar 8 is actually built and runs on top of the Google Chrome Frame platform. This means that Toolbar 8 will run more like a web app in that it can be customized and updated much more frequently and easily. It also means that Google Chrome Frame is installed at the time of Toolbar 8 installation," explains Google.

The new version of Google's toolbar only works in Internet Explorer right now and it doesn't include all the features that are currently available in the latest public version. Google included some new features: buttons for the most visited sites, Google Dictionary integration and Google Instant. "Google Toolbar displays up to seven of your most visited sites as buttons. Click on a button to go directly to its site. When you download the new Google Toolbar your toolbar will display buttons for Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Youtube, Google News, Google Reader and Google Tasks by default."

Upcoming Blogger Features

Google rarely preannounces new features, so I was really surprised to see a video that highlights some upcoming Blogger features. Google's video does a great job at enumerating the latest Blogger improvements, while asking people: "Have you looked at Blogger lately?".

Google plans to unveil a completely new Blogger interface, mobile templates for blogs (which are already available at Blogger in Draft) and a feature that lets you find related posts and videos.

Here's the video:

March 12, 2011

Chrome 12 Will Drop Support for Google Gears

While most Chrome users have been upgraded to Chrome 10, Google is fixing the bugs from Chrome 11 and working on Chrome 12. A recent Chromium build made a significant change: Gears is no longer included in Google Chrome.

Gears is a browser plugin released by Google back in 2007, The initial goal was to add support for offline web apps, but the plugin added many other HTML5 features at a time when HTML5 wasn't a priority for most browsers. Google discontinued Gears last year to focus on "bringing all of the Gears capabilities into web standards like HTML5" and to implement them in Google Chrome. Features like geolocation, notifications, web workers, application caches are already available in Google Chrome, so it's probably the right time to stop bundling the Gears plugin.

"With all this now available in HTML5, it's finally time to say goodbye to Gears. There will be no new Gears releases, and newer browsers such as Firefox 4 and Internet Explorer 9 will not be supported. We will also be removing Gears from Chrome in Chrome 12," informs Google.

What's surprising is that important services like Gmail and Google Calendar still use Gears to work offline. Other services like Google Docs and Google Reader dropped offline support last year. Google promised that they will use HTML5 features implemented in browsers like Chrome or Firefox, but that hasn't materialized yet.

March 11, 2011

Block Sites from Google's Results

You no longer have to use Google's Chrome extension to hide the results from certain domains. The feature is now available at and the best thing is that the list of blocked sites is saved to your Google Account.

To try this feature, make sure that you are using in English. Click on a search result, then go back to the list of results. You'll notice that there's a new link next to the result you've just clicked: "block all [domain.tld] results".

If you block an entire domain, you'll no longer see results from that site. You'll only notice a small box at the bottom of the search results page which informs you that you've blocked certain results.

There's also a page that lets you manage your blacklist and manually block sites. "Sites will be blocked only for you, but Google may use everyone's blocking information to improve the ranking of search results overall. You may block up to 500 sites."

As Barry Schwarz points out, blocking sites is not a novelty: in 2005, Google tested a similar option. "If you're in this experiment, you'll have newfound powers. Click the 'Remove result' link and with one click you can drop that url from your search results. By default, it will only block that url for that particular search. If you're really annoyed, you can click 'More options' and you'll get two more choices: block this url from all future searches and the ability to block the entire host from all future searches," explained Matt Cutts at that time. The experiment wasn't successful, but Google partially resurrected this feature in SearchWiki: you could only hide a search result for a specific query.

I think that blocking an entire site from Google's results is a feature that's way too powerful for a regular user. Some might use it accidentally and find that Google's results are suddenly less relevant. Google could add a link for explicit feedback ("Not useful?") and use that information to personalize search results.

Google's Navigation Bar Links to Your Google Profile

Google's new navigation bar started to link to the profile pages. Click on your name at the top of a Google page and you'll notice that you can quickly access your profile. If you don't have a profile, Google includes a link to a page that lets you create an account.

Another change is that Google Profiles include a new tab for Picasa Web Albums, but it's not enabled by default and it's not available if you don't link your Google Profile with Picasa Web. "Your profile and scrapbook photos already make it easier for people to get to know you, but we want to do more to help you showcase your favorite pics. By choosing to show the PicasaWeb tab, you will enable visitors to see your public albums. Private albums will remain visible to only the people you've shared them with directly."

{ Thanks, Stefan. }

March 10, 2011

Google's Word Count Experiment

Google tests a new feature that shows the approximate number of words next to certain search results. The word count is usually displayed for articles, but only for a small number of results. You'll probably think twice before clicking on a search result that has 50,000 words, unless you're looking for an in-depth report.

Maybe Google will also add an advanced search feature that lets you restrict the search results to short articles or long documents. A summarization feature would also be helpful.