An unofficial blog that watches Google's attempts to move your operating system online since 2005. Not affiliated with Google.

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April 30, 2009

Add Search Results to Gmail Messages

The most recent addition to Gmail Labs is a feature that lets you quickly add Google search results to a message. Instead of opening a new tab, typing the query and copying the results, you can now search directly from Gmail. The box that shows up lets you copy the results or just the web addresses, but you can also drag the links to your message.



The feature is useful for navigational searches, when the top result is usually the best answer and it's not necessary to click on the result. Gmail should extend the dialog for creating links with the option to pick from search results. Maybe a future iteration of the Gmail Labs mod will include results from specialized search engines: images, videos, local businesses, maps, products etc. The samples that are available for Google AJAX Search API illustrate some other potential uses for clipping search results.

How to enable it? Go to Gmail Labs, type Ctrl+F, search for "Google search", enable the feature and click on "Save changes". Use it when you compose a new message by typing your query in the left sidebar. If the keyboard shortcuts are enabled, type g and / to focus the search box.

{ Thanks, Sterling. }

Themes for Google Docs Forms

You can now choose between 70 themes when you create a form in Google Docs to make it look more attractive. Some of the templates already use themes, so they're almost ready to be published.

"How do you choose a theme? When you're editing a form, click the Theme button to find the right theme and apply it to your form. One caveat: These themes will be visible to your respondents when they fill out the form online, not within email (like Gmail)," mentions Google Docs' blog.



The images are served from googleusercontent.com, an interesting domain that could be used in the future for hosting user-generated content.

Swine Flu Trends

Last year, Google released a report which showed that flu-related search terms are good indicators of flu activity. Google Flu Trends uses information about the popularity of some searches in the US to estimate flu activity almost in real-time.

The experiment has been expanded to the searches from Mexico, the country that has the largest number of reported cases of swine flu. "Unlike Google Flu Trends for U.S., Experimental Flu Trends for Mexico was not built using historical data on flu symptoms. This means the models have not been checked against actual historic flu data from Mexico and thus the estimates you see for Mexico are unverified. The models for Mexico are based on aggregated search queries likely to be associated with influenza-like illness."


Google's search data showed that flu-related queries started to become more frequent this month. "Last week, at the request of the Centers for Disease Control, Google took a retroactive look at its search data from Mexico. And there the team found a pre-media bump in telltale flu-related search terms (you know, "influenza + phlegm + coughing") that was inconsistent with standard, seasonal flu trends," reports Wired. "The system has detected increases in flu-related searches in Mexico City (Distrito Federal) and a few other Mexican states in recent days, beginning early in the week of April 19-25," informs Google's blog.

A map that lists the latest cases of swine flu is available at Google Maps.

April 29, 2009

AdSense Reports in Google Analytics

The integration between Google Analytics and Google AdSense is a significant upgrade for AdSense's limited reports. Until now, AdSense didn't offer reports for individual pages and users had to manually create custom channels to track the performance for up to 200 pages.

The AdSense section from Google Analytics includes a lot of new information: the list of pages that bring the most important revenue, the most profitable referrers and you can find even more by creating custom segments.

Here are some things I was able to find from the reports:

* 63% of this month's revenue was from visitors who use IE, even if only 38.42% of the visits were from Internet Explorer users.


* 6.18% of the revenue was from Mac users, even if 10.24% of the visits were from Mac users.


* the visitors that come from Google Search click on the ads less than those that come from Yahoo Search and Live Search.


* new visitors are more likely to click on ads than returning visitors.


Google Analytics blog has more details about the integration and the way you can link your AdSense account with Google Analytics.

April 28, 2009

Gmail Runs Faster in Google Chrome

Google continues to inform us that all of its services run faster in Google Chrome. This time, Gmail shows a green bar that says: "Gmail runs faster in Google Chrome".


I'm not sure if Google's promotional video is convincing enough, but users who think that Gmail is slow or not fast enough will be curious to try Chrome.


{ Thanks, Rising Shixi. }

Google's Public Data Visualization

Interesting timing. On the same day when Stephen Wolfram shows a demonstration of his knowledge engine Wolfram | Alpha, Google launched a new OneBox that visualizes public data. If you search for [Florida Unemployment Rate], Google shows an answer ("9.5% of the labor force - Not seasonally adjusted - Mar 2009"), the source and a graph that illustrates how the unemployment rate changed over time.



For now, you can only search for data related to the US: for example, California population. When you click on the result, the graph lets you compare California's population with the population for other states.


"Public statistical data, such as unemployment rates or population numbers, doesn't need to be hard to find or, more importantly, hard to understand. Google is making it easier to find and use important public statistical data from governments and other sources. This data is included in Google.com search results and displayed as interactive graphs that you can customize and share with others. If you've ever done research involving large datasets, you know that it can take hours to comb through databases in order to find and analyze trends. Anyone who searches for U.S. unemployment rates or population numbers on Google.com will see relevant statistics and graphs included in their search results. You can even search by state or county (but not by city)," explains the help center.

April 25, 2009

Wallpaper Search

Let's use the latest features added to Google Image Search to find a beautiful wallpaper for your desktop.

1. Go to Google Image Search and click on "Advanced Image Search".

2. Enter your query in the first input box, for example: flower.

3. Select "photo content" from the list of content types.

4. Click on "Use my desktop size" to find images appropriate for your desktop.

5. Perform the search.

6. If you have a favorite color, click on "All colors" and pick one of the 12 options.


YouTube RealTime Sharing

YouTube has always been a social network, but the interactions between users are limited. Last year, YouTube started to broadcast activity streams and you could see on the homepage the latest videos uploaded by your friends, their latest comments and ratings.

To make the activity streams more useful, YouTube decided to expand the actions that are shared and to show them in a persistent toolbar at the bottom of the page. The feature, dubbed RealTime YouTube, requires an invitation from a friend who already has it.

The RealTime toolbar shows a list of friends that are currently online, their recent activities and notifies when one of your friends posts comments or rates videos. For example, you can now see all the videos currently watched by your friends.


The toolbar lacks some features that would make it really useful: chatting with your friends and watching videos at the same time. You can disable the real-time sharing and it's also possible to hide the toolbar from YouTube's settings.

If you already have the RealTime toolbar, you can send invitations to 25 of your friends. A simple way to both invite YouTube users to become your friends and to send an invitation for the toolbar is to use the YouTube Peeps link, which is only active for 15 minutes. To get an invitation, monitor the search results for youtube.com/peep on Twitter and click on a recent invite link.

Real-time interfaces become increasingly popular as people no longer want to wait for updates: Twitter's real-time search, FriendFeed's new interface and YouTube RealTime show what's happening right now.

"An overwhelming sense of restlessness and impatience engulfed the U.S. this week when citizens determined that everything — the morning commute, phone conversations, getting a table at Chili's, making coffee, commercial breaks, everything — was taking entirely too long," reported The Onion last month. "According to the latest time estimates, if everything continues to move along at this intolerable pace, Americans will be left with no other choice but to scream."

What's Popular Around the Web

Steve Rubel found a new gadget developed by Google that highlights popular content from the web. Much like Digg, Reddit or Yahoo Buzz, you can vote the web pages and add content you find interesting.


Here's how Google describes the "What's Popular" gadget:
The What's Popular gadget by Google helps you discover interesting items from all over the Internet.

How we find interesting stuff
What's Popular uses algorithms to find interesting content from a combination of your submissions and trends in aggregated user activity across a variety of Google services, like YouTube and Google Reader.

Ratings
You can rate items that you like or dislike by clicking the ratings buttons next to each item. If you change your mind, you can change your rating at anytime. The What's Popular gadget looks at what users liked or disliked to improve its ranking of interesting items.

Add a URL
Tell What's Popular about interesting items you have found! If they become popular, they may rise to the top of our list! You can submit an item with or without attribution to yourself and preview your submission before you post. If you decide to associate your username with your submission you'll be able to edit its title and description. The items you submitted can be found in the "My adds" area, where you can remove your name if you change your mind.

The gadget is a part of a service that will be released in Google Labs, where it's already hosted. Right now, the most popular web page has 13 pops (probably a name for upvotes), there are three categories: stories, videos, images and the pages are sorted by relevancy, the algorithm favoring recent content.

April 24, 2009

New Viewer for Gmail's PowerPoint Attachments

Gmail replaced the Flash-based PowerPoint viewer released in 2007 with the same viewer used for PDF files. Some of the features that were available in the old viewer are missing: you can no longer view the presentation as a slideshow or read the titles to easily find a slide.

"This viewer provides a richer set of features than the old "View as slideshow" version: you can zoom in and out, select text to copy and paste, and "print" the presentation to a PDF document. And, unlike the old version, we no longer require you to have a Flash plugin installed on your browser," explains Gmail's blog.


The same viewer is also used for TIFF attachments, which can store one or more images. "The TIFF format is widely supported by image-manipulation applications, by publishing and page layout applications, by scanning, faxing, word processing, optical character recognition applications." As you probably noticed, browsers usually don't support this format, so you need a plug-in to view TIFF files. Google's viewer works by converting the files to PNG images.

Try the new feature by finding Gmail messages that have PPT or TIFF attachments and clicking on "View" next to one of the attachments.

April 22, 2009

Fewer Limitations for Google Docs PDFs

Until now, when you uploaded PDF files to Google Docs, the viewer displayed only the first 100 pages. The limitation has been removed and you can now upload longer documents, as long as the size is less than 10 MB. Another change is that you can upload more than 100 PDFs, but it's not clear what's the new upper bound.


The viewer is used when you upload PDF files in Google Docs or when you click on a PDF attachment in Gmail. It works by converting the pages to PNG images and it has advanced features like zoom, search and text selection.

Tip: to copy text from a PDF, highlight the text and press Ctrl+C.

{ Thanks, Camdef. }

Google Video Updates the Interface

Google Video removed the ability to upload videos and it's now just a video search engine. Even if YouTube is a better place to build an audience that watches your videos, Google Video had its unique appeal and it was a great service for uploading long-form videos.

Another change is that Google Video updated the design for the search results pages and change the TV view mode to look more like the standard result pages for web search. The video player is much smaller and the results dominate the page, making you wonder why Google still calls the interface "TV view". Below the small video player, there's a filmstrip that lets jump to different parts of the video, a list of related videos and an option to email the video.


The new interface has a lot of flaws: the video player moves as you scroll down, the list of related videos is not always visible, Google Video no longer displays ratings and there's a lot of unused space.

I hope the service will manage to find its identity, because Google Video is Google's service that had the most structural changes: from trying to index the captions for TV shows to hosting videos, from a video store to a business tool and a video search engine.

Here's one of the first viral videos uploaded to Google Video, back in 2005, when Back Dorm Boys became famous for lip syncing to Backstreet Boys songs:


Related:
A brief history of Google Video

April 21, 2009

Filter YouTube Comments

The comments posted on YouTube are rarely interesting and it's usually a good idea to just ignore them. YouTube tried different ways to filter the noise: adding an option to mark comments as spam, voting comments, previewing comments before posting them, but the results aren't that great.

There's even a Firefox extension that hides "undesirable" comments because they include too many spelling mistakes, excessive punctuation or profanity. "I was so tired of comments by the ignorant, prejudiced, hate mongering, 10-year-old-seeming dip!@#s who obviously have no life and flock to YouTube to spread their disease, that I started avoiding the site all together. Despite my best attempts to ignore the comments I always seemed to glance down, get pulled in to reading them, and be delighted with the wonderful reflection of humanity that it is," says a user of the YouTube Comment Snob extension.

For those that don't want to install the extension, YouTube added some advanced options for comments. You can now hide the comments that include "coarse language and racial slurs" or hide all the comments. Just click on "Options" next to "Text comments" and filter the comments.


According to ArsTechnica, this is just one of the many initiatives "designed to give users and families greater control to moderate their YouTube experience".

API for Google Analytics

One of the few missing features from Google Analytics was the ability to access data programmatically. Now you can create application that use data from Google Analytics using the Data Export API.

"With the Google Analytics Data Export API, you can develop client applications that download Analytics data in the form of Google Data API feeds. Your client application can use the Data Export API to request data from an existing Analytics profile for an authorized user, and refine the results of the request using query parameters. Currently, the Data Export API supports read-only access to your Google Analytics data."

The API is useful to create different interfaces for Google Analytics and to process the data in interesting ways. For example, you might build a notifier that alerts you when your site has a large number of visitors or you could use the data to display a list of popular posts from your blog.

There are already some interesting applications that use the API, including a dashboard that integrates data from Google Analytics, a SEO tool that analyzes the keywords used to find the site, a mobile interface for Google Analytics and an AIR application.


"The Data Export API is easy to use and provides read-only access to all your Analytics data. Any data that's available through the standard Analytics web interface is available through the API. The Analytics API is a Google Data API. This is the same API protocol for Google Calendar, Finance and Webmaster Tools," mentions the Analytics blog.

If you don't think this news is very exciting, you should become a trusted tester for Google Analytics to try other cool features before they're publicly available. "Current Trusted Testers have recently tried out such features as: Event Tracking, Data Sharing, and Outbound Links."

Google People Search

Google's search results now include a special section for Google Profiles at the bottom of the page. If you search for a name like Jon Wiley, Google will show a list of the top results from Google Profile Search, followed by links to some popular social networks: MySpace, Facebook, Classmates and LinkedIn.



If you checked "Display my full name so I can be found in search", your profile will be included in the search results. "If you want your profile to appear in Google search results, make sure you've selected to display your full name on the Edit profile page. Adding more information will help you improve your profile's rank," explains Google.

Here are some other tips to improve your ranking in Google's people search engine:

* link to the profile from other sites
* verify your name
* include a photo and enough details about yourself

A quick way to access your profile is to search for [me], but you can also go to http://www.google.com/profiles or click on "My account" and select "Edit profile".

It's worth pointing out that you need to explicitly create a public profile and the profile is not included in the search results without your permission.


{ via Google Blog }

YouTube's Featured Search Results

YouTube started to display videos from partners at the top of the search results and in the right sidebar. For some reason, YouTube likes to call these videos "featured videos". According to the help center, "featured videos will be primarily populated with videos from YouTube's thousands of partners, but might also include select user videos that are currently popular or that we have previously showcased in Spotlight Videos. (...) Featured videos are not advertisements or paid placements, but do feature content from partners with whom we have a commercial relationship."

I think the terminology is misleading and it should've been replaced with something more explanatory like "videos from YouTube partners". And just because the videos are from YouTube partners, it doesn't mean they're more relevant than the "organic" results. YouTube's parent company doesn't have a special section in the search results for websites from Google's content network.


Besides earning revenue from advertising and being promoted on every YouTube page, partners have many other privileges: they can upload custom thumbnails, create branded channels and offer downloadable videos.

April 20, 2009

Google News Timeline

Google News Timeline is the second new services released today in Google Labs. According to Google, it's "a web application that organizes information chronologically. Google News Timeline allows users to view news, scanned newspapers and magazines, blog posts, sports scores, and more on a zoomable, graphical timeline."

The search box is very powerful, but you first need to pick a category from the drop-down. Google lets you add different sources: blogs, newspapers and it shows structured information from Wikipedia and Freebase.

Here's a simple way to visualize the list of posts from two Google-related blogs:


Using data aggregated by Freebase, Google can show some famous paintings by Claude Monet:


You can create interesting timelines using this services and it would be nice to save them or to have a permalink for future reference. Hopefully, the service will also add the option to use custom data sources.

Google Similar Images

Google Similar Images is an experimental service from Google Labs that lets you find images that are similar with an image you select.

"Similar Images allows you to search for images using pictures rather than words. Click the Similar images link under an image to find other images that look like it."



The interface doesn't perform real-time image analysis, so you can't upload images. Instead, Google lets you search the web for images, choose one of the results and click on "Similar images". The results are surprisingly good and this is probably the most impressive feature ever released by Google Image Search.



Google also launched a new interface for Google Labs that categorizes the experiments, lets you sort the services by popularity, post comments and subscribe to a feed of the most recent services.

Chromium Updater

If you use Chromium, the open source project behind Google Chrome, you probably noticed that the browser doesn't include an auto-update feature. For those who don't want to manually install the latest Chromium snapshot, there's Chromium Updater, an unofficial application that downloads and installs the latest Chromium version. Chromium Updater doesn't run automatically, so you still need to launch the software periodically.


Installing Chromium brings you the latest features and fixes, but the builds are usually less stable than Google Chrome's releases. A safer option is to install the early access release channels for Google Chrome, which include support for auto-update. "Subscribing to the Beta or Dev channel means you'll get more frequent (but less stable) updates and you'll get to try new features first."

April 18, 2009

Google Page Creator Migration Info

As previously announced, Google Page Creator will be closed and all the web pages will be migrated to Google Sites. Here's the migration plan:

"Google Page Creator will be shut down in June, 2009. To make the transition to Sites as smooth and easy as possible for Page Creator users, we will be doing an automatic import of Page Creator pages to Google Sites, which will include moving pages to Google Sites and redirecting visits to googlepages.com URLs to their new location on Google Sites. From now until this import begins June 1, Page Creator users who don't want to be moved to Google Sites have the option to download their content, host it on another service, and redirect their existing URL. Please note that Google Sites does not support JavaScript, some forms of HTML, or web hosting."

To find more details about the migration and choose if you want to download your sites, visit Google Pages.


What is Google Page Creator?

Launched in 2006 as an experimental service, Page Creator was a testbed for a rich-text editor that will later be added to other Google services. "Google Page Creator is a free tool that lets you create web pages right in your browser and publish them to the web with one click. There's no software to download and no web designer to hire," Google described the service at launch. For each Page Creator site, Google offered 100 MB of file storage, 41 predefined themes, a basic image editor and the option to insert Google Gadgets.

The service has been released two weeks before Google acquired Writely, which later became a part of Google Docs.



Should you migrate to Google Sites?

It seems that Google doesn't plan to add file hosting and custom JavaScript/CSS support in Google Sites, so many of the pages built using Google Page Creator will only be partially moved to Google Sites and the files uploaded to Page Creator will be removed.

"Google Sites is an online application that makes creating a team web site as easy as editing a document. With Google Sites, people can quickly gather a variety of information in one place -- including videos, calendars, presentations, attachments, and text -- and easily share it for viewing or editing with a small group, their entire organization, or the world," according to the help center.

"Google Sites does not support custom JavaScript or CSS at this time for security reasons. Many embeddings are available on Google Sites through Google Gadgets (insert -> More Gadgets...), but arbitrary JavaScript and CSS will not work once the content is migrated to Google Sites. If this is a critical part of your site, we recommend exporting your content to another service," explains the FAQ page.

It's unfortunate that Google decided to discontinue the service without providing a good replacement. Page Creator was a simple rich-text editor for HTML pages and a basic file hosting service, while Google Sites is better suited for wikis and collaborative sites.

Finding an alternative

A decent alternative to Page Creator is Weebly, but if you know a better service, post a link in the comments. You can export the files from Page Creator as a ZIP archive, then create a Weebly site and upload the files by dragging the File element. All the files uploaded to Weebly will have URLs like:

http://www.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/3/4/1234/report.pdf

Now you can go to Google Page Creator's migration page, click on "opt out" and enter Weebly's address:

http://www.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/3/4/1234/
(use the address corresponding to your Weebly account).

All the files and pages hosted by Page Creator will be redirected to the new locations (Google uses permanent redirects).

YouTube Tests New Design for Channels

YouTube experiments with a new format for channels and some users have received a link to the page that lets you migrate to the new version. If you haven't been lucky to get the link, here's the "super seekrit" page.

The new channel editor is more simple to use and you can preview the page after you make some changes. "Rather than take you off to a separate page, we figured it'd be nice if you can edit your channel... in your channel! So, take a peek up top, you know, near that big grey bar. Just below it, you'll see some extra buttons, "Settings", "Themes", "Modules". Check those out! Also, in the upper-right corner of each section of the page, you should see a little "edit" button. Those let you customize the part of the page you're looking at. Some sections can be customized more than others, of course."

Besides the visual refresh, the new channels include a player that helps you view recently uploaded videos, favorites, playlists without leaving the page. You can choose between 10 predefined themes or create your own theme.


YouTube created a blog where you can find more information about the updated channels. And here are some upgraded YouTube channels: mnathanielc, Slyth66, missxrojas.

{ Thanks, Pascal. }

Gmail Suggests Contacts when Sending Mail

Gmail Labs has a new feature that will appeal to those who frequently send messages to multiple people at a time. "Suggest more recipients" only works when you type at least two address in the "To" field and it suggests other contacts you should probably add, based on your previous usage.

"Gmail will suggest people you might want to include based on the groups of people you email most often. So if you always email your mom, dad, and sister together, and you start composing a message to your mom and dad, Gmail will suggest adding your sister," explains Gmail's blog.


While this feature is useful, Gmail could make it easier to add contacts when composing a message by linking to a contact picker, like the one that is included in many other Google services.

April 17, 2009

YouTube Emphasizes Long-Form Video

YouTube added a new tab titled "Shows" that highlights TV shows. "Today we're excited to announce a new destination for television shows and an improved destination for movies on YouTube, where partners like Crackle, CBS, MGM, Lionsgate, Starz and many others have made thousands of television episodes and hundreds of movies available for you to watch, comment on, favorite and share," announces the YouTube blog.

The list of TV shows, which are mostly available in the US, includes: "Harper's Island", "The Addams Family", "Happy Tree Friends", "Married with Children", "Star Trek: The Original Series", "Mythbusters", "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", "The Tudors" and others. The list of movies is less impressive and it only includes some Bollywood movies, documentaries, MTV movies and a very small number of interesting movies (the classics "Heidi", "The Little Princess", "Animal Farm", "Fitzcarraldo").



YouTube's move towards long-form professional videos is another attempt to monetize the service, which costs more than 1 million dollars a day, according to some estimates. YouTube will use third-party players from services like Crackle and will even allow content providers to bring their own ads. "YouTube has agreed to display the films using a video player from Crackle, Sony Pictures' own video site. The studio will control all the advertising for the films and Crackle will also get credit for the traffic," according to CNet.

Sarah Lacy has a plausible explanation for these changes. "Smart entrepreneurs realize user generated content still matters, it just doesn't directly translate to revenues. UGC is the core of why so many people are on these sites and without the eyeballs, the tech platforms don't have as much negotiating leverage with Hollywood. Without Hollywood, it seems, they may not get revenues anytime soon."

I'm not convinced that YouTube will be able to repeat Hulu's success, but hopefully the latest efforts won't alienate YouTube's community and YouTube will continue to find the right balance between professional and amateur content. After all, YouTube's goal was to "empower people to become the broadcasters of tomorrow".

April 16, 2009

Webcams Layer in Google Maps

Google Maps added a layer that shows webcams from all over the world. You can enable it by clicking on "More..." and selecting "Webcams".

Google displays webcams from the aggregator webcams.travel, a site that lists more than 9000 webcams. "All the webcams from Webcams.travel are now available on the integrated layer of Google Maps. This was made possible within the cooperation of Webcams.travel with Google," explains Webcams.travel's blog.

If you click on a thumbnail, Google will show "a snapshot of the camera that has been taken in the last 15 minutes". You'll need to click on the snapshot twice (first at Google Maps and then at webcams.travel) to get to the source and see the live webcam.

Google Earth has a similar layer for geo-located webcams and there's an alternative interface at webcams.travel.

Caption Editor for YouTube Videos

CaptionTube is a site that lets create captions for YouTube videos. For example, you can include a transcript of the video in one or more languages and YouTube's search engine will bring more viewers.

The site lets you caption any YouTube video, not just the ones that you've uploaded, and the captions can be exported as an XML file that will be later imported at YouTube.



YouTube's blog mentions that the site has been built by John Skidgel, a user experience designer that works at Google. Another online captioning service created for YouTube is YouTube subtitler, but it's less user-friendly.

PLYMedia's research showed that subtitles increase the amount of time that users spend watching videos by about 40%. "As more and more online video is consumed in an increasing variety of settings—from office environments to noisy bars to mobile phones—it makes sense to add closed-captioning and subtitling features to digital video files. These enhancements expand opportunities for viewers to enjoy online video, even when it's impractical for them to have the sound turned on."

April 15, 2009

Google Is Like...

A snapshot of what Twitter users think about Google (in 140 characters or less).

mishxx: Using Google is like ctrl+f'ing the world.

Psqrd: Google is like the internet dial tone. It is always there.

mcpont: Google is like the Disney of the internet!

justjody: Surfing the Internet without Google is like driving without a steering wheel.

Ideaity: Ranking in Google is like playing a game designed by a 3 year old -- the rules keep changing and rarely make sense.

granholm: Quote: "Google is like Coca-Cola. Only two people know how it's made, and they're not telling".

JodaThongnopnua: Google is like Virgil from the divine comedy, [it] leads you to some strange places.

catlionv: "Google is like the Roman Empire that continues to expand its territory into every market and niche."

csuspect: "Google is like a public toilet, they're always there when you need them" - Danny Sullivan

marymetcalf: colleague says: Google is like santa 2.0

hitzarekin: Google is like walking on a giant's shoulders.

{ Post inspired by CSS is like... }

Google Search Prepares for Switching to Ajax

In February, many people noticed that Google tested a new interface for search results. The test didn't include any new feature and Google even loaded the standard search results page to display the results. An unfortunate side-effect of the new format was that Google didn't load a new page to display the results and browsers didn't send proper referrals when clicking on search results.

"A major update that Google is testing has completely broken the ability for any external analytics service like Clicky to determine the search query used by a visitor arriving at your web site. (...) If this update goes live for everyone, it effectively means that 2/3 of all searches leading to the average web site will be a complete mystery," explained Clicky's blog.

Here's Google's explanation from March: the Ajax-enhanced pages were tested on a small number of users and this change could make Google's SERPS faster and smoother.



To solve the problem, Google will use a gateway URL for all search results.
Starting this week, you may start seeing a new referring URL format for visitors coming from Google search result pages. Up to now, the usual referrer for clicks on search results for the term "flowers", for example, would be something like this:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=flowers&btnG=Google+Search

Now you will start seeing some referrer strings that look like this:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=7&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.example.com%2Fmypage.htm&ei=0SjdSa-1N5O8M_qW8dQN&rct=j&q=flowers&usg=AFQjCNHJXSUh7Vw7oubPaO3tZOzz-F-u_w&sig2=X8uCFh6IoPtnwmvGMULQfw

Niall Kennedy suggests that "Google is likely making this change to better track search actions and shield URL parameters from sites downstream", but I think this is a solution for the lack of referral information in a future Ajax interface.

Google is already using gateway URLs for users that are logged in: just copy the address of a Google search result and you'll notice that it's just a redirect which sends Google some details about your actions.

April 14, 2009

Featured on Picasa Web Albums

There's a new page that archives all the photos that have been featured on Picasa Web Albums. The page has a Media RSS feed, which can be added to any feed reader or it can be used as a source for Picasa's screensaver. If you don't have Picasa, you can view the images in a slideshow.


A great way to check the latest featured photos without visiting Picasa Web Albums is to add the image slideshow gadget to iGoogle. The gadget lets you view albums and search results from Flickr and Picasa Web, Google Image Search results and any Media RSS feed.

Friendlier Google Profile Addresses

Google Profiles have cryptic web addresses that include 21-digit IDs to make them impossible to guess. One option to make the profile more accessible is to check "Display my full name so I can be found in search", an option that makes the profile searchable.

Another option is to change the profile's URL to http://www.google.com/profiles/username, where "username" is the name of your Gmail account or an alias for those who use regular Google accounts. For example, the address http://www.google.com/profiles/117377434815709898403 becomes http://www.google.com/profiles/dclinton.

"To make it easier for people to find your profile, you can customize your URL with your Google email username. (Note this can make your Google email address publicly discoverable.) This unique name will also be used in other links to your content on Google," explains Google.

You can always change your mind and go back to the default URL, but it's important to realize that the profile is public and anyone who finds the URL can access it. And once you know the URL of a Google profile, you can find other things: Google Maps reviews and edits, Google forum questions, Google Books collections and probably other activity pages.

Update: Google's algorithm for selecting the username is unnecessarily complicated. "If you use Gmail, and decide to customize your profile URL, your Gmail username, not your Picasa username, will be displayed in your URL. If you don't use Gmail and have a Picasa username, you'll have the option to display your Picasa username in your profile URL. You won't be able, however, to create a new username. If you have more than one Picasa username, we'll select the active username for your profile. If you later switch to a different Picasa username, your profile username won't change."

{ via DeWitt }

Translate Google Groups Threads

Google Groups added an option to translate the messages from a thread. The new feature uses Google Translate API, so it doesn't involve reloading the page.


The translation API is being used by many Google services and other sites. Here's a list of my favorite applications:

8. Picasa Web Albums translates comments automatically.

7. Google Maps reviews can be translated to find some information about businesses from other countries.

6. Translate YouTube's search results by clicking on a checkbox at the top of the page.

5. Twitter's search results can be translated into English and you can filter the results by language.

4. Google Reader translates entire feeds if you enable an option from the feed settings menu.

3. Translate the captions of a YouTube video.

2. Hab.la translates IM conversations. "Say someone visits your site and greets you in a foreign language. As soon as a particular language can be detected, seamless translation between your chosen language (English in our case) and that of your website visitor begins."

1. Real-time translation in an experimental version of Google Toolbar.

{ Thanks, z x. }

April 13, 2009

YouTube Korea Respects Privacy


YouTube's Korean site no longer allows users to create accounts, upload videos and post comments, after a local law started to require popular web sites to ask for the real names of their users.

"In a surprise decision Thursday, Google blocked South Korean users from uploading videos and posting comments on YouTube's Korean-language site in order to avoid government requirements for the real-name registration of users. Korean Internet users now have to submit their resident registration codes, the Korean equivalent of social security numbers, and names, before posting files or commenting on Web sites with more than 100,000 daily visitors, including YouTube. The new rules kicked in April 1, but Google had been refusing to enforce real-name verification for YouTube users, reluctant to bend its rules only for Korea," reports KoreaTimes.

Apparently, one of the reasons for enforcing this law was to discourage the anonymous comments that make personal attacks to public figures. "The purpose of this mandate could be pretty noble - to discourage those dangerous evil trollings. But what if the government starts to use this feature to hunt down whoever makes anti-government-ish comments (whose definition can sometimes be blurry)? Or use this mandate as a way to deter people from making any criticism on the current government," asks Web 2.0 Asia.

YouTube suggests users that want to upload videos and post comments to change their country setting.

"Google Korea has ... always (taken) the stance that Google respects local law/regulation but at the same time we continue trying to promote freedom of speech on the Internet," Google spokeswoman Lois Kim said last month. Of course, it's easier for Google to protect the freedom of speech in Korea, where its services aren't very popular, than in countries like China or Germany.

Further reading:
Google Korea's blog post
YouTube Korea's blog post

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

April 12, 2009

Google Update, Open Sourced

It doesn't have an interface, it's always running in the background, ready to silently update your Google software: Google Update is the service that makes Google's desktop applications behave more like the constantly updated web applications. Unfortunately, the service has many bugs, it can't be disabled unless you uninstall all the applications that use it and there are some privacy issues:

"When GoogleUpdate communicates with Google servers, it sends IDs of GoogleUpdate-managed applications on your computer and general usage information for these applications. GoogleUpdate also uses its own, randomly-generated unique ID number to accurately count total users. This information includes version numbers, languages, operating system, and other install or update-related details, such as whether or not the applications have been run."

Some people are concerned that Google collects even more information. To show that these worries are misguided, Google decided to open source the updater, code-named Omaha.
Since Google Update is always running on your system, there's no simple way to stop it, and since it's a fundamental part of the Google software that needs it, it's not explicitly installed. Some users can be surprised to find this program running, and at Google, we don't like disappointing our users. We've been working hard to address these concerns, and releasing the source code for Omaha is our attempt to make the purpose of Google Update totally transparent. Obviously, we understand that not everyone is both willing and able to read through our code, but we hope that those of you who do will confirm for the rest that Google Update's functionality serves well to keep your software up to date.

A software that's always up-to-date prevents malware from exploiting the already solved security issues, makes it easier to report bugs and it's constantly improving, but Google should provide an interface that lets you control how often the service checks for updates and even disable it. Some power users think that the always-running updater is "a violation of my control as a user, a potential security threat, and an unwanted burden on my system and network resources, which are already stretched."

Google Chrome and the Original Google

There are many interesting questions in the Chrome help forum, but some of the requests are quite unusual. Here are some strange questions from users who can't distinguish a browser from a search engine or a mail client.

"I want the old Google search engine, not Google Chrome. How do I go back to regular old Google? I want to change my default search engine from Chrome to Google. The tools don't help me," asks Orville.

"If I change from Outlook Express to Chrome browser does my E Mail address have to be changed to a G Mail address?" wants to know Haljoan.

"I don't like the design of the Google Chrome.page. All of the toolbars I'm familiar with are missing, and I don't even know how i got it. If I uninstall it, will I be able to get just plain Google?" wonders Stellar.

"Should I remove my original Google now that I have installed Google Chrome?" That's a very difficult question and I don't think that Chrome's developers anticipated how difficult is to launch an alternative browser. Maybe Google should first explain users what's a browser.

"The biggest challenge all [browsers] face is that most people don't even know what a browser is or that there's choice," told Wired.com Brian Rakowski, director of product management at Google.

April 10, 2009

Add Photos to Gmail Messages

Gmail's rich-text editor has never been very powerful, especially if you look at other web applications like Google Docs or Zoho. An important missing feature is inserting images in a message: you can attach photos, but they're usually displayed at the bottom of the message and not all mail clients show thumbnails. One workaround was to upload the images to a website, open it in a different window and then drag it to Gmail's editor.

Now you no longer have to do this since Gmail added inserting images as a Labs feature. After enabling the feature, you'll notice a new photo icon when you compose a message using the rich editor. You can insert images from your computer and images published online, by typing their addresses. Unfortunately, Gmail doesn't use the new Flash uploader, so you can't select more than one photo at a time.

"Keep in mind that Gmail doesn't show URL-based images in messages by default to protect you from spammers, so if you're sending mail to other Gmail users, they'll still have to click Display images below or Always display images from ... to see images you embed," mentions the Gmail blog.


To enable the new feature, go to Gmail Labs, search for "inserting images", select the "Enable" radio button and don't forget to click on "Save changes".

Tip: if the uploaded image is too large, click on it and choose from the available sizes (small, medium, large) or resize the image by dragging one of the corners.

{ Thanks, Niranjan. }

April 9, 2009

Google Enhances the Snippets for Review Sites

Google started to show additional information for web pages that include reviews: their date and the rating. For now, this is still an experiment and you may not see the change in Google's search results.

Last year, Google enhanced the snippets for discussion boards and scientific papers, while extracting the published date from many web pages. Google is able to recognize the structure of a forum thread, find the number of posts and the date of the last post, detect the author of a scientific paper and extract the ratings from all kinds of web pages.

It's amazing to see how many useful details can be obtain from unstructured web pages without requiring a special markup.

Find the Sender's Local Time in Gmail

Gmail Labs added a very useful feature for those who receive messages from all over the world. "Sender Time Zone" shows a green phone icon if it's appropriate to call the sender and a red phone icon if it's not a good time for calling (the icon is actually an Unicode character). Click on "show details" and you'll also see the local time of the sender.

"Message headers always include the time sent and often include time zone info too. We use that information to show you these icons. If the time zone isn't included for a given message, this Labs feature won't display anything," explains Gmail's blog. Google saves your timezone in your Google Account and it can be changed from this page.


You can also use Google search to find the time in a certain location.

The PDF Printer from Google Docs

If you open the document properties dialog for a PDF produced by Google Docs you'll notice that Google uses Prince 7.0 alpha 16 to convert files to PDF. It seems that Google has an unreleased alpha version of the software, so that might explain some of the errors.


According to the software's website, "Prince is a computer program that converts XML and HTML into PDF documents. Prince can read many XML formats, including XHTML and SVG. Prince formats documents according to style sheets written in CSS."

Prince is available for free if you want to use it on a single computer, but the server license costs $3800. "Prince is an ideal printing component for server-based software such as web applications and database systems. Using Prince, data in XML can easily be converted to PDF documents that can be printed, archived or downloaded over the web," which is exactly the way it's used in Google Docs.

HÃ¥kon Wium Lie and Michael Day gave a talk at Google in November 2007 about the software.

{ Thanks, David. }

April 8, 2009

Google, a Non-Profit Organization?

"PSAs are non-profit organization ads that are served to pages when targeted ads are unavailable, or when Google is unable to gather content from the page. Publishers do not receive earnings for clicks made on PSAs," mentions a page from Google AdSense's help center.

I noticed a Google ad from a Romanian site that promoted Google search. The ad linked to the Google search results for a historical question regarding the Romanian Independence War, but it was labeled as "Public Service Ad". Since when is Google a non-profit organization?


It's not the first time when Google uses public service ads to promote its own services. Last year, Google promoted a special page about the US elections using public service ads.

According to Wikipedia, "public service advertising is the use of commercial advertising techniques for non-commercial purposes. (...) Such advertising is generally produced and distributed on a cooperative basis by governmental agencies or nonprofit organizations acting in concert with private advertising and mass media companies. In most cases, the nonprofit provides the programming that is to be advertised, while the participating advertising agency and media companies provide creative services, media planning, and dissemination services on a pro bono basis."

{ Thanks, Philipp. }

Google Image Search Color Filter

The option that lets you filter images by the predominant color has been added to Google Image Search's interface. Just click on "All colors" above the search results and you can choose one of the 12 available colors.

Until the new feature propagates to all Google data centers, you can still use the image filter manually and even select two predominant colors.



Google Image Search has previously added filters for photos, images that contain faces, clip arts, line drawings and I expect to see even more options that rely on image analysis. The Neven Vision acquisition will certainly bring some interesting visible results. "Neven Vision comes to Google with deep technology and expertise around automatically extracting information from a photo. It could be as simple as detecting whether or not a photo contains a person, or, one day, as complex as recognizing people, places, and objects."

{ Thanks, Chris. }