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

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September 30, 2010

Web History Suggestions in Google Instant

There are many missing features in Google Instant. The classic interface suggested searches from the Web History, so you could select previously typed queries.

It seems that this feature will be available again. Google tests a version of Google Instant with Web History suggestions. For some queries, 3 of the 4 suggestions are from the Web History and there's only one general suggestion.


Maybe it would be a better idea to only show one or two personalized suggestions, since they aren't always useful.

Keyboard Shortcuts for Google Search

Google added some keyboard shortcuts that help you pick a search result without using a mouse. After typing your query and pressing Enter, you'll notice a small arrow next to the top result. You can press Enter to visit the page or press the up/down arrow keys to select a different result. To open a page in a new tab use Ctrl+Enter and to open it in a new window use Shift+Enter.


The shortcuts work even if you want to go to the next page of results.


If there's an ad displayed above search results, Google doesn't ignore it.


Unfortunately, the currently selected result is not preserved after visiting the page and going back to Google. That's an important feature which was available in the Keyboard Shortcuts experiment.

The support for keyboard shortcuts is not limited to web search results. You can use the shortcuts in Image Search, Google Video, Google News, Book Search, Google Groups and Google Blog Search.

Google Phone Gallery

As previously promised, Google Nexus One's site has been replaced by a gallery of Android phones. "The Google Phone Gallery features a selection of Android-powered phones currently available. All the phones in the gallery include Google Search, Android Market, and Google Mobile services such as Google Search, Gmail, and Google Maps," explains Google.

You can restrict the phones to a carrier or manufacturer, compare them and buy the phones from third-party stores. The list is not comprehensive and the search box is not very useful.


"Here at Google, we're thrilled with the global adoption of Android and with the high quality of devices that are coming to market around the world. Since there are so many great phones, we wanted to make the selection process a little easier for people who are in the market for a new one. Google Phone Gallery [is] a showcase of Android-powered devices that deliver the best Google experience today," says Google's Ben Serridge.

Nexus One was a great reference Android phone better suited for developers and technology enthusiasts. Google's branding didn't help the phone because Google didn't manage explain why the phone was special. Probably not many people cared that the phone was sold unlocked, it was easy to root, had a stock Android interface and it was updated by Google. Hopefully, Google will do a better job at showcasing other devices.

Google URL Shortener Adds Stats and Web Interface

Google's URL Shortener has been used by Google services like FeedBurner, Google News, Blogger to share links on Twitter. Google didn't provide a web interface for the service, but third-party sites managed to fill the void.

Now you can go to goo.gl, paste any web address and get a short URL. Google also shows stats for any short URL generated using the service: append ".info" to the address and you'll see the number of clicks, a list of traffic sources and some aggregate information about visitors. Here's an example: http://goo.gl/l6MS.info.



If you sign in to a Google account, Google will save a list of recently generated URLs. Another advantage is that Google will always generate unique URLs when you are logged in, so that the stats are more useful.

Google's URL shortener still doesn't have an official API and it doesn't offer all the features that are available at bit.ly (most notably, you can't customize URLs), but it works well. "We've had near 100% uptime since our initial launch, and we've worked behind the scenes to make goo.gl even stabler and more robust," mentions Google's social blog. Google also added automatic spam detection and doubled the service's speed.

If you use Google Chrome, install goo.gl URL Shortener, an unofficial extension that generates short URLs and copies them to the clipboard. For Firefox, there's a similar extension called goo.gl lite.

Google Translate Adds Support for Latin

Google Translate is the first important machine translation service that supports Latin. Google says that thousands of books that are available in Google Book Search include Latin passages and the machine translation service has been trained using texts that are already translated.

The results aren't great and it will be difficult to improve them, but it's still an interesting experiment. Here's an example of translation:

"Translating by machine from Latin is difficult and our grasp of grammar not without error. The Latin is unmatched because most of them Latin books have already been written and only a few of the new shall be hereafter. Many have been translated into other languages and these translations we use to train our translation system. Since this system translates books well similar to those from whom he learned, our ability to translate famous books (such as The Gallic War Caesar 's) is already good."

Picasa Web Groups Google Buzz Albums

Picasa Web Albums is the central repository for all the photos uploaded to Google's services. If you upload photos to Blogger, Google Buzz, Orkut or upload a background image for Google's homepage, your photos are stored in Picasa Web Albums.

Unfortunately, Google creates many albums that clutter the interface. For example, Google Buzz creates a new album every time you upload one or more photos. Picasa Web addressed this issue by grouping all the Buzz albums in a special gallery called "Photos from posts".


Google Buzz is not the only service that adds unnecessary albums: Blogger creates albums to store the photos uploaded to your blogs. Picasa's albums aren't a good way to organize photos because they have limitations (the maximum number of albums has been recently increased to 10,000), you can't store the same photo in multiple albums and individual photos don't have privacy controls. Until Picasa Web Albums drops "Picasa" and "albums" from its name and becomes Google Photos, the service will be an online extension of a desktop software and will inherit Picasa's flaws and limitations.

{ via Adewale }

September 29, 2010

Gmail's Conversation View Can Be Disabled

Gmail added an option that allows users to turn off threading. Not everyone likes grouping messages into conversations, but this is one of the few core features that made Gmail stand out.

In most email clients threading is just an optional feature that can be easily disabled. Gmail's web interface has been inspired by Google Groups, so it's obvious that threading was an important feature.

Paul Buchheit, the former Google engineer that developed Gmail, says that Google tries to increase the adoption of Google Apps by making Gmail more enterprise-friendly.
It's my opinion that when designing products, especially new products, it's better to have some people love it than have everyone tolerate it. This generally means aiming for simplicity and philosophical consistency. If you're aiming for "everyone tolerates it", then the approach switches more towards creating a "giant pile of features". I suspect that this change is driven by their desire for greater enterprise adoption (Google apps), where the "more features and checkboxes" approach very often wins out, even if it's ultimately a worse product.

Google says that the conversation view is not for everyone. "Threading enthusiasts say they spend less mental energy drawing connections between related messages and that their inboxes are much less cluttered. On the other hand, email traditionalists like many former Outlook users think conversation view just complicates something that has worked for years."

Conversation view can be disabled from the settings page by checking "conversation view off" in the General tab. This option may not be available right away, but Google promises that it "will be rolling out over the next few days". Google Apps users will only see this option if the administrator has enabled "pre-release features".


Why would you disable Gmail's conversation view?

September 28, 2010

Google Translate's Conversation Mode

Google has recently demoed a new feature that will make Google Translate a lot more useful: conversation mode. Instead of typing the text you want to translate, you can just speak it and Google will convert speech into text, translate the text and use text-to-speech to output the result. You can already do that if you install the Google Translate app from the Android Market. Conversation mode lets you quickly switch between two languages, so that two people can have a conversation even if they speak different languages.

"Google showed off a new application that translates conversations on Android mobiles at a recent conference in Germany. Google employees held a conversation over two Android mobiles with one person speaking German and the other English. The application worked its magic after each persons statement and then referred the translated message back to the other person," reported Simon Thomas.

Unfortunately, the results aren't always great. Google Translate's conversation mode will be released in a few months.



{ spotted by François Beaufort }

Google Docs Adds a Revision History Sidebar

When Google released the new version of Google Docs, one of the missing features was comparing revisions. The latest update to Google Docs brings this feature back, but only for consecutive revisions.

Google Docs adds a sidebar that lists the most recent revisions and lets you preview them. "Click on a time stamp in the right column to see what changes were made at a given time or use the arrow keys to quickly scan through many revisions. Changes are color-coded based on each collaborator, making it easy to tell what has been added or deleted," explains Google.

Google groups the changes from a short period of time into a single revision, but you can click on "Show more detailed revisions" to see all the changes.


You can also use the up/down keys to scan through revisions and press Escape to go back to the editor.

Google Suggest Filtering

Google Suggest was supposed to help users type a query by providing useful suggestions. Unfortunately, some of the suggestions are offensive and Google had to filter the searches related to pornography, violence, and hate speech.

Google's over-protective algorithms now filter all the suggestions that include "is evil", "I hate", "[ethnic group] are" (for example, "chinese are"). Google Suggest also filters "Smells Like Teen Spirit", the name of a popular Nirvana song.


"Queries in autocomplete are algorithmically determined based on a number of objective factors (including search term popularity) without manual intervention," explains Google. Google Suggest's filtering flaws are more obvious, now that Google Instant previews the results without having to press Enter. If you type [google is e], Google no longer previews the results and suggests to "press Enter to search".

Google Blacklist (not safe work and potentially offensive) lists some of the rules used by Google to censor the list of suggestions. "Like everything these days, great care must be taken to ensure that as few people as possible are offended by anything. Google Instant is no exception. Somewhere within Google there exists a master list of "bad words" and evil concepts that Google Instant is programmed to not act upon, lest someone see something offensive in the instant results... even if that's exactly what they typed into the search bar."

{ via waxy.org }

September 23, 2010

More Options for Importing Files into Google Spreadsheets

Google Spreadsheets improved the feature that lets you import files. After uploading a file, you can preview it, select a separator character and choose where to put the data. You can create a new spreadsheet, insert a new sheet, replace the spreadsheet or only the current sheet, append the data to the current sheet or replace the data starting from the selected cell.


You can't select multiple delimiters, exclude certain columns or pick the data format before importing the file. These features are available in Microsoft Excel and, even though some them aren't necessary, they make it easier to properly import the data you need.

{ Thanks, Cougar Abogado. }

It's Easier to Add YouTube Videos to Playlists

YouTube added more features to the "plus" button displayed when you mouse over a video thumbnail. Until now, the button could only be used to add videos to a queue, so you can play them later. If you click on the small arrow next to the button, you can add the video to your favorites or to one of your playlists. It's much easier to build playlists from search results and from related videos.


Another change is that the "save to" drop-down has been replaced with a button that adds the video you're currently watching to the queue. Click on the arrow next to the button and you can add the video to a playlist.


When you add a video to the queue, YouTube shows a small bar that lets you manage the videos from the queue, save them as a new playlist, disable autoplay or load one of your playlists.

Google Reader's Web Page Monitoring to Be Disabled

Google Reader's blog announced that the feed generator for pages that don't have feeds will no longer be available starting from September 30. Google says that not many people used this feature, which is not surprising, considering that it's quite difficult to find it.

Google Reader's page tracking feature was useful to monitor the web pages that don't have feeds. For example, you could use it to find when Google changes the privacy policy, when Google Chrome adds new extension APIs or when there are new products in the Google Store.

Unfortunately, Google Reader's feeds looked terrible. The title for each item was "generated feed for [URL]", the feature didn't detect new images and the feeds were updated when the new versions of the pages were added to Google's search index. Here's Google Reader's feed for google.com and here are the changes found by Page2RSS. Page2RSS found 8 changes in September, while Google only found one. Page2RSS has another important advantage: the service constantly monitors web pages and it's not tied to a search engine that indexes billions of web pages.

September 22, 2010

Google Chrome Frame, Out of Beta

Internet Explorer users who can't update the browser or switch to a better browser have another option for running modern web apps: Google Chrome Frame, a plug-in that uses Google Chrome to render the pages that include a required tag. Chrome Frame is now out of beta and can be installed if you use Internet Explorer 6, 7 or 8.

Google Chrome Frame is especially valuable for enterprise users, so Google added a MSI installer that helps IT administrators deploy the software in a network.

Microsoft has recently released the first beta of Internet Explorer 9 and showed that it can develop a browser that's fast, standards-compliant and better suited for running web apps. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer 9 can't be installed in Windows XP, which is still the most popular operating system. Even if Internet Explorer 8 has been released more than one year ago, almost half of the users haven't upgraded to the latest version of the browser.

Chrome Frame is already used by many Google services: Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Reader, Orkut and other services will start to support it soon. Chromium's blog says that the main goals are to "to improve performance and ease the transition for users as they drop support for legacy browsers". After installing Chrome Frame in Internet Explorer 8, I noticed that Google Reader loaded much faster and had a better performance. If you want, you can load all the pages using Chrome Frame, but it's not recommended to do that.

Behind the Scenes of Gmail's Priority Inbox

Ario Jafarzadeh, Experience Designer on the Gmail team, gave a great talk about Priority Inbox at the Google Zürich headquarters. "Priority Inbox, to me, typifies what I hope will be a much larger trend in online consumption... one that gives users more control over what can grab their attention vs the pure chronology based world that has dominated the web for so long," says Ario.

Priority Inbox started as a "20 percent project" at Google Zürich, back in 2008. It's been initially called Magic Inbox, a name that was referenced in Gmail's source code last year. Google wanted to hide the complexity of the feature by using a simple interface that can be customized to suit your needs. The "+"/"-" buttons that let you change the importance of a message were inspired by the street signs from Zürich.


Ario says that Priority Inbox could be improved by grouping related conversations, so you can quickly deal with multiple messages. It's just one of the many improvements that could make Gmail's inbox smarter, especially for those who receive a lot of messages.


{ via Piers Fawkes }

September 21, 2010

10 Reasons Why Google Desktop Will Be Discontinued

Google Desktop has been released back in 2004, when Windows didn't include a powerful desktop search engine. Since then, Google added support for gadgets and launched versions for Mac and Linux. Now that Windows Vista and Windows 7 include many of the features available in Google Desktop, Google's software is no longer important.

Here are some signs which show that the software will soon be discontinued:

1. One of the built-in gadgets is a small Twitter app that has been last updated in September 2009. Unfortunately for Google, Twitter changed the authentication API and the gadget can no longer be used.

2. Google Desktop's last significant update was in July 2009.

3. The most recent post from Google Desktop's blog is from July 2009.

4. Google Desktop removed two important features in January: search across computers and shared gadgets. "As of January 20th, 2010, the Search Across Computers and Shared Gadget settings feature will no longer be available. These specific requests to Google Desktop servers will no longer establish a connection."

5. The integration with Google search doesn't work if you enable Google Instant.

6. Google Desktop for Mac is no longer available and it's been replaced by Quick Search Box.

7. Google Desktop gadgets no longer work in iGoogle.

8. Google Desktop doesn't index web history in Google Chrome and Firefox 3.6.

9. Google focuses on migrating your data online, so a desktop search tool won't be very useful.

10. The software is slow, buggy and difficult to maintain.

Google Updates Gmail's Android App

More and more Android apps developed by Google are available in the Android Market. Until recently, applications like Voice Search or Gmail couldn't be installed from the Android Market. They were usually included in the firmware by phone manufacturers as part of a deal with Google.

The latest Google application added to the Android Market is Gmail. There aren't many changes: message headers are displayed at the top of the window even when you scroll down, you can click on "show quoted text" to see the text that prompted a reply and the built-in "important" label has been added to the interface.


"Gmail updates aren't tied to Android version releases anymore. Now you can get new Gmail stuff faster without having to wait for system updates," explains Google. Another advantage is that Android users will be able to install Google's apps even when companies like Verizon or Samsung pre-install applications from Google's competitors.

The update to Gmail's app can be installed if you use Android 2.2 (Froyo). Just search for "Gmail" in the marketplace or scan this QR code. Other "Google experience" applications available in the Android Market: Google Search, Voice Search, Google Maps, Street View, Google Voice.

Google Docs Editing for Android and iPad

Google announced that it will soon add support for editing documents in the mobile Google Docs.

"Today we demonstrated new mobile editing capabilities for Google Docs on the Android platform and the iPad. In the next few weeks, co-workers around the world will soon be able to co-edit files simultaneously from an even wider array of devices."

It's interesting to see that the updated Google Docs will support the iPad, but it won't be available for iPhone and iPod Touch. Right now, the mobile version of Google Docs shows a read-only view of your documents and you need to install third-party apps to edit your documents.

Google says that more than 3 million businesses use Google Apps and that the number of Google Apps users is about 30 million. It's not clear if Google Docs editing will only be available for Google Apps users, but it doesn't make any sense to add some unnecessary limitations to a feature that will make Google Docs much more useful.

September 17, 2010

Google Calendar Sound Notifications

Google Calendar has a Labs feature called "Gentle reminders" that replaces pop-up reminders with better notifications. "When you get a reminder, the title of the Google Calendar window or tab will happily blink in the background." If you use Google Chrome, you can also enable desktop notifications in the settings.



Google has recently added sound notifications. You can enable this feature by going to Settings > Gentle reminders (labs) and selecting Play a sound notification together with reminders (requires Flash).

{ spotted by François Beaufort }

September 16, 2010

Print Selection in Google Chrome

Printing is one of Google Chrome's weakest points. Google's browser still doesn't offer print preview and, until recently, you couldn't print selected text. In Google Chrome 6 for Windows, you can select some text and some images from a web page, click on "Print" in the unified menu and choose the "selection" option.


If you frequently print pages in Google Chrome, you can add a print button and install iReader, an extension based on Readability that removes clutter from web pages, makes pages easier to read and adds the option to hide images.

In other Chrome-related news, Chrome 7 beta will be released next Monday and print preview has been pushed back to the next release (Chrome 8). "Because the M7 feature freeze was on Aug 30, moving this to M8. Each cycle is six weeks."

{ Thanks, Tulchin. }

New Look for Google Docs Viewer

Google's document viewer has a new interface that's more consistent with Google Docs. The viewer added a menu bar, a button that lets you save the file to Google Docs and a button for sharing the document with your contacts. The View menu includes a new feature called "compact controls" that hides the navigation bar and the header.


Google Docs Viewer is only useful for PDF files, Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and TIFF files. It's integrated with Google search, so you can quickly preview PDF files without installing Adobe Reader or another PDF reader. There's also a Chrome extension that previews documents in Google Docs Viewer.

{ Thanks, Bogdan. }

September 15, 2010

Google Me: a Social Upgrade, Not a New Service

Eric Schmidt said at the Google Zeitgeist conference that Google will add social features to the existing services, but it won't launch a standalone product to compete with Facebook.

"We're trying to take Google's core products and add a social component. If you think about it, it's obvious. With your permission, knowing more about who your friends are, we can provide more tailored recommendations. Search quality can get better. Everybody has convinced themselves that there's some huge project about to get announced next week. And I can assure you that's not the case," said Eric Schmidt, according to MSNBC.

Google's CEO also said that "the best thing that would happen is for Facebook to open up its data. Failing that, there are other ways to get that information."

Wall Street Journal speculates that YouTube is one of the services that will add more social features. For example, you'll be able to see when a video is watched by many of your friends.

Ever since Google Profiles has been launched, back in 2007, Google added social features to services like Google Maps, Google Reader, iGoogle, but failed to create a compelling interface that integrates all these features. The most important attempt to integrate Google's social services is Google Buzz and Google should focus on improving Buzz, create a standalone interface for people that don't use Gmail, adding more privacy features, introducing reciprocal friendship and building a meaningful social graph.

Until Google users can answer the question: "who are my Google friends?", Google will never be able to develop successful social services. Are they the Google Chat buddies, the contacts from the Friends group, the people you follow in Google Buzz? Google ignored for many years Gmail's contact manager and automatically added entries to the address book when you replied to Gmail messages. The problem was only solved when Google launched a business version of Gmail and users wanted to sync their contacts. Now Google will have to solve the friendship issue.

September 14, 2010

Gmail Stats

Graph Your Inbox is a Google Chrome extension that shows interesting stats about your Gmail account. The extension lets you type one or more queries and plots the results on a graph.

"Our inboxes contain a tremendous amount of information. Nearly every substantive action we take online generates email, from buying goods to booking flights to social network activity. Despite this large amount of data, extracting and graphing this information can be extremely difficult," says Bill Zeller, who developed the extension.


You can use Gmail's advanced search operators to refine your query. For example, the from: operator lets you restrict the results to one or more senders, the subject: operator restricts the results to the messages that have your keywords in the subject line, the label: operator finds the messages that have a certain label. You can search for label:chat to visualize your chats, label:buzz to visualize your Buzz messages or label:important for messages classified as important.

The nice thing about this extension is that you can click on one of the datapoints to view the corresponding Gmail conversations. Unfortunately, the extension doesn't integrate with Gmail's interface and it's quite slow, since it processes a lot of messages. It's not a good idea to try queries that return thousands of results, since Google might disable your account for abnormal usage.

Another important thing: according to the author, "the extension does not save any personal information and does not send any personal information to any server. It does not request or record your email password. This extension does not modify the Gmail website or your email in any way." After checking the source code, I can confirm that the extension only sends requests to Gmail and iGoogle, which is used for obtaining search results using the Gmail gadget.

{ via Information Aesthetics }

Quiksee Acquired by Google

The Israeli startup Quiksee confirmed that it has been acquired by Google and its employees will join the Google Geo team. "Quiksee is an Internet start-up company that focuses on creating location based interactive videos. Our vision is to fill the world maps with Quiksee tours that will let people virtually travel across the planet as if they were there," explains Quicksee's site.

Haaretz says that "the firm's technology is regarded as the missing link in Google's Street View service (used by both Google Maps and Google Earth), which allows users to view photos along numerous streets around the world". Quiksee's software allowed you to create interactive panoramic tours from your videos, without having to use a Street View camera. TechCrunch speculates that Google could "accept geo-tagged, 3D panoramas uploaded by consumers" to improve Google Maps.



Here's a video that shows how Quiksee could integrate with Google Street View:



Google might even use Quiksee to add interactive Street View videos to Google Maps, like the ones demoed by Microsoft's Blaise Agüera y Arcas at a TED conference.

Google Buzz Is Here to Stay

Many tech blogs say that Google Buzz is an unsuccessful project and Google will have to abandon it. Google Buzz is not an experimental service like Google Wave, it's an extremely important project for Google's future and it's a key component of Google's social strategy.

To see how important is Google Buzz for Google, consider that Buzz wasn't launched in Google Labs. It wasn't even launched as a standalone service: Google Buzz was integrated with Gmail, one of the most popular Google products. Google Buzz is also the only Google service that has a special icon and a special search command on Google's mobile site. In less than 7 months since Buzz's launch, the service already has a powerful API, it's integrated with Google Maps, Google Reader, Picasa Web Albums and it's constantly improving.

Google Buzz is actually the service planned in 2007 whose goal was to integrate Google's social applications and become the central place for sharing photos, documents, videos, news with your contacts. Google Buzz already streams some activities from Google Reader, Picasa Web Albums, Blogger, YouTube.

Google Photos blog reports that Google Buzz can now share private Picasa Web Albums:

"It used to be all or nothing when it came to sharing a new Picasa Web Album in Buzz. If you created a public album in Picasa Web Albums, it created a public Google Buzz post. That was great for when you wanted to share your photos broadly. But for those times when you wanted to share with a smaller circle — no Buzz. Now when you create a private album, the select people you choose to share your photo album with will see a notification in Google Buzz as well."


Google Buzz also added two other important features: muting posts by source, so you can hide someone's Twitter posts, Flickr photos or the posts from another source, and editing posts and comments from the mobile interface.

It should be clear that Google Buzz is here to stay, even as a feature of a future service.

September 13, 2010

YouTube Live Streaming

YouTube started to test a new platform for live streaming. "Starting at 8:00 a.m. PT, we will begin a limited trial of a new live streaming platform in conjunction with four of our partners: Howcast, Next New Networks, Rocketboom and Young Hollywood. This new platform integrates live streaming directly into YouTube channels; all broadcasters need is a webcam or external USB/FireWire camera."

YouTube says that live streaming is "a natural evolution to online video that adds an extra level of engagement", but this is also a feature that could make YouTube's integration with Google TV even more useful. YouTube wants to become the central hub for online video, so it now focuses on adding more premium content: live events, music videos, movies and TV shows, movie rentals.

Google Instant Promotional Message

Google shows a large promotional message below the list of search suggestions: "Love Google Instant? Make Google your Homepage." Since this feature is not yet available in your browser's search box or in Google Toolbar, it's a good opportunity for Google to promote its homepage.


Gary Price from ResourceShelf wonders if this is one of the larger promo ads ever seen in a drop down. I remember that Google displayed a similar message when Google Instant was launched: "Welcome to Google Instant. Feelings of euphoria and weightlessness are normal. Do not be alarmed."


I wouldn't be surprised to see that Google starts to show AdWords ads below the suggestions, a feature that has already been tested in Google Suggest.

{ thank you, Gary Price. }

September 11, 2010

Bloglines to Be Discontinued

Bloglines, one of the most popular web-based feed readers, will no longer be available after September 30th. InterActiveCorp, the company that acquired the service in 2005, also owns the search engine Ask.com.
When we originally acquired Bloglines in 2005, RSS was in its infancy. The concept of "push" versus "search" around information consumption had become very real, and we were bullish about the opportunity Bloglines presented for our users. 
 
Flash forward to 2010. The Internet has undergone a major evolution. The real-time information RSS was so astute at delivering (primarily, blog feeds) is now gained through conversations, and consuming this information has become a social experience. As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year, being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself. As a result, RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn't the only service to feel the impact. The writing is on the wall.



Most Bloglines users will probably migrate to Google Reader, which is now the most popular web-based feed reader. Unfortunately, Google Reader is still a niche service and this won't change in the future, so Google will eventually discontinue it. Instead of subscribing to feeds, people prefer to subscribe to other people. Google Buzz, Google Me and other social services will use Google Reader's back-end, while offering a people-centric experience.

Here's the Google Trends chart for RSS:

Instant Search in Google Chrome

Google Chrome will add support for instant search, the feature released this week by Google. An early implementation is already available in Chrome Dev Channel and in Chrome Canary build. You can enable this feature by adding the following command-line flag to a Chrome shortcut: --enable-match-preview (in Windows, right-click on the shortcut, select "Properties" and append the flag to the "Target" value).

Chrome's flavor of instant search is quite surprising. As you type a query in Chrome's Omnibox, the browser shows a preview of Google's results for that query. This is suboptimal because it doesn't use Google's predictions, which speed up entering a query. Instead of displaying the results for [weather] when you type "w", Chrome only shows the results for [w].


When you select one of the suggestions from the address bar, Chrome previews the results for that query. If Chrome finds a web page that matches your query, it loads that page. For example, when I type "m" in the Omnibox, Chrome autocompletes my query as http://mail.google.com, since I frequently go to Gmail. If I type "n", Chrome loads Google News. It may be useful for frequently visited pages, but loading a page just because I type a letter in the address bar is a bit too much. This way, you may end up loading a lot of pages while typing a query and that may be distracting and may slow you down.


This feature works even if Google is not the default search engine. Hopefully, it will be considerably improved before the next Chrome release.

{ Thanks, PhistucK. }

September 10, 2010

Chrome Extension for Google Scribe

Google developed a Chrome extension for Google Scribe, the text completion service launched earlier this week. By default, Google Scribe is disabled, but you can enable it by pressing Ctrl+J. You can also press Ctrl+Shift+J to switch to the on-demand mode that shows suggestions only when you press Tab. If you find Google Scribe useful or you use the on-demand mode, there's an option to automatically activate the service for any text field.


The extension doesn't work well in Gmail if you use the editor's plain text mode or Scribe's on-demand mode. Another Google service that's not compatible with Scribe is Google Docs, which uses a custom text editor.

For other browsers, you can add the bookmarklet from this page. The main difference is that you have to enable Scribe by clicking on the bookmarklet.

On an unrelated note, the screenshot above shows some new Gmail features that are tested internally at Google: inserting Google Docs files, photos and maps.

{ Thanks, alexandrojv. }

September 9, 2010

Yahoo Developed an Instant Search Interface in 2005

Stephen Hood, a former Yahoo employee, says that Yahoo developed an interface similar to Google Instant 5 years ago. It was called LiveSearch and it was launched as an experimental interface for AllTheWeb.com.


Yahoo would not let us ship LiveSearch on yahoo.com or as a part of Yahoo's search engine. Instead we were only allowed to launch it on AllTheWeb, a smaller, lower-traffic search engine that Yahoo had acquired years earlier and largely left to atrophy. (...)

You have to remember that, at the time, Yahoo's search business was doing just well enough that there was very little institutional appetite for product risk. As a result, "big" or disruptive ideas were too often left to whither on the vine. By focusing on the local maximum, Yahoo unwittingly traded innovation for incremental optimization.

LiveSearch was thus relegated to a tiny test bucket of users who didn't actually use Yahoo's search product (or any modern search engine). Usage data from this flawed test was used to internally evaluate its success in comparison to the model it was actually trying to disrupt. Lacking high-level support for its larger vision and starved for resources, LiveSearch was understandably put out to pasture.

Here's an excerpt from Yahoo's blog post that announced LiveSearch:

"Livesearch has that uncanny knack of figuring out exactly what is on my mind. As soon as I start to type a query, Livesearch suggests the right query and shows me the results page before I even press a search button. For example, I wanted to look for 'mission impossible 3'. Just as I finished typing 'mission', Livesearch is already recommending 'mission impossible 3' as the search, and then instantaneously shows me the results page."

Stephen thinks that Google "still has the organizational courage to challenge its own preconceptions" and that's the reason why it can launch features like Google Instant, which change "a user interaction model that's been largely unchallenged for years".

When Google changes the interface of a product, many people say: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!". Fortunately for Google, the company has never followed this principle. As Colin Powell said, "'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It's an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms."

{ via Search Engine Land. Screenshot licensed as Creative Commons by Philipp Lenssen. }

Google Features No Longer Available in Instant Search

Google Instant Search is a very interesting experiment that could change the way you find information on the Web, but the new interface comes with a lot of unpleasant side effects.

1. Google Suggest can no longer be disabled. Even if you disable Google Instant, suggestions will still be displayed.

2. You can no longer change the number of results. The interface would be less fluid if Google had to fetch 50 or 100 results every time you change your query.


3. Google Suggest no longer shows previously typed searches from Google Web History. This was a great feature for repeated queries. Marissa Mayer said last year that "40% of searches on any given day are repeat searches for a user".


4. Google Suggest no longer shows 10 suggestions. Because of space constraints, Google only displays 4 suggestions, followed by your original query.

5. The fade-in animation has been removed. This feature used to hide the navigation bar and all the links from the homepage until you moved your mouse.

6. "Search within results" is no longer available. This feature has never been useful because it didn't actually search within results. It only allowed you to add new keywords to an existing query.

7. Google's search box is not displayed at the bottom of the page. As Amit Agarwal points out, you have to scroll to the top of the page to change the query.


8. No more Wonder Wheel. Google's visualization tool allowed you to explore related searches.

9. Google removed the virtual keyboard. This feature is no longer available at Google Russia and will probably removed from all localized interfaces in the future. "Our virtual keyboard allows you to enter the precise search terms you want, regardless of the language keys on your physical keyboard. It can be helpful for people who use one of the many non-Latin script-based languages that require special characters," explains Google.

All of these features are still available if you log out or you use Google SSL, the encrypted search interface.

Can you find other missing features?

{ Thanks, Tom. }

September 8, 2010

Google Instant Shortcuts

Google Instant Search, the feature that shows search results as you type, is now publicly available. According to a press site, "Google Instant is starting to roll-out to users on Google domains in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia who use the latest browsers (Chrome versions 5 and later, Firefox version 3 and later, Safari version 5 for Mac and Internet Explorer version 8). Please note, users on domains other than Google.com and Google.ru can only access Google Instant if they are signed in to a Google Account."

If you don't see the new feature, go to Google's homepage, click on "Google.com in English" and log in to a Google account. If you still don't see it, try this URL: http://www.google.com/webhp?sclient=psy.

When you start to type a query, Google moves the search box to the top of the page and shows a list of 4 suggestions, followed by the search results for the first suggestion. That means you can just type "ny" and get the search results for [ny times] almost instantly. Google shows the predicted query in the search box, but the characters automatically added by Google are grayed out.


If you intend to type [ny times crossword], you can press Tab or use the right arrow to add "times" to your query and continue typing "crossword". Use the up/down arrows to pick a different suggestion and you'll notice that the results are displayed without having to press Enter.


The nice thing about the new interface is that you can use the "I'm feeling lucky" much more easily. For example, to visit the top search result for [ny times crossword], select the suggestion using the down arrow and perform "I'm feeling lucky" using the right arrow.

How to visit New York Times homepage using 4 keystrokes? ny Down Right. How to go to Yelp using 4 keystrokes? ye Down Right.

Another great thing about the new interface is that the search box always has focus. You never have to click on the search box to add a new word to your query.

If you don't like Google's suggestions, you can always ignore them and press Enter to find the results for the query that you've typed.

To sum up:
Tab/Right arrow = pick the first suggestion
Up/Down arrow = select another suggestion from the list
Right arrow while selecting a suggestion = I'm feeling lucky
Enter or Esc = ignore the suggestions and find the results for your query

Try Google Instant Search

Google will soon release a new interface that shows the results as you type a query. If you want to try the new feature before it's officially released, use this URL: http://www.google.com/webhp?sclient=psy.



My first impression: you can now get useful results after typing a few characters. Google has never been so fast.

To watch a webcast of Google's search event where streaming search will be launched, visit youtube.com/google.

Update: The feature is called Google Instant. "Feelings of euphoria and weightlessness are normal. Do not be alarmed."

"Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. The most obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before because you don’t have to finish typing your full search term, or even press 'search.' Another shift is that seeing results as you type helps you formulate a better search term by providing instant feedback. You can now adapt your search on the fly until the results match exactly what you want. In time, we may wonder how search ever worked in any other way."



{ via Zorgloob and Jérôme. }

Google Doodle for Today's Launch

Even if Google said that the particles animation didn't celebrate a special event, it's probably the first time when Google uses doodles to build anticipation before launching a new feature. The doodle was fast, fun and interactive, just like the new search interface that shows results as you type a query.

Today, Google's homepage has a new doodle that shows a monochrome Google logo. When you start typing your query, Google brings back the color one letter at a time.


The doodle looks exactly like the new interface for Google Suggest:


It's now obvious that Google will launch "streaming search" today. Even Google's Twitter account confirms this: "Our doodle is dressing up in its brightest colors for something exciting coming very soon".

September 7, 2010

Google Scribe

Update (Nov. 2011): Now that Google Labs was closed, Scribe is only available in Blogger in Draft.

Google launched a very interesting tool that offers suggestions as you type: Google Scribe [updated link]. It's not exactly the service I anticipated 3 years ago, but Google Scribe works surprisingly well. For example, I started to type "This works sur" and Google suggested "This works surprisingly well", which is exactly what I wanted to type. Instead of typing 14 characters, I could only type "1" or press Enter to select the first suggestion.


"Google Scribe provides text completion service. Using information from what you have already typed in a document, Google Scribe provides related word or phrase completion suggestions. In addition to saving keystrokes, Google Scribe's suggestions indicate correct or popular phrases to use," explains Google.


The nice thing about this service is that you don't need to use Google's editor. You can add a bookmarklet to your browser and use Google Scribe in Gmail, Blogger, Google Docs or on any web page that includes text fields.


Google Scribe only works for English right now, but I'm sure that Google will add many other languages in the future. If you don't like to see suggestions for all the words you type, enable the on-demand mode (Ctrl+Shift+J) and you'll only see suggestions when you press Tab.

Since Google uses data extracted from web pages, you'll see a lot of strange suggestions like this pattern from Google's navigation bar:


or this text, which is frequently used on IngentaConnect's site:


{ Thanks, Robert. }