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, 2006

September Recap: Google Opening to the World

September was a quiet month for Google with a lot of predictable updates. While Google News Archive didn't generate a lot of rumor, the long list of updates did:

- Google Personalized Homepage adds minimization and tabs
- Google Earth: imagery update, featured content
- Google Video shows page views and captions
- Google Notebook adds collaboration
- Google Calendar includes web events (weather, moon phases)
- orkut adds friends map
- Writely migrates to Google Accounts
- Froogle + Checkout integration
- create up to 5 sites in Google Pages
- 50 profiles in Google Analytics
- Picasa 2.5 out of beta, Picasa Web in public beta
- Google Reader updates the layout
- Google Talk opens to the world (it needs only a Google Account)

The most difficult problem for Google was Belgian's court order that forced Google to remove some newspapers from Google News and Google.be. The biggest event for Google was their eighth birthday, that showed how much the company has evolved.

In the next months, we'll see more improvements in integrating shopping features into the main search, more updates for Google Talk, Google Webmasters Central and Google Video, and some surprising products emerging into light.

Some stats for this month of Google Operating System:

most popular posts
1. Google recommendations
2. 10 great uses for Google Desktop
3. Gmail keyboard shortcuts (printable)
4. Play Google videos in Windows Media Player
5. More than one Gmail

most unpopular posts
1. Google mobile search adds Onebox results
2. Related searches
3. Google inaccessible to Comcast users
4. Marketing tools for Intuit
5. Google, only a content mediator

most comments
1. Homepage tabs [40]
2. Google turns over data about orkut users [19]
3. On bookmarks [17]
4. 10 great uses for Google Desktop [17]
5. Google Reader update [13]
Image Labeler [13]
How much data does Google store? [13]

most popular image



Some subjective rankings:

most interesting
1. everyday
2. Capturing and organizing personal information
3. On bookmarks
4. Google, a mix between a startup and a grad school
5. 8 years of Google

most useful
1. Handy calculator in Firefox 2.0
2. 10 great uses for Google Desktop
3. Play Google videos in Windows Media Player
4. The best way to read books in Google Book Search
5. Send free SMS in the US

September 29, 2006

Google Talk for Mobile Phones

I'm sure Google is working on this feature, but until they get this done, there's an open-source project that may help you. MGTalk is a Java midlet that lets you connect to any Jabber server, supports SSL connection, has a basic chat history and a Gmail notifier.

And if that client doesn't work for your mobile phone, you may try this modified version that works on any HTTP enabled network.

Before entering your Google credentials, remember this is a third-party application. As MGTalk is open-source, you can always check the code to make sure your password is safe and even recompile it.

StumbleUpon Integrates with Search Engines


StumbleUpon, the service that lets you find and recommend interesting sites, works mostly by using a plugin for your browser (Internet Explorer and Firefox). StumbleUpon updated their plugin, by integrating their metadata into search results from Google and Yahoo.

If you enable that option, you'll see a rating (from one star to three five stars), a link to reviews and the topic of the site. While the topic may be obvious (in the example from the screenshot), the rating and the reviews are useful to decide if the information from that page is valid, reliable, or just to see what others people think about a site. I'm not suggesting that "the voice of the crowd" should be followed, but it's always interesting to see other opinions.

Google Talk Doesn't Require Gmail Anymore

Google realized that one of the reasons Google Talk has such a small number of users is that you need to have a Gmail account to use it. And that wasn't too necessary. Of course, you had your Gmail contacts, mail notification, your chats were searchable in Gmail and the voicemail you received looked better, but the basic client doesn't need a Gmail address.

Google Blog reports that now anyone can try Google Talk, if they have a Google Account. So if you're in this situation, you just have to sign up for GTalk, choose a nickname, and get the client (1.5 MB, Windows 2000/XP). You'll notice that the interface still talks about Gmail and features like mail notification are visible, but don't work.

Google claims "there are millions of people around the world to chat with".

Update: Google also released Google Talk 1.0.0.98, fixing some bugs, and introducing others. Offline contacts and those who use Gmail Chat have non-working options like "Call" and "Send files".

Related:
Some reasons to try Google Talk
Google Talk tips and tricks
Why Google Talk will be the best IM client

September 28, 2006

Google Reader Switches to a Bloglines-like Layout


Google Reader team has finally realized that nobody likes their interface (well, except for a couple of noisy people). I know it's cool to see all the new posts in a continous flow, but nobody reads news like that.

So Google Reader adopted the best way of creating a feed reader: Bloglines. No, they didn't buy it from Ask, they decided to do their own Bloglines. The difference is that Google Reader uses labels, instead of folders.

Other new features:
* Expanded view and list view (similar to Gmail, list view shows only the title and a small snippet, while the expanded view shows the entire post)
* Simplified sharing functionality (just click on the share link, and add snippets from blog posts to a public page. You can share that page with your friends, so they can read your favorite pieces.)
* Infinite scrolling (no upper bound for how many blog posts you can read and instead of clicking to read the next post, you can just scroll)
* Unread counts (can't count more than 100 items)
* Mark all as read

The new interface is much better, and uses more from the screen space. You also have a list of feed packages you can choose and a "Next" bookmarklet you can add to your browser to read blog posts directly from their site. The only questions are why Google Reader is not a part of Gmail yet and where is the search functionality.

Google, a Mix Between a Startup and a Grad School

Googler Steve Yegge has a long article about agile software development (developing software in short time frames). He argues that not every company does it right and Google is one of the companies where agile programming is meaningful.

"From a high level, Google's process probably does look like chaos to someone from a more traditional software development company. There are managers, sort of, but most of them code at least half-time, making them more like tech leads. Developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked. Google has a philosophy of not ever telling developers what to work on, and they take it pretty seriously. (...) Engineers working on important projects are, on average, rewarded more than those on less-important projects. The rewards and incentives are too numerous to talk about here, but the financial incentives range from gift certificates and massage coupons up through giant bonuses and stock grants. (...) There are other incentives. One is that Google a peer-review oriented culture, and earning the respect of your peers means a lot there. (...) Another incentive is that every quarter, without fail, they have a long all-hands in which they show every single project that launched to everyone, and put up the names and faces of the teams (always small) who launched each one, and everyone applauds. (...) The thing that drives the right behavior at Google, more than anything else, more than all the other things combined, is gratitude. You can't help but want to do your absolute best for Google; you feel like you owe it to them for taking such incredibly good care of you. (...)

Google can be considered a fusion of the startup and grad-school mentalities: on the one hand, it's a hurry-up, let's get something out now, do the simplest thing that could work and we'll grow it later startup-style approach. On the other, it's relatively relaxed and low-key; we have hard problems to solve that nobody else has ever solved, but it's a marathon not a sprint, and focusing requires deep concentration, not frenzied meetings. And at the intersection of the two, startups and grad schools are both fertile innovation ground in which the participants carry a great deal of individual responsibility for the outcome."

Related:
Innovation, emerging from Google's chaos
Google from inside

Capturing and Organizing Personal Information

"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, memex will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory."

This is an excerpt from an article written in 1945 by Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think". To fulfill these expectations, Microsoft has a project called MyLifeBits, that wants to capture and digitize "articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, voice recordings, phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio" shows - that is everything you see, hear or create.

The software "leverages SQL server to support: hyperlinks, annotations, reports, saved queries, pivoting, clustering, and fast search. MyLifeBits is designed to make annotation easy, including gang annotation on right click, voice annotation, and web browser integration. It includes tools to record web pages, IM transcripts, radio and television."



Iddo Gennuth explores the idea of capturing our entire life and concludes that we'd need 57 GB of storage space to record a day of our life, but the major problem we'd be to organize this information and to search for a certain detail. Voice recognition and face recognition don't work too well to organize our recorded life.

The idea of a central system that stores and manages everything that matters for an individual is not far from Google's plans. In Google Persistent Memory, I wrote that "Google wants to create a persistent memory for all your virtual belongings: your queries, your bookmarks, your history, and ultimately your files. When you leave a footprint on a computer, it should propagate to Google and become a persistent footprint, something you can retrieve from any other computer connected to the Internet." But that's still far from recording your life.

While for Microsoft MyLifeBits is just a research project, Google is much closer to actually creating a "supplemental memory".

Giant Bug and Naked People, Spotted in Google Earth

Two creatures have been very famous these days, not because they did something spectacular, but because they were spotted in Google Earth. The first one is a topless sunbather from Holland, the second one is a small bug that appears to be huge, but it's only "a Thrips which was probably squished between a glass plate and the film during the scanning process".

September 27, 2006

Winamp Moves to the Web

My favorite audio player for Windows, Winamp, has been upgraded to version 5.3 and has two new features: Winamp Dashboard and Winamp Remote.

Winamp Dashboard is a sort of personalized homepage, that lets you add widgets for news, most played songs, viral videos, Winamp skins.



Winamp Remote is a media server, that allows you to share your music to the world. "Winamp Remote gives users the ability to access their personal collection of music from any internet-connected computer. Support for video and photo sharing and access from internet-capable mobile phones is expected soon. Winamp Remote also contains powerful but easy-to-use tools that let users share listening and viewing experiences with friends." (from the press release)

To use Winamp Remote, you need to install a new application and create an account. Then you can share some of your folders and invite your friends to enjoy your music. They can explore the music library in a browser and stream the songs using their favorite audio player.



Here's the download link you won't find on Winamp site: Winamp 5.3 Full (6.12 MB). Both new features are available in the Media Library.

Google Video Special Promotion

Google uses video ads to promote... Google Video. In one of the ads, they show a popular video from Google Video and ask you: "Have something better? Upload and share your video now."

Something better than "Hips don't lie spoof", "Webcam girls go wild", or "Steve Irwin gets stung by a stingray and dies"? What about "Webcam girls killed while singing Hips don't lie"?

{ Thank you, Will Shepherdson. }

Record Videos in Google Earth

Fraps is a video capturing tool, useful if you want to record scenes from games. But you can also use it to record videos in Google Earth, a feature available in Google Earth Pro, if you add Movie Making Module (Google Earth Pro costs $400, and the module $200).

Fraps costs $37, but it can be used for free if you don't mind to see a watermark or if you don't want a big resolution. Fraps produces huge files, so you have to use a software like Windows Movie Maker or VirtualDub to compress the videos.

Here's one video that uses Google Earth footage recorded with Fraps:

8 Years of Google


Google wanted to celebrate their September anniversary today with a special logo. From 1998, the company has evolved a lot. I've compiled some excerpts from the news about Google, published in September, to show a glimpse from its evolution. The last snippet is from Google Groups.

"As will undoubtedly make the rounds everywhere in the blogosphere today, Google has just launched Google Blog Search. Google's perhaps the single company most identitied with search, so their entrance into the blog search space is a big milestone even though the idea of blog search has been around for years." (September 2005)

"Today, Google launched a number of significant upgrades to Google Local, Google's local search service. These enhancements and new features are a result of Google's continuing effort to develop Google Local and make local information even more accessible and useful. The new improvements include (...) a new, cleaner design [with] maps on results pages displaying the location of businesses in the search results" (September 2004)

"Google, one of the most aggressive staff recruiters in Silicon Valley, is putting on a programming contest worth up to $10,000 and a possible career at the search company." (September 2003)

"Google News (...) has had a major facelift. The service is still in beta and still free. But now it is linked prominently from Google's top page, which means that millions of people will try it. Google News is an automated aggregator. In its earlier incarnation, Google spidered some 150 news sites, updating once an hour, and determined which stories were the most covered; it built a page with summaries and links, all generated without benefit of a human editor. Now Google spiders 4,000 news sites and updates every 15 minutes. The resulting news page is refreshingly free of blinking ads and pop-unders, as all of Google has been since its inception." (September 2002)

"In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, popular news Web sites such as CNN.com and ABCNEWS.com were overwhelmed with a deluge of people grasping for the latest information. For many, the sites were inaccessible. Into the breach stepped Google Inc., the search engine company. It had made copies of the news pages before the crush and offered them up on its site." (September 2001)

"Using a new search algorithm that Google launched Friday, users can input numbers directly into their cellular phones, and the Google algorithm intelligently figures out what words they represent." (September 2000)

"Suppose you had a search engine that could steer straight through the oceans of inanities on the Net. The Web's meandering masses would soon make a beeline for it, clamoring for their daily fix of relevant search results. It would be manna for the mind, and everyone would love it. But would you have a business?" (September 1999)

"I've used it several times over the last few months. I think right now it's still one of those things that only people "in the know" use, although it's beginning to get some press now. It really reminds me of that other Stanford offshoot....Yahoo.... It runs on Linux and you actually find what you're looking for on the Net with it. Damn, I wish I had some spare money floating about to invest in it once it becomes a company." (September 1998)

Google, Only a Content Mediator

After losing the famous lawsuit in Belgium, Google thought it's a good idea to summarize its relationship with content and content owners.

"Our aim to help organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful means working with a lot of information – newspaper articles (many written over a century ago), books (of which there are millions), images, videos (including all of the new footage users are creating), websites, important financial information and much, much more.

Because we don't own this content, over the years we've come up with three primary principles to ensure that we respect content owners and protect their rights:

* we respect copyright;
* we let owners choose whether we index their content in our products;
* we try to bring benefit back to content owners by partnering with them.
"

The general approach is that the indexing process is opt-out, so content owners can choose to remove their content from the index or prevent indexing in the first place. Google shows small pieces of information and links back to the original content. Everybody benefits from that: Google has a successful business, users find information, and publishers are found and get traffic.

If Google needs to show more than snippets of information, then they buy the right to use it, like they did for Google Maps imagery and Google Finance information, or buy the information, like did with UseNet archives.

Reuters reports that "Google is unlikely to make any major investments in original content, choosing instead to keep its focus on Internet search. Tim Armstrong, vice president of advertising sales, said Google viewed itself as an operator of the Web rather than a company that would produce original text, films or images."

That means Google continues to be a mediator between information and consumers. They collect information, convert it and process it, and then deliver the results in an order dictated by relevance.

Google Inaccessible to Some Comcast Users

Many sites, including google.com, were inaccessible yesterday in the US because of a DNS failure at Comcast. A Google spokesman said that "Google engineers helped troubleshoot the problem and provided diagnostic information to the ISP. We believe the issue has since been resolved by the ISP."

PC World reports that the problems affected people from the northeastern part of the U.S. It's interesting to note that localized Google sites like google.co.uk were accessible.

September 26, 2006

Berkeley Offers Course Lectures in Google Video

University of California, Berkeley, will deliver educational content, including course lectures, through Google Video. Berkeley even has a special page that features some of the videos, including a Sergey Brin lecture from 2005. "Coursecasting is a growing trend in educational technology, enabling students and the general public to download audio and video recordings of class lectures to their computers and portable media devices. As with UC Berkeley's agreement to deliver podcasts through Apple Computer's iTunes U, the content made available via Google Video will consist mostly of recorded course lectures and special campus events," mentions the press release.

I think it's a good idea to spread knowledge through mainstream channels like Google Video, and more universities should follow Berkeley's path.

Google Wants Energy-Efficient Hardware

New York Times reports that Google has some tips for saving energy.

"Google is calling on the computer industry to create a simpler and more efficient power supply standard that it says will save billions of kilowatt-hours of energy annually.

In a white paper to be presented Tuesday on the opening day of the Intel Developer Forum here, two leading data center designers at Google will argue that the industry is mired in inefficiency for historical reasons, dating to the introduction of the first I.B.M. PC in 1981. (...)

The Google plan calls for a shift from multivoltage power supplies to a single 12-volt standard. Although voltage conversion would still take place on the PC motherboard, the simpler design of the new power supply would make it easier to achieve higher overall efficiencies."

Their experience with building efficient data centers might be helpful for the hardware manufacturers. For example, Google uses servers with Opteron chip from AMD as they are more power-efficient.

Google Mobile Search Adds Onebox Results


Google Mobile Search started to add a lot of features from the web search. After adding a mobile version for image search, news search, Google Maps, and testing mobile ads, Google shows onebox results. I could see a onebox for news triggered by popular queries like "Bush", a onebox for local results triggered by queries like "pizza in NY", short definitions if you start your query with "define", stock quotes, weather information and movie showtimes. Unfortunately, Google Calculator is not yet available.

These instant results are especially useful on a mobile phone, because most people don't want to visit a lot of pages to find simple answers.

To try Google Mobile Search, go to google.com on a mobile phone or a PDA, or visit google.com/xhtml.

Related:
What's a onebox result?
More Google on your mobile phone

Google Notebook Adds Collaboration


Google Notebook lets you share a notebook with a group of people, in a similar way you do this in Google Spreadsheets. These people can add notes or edit notes written by other people, but you can't know who wrote something or when they added a note. You can add collaborators even if the notebook is public.

There's also a gadget for the personalized homepage that looks similar to the Firefox extension (or IE plugin).

The new feature may be useful for a team project, or if you want to explore the web with someone.

Other new features include an improved recycle bin for notes and an easier way to organize your notes, by moving them using drag and drop.

I think we'll see more collaboration features in Google tools, as they're not difficult to implement and are a great advantage for a web tool.

More Locations in Google Transit


Google Transit, the service that lets you access public transit schedules, routes, and lets you plan trips using local public transportation options, is still in Google Labs from last year. The good news is that you can use Google Transit for 5 new locations: Tampa (Florida), Honolulu, Eugene (Oregon), Pittsburgh, and Seattle.

Here's one example of indications.

A New Format of Google Calendar with Live Content

Google Calendar has added a new format of calendar for web content events. This calendar shows a small icon; if you hover over the icon, you'll find some information; if you click on the icon, Google Calendar will display more details. The new format can show live events, like weather information or news. For the moment, there are only three calendars available, but you can create your own calendar.

To show the weather forecast in your calendar, go to settings, choose your location and select "Show weather based on my location". Note that there are countries where you won't see this option.



If you want to include special Google doodles, click on the "+" next to "Other Calendars", select "Browse Calendars" and add Google Holiday Logos, a slick calendar that shows a modified Google logo and the details about specific holidays. You can also add "Phases of the Moon" calendar, to see the date when the moon phase changes.

September 25, 2006

Celestia - Explore the Universe


Celestia is a space simulator that lets you travel in our universe. You can explore the entire solar system and even go beyond our galaxy. Celestia doesn't just show you the sky, it lets you view the universe from any point you want. If you are familiar with Google Earth, it will be easy to use the program.

You can capture images and record videos, so you can use the program for your school projects. The program is also useful to learn information about planets, satellites and stars.

If Google Earth has Sketchup and 3D Warehouse, Celestia has Motherlode, a repository for 3D models and textures.

Celestia is open-source and it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. After running the program for the first time, go to Help / Run Demo and select the full-screen mode.

Google / Saturn Video Ad

If you want to launch a new model of a car, a video might be the best kind of ad. Google wants to convince advertisers that it can do not just text ads, but also image ads and video ads. New York Times reports that Google partnered with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, a San Francisco agency that delivers ads to Saturn, a division of General Motors.

"The project begins (...) with a test of a campaign for Saturn, bundling together several Google products and services like clickable video clips, the Google Earth satellite mapping tool and geographic finding of computer users.

Visitors to a variety of Web sites in six cities around the country that are home to 22 Saturn dealerships will see what look like typical banner ads for Aura, a new Saturn midsize sedan. Clicking on an ad will produce a view of the earth that zooms in on the dealership nearest to the computer user."

Here's what the ad looks like (this is just a video, not an ad). Clicking on the ad would send you to this landing page.



{ Thank you, TomHTML. }

Synchronize Your Calendars

Engtech has a complicated solution for synchronizing Microsoft Outlook with Google Calendar and Gmail. The setup includes the following features:

* Calendars: Microsoft Outlook at work for professional scheduling, Google Calendar for personal scheduling
* Contacts: Gmail for email addresses, Microsoft Outlook at home for contacts
* Gadgets: Nokia 6682 for access to contacts/calendar on the go (or any mobile phone that has software to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook), iPod for access to contacts/calendar on the go

To synchronize Google Calendar and Outlook, it uses a free service called ScheduleWorld. Although it will take you some time to go through all the steps involved in the process, the results might make you happy.

Other solutions:
Sync Google Calendar and Outlook using a desktop tool
Add events to your calendar faster

Random Pictures from Daily Life


If you have a digital camera, then you know it uses templates for the name of the saved photos. For example, some Kodak cameras use this name convention: dcp#####.jpg, where ##### is replaced by a number, HP Photosmart uses IM######.jpg. Many people are too lazy to change the default file names and some of them upload the photos to their sites. Some of their sites are crawled by Google.

Random Personal Picture Finder is a site that generates random file names using the name conventions for some popular digital cameras and sends them to Google Image Search. The result is a list of unrelated personal pictures. Some would say they're a snapshot from our daily life, others will appreciate the diversity of the photos. They're people you don't know, doing familiar things, in a chaotic mix.

Note: if you don't want to see "adult images", choose strict SafeSearch in the settings.

Innovation, Emerging from Google Chaos

Chaos theory Fortune has an interesting article about Google's management called Chaos by design. Adam Lashinsky illustrates the difference between Google and other companies using a weird situation:

"Take the case of Sheryl Sandberg, a 37-year-old vice president whose fiefdom includes the company's automated advertising system. Sandberg recently committed an error that cost Google several million dollars -- "Bad decision, moved too quickly, no controls in place, wasted some money," is all she'll say about it -- and when she realized the magnitude of her mistake, she walked across the street to inform Larry Page, Google's co-founder and unofficial thought leader. "God, I feel really bad about this," Sandberg told Page, who accepted her apology. But as she turned to leave, Page said something that surprised her. "I'm so glad you made this mistake," he said. "Because I want to run a company where we are moving too quickly and doing too much, not being too cautious and doing too little. If we don't have any of these mistakes, we're just not taking enough risk."

This example speaks a lot about Google's attitude. They launch a lot of products, without thinking too much about their future or if they're going to be successful. Even if you make mistakes, there's always a lesson to be learned.

The article also mentions some interesting details about Google Earth, a software that has been downloaded more than 100 million times. Google makes money from Google Earth by placing ads and by offering users Google Toolbar. "We know the lifetime value of a toolbar user. So we know how much value we're getting back out of somebody who downloads Google Earth and then subsequently downloads the toolbar," says Marissa Mayer. Instead of charging users for Google Earth (a Microsoft-like attitude, and the initial strategy of Keyhole), Google chose to monetize their software in a not-so-obvious way.

Google also decided to transform orkut's failure in an opportunity to learn more about social networks. They'll provide search and ads for MySpace. "Winning MySpace kept the Web's gem of the moment out of the hands of Microsoft and Yahoo, which both privately claim that Google overpaid by several hundred million dollars. Whether that's true won't be known for years."

If this chaotic way of doing business will continue to work for Google, that remains to be seen. But if you're doing things chaotically, it's always a good idea to control the situation, at least apparently. Chaos has a small chance of creating a better order by innovation, but a small change can lead to butterfly effects.

September 24, 2006

FoxyTunes - Control Music Players in Firefox


FoxyTunes is a Firefox extension that lets you control a music player from the browser. The idea is not original, but this add-on supports a lot of music players (from Winamp, iTunes to RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, Amarok and foobar2000) and autodetects the current player. You can even use keyboard shortcuts if you don't like to click on small buttons.

If you use Winamp, you can obtain a similar effect by selecting the modern skin and entering the "Windowshade mode", a mini version of Winamp that could remain always on top. Windows Media Player can also be minimized to a small player integrated into the taskbar.

So why would you install this extension? Well, maybe you use a player that doesn't have a mini mode. Or maybe you want to use the search functionality of FoxyTunes. You can find information about the artist, song lyrics, videos and buy songs from iTunes. Foxytunes takes advantage of the new medium by letting you play files linked in a web page.

The interface is customizable and there are skins you can download. If you spend most of your online time in Firefox, it's a good idea to try this extension.

Related:
SongBird - Firefox as a media player
If Google developed a music player...

News Publishers Want Full Control of the Search Results

robots.txt After a Belgian press organization sued Google for copyright infringement and won, World Association of Newspapers decided to create "an automated system for granting permission on how to use their content", reports Reuters. The system will be called Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP).

If you're wondering why a such a system would be useful, you're not the only one. "Since search engine operators rely on robotic 'spiders' to manage their automated processes, publishers' Web sites need to start speaking a language which the operators can teach their robots to understand. What is required is a standardized way of describing the permissions which apply to a Web site or Web page so that it can be decoded by a dumb machine without the help of an expensive lawyer."

The publishers seem to ignore the fact that there is a system that lets you control what pages you want search engines to crawl: it's called robots.txt and it's available to every site owner. Probably some sites have an extremely valuable content and they need a new permission system, that will match their inflated self-importance.

Publishers were kind enough to offer an example: "In one example of how ACAP would work, a newspaper publisher could grant search engines permission to index its site, but specify that only select ones display articles for a limited time after paying a royalty." It's very strange to see this example. If you allow a search engine to crawl your site, you also allow it to display a small excerpt from the article (or at least the headline). If a site pays you to display the full articles (like Yahoo News), that site already knows it has the right to republish the content. Other sites, like Google News, send the visitors to the source of the article and they only aggregate and cluster articles.

I think news sites should be treated the same like the rest of the sites, and it's not necessary to create a new system for giving permissions to index a site.

Related:
Google Belgium homepage displays the court order
More about Google News

September 23, 2006

Google Has the Largest Number of Dead and Old Pages

Ziv Bar-Yossef, from Google, wrote a paper about sampling random pages from a search engine's index using queries. He explains some of the technical details in this video, including the utility of sampling random pages: comparing search engines, estimating the amount of spam, of fresh results etc.

He applied the results from his paper and compared Google, Yahoo and MSN Search. Here are three charts that show a comparison of the index size, how many dead pages are in each search engine and how fresh the results are. The charts are only an estimation, and they have a bias of around 10%. As you can see, Google doesn't do very well.

To find out more, watch the video, which is fairly long (1 hour) or skip to the results. There's also the paper "Random Sampling from a Search Engine's Index" (PDF), that got the best paper award at WWW 2006.

The Hidden Purpose of Google Base

ComputerWorld reports that Google intends to extend Google Base integration into main search results.

"When users search for products on Google.com, the system will present them with another search box so that they can refine their query. After users refine their queries, Google takes them to a second page populated with product results from the Google Base listings service."

Google also plans to diminish Froogle's importance and to include ads in Google Base. Google recently redesigned Google Base, removed the search box from the homepage and added the tagline "Post it on Base. Find it on Google" to show you'll see more search results from Google Base on Google.com.

You can already see this integration if you search for "jobs" (it works in the US and in few other countries).



In the future, you'll search for a product like "dress" and customize its characteristics before actually seeing the search results.



It's important to note that Google ranks the results from Google Base according to their relevancy and using the metadata attached to each item. Listing products in Google Base is free.

When it was launched, Google said that Google Base is a service that collects information not yet in Google Search, but the real idea was organizing this information and making search results more intelligent using it.

Google Belgium Homepage, Dreadfully Sad


Google finally complied to Belgian's court order completely. After removing several sites from Google.be and Google News, they show the text of the court order on Google.be.

"Also order the defendant to publish, in a visible and clear manner and without any commentary from her part the entire intervening judgment on the home pages of 'google.be' and of 'news.google.be' for a continuous period of 5 days within 10 days of the notification of the intervening order, under penalty of a daily fine of 500,000,- € per day of delay."

Google Belgium homepage now looks like a big wound on the face of the Internet.

September 22, 2006

Try Google's Updated Design Experiment

Google has updated their experimental design of the search result pages, that shows the services in a left sidebar.

If you want to try it, copy this code:

javascript:document.cookie="PREF= ID=ad93daafaa747f70:TM=1158373640:LM=1158374016:GM=1:S=wNuiLiKHrkRnMZtf; path=/; domain=.google.com"

go to google.com, paste it in the address bar, then go to the preferences and click "Save preferences".

If you want to go back to the original design, just delete your Google cookie.




{ Via Googlified. }

Related:
Other design experiments
User experience at Google

Google Ajax Search, To Help JavaScript Worms

Gnucitizen blog has an interesting post about Google Ajax Search API, a tool that allows you to integrate Google Search into your site and let visitors search Google without leaving your site. The post shows that this API could make life much easier for those who write malware and might facilitate their propagation.

"Web worms can use Google's infrastructure to propagate. If a malicious mind finds a vulnerability in WordPress for example and this vulnerability allows SQL Injection, a worm may be written to crawl blogs in search for this vulnerability and embed itself into everything that is vulnerable. Once a user visits an infected blog the worm starts another cycle.

Another worm might be able to crawl random sites and run generic Cross-site Scripting and SQL Injection checks and send the results to their master who will use them to release more advance worms.

Malicious minds can use Google technology and recently discovered vulnerabilities to create a BotNet that can be used for computational tasks, attacks, information gathering and pretty much everything else that the masters can come up with."


Unlike standard worms, JavaScript worms are not easy to detect and can spread rapidly . The author also thinks that in the future the web will be the new arena for malware, and we may need a web anti-virus that monitors visited web pages.

Related:
Cross-site scripting (Wikipedia)
Cross-site request forgery (Wikipedia)
Samy is my hero (MySpace worm)
More about Google Ajax Search API

September 21, 2006

Get Rich From ATMs Using Google

EWeek reports that you don't have to be clever to get rich.

"Using clues obtained from a YouTube video and a simple four-word Google search engine query, a criminal can find step-by-step instructions for how to hack into and take control of thousands of ATMs scattered around the United States. (...)

In the operator manual freely available on the Web site of a Canadian reseller, a section titled Programming provides the specific key sequence that will pop up a screen on the ATM that asks for the master password. It then lists three default passwords—master, service and operator—that could be used to hijack and possibly rig a machine."

And because most people are lazy, many ATMs still have the default passwords, which are freely available. A quote from the manual of an ATM:

"The default Master password is 123456 and the default Administrative password is 987654. To enter Management Functions as the Administrative user, enter 987654 and press ENTER (OK)."



The article concludes that "the episode underscores how easy it is to use the power of search engines to find sensitive security information. In the past, Google queries have been used to find security flaws in Web-facing applications, default passwords in Oracle databases and even live malware samples seeded on forums and other malicious sites." That's true, but you should also think that publicly available information is... available to public, so anyone can use it. Google and other search engines can only make this process easier, but the fault is not theirs.

Google Periodic Table

You must have studied chemistry. Then you must know the periodic table of elements, a list of chemical elements ordered according to their atomic numbers. It doesn't look very well, it's hard to remember the position of each element and it doesn't stir your imagination.

Joey deVilla has a friend who thought it would be nice to pick the top result for each element in Google Image Search and put it in the table. The result is extraordinary, although it could be improved a little bit.

Create More Than One Site in Google Pages


Google Page Creator has a new feature: you can create up to five sites using a single account.

First, enable "experimental features" in Site Settings. Then go to the page manager and click on "Create a site with a different address", choose an address and that's it. As the address has the format *.googlepages.com, you can't choose the name of an existing Gmail account.

This is a good way to overcome the limitation of having only 100 MB space and only 100 files, without creating a new account.

The answer to the question: "How do I create a new site?" from help has changed from:

"During this initial testing period, we're only allowing each account to have a single site. However, this site can be comprised of up to 100 pages. We'll soon be offering support for multiple sites, but don't have any specific timeline to share at this point."

to

"Select the Create a site with a different address link that appears near the top of the Page Manager."

Related:
Add gadgets to Google Pages
Free website monitoring

September 20, 2006

Google Checkout Integrates with Froogle


If you search for a product on Froogle, you'll notice a new item in the list of stores: "Google Checkout Stores". Google didn't create a special store, it just lists all the products that can be bought using Google Checkout.

There's also a Google Checkout logo at the bottom of the page: "Google - Accepts Google Checkout". Google wants to make their new service more visible, hoping that more online stores will use it.

Compare Google Results from Around the World


Search Engine Watch found a site that lets you compare Google search results from different locations. Google uses geotargeting, so the results from different countries (and even regions from the same country) might be different. For better results, select a data center instead of using google.com. My only complaints are that the site is pretty slow and it doesn't have an extensive list of countries.

This geotargeted search comparison might be useful if you want to have a better look at your rankings, but you should know that there are other factors like personalization that can modify the order of the search results.

Behind corp.google.com

Tony Ruscoe found some internal Google subdomains. All of them have this form *.corp.google.com and include:

alien.corp.google.com
amd.corp.google.com
blackberry.corp.google.com
blueberry.corp.google.com
cluster.corp.google.com
cupid.corp.google.com
discovery.corp.google.com
gypsy.corp.google.com
ideas.corp.google.com
matrix.corp.google.com
paranoia.corp.google.com

While some of them have connections with existing or future Google services and Google employees, most of the subdomains have mysterious names.

Also see a list of public Google subdomains.

GFrost

In Google AdSense for Radio targets 'declining sector', she quotes her article Will Google ever build another billion dollar business? where she quotes her Google targets GPS-based in-car personalized advertising where she quotes Eric Schmidt.

"Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, believes that when he is listening to the radio in his car, radio ads should personally address him about his needs. For example, while driving past a clothing store, a radio ad should remind Eric that he needs a pair of pants and instruct him to turn left at the upcoming clothing store."

In Google Apps is risky business she quotes her Google's not so fine print: Google Apps TOS put Google first where she quotes from Google Apps for Your Domain:

"Google reserves final approval authority with respect to the means used by Customer to deploy each component of Google Apps, and in the event Google disapproves of such deployment, Google shall have the right, upon notice to Customer, to suspend any continued use of Google Apps until such time Customer implements adequate corrective modifications as reasonably required and determined by Google."

In Why Digg fraud, Google bombing, Wikipedia vandalism will not be stopped, she quotes Marissa Mayer that said:

"We don't condone the practice of googlebombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but we're also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up. Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don't affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission."

In Google 'gift' to advertisers: 'Free' Google employee clicks, she quotes Eric Schmidt who said he clicks on Google ads "all the time", concluding this is click fraud.

In "Let click fraud happen"? Uh, no. Google Blog quotes her, who quotes Eric Schmidt who said: "Eventually, the price that the advertiser is willing to pay for the conversion will decline, because the advertiser will realize that these are bad clicks, in other words, the value of the ad declines, so over some amount of time, the system is in-fact, self-correcting. In fact, there is a perfect economic solution which is to let it happen." and she concludes that Google lets click fraud happen.

In fact, Google is an evil company that has deceiving terms of services and talks only to a certain part of the media.

"Google has been rightly called to task for its disingenuous "do no evil" formula. As we embark on this changing of the seasons perhaps it is also time to change our tune on Google's celebrated mission to make "universally accessible and useful" the world's information they have "organized."

As I put forth in "Google to Microsoft: Wolf in sheep's clothing," Google has an uncanny ability to make even its most calculated of competitive moves appear to be generous, friendly endeavors," she says.

September 19, 2006

Writely, Migrating to Google Accounts


Writely, Google's word processing tool, is finally moving to Google Accounts, after recently being opened to public.

"In a few days, we will update your Writely account to use your @gmail.com Google Account registration settings," says Writely Team in a mail.

"We'll send email to Writely users a few days before making the change with instructions about migrating your account. Please note that you can sign up now for a Google Account using any email address - including your current Writely address."

So if you use a Gmail address to login, the two accounts will be automatically merged. Otherwise, you can keep your Writely mail address if you create a Google Account using it or migrate to an already existing Google Account.

Related:
Writely review
Blogger, moving to Google Accounts

Handy Calculator in Firefox 2.0

If you use Firefox 2, you've noticed that the search box shows suggestions for Google, Yahoo and Answers.com. Google's suggestions are useful if you want to type less, but also if you want to use Google Calculator. Type math expressions, unit conversions, constants and the answer appears in the list of suggestions. It's handy that you can just copy the result and get on with your work.


Firefox uses this URL to retrieve the suggestions: http://suggestqueries.google.com/complete/search?output=firefox&qu=[query]. Note that Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer doesn't show expression results.

{ Via Blogoscoped. }

Related:
10 uses for Google Suggest
Yahoo instant calculator

Captions on Google Video


Google Video tries to promote captions and features a small list of videos that have captions. Although adding video captions was available in the video status section, I didn't see any video with captions until today.

It's really strange that Google supports only SubViewer (*.SUB) and SubRip (*.SRT) formats, instead of focusing on professional formats used in television, for example. Most people who upload their videos won't take the time to create subtitles, as this requires a software and it's not very easy to do.

Some speech recognition combined with an automated translation software would be really useful in this area. Or at least a collaborative captioning system, similar to the way volunteers translate Google interface.

Picasa Web Albums - No Invitation Required



I've already posted that Picasa 2.5 is out of beta, but now it's official.

"I have 80,000 photos in Picasa, Google's free photo organizer, but most of my friends haven't had a chance to see them yet. That's why I'm so excited about the new version of Picasa that came out today. It has a feature called Picasa Web Albums that lets you post and share your photos online for free with just one click. You can show the world (or just your friends and family) what kinds of pictures you've been taking. And best of all, you can even download your friends' online photos right back to Picasa," says a Picasa engineer.

Since it was launched, Picasa Web Albums has added new features. Now you can add your friends, view their recently uploaded photos, link to your friends' albums on the homepage of your album. You can also embed photos and albums into blogs, even though this feature still needs some work (embedded photos are too small, embedded albums should display random photos). And, best of all, Picasa Web Albums doesn't need invitation anymore.

If you have a Gmail Google Account, you can try it at http://picasaweb.google.com. If you don't have an account or you just want to see a sample, visit this album.

September 18, 2006

Google Send to Phone - Free SMS in the US

Google has a web page that lets you send free SMS in the US: Google Send to Phone.

This page is used in Google Toolbar for IE and Google Send to Phone for Firefox to send short text messages of web page content.

This feature has been available since last year and it's a simple way to send free SMS, without using sites that require registration.

To find out more about this, including some of the privacy issues, read the FAQ.


Update: In July 2008, the service has been retired and it's no longer available in Google Toolbar or as a separate extension. There are many other services that let you send free SMS, including Gizmo SMS, Text4Free and TxtDrop.

Choose How Often Google Crawls Your Site

Bigmouthmedia reports that Google Sitemaps has a new feature that allows you to choose how often Googlebot crawls your site. You can select from 5 values, from slowest to fastest, but you must know that a faster crawl uses more bandwidth. For the moment, this feature is still experimental, so you may not find it in your Google Sitemaps account.

"We are testing an alpha version of our new tool with a small percentage of webmasters who use Sitemaps. You should leave this control at the Normal setting unless you are having trouble with the speed at which Googlebot is crawling your server.

Simply select the rate at which you would like the Googlebot to crawl your server and click save. During this stage of testing, we will evaluate requests to determine the best way of using this data and providing this tool to everyone."


Google Sitemaps, recently rebranded as Google Webmaster Central, is a control panel for webmasters, where they can find statistics about searches, crawling errors and submit sitemaps so that Google finds their pages faster.

{ Thank you, TomHTML. }

Belgian Press Out Of Google



A Belgian court has ordered Google to remove articles from newspapers represented by Copiepresse. From the court order:

"Find that the activities of Google News and the use of the Google cached violate in particular the laws on copyright and ancillary rights (1994) and the law on data bases (1998).

Order the defendant to withdraw the articles, photographs and graphic representations of Belgian publishers of the French - and German-speaking daily press, represented by the plaintiff, from all their sites (Google News and "cache" Google or any other name within 10 days of the notification of the intervening order, under penalty of a daily fine of 1,000,000.- € per day of delay.

Also order the defendant to publish, in a visible and clear manner and without any commentary from her part the entire intervening judgment on the home pages of 'google.be' and of 'news.google.be' for a continuous period of 5 days within 10 days of the notification of the intervening order, under penalty of a daily fine of 500,000,- € per day of delay."


Belgian publishers were upset that Google keeps the content of their articles in the cache and considered this a copyright infringement. They didn't understand there are other ways to be removed from Google's index and that Google's traffic is valuable.

"We are asking for Google to pay and seek our authorization to use our content. Google sells advertising and makes money on our content," said Copiepresse general secretary, Margaret Boribon. Her statement is, of course, false because Google News doesn't have ads, Google Search shows ads next to page snippets and Google drives traffic to their unworthy sites.

Google plans to appeal to the court order, but Belgium's law seems to not be on their side. Until then, they removed the sites from Google Belgium, as you can see from this search (Le Soir is one of the most popular newspapers from Belgium). Users can still find the pages at Google.com.

Developing Google Calendar

Carl Sjogreen, from Google, talked about Google Calendar development. Rakesh Agrawal took some notes, from which you can find a lot of interesting things:

Why did Google choose to build a calendar tool? Because no solution was very good and there was little innovation in this space.

How should Google Calendar be? Fast, simple, easy to share, visually appealing.

What's the biggest competitor for Google Calendar? The paper, because it's easy to carry with you, doesn't need a computer or a password.

Apple's iTV Might Include Google Video

Newsweek reports that Apple's iTV, a wireless video streaming set-top box to be released next year, might include a link to Google Video.

"In addition to the photos, movies, TV shows and tunes on your hard drive, iTV, with the ridiculously minimal six-button Apple remote, lets you go to the Net to get stuff. Last week Jobs showed only a menu item that pulls in movie trailers, but when you open up your iTunes library, you can also listen to bits of new music recommended by the iTunes store. Is it possible that when iTV ships next year, you may also be able to choose a menu item called Google Video, and then zip through the best of the thousands of user-submitted videos on the search giant's service? Google's consumer product chief, Marissa Mayer, tells me that indeed, the two companies are engaged in talks."

Google also has a partnership with DivX to make Google Video easy to integrate with electronic devices, so Google might provide an option to view the videos at higher quality. But to make the integration really useful, Google needs to focus on personalizing Google Video.

"More quality videos, easier to find videos and a more personal experience. I think this is the key for a better Google Video," I concluded in What's next for Google Video.

{ Via Garett Rogers, who anticipated this. }

September 17, 2006

How to Test Google Web Accelerator

Google Web Accelerator is a software that accelerates page load times. It prefetches some of the pages and uses Google servers to retrieve data faster.

If you have the program, you must be wondering if it's really working well. Google displays the amount of time Google Web Accelerator saved, but this is an aggregated value.

But there's a way to see how fast Google's accelerator is: go to this page, called Google Web Accelerator IFrame Racing (it works only if you have the software) and enter a URL. The upper iframe shows the optimized loading, while the other iframe shows the standard loading.

If you want to load a page directly, without the accelerator, add .direct.google after the domain name: instead of http://www.cnn.com type http://www.cnn.com.direct.google.

Flickr Uses Google Accounts API to Access Blogger


Here's something you'll see more often from now on: Google Accounts API, a system that allows third party sites to talk to Google services.

In this case, Flickr wants the permission to post photos in Blogger Beta. Until now, when you wanted to send photos to Blogger you needed to enter your username and password. The new Blogger uses the same authentication like the rest of Google services, so giving you credentials means giving access to Gmail, Search history, Checkout, that store sensitive information. Of course you trust Flikr and you know they don't store your information or use it for dubious purposes, but the new authentication system sends you to Google when you need to enter your password and gives access only to one service (in this case, Flickr has access only to Blogger, not other services). If you want to, you can disable access for a web site at any time.

Hopefully, other sites like Meebo or Netvibes will use the same system, so you don't have enter your Google Account credentials if you don't see google.com in your address bar.

September 16, 2006

View Your Friends on a Map in orkut



Darnell Clayton found a new feature in Google's social network, orkut.

"The friends map on orkut.com is a feature offering powerful, user-friendly mapping technology to see where all of your friends are located around the world. By clicking on any of your friends' pictures on the right-hand side of the map, you'll be taken to their locations on the map."

To see your friends on a map, go to this page (you need to have an orkut account). This Google Maps mashup uses the location information you put in your orkut profile.

Talk to MSN Messenger Users from Google Talk

GTalk2VoIP is a site that promises to transform Google Talk into a full VoIP application, so you can call from Google Talk to a phone number or from a phone number to Google Talk. Another interesting thing you can do is to talk to a MSN Messenger user and even create a voice conference with users from Google Talk and MSN Messenger (Windows Live Messenger).

You don't need to install a software, you just have to add a contact (service@gtalk2voip.com) and use it as a gateway.

The creator of this service seems to have a lot of interesting ideas, but I hope it won't take too long before Google starts to offer similar features.

Google Bookmarks in Firefox

If you use Google Bookmarks to save your favorite sites, Google Toolbar for Firefox won't help you manage your bookmarks. Fortunately, there are two extensions with different approaches:

Google Bookmarks Menu creates a standard menu similar to the Bookmarks menu from Firefox. If you are already logged in, you don't have to enter your Google username and password. You can import the local bookmarks. The major drawback of this extension is that you can't edit bookmarks, change labels or delete some of the bookmarks from the menu. You have to go to Google Bookmarks page to do that.

GMarks uses the sidebar to display the bookmarks. The extensions offers a search feature, but you can search only in title, labels and notes. Unlike Google Bookmarks Menu, this extensions lets you edit the bookmarks and delete them. When you add bookmarks, you can also write a small description. An innovative idea is creating filters, that can be set to work on bookmarks that contain certain words in their title, URL, or notes.

While Google Bookmarks Menu is simpler and works well if you have a small number of bookmarks, GMarks is a better option if you want more control and an easier way to manage your bookmarks.

Related:
Ten rules for bookmarking solutions