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

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December 31, 2006

December Recap: Myths, Accusations, and Twists

December was a peaceful month for Google.

An AP article explained us that: "Even if Google stands by its promise to protect its users' information, there are no guarantees that mischief-making computer hackers or crusading government agencies won't eventually try to pry into the database."

After that, a site was removed from Google index because it contained spammy links and its owner complained. It turned out that the site had been hacked and Google tried to warn the owner before removing it.

Then we found out that Google is financing terrorism, even though it's a CIA-sponsored company. Both affirmations seemed hilarious to any common-sense man.

While trying to make IE6 users upgrade to IE7, Google created a customized version of Internet Explorer that included Google Toolbar. The problem was that the page that promoted this version looked the same as Yahoo's IE7 page. Blatant rip-off.

Google was also accused it treats its employees like kids. Googlers reacted: "Without seeming immodest, the work we do there has helped to change the world, and (I hope) will continue to do so in the future. It's a place where I can show up and end up working with some profoundly smart people."

Google also released the top searches in 2006, but it turned out they we're not the top searches. "We looked for those searches that were very popular in 2006 but were not as popular in 2005 -- the explosive queries, the topics that everyone obsessed over," explained Google Blog.

The brightly-colored search company did something good for programmers too by cutting the support for Google SOAP Search API.

Google added new tips at the top of search result pages that promote services like: Blogger, Calendar, Picasa Web. A post by Blake Ross, Firefox co-founder, called Tip: Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose stirred a lot of controversy. "Google's new age "bundling" is far worse than anything Microsoft did or even could do. Microsoft threw spaghetti at the wall and hoped it stuck, and likewise there's nothing wrong with Google's arbitrary front page ads. The difference here is that Google knows what users want and can discreetly recommend its products at the right time."

In December, around 60 Gmail users lost their messages, Orkut was down for almost a day (an earthquake in Asia was responsible for that), and Google promoted Firefox on the homepage.

Of course, Google did other things too: Blogger is out of beta (but the migration takes too long), Picasa Web has search (but it's too expensive), Google Toolbar 3 for Firefox is launched (but doesn't work for some users).

Some blogger decided to explain a small part of Google myths, show 12 photos that illustrate Google's activity in 2006, and start a wishlist for 2007.

But you were lucky: you just enjoyed the show and thanked God you weren't Google in December 2006. Happy New Year!

On Performancing Acquisition

I don't know if anyone noticed something strange in two of my previous posts: 2006 Metrics and Google Video Contact Manager. Both contained a reference to Performancing, a small startup that offered great products for bloggers: a nice editor for Firefox, a real-time statistics service and an ad network. I've only used their metrics service, which doesn't have all the features of Google Analytics, but it updates hourly, and shows much better information about referrals, outgoing links and ads.

Unfortunately, Performancing sold their metrics service to PayPerPost, a company that pays bloggers to write posts about products (a combination between advertorials and product placements). BusinessWeek said they're "polluting the blogosphere", while TechCrunch concluded they're offering to "sell your soul". While PayPerPost policy changed and bloggers must disclose that they are accepting payments, it's hard to trust a company that doesn't give a damn about ethics.

It's weird to see a great service in such ugly hands (this is the risk for any startup), but it's also difficult to find other service that offers the same features. So if you know a better alternative, or if you think I'm wrong, tell me in the comments.

December 30, 2006

Google Video Contact Manager

Google Video has a new feature that lets you send a link to a video much more easily. Google Video already had a way to share videos, but you had to type emails and the autocomplete was barely usable.

Now you can see all your contacts or just the most contacted, you can search for a contact and even get a picture for contacts that use Gmail and lets you see it.

The new contact manager is not yet available from Google Video's interface, but you can see it if you go to a Google Video (like this one) and type:

javascript:handlePickerClick(0);void(0);

in the address bar. Now press enter and a new window will open. You need to be logged in with your Gmail account.


While the new feature is just a way to build a list of email addresses, it's part of a wider initiative that focuses on improving how you access and manage your contacts on Google properties.

The Affinity Between You and Your Gmail Contacts

Affinity could be defined as "a close connection marked by community of interests or similarity in nature or character" (WordNet). I've always complained that Gmail doesn't show statistics about your messages, your contacts, but I've just discovered a cool way to find out something more about your Gmail contacts.

If you open this XML file (you should be logged in), you'll discover a list of Gmail contacts sorted by affinity and a value for each contact. The value could be calculated by taking into account how often you write to each other or maybe even deeper knowledge of personal interests.

2006 Metrics

In case anyone is interested, here are some stats from Google Analytics for this blog:

Unique visitors: 1,345,000
Pageviews: 3,400,000

Top referrals:
google [search results]: 27.31%
digg.com: 16.17%
google [referral]: 14.62%
direct: 12.49%
slashdot.org: 2.14%

Top countries:
US: 46.62%
UK: 7.27%
Canada: 5.90%
India: 3.13%
Australia: 2.57%

Top browsers:
Firefox: 57.89%
IE: 32.67%
Opera: 4.01%
Safari: 3.29%
Mozilla: 1.09%

Top platforms:
Windows: 87.21%
Mac: 7.36%
Linux: 5.08%

Regarding the feed, here's a chart that shows the number of subscribers, courtesy of Feedburner:


Top feed readers*:
Netvibes
Firefox Live Bookmarks
Bloglines
NewsGator Online
Google Desktop

*The list doesn't include Google IG/Reader, My Yahoo, Windows Live.

Most of these numbers are meaningless, but they may show you some behind-the-scene details. Thank you for a great year.

How to Use Google Music Search

When you search for a singer or a music band at Google.com, you'll notice a box above search results that shows more information.


This feature is not new (in fact, it's been available for almost a year), but many people don't know that you can trigger Google Music Search by simply adding "music:" in front of your query. Google has a big database of artists, songs and albums and everything is searchable.

So how can you use it?

1. Let's say you know the name of a song, but you don't know the artist. Search for [music: name of the song] and Google will show you all the songs that have this name. You can also use quotes if you are sure about the name.

It's easy to find albums or artists if you don't remember the entire name (for example, a British singer named Lily).

2. Maybe you know the lyrics of a song and you want to find the song. You can enter the lyrics in the regular search and you may find it, but if the song is not very popular or if there are more songs that have similar lyrics, it's a much better idea to use Google Music Search. This way, you'll get unique songs as search results.

Compare this regular search with Google Music Search.

3. You can find information about songs: the duration, the album, the composers, different versions of a song (for example: Gnarls Barkley's Crazy).

4. Sort the albums of an artist by popularity (e.g.: Red Hot Chili Peppers) and read reviews.


So next time when you want all this information, just add music: in front of your Google search query.

December 29, 2006

Google Desktop Could Bring Google Data Offline

Last month I got a mail from someone who wanted an option to backup all your Google data or just a part of it.

Joe T. sent me an interesting idea: Google Desktop could download your data from Gmail (already does that partially and slowly), Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Notebook, etc. and make it searchable offline. This way you could use online apps to manage your documents and other data, but still have offline backups that are in sync.

"It's a free service, yes, and as such we are subject to the limitations of Google's whimsy to implement features, whether vital (POP3 download access) or fanciful (assigning pictures to Contact entries). It's no small undertaking, but I'm starting to feel that an ability to bring my data offline, even just as a backup storage base, falls into the good idea-to-vital range."

This may come in handy especially when you read news about Gmail users who lost their emails. Even if Google is not responsible for this, and a Firefox vulnerability caused everything, an easy way to download your data* would have saved the day.

* Note that you can use POP3 to download your Gmail messages. This doesn't include contacts, labels, threads. The feature also has limitations and quirks.

View Image Search Results in a Slideshow

This site shows image search results from Google, Yahoo and Windows Live in a slideshow. It scales the images to fit the window, lets you pause it and if you click on an image, you'll get to the original page that contained the image or a link to the image.

Type the name of a painter, a beautiful place or object and enjoy.

Blogs Are the Real News Message Boards

Yahoo decided to take down message boards from Yahoo News. The reason? "Message boards allowed a small number of vocal users to dominate the discussion." Or, as a Slashdot comment says...
Imagine, if you will, Michael Richards, high on drugs, screaming "NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER I HATE NIGGERS" over and over again for hours and hours. Add to that an evangelic Christian screaming "FIND CHRIST" at the top of his lungs, once every 45 minutes precisely. Finally, imagine an overweight 40-year old divorced mother crying and saying "why is everybody so mean". This is what the Yahoo boards were like.

Earlier this year, Yahoo removed blog search from Yahoo News. In a reverse direction, Google integrated blog search into Google News, added a link on the homepage, and now Google Blog Search has more visits than Technorati.

While there are still many spam blogs, search engines should focus on detecting them and not decide to ignore blogs. The real news discussion is not in news articles, it's in blogs, comments and forums. Blogs are permanently connected, interactive and more honest. Newspapers and traditional news sites realized that and now a lot of news come from blogs.

I think Google shouldn't stop at adding a link to blog search in Google News. They should try to connect news articles with blog posts and add more interactivity. The great thing about blogs is that they make you feel a part of the news as it happens.

December 28, 2006

Script for Google Reader Search


I wrote earlier how you can add search to Google Reader. In case you wanted a Greasemonkey script that actually adds a search box in Google Reader, here it is:

Google Reader Custom Search

First you need to have Greasemonkey for Firefox. After installing the script (a simple click on the link), you need to go to Tools / Greasemonkey / Manage scripts, find Google Reader Custom Search in the list and click Edit.

You'll see some instructions in the text file. Basically, you need to search for "test" using your custom search engine, copy the URL, remove "&q=test" from the address and put the result in SearchURL variable. You'll get something like:

var SearchURL="http://www.google.com/custom?cx=...";

Update: This also works in Opera 9. Press F12, select "Edit site preferences", click on "Scripting" and copy the path from "User Javascript files". Save
the script there and edit the file using Notepad like described above.

Update 2: John Marshall wrote a better script that shows the search results inside Google Reader.

Update 3 (Sept. 2007): Google Reader added search.

Google, Moving to Offline Advertising

Business Week writes an interesting article about the latest update of Yahoo Search Marketing (a service similar to Google AdWords). We find out that Google makes between 19 and 21 cents for each search, while Yahoo earns around 10-11 cents per search. Yahoo hopes to improve its performances with this update code-named Panama, that delivers better targeted advertising.

While Yahoo tries to catch up with Google in search advertising, Google is eager to move offline. The experiments with print ads have exceeded the expectations. The service is targeted at small advertisers that usually don't pay for ads in newspapers. "Advertisers would go online and bid on the excess ad inventory of daily newspapers, giving them a much-needed revenue boost. (...) Google is selling only small display ads -- not color or full-page ads, which bring in the most money. In some cases, Google bundles a few small ads into one larger space. There is no indication to the reader that Google helped place the ad."

Google does the same thing in radio, helped by dMarc, a company acquired this year. "Until recently, Fred Yazdizadeh, owner of the Simi Valley, Calif., company, said radio air time was too expensive and the process of creating an audio message had been too daunting to consider. But under a new program being tested by Google, Yazdizadeh's ad was affordable and easy to manage. And, more important, it generated calls from potential customers living in the areas where the ad was broadcast," reports Washington Post. Unlike text ads, effective radio campaigns need a good voice and a script, so advertisers may use voice-over marketplaces.

A popular video site was one of the requirements for implementing video ads. Google Video didn't grow fast enough, so Google had to buy YouTube. For the moment, Google Video shows short ads at the end of some videos whose producers have a revenue-sharing deal with Google. But these video ads are a rehearsal for TV advertising, an interesting market where Google could bring contextual, relevant ads. The deal with BSkyB, a satellite broadcaster, is a start.

Screenshots of Gmail's Mail Fetcher

Gmail added a new feature that lets you fetch mail from up to 5 POP3 accounts, but the feature is not yet enabled in all Gmail accounts. Here's what you'll see:

You'll find the mail fetcher in Settings / Accounts.



You can add up to 5 accounts.



It's a good idea to not leave a copy on the original server, if your POP3 account has a small storage. You can label all the messages and archive them without manually creating a filter. Gmail will also offer to let you send mail from the new address.





After adding the account, Gmail will fetch your mail every 3-4 minutes and show you a small status and a log of the last 5 actions.




Gmail's spam filter will put some order in your POP3 mail, although the filter is not perfect.



Overall, Gmail's mail fetcher is fast and doesn't need too much tweaking to make it work. You'll be able to get your old mail to Gmail and use Gmail as a universal account. Unfortunately, there are some bugs (I deleted an account, but I still received mails), so this feature will be delayed a little bit more.

{ Thank you, Tony. }

Note: the feature was tested using a real POP3 account.

December 27, 2006

Airbag, Google Crash Reporter

Airbag is an open source tool from Google that can be used to identify why a program you're developing crashes. "If developers could get reliable and automatic reports when their programs crash, they'd be able to figure out which ones happen most frequently, and more importantly, be able to fix them. Writing a system to handle crash reports is a lot of work though, and writing a crash reporter that works across a variety of hardware configurations and operating systems is even harder," explained Airbag's developers.

Fortunately, that's exactly what Google's software aims to be. Airbag currently works in Windows, Mac and will be soon available for Linux, but you have to know how to work with Subversion to get the source. The system has client libraries that generate crash reports and a server library that receives these reports. "The server-side process library in turn reads the crash dumps and transforms them into information that is useful for debugging. The build tools are able to make sense of native debugging information, turning the data into a format that is understandable by the processor," is happy to inform us Sean Michael Kerner.

It's very interesting to note that Airbag has already a major supporter in Mozilla, that will add it in the next version of Firefox. "We don't have a formal roadmap, but we do have an informal mission statement, which is to provide a set of crash reporting libraries that can be integrated into a large project, namely, Firefox," said Mark Mentovai, who works for this project at Google.

Google Myths

I've heard many inaccurate things about Google this year, and most of them are spread by word of mouth. Maybe Google should do a better job at explaining things that may seem trivial to computer experts, but difficult understand for other people.

1. Google Desktop indexes your files and uploads the index to Google's servers. (Michael Arrington)

No. Google stores the index on your computer. If you enable a feature called "search across computers", Google will securely send copies of your indexed files to Google servers. The feature is disabled by default.

2. Gmail indexes your emails and makes them available for everyone. (Darbacour)

No. Google indexes your messages so you can search them. This feature is now available in other webmail applications (Yahoo Mail, Windows Live Mail). Google doesn't make your messages or the indexes public.

3. Google doesn't delete my Gmail messages.

In order to keep your email safe, Google needs to have multiple backups of your data. "You may organize or delete your messages through your Gmail account. (...) Residual copies of deleted messages and accounts may take up to 60 days to be deleted from our active servers and may remain in our offline backup systems." (Gmail Privacy Policy)

4. Google doesn't improve search anymore to increase its earnings from ads.

You may not perceive too many changes in Google search, but Google tweaks its algorithms often to improve search results quality, removes spam sites and tries to add more fresh results. On the visible side, Google added search refinements, more direct answers, malware warnings and address recognition.

5. Search results should be ranked by people, not by algorithms.

Google uses the links from other pages the determine the importance of a page, and those links were placed by humans. Google also monitors user's clicks to determine if the search results are relevant.

6. Google is spyware.

"Spyware is software that reports on your activities or gathers personal information about you and sends it via the Internet to third parties without your knowledge or consent." If you use software like Google Toolbar or Google Desktop, some features may send personal information to Google, but most of them are either turned off by default or require your explicit approval. Google also uses cookies to save your preferences and records queries, clicks, usage patterns to deliver better results. The problem is not that they record it, it's what they do with it. And Google tries to protect it from third parties (like US Government).

7. Google Earth shows real-time images.

No, what you see "are photographs taken by satellites and aircraft sometime in the last three years".

8. Google is the best search engine that will ever be built.

Google is far from a search engine that "understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want". But its goal is to reach that state. (Google's philosophy)

9. Google favors Wikipedia, Technorati, blogs.

Well, not exactly. These sites happen to have many backlinks, and oftentimes quality links. I know many people that link to Wikipedia to show an explanation for a concept or an acronym, link to Technorati to tag their blog posts or link to blogs because they are infectious.

10. Google will take over the world.

Those who control information, control the world. Hopefully Google will be a benevolent dictator (guess what? I linked to Wikipedia).

December 26, 2006

Make Google Services Opera-Friendly

Although Opera is a modern browser that respects web standards, many developers don't have time to test their sites in Opera and prefer to block it. There are a number of Google services that return "incompatible browser" errors or deliver a trimmed-down version in Opera, even though the site would load just fine without the hardcoded browser checks (also known as browser sniffing). Google knows the service doesn't work perfectly in Opera and other browsers, so it does this to prevent user complaints:

User: "Google, my browser crashed when loading Google Calendar."

Google: "What browser do you use?"

User: "Opera 9."

Google: "Sorry. It's an unsupported browser."


Here are some problems:

1. If you go to Google Docs & Spreadsheets, you get this, an error that recommends adding "&browserok=true" to the end of the URL. There's also a funny disclaimer: "Please note that it is a violation of intergalactic law to use this parameter under false pretenses, so don't let us catch you at it. And, it won't work very well -- really."

2. Google Calendar shows a message box that offers two options: Ok, this browser is unsupported or Cancel, go to Google Calendar and hope for the best.

3. Picasa Web Albums shows a non-JavaScript version for viewing photos. Among other things, you can't use shortcuts or zoom in the photo.

To fix these problems, you may try to mask the browser as Firefox, but think about this paradox:

"This site doesn't work in Opera because Opera has a small market share. To fix this, you can mask as Firefox. Now Opera has an even smaller market share."

A better idea is to try a script that does a little more by solving other small glitches:

* Make sure you have Opera 9 (Help / About).

* Find where to save it. Press F12, select "Edit site preferences", click on "Scripting" tab and copy the path of the folder from "User JavaScript files".

* Then save the script to that location.

You can read an interesting discussion at Opera Forums. Note that the script is constantly updated and other services that don't currently work in Opera (like Google Page Creator) might be added.

Google's Kangaroo Doodle

These holidays, Google showed us that kangaroos have a lot in common with humans. Google's glow can be a part of daily life and it can be a great gift. For those who appreciate it.

You can find the Christmas Kangaroo [not-safe-for-work video], who brings gifts for all the boys and girls in Australia, the Olympic Summer Game Kangaroo, that masters too many sports to count, or the famous Skippy.

The Australian Animal Zodiac says that the keywords for Kangaroo are: "Abundance, Family, Never-ending, Fire, Universal Love and Universal Law. (...) Kangaroo has a natural nurturing tendency supporting and fostering and encouraging its young. Kangaroo has a strong sense of family togetherness. (...) The crystal of Kangaroo is Diamond and it reminds you of the purity of the Diamond. Diamond being the symbol of pure love and commitment to Mother Earth and Mankind."

Note: sorry for feeding the kangaroo.

2007: Google Talk Phone Calls, Offline Google Docs

Google launched many applications in the last 2 years, but most of them had too few features (Google Talk) or they were under-promoted (Google Docs & Spreadsheets).

In 2007, things will change. David Girouard, VP and General Manager at Google Enterprise, told Internetnews.com that Google Talk will include many new features and will become a true VoIP client. "Girouard said that Google Talk, which currently allows users to make VoIP calls among themselves, will be beefed up to integrate with traditional phone systems as well as VoIP offerings from other vendors."

Google's social network could also receive an upgrade. Google "may use the fruits of its acquisitions of Web 2.0 companies such as wiki-builder Jotspot and social-networking site orkut to build the framework for a collaboration platform".

Products like Google Docs & Spreadsheets are sometimes faced with the problem of Internet access. Google wants to fix that, at least for enterprise users, by giving them access to their data when they're offline. In 2007, Google will add new features to Google Docs & Spreadsheets and will try to make it a real option for consumers and small businesses. "This year has been about getting our toe in the water. [Next year] will be about taking a lot more steps forward."

December 25, 2006

Customize Google News Mobile

The mobile version of Google News, easily accessible at news.google.com on your mobile phone, can be customized. You can choose the sections that are interesting to you and their order. Another new feature is custom sections: you can see the news that talk about your favorite topics.

All these features were already available in the regular Google News, but Google doesn't preserve your settings in the mobile version. You don't spend too much time reading news on your phone, so it's a good idea to select only the sections that matter to you.

{ Via Steve Rubel. }

How to Add Search to Google Reader

Search is one of the most requested features for Google Reader. Until this feature is implemented, there's a simple workaround: you can use Google Co-op to create a search engine restricted only to the sites you're subscribed to. Here's how to do this:

1. Go to this page that shows your list of subscriptions (in OPML format) and save it to your desktop.

2. Create a search engine at Google Co-op. Enter a name, a description, a bogus keyword (like "blogs"), a bogus site in the list of sites to search (like "www.example.com"). Click "Next" and then "Finish".

3. Now click on "control panel" next to the search engine you've just created. Select "Advanced" and upload the file downloaded from Google Reader in the annotations section.

4. (Optional) To access your search engine, you have more options:

* Integrate it into Google Reader using a Greasemonkey script

* Go to "Code" section and copy some code you can add to your site or add a gadget to Google Personalized Homepage.

* Go to "Preview" section and bookmark the homepage of your search engine.

* You can also go to the homepage of your custom search engine, right-click on the search box and add the search engine to your browser (for example: if you have Google Toolbar, right-click and select "Generate custom search"; if you use Opera, select "Create search").

You can use this to search the sites from any OPML file (most feed readers have an option to export the subscribed feeds to OPML). Of course, if you add or remove feeds, you need to reupload the OPML to Google Co-op to keep the search engine in sync.

Update (Sept. 2007): Google Reader added search.

December 24, 2006

Google Santa Tracker

If you want to make a nice surprise to your child or if you want to be children again, go to Google Earth site and download a small KML file that will let you track Santa in real time. Keep your computer open and connect it to your big-screen TV. Make sure you turn on the "Terrain" layer in the sidebar.

"Oh! You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:

Santa Claus is coming to town!"


Encrypted Message

The earth holds a message for you. You just need to look a little bit closer. If you're paying attention, you'll discover many hidden messages. Look beyond the names and find their true meaning. You'll be more powerful and you'll know it.

December 23, 2006

Wikia, an Open Search Engine

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, plans to launch a search engine code-named Wikia in the first quarter of 2007. Following the model of Wikipedia, the new search engine will have user-editable search results.

"Google is very good at many types of search, but in many instances it produces nothing but spam and useless crap. Try searching for the term [Tampa hotels], for example, and you will not get any useful results," said Jimmy Wales. Well, maybe the example is not very good, because I see mostly useful results.

Mr. Wales did the impossible by creating an excellent resource of information with the support of a community. Now he wants to repeat the success, but this time the project will be supported by advertising.

"Essentially, if you consider one of the basic tasks of a search engine, it is to make a decision: 'this page is good, this page sucks'. Computers are notoriously bad at making such judgments, so algorithmic search has to go about it in a roundabout way. But we have a really great method for doing that ourselves. We just look at the page. It usually only takes a second to figure out if the page is good, so the key here is building a community of trust that can do that," added Wikipedia's founder.

I think the main job of a search engine is to understand how relevant a page is for a particular query. To scale, a search engine should that algorithmically. While people have a better ability to decide if a page is relevant, that doesn't mean spammers won't try to push their sites.

But the main reason for creating a search engine is that he thinks search is broken "for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack accountability, lack of transparency." Google, for example, won't become open source because it uses proprietary algorithms, other search engines could copy its code and people could tweak their sites to abuse it.

It will be interesting to see if a search engine based only on human intelligence really works.

Update: Jimmy Wales explains in a Wired interview that "the core of the concept is the open-source nature of everything we're intending to do -- making all of the algorithms public, making all of the data public and trying to achieve the maximum possible transparency." Wales doesn't give a launch date: "The project to build the community to build the search engine is launching in the first quarter of 2007, not the search engine itself. We may have something up pretty quickly, maybe some sort of demo or test for people to start playing with."

Google Wishlist for 2007

Google did a lot of great things in 2006. Think about it: in December 2005, we didn't have Google Calendar, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, chat in Gmail, Google Notebook, Google Trends, Google Earth for Mac and Linux, Google Checkout.

What would I like to see from Google in 2007?

- A better Gmail that lets you preview messages, search and manage attachments.

- A real Google Address Book with shared profiles that works in all Google services and it's easier to manage than the current Gmail Contacts.

- A way to search the content created using Google services (Gmail messages, calendars, Blogger posts, comments, Google Notebook, Google Groups).

- A central place for all the files uploaded to Google.

- Video conferences, call to phone numbers, spell-checker, interoperability with Skype, AIM, plugins in Google Talk.

- A more interactive Google News.

- A personalized feed reader that filters the news, finds related perspectives and creates your own news site.

- Bring Google Desktop to the desktop by integrating it into a file manager. You know, like Total Commander.

- Bring time to web search, archive content and let me search the web the way it was on a certain date.

- Google Recommendations: extend this gadget to a new service.

Plus something that's really hard (who wouldn't want that?):

- Bring meaning to search: find structured content, use tagging, annotations, object recognition to improve text search, image search, video search.


What would you like from Google? In case you're wondering, someone from Google will read your wishlists.

December 22, 2006

Google 2006 in 12 Pictures

January

Google agrees to censor search results in China. "In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy. While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission."

Compare the image search results for [Tiananmen] in Google China (screenshot below) with the uncensored results.



February

Google integrates instant messaging into Gmail. Google saves your chat history and lets you search it.



March

Google acquires Writely, an online word processor, that will later become a part of Google Docs & Spreadsheets.



April

Google Calendar launches: it's easy to use, integrated with Gmail, you can create and share events. Later on, Google will add search for public events.



May

Google Co-op is a new platform that involves improving search results by using experts and communities. Google Co-op is behind the search refinements you see for health-related queries (and others), Google Accessible Search, custom search engines.



June

Google Checkout, an easier and safer way to make payments. But also an incentive for AdWords advertisers.



July

Google is officially an English word.



August

Google Apps for Your Domain lets you access Google services using custom mail addresses.



September

Google Reader has a new interface and becomes one of the best online feed readers.



October

Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock. This way, Google gets more exposure for its contextual video ads and admits Google Video wasn't too successful.



November

A sign that Google had a great financial year: on November 21, Google's shares jumped to $509.65.



December

Google officially launches the new version of Blogger that adds dynamic publishing, labels, and a more flexible template editor.

Migration to the New Blogger Takes Too Long


Migration to the new version of Blogger, which is now out of beta, stirred a lot of controversy. The problem is that migration takes too long, or at least much longer than people might expect. Here's a balanced post from Google Groups that offers some suggestions:

Okay, so it's now been a little over 11 hours since I initiated the switch over to the new Blogger. Admittedly, I didn't think that it was going to be a couple minutes to transfer over my more than 2,000 posts, but never did I think that I was going to be out of commission for, well, 11 hours (and counting). Yes, I'm still being "moved."

(...) Blogger employees do admit that it may take longer in some cases, but I have to laugh when that "may take longer" means hours, and lots of them at that. This lack of communication with its customers is classic Blogger and something that really doesn't surprise me. Wouldn't it have been nice for Blogger to tell us that there was the possibility that things would take hours and hours for some of the larger blogs to prepare us for the extended down time? It's such a simple thing, but it's something that Blogger, for some reason, has always struggled with in my years of using them.

All the new features that the new Blogger brings with it are great. But the thing that would make this place 100 X's better is open, honest communication mixed with better customer service. I realize that we're talking millions of blogs here, but I also realize we're talking about Google. With Google shares trading at $450+, you might think they could afford to increase Blogger's staffing just a tad. That would be a huge improvement.

Christmas Trees on Your Desktop

If you have Google Desktop and want to add some Christmas decorations to your desktop, you can choose one of these gadgets.

GX'mas Tree
A Christmas Tree that lights up more powerful if you use your computer's CPU more. Includes a small collection of Christmas songs (MIDI).

Christmas Tree
This tree looks better than the previous one and it's also customizable, but it doesn't have music or shiny lights.

Virtual Christmas Tree
You can actually decorate this tree (in the screenshot). While doing that, listen to carols and watch the snow fall.

All the trees can be detached from the sidebar and can be enlarged using the "Zoom" option.

Other holiday gadgets are available at Google Desktop site.

December 21, 2006

Google Bookmarks Gadget


This gadget for the personalized homepage has been around for a while, but now it looks better and has new features.

The purpose of the gadget is to let you access your bookmarks. As you probably now, Google Bookmarks is a service that stores private bookmarks and could be used in connection with Google Toolbar or other extensions.

The gadget lets you restrict the list of bookmarks to a certain label. It's also easy to edit bookmarks or to manually add bookmarks. The only missing feature is search.

Google Books Generates Results in No Time


If you do a search on Google Book Search, Google says it found the results in "0.00 seconds". Even for advanced queries, Google's performance is amazing.

Does this happen because Google doesn't index too many* books or it's just a bug?

* A search for a common word like "they" returns 3,520,600 results.

Larry Page Introducing Google Search Features

"We recently added some new features to Google. The most significant is a summary for each result that highlights where your query matched. This makes for a much more informative summary than most search engines provide. You can actually see where your query matched without having to download each page.

Also, you can fetch contents from our repository by clicking on the "Cached" link near each result. This often is faster than going to the original, but of course can give you outdated information since it is based on our last crawl. This feature can be very useful if the original is not available or the network is down, you will still have access to the page (but not the images)."

(Larry Page, July 1998)

December 20, 2006

Predicting Your Favorite Music

Think about 3-4 favorite singers or bands. Go to Google Sets, enter each artist name in an input box and click on "Large set" button. Hopefully, Google Sets, that uses artificial intelligence to predict other items similar to the ones already entered, will show you a big list of related artists.

Then go to Radio.Blog.Club and see if Google was right. Enter the artists you aren't familiar with and listen to their music.

Your Top Google Searches in 2006

Every important search engine showed its (slightly adjusted) top of popular search queries. If you use Google Personalized Search, Google saves all your queries and the search results you've clicked. So you can have your own top if you go to this page.

You'll also get a top of the most visited sites and pages from the search results.

Of course, the top will be accurate if you searched Google while being mostly logged in (for example, you use Gmail).

In case you're wondering, the top from the screenshot is for illustration purposes only (although my top query in 2006 was... "google").

Ask X, a Unified Interface for Ask.com

Ask.com launched Ask X, a site that mixes different specialized searches and uses AJAX to show search results faster. Similar to Google's SearchMash, Ask shows image search results, news, blog posts in a right sidebar. But unlike SearchMash, Ask actually shows those results and doesn't wait for you to expand the sections. Another good choice is displaying only results from search types connected to the query. Ask X shows search suggestions and refinements in a new sidebar, displayed on the left side of the screen, that remains always visible.


The trouble with this kind of mashups is that pages load slower and may look cluttered. But if search result pages provide the right balance between web pages and additional information, you'll get a wider perspective. In 2007, search engines will move towards one interface that mixes specialized searches.

Google Pushing Blogger... Really Hard

It's no secret that Google uses AdWords to promote its products. If you search for "blogger" you'll have a surprise (for "blog" the situation is similar). Basically, there's a very slim chance someone will go to other site than blogger.com. Why?

1. There's an ad for blogger.com at the top.

2. Google recommends you to try Blogger (you'll see the same tip for almost any keyword that contains "blog"; that includes: "blogs", "blogosphere", "weblog", "bloglines").

3. The first result is for blogger.com and there are also four more pages displayed next to the result.

4. The second search result is still for blogger.com.

So, basically, the first eight relevant links from the page send you to blogger.com.

December 19, 2006

Blogger Is Out Of Beta



Blogger Beta is no longer a beta. Now it's called the new Blogger.

While not everyone can migrate to the new version (large blogs should wait a little bit more), Blogger is feature-complete and doesn't have major bugs.

"The new version of Blogger is metaphorically bursting with features, from the big guns like drag-and-drop template editing and post labels (...), to little polishes like a better-designed Dashboard or that you no longer need to solve a word verification CAPTCHA to post a comment on your own blog."

Hopefully, the Blogger team (or what's left from Blogger) will also add basic features like: comment spam detection, no separate page for posting comments, photo management.

But for the moment I'm happy: if you change the title of a post, the URL remains the same. In case you've seen a 404 error here, this must have been the cause.

Related:
Blogger's new features

Google's Discontinued Services

Google launched a lot of services over the time. Some were successful, others were decent, but very few were discontinued. Here's a list.

1. Google Keyboard Shortcuts (2002) - use your keyboard to navigate between search results.


2. Google Voice Search (2002) - search Google with a telephone call. This way you didn't have to type queries, as Google used voice recognition.

3. Google Viewer (2002) - view Google results as a slide show. Google Toolbar has this feature, but it doesn't go to the next result automatically.


4. Google Webquotes (2002) - read comments about a web page.

5. Google Compute (2002) - an add-on for Google Toolbar that allowed you to use your computer's resources to help research projects (the program worked only when your computer was idle). "When you enable Google Compute, your computer will download a small piece of a large research project and perform calculations on it that will then be included with the calculations performed by thousands of other computers doing the same thing. This process is known as distributed computing."

6. Google Answers (2002) - get answers from researchers for a fee. The product was discontinued in November this year.

7. Google Search API (2002) - a SOAP API that allowed developers to integrate Google's search results into their applications. The product is now deprecated.

8. Google Deskbar (2003) - search Google from your desktop and see search results in a mini-viewer. The product has been integrated into Google Desktop.

9. Google X (2005) - a Mac-like interface for Google. The page has been live only for a day and it has been removed to prevent a suit from Apple.

10. Google Video (initial version) - search the content of television shows. Google recorded the TV programs and allowed people to search closed captions and see images from the show. You couldn't play videos.

As you can see, some products were replaced by more powerful ones, others were unsuccessful, had copyright problems or technical difficulties. It's interesting to note that most discontinued products were launched in 2002.

Blogger Beta Integrates with Picasa Web Albums

Blogger Beta, who won't be in beta for too long, hosts images on Picasa Web Albums. Now you have to accept Picasa Web's terms of use to post images.

Also the URLs resemble those from Picasa Web. I wonder if we'll see more integration with other Google services, now that Blogger uses Google Accounts?



{ via phydeaux3 }

Google's SOAP Search API, No Longer Supported

The SOAP search API allowed you to obtain search results and integrate them into your applications. You could develop applications like Google Share that measures the popularity of an item within a domain (for example: Bono's Google Share for U2 is 54.6%), create a meta-search engine by mixing different APIs and more.

Now Google suggests using Ajax Search API, but this is very limited, it's suitable only for web applications, you can't reorder the search results or add other search results. Google also says: "AJAX Search API is the only permissible way to publish Google AJAX Search API results on your site. We'll block your application if it accesses search results outside of the API."

Applications that already use the SOAP API can continue do that, but the service could become unreliable.

O'Reilly Radar says: "The AJAX Search API is great for web applications and users that want to bling their blog, but does not provide the flexibility of the SOAP API. I am surprised that it has not been replaced with a GData API instead."

Nelson Minar, who authored the API, has an explanation: "It seems like good discipline to me; when your corporate culture has a "go fast, do a lot of things, fail often" approach to product development, you have to do something with the things that succeeded in launching but then failed to make a big impact on the business."

Google Search API has been launched in April 2002, one week before Google Answers, that was also discontinued.

December 18, 2006

Google Earth Goes to Space

NASA and Google have signed an agreement to "work together on a variety of challenging technical problems ranging from large-scale data management and massively distributed computing, to human-computer interfaces".

NASA will provide Google with interesting data, like statistical data on atmosphere, that will be available in Google Earth. Other plans include: "real-time weather visualization and forecasting, high-resolution 3-D maps of the moon and Mars, real-time tracking of the International Space Station and the space shuttle. This agreement between NASA and Google will soon allow every American to experience a virtual flight over the surface of the moon or through the canyons of Mars."

The collaboration makes perfect sense: NASA has a lot of collected data, Google has a scalable system that lets it share the data with the world.

Top Searches on Google.com in 2006

Google's list of gaining searches in 2006 confirms Time Magazine's latest cover: "person of the year is.... you". Social networks, collaborative tools, video sharing sites or BitTorrent sites occupy most of the top spots (8/10).

1. Bebo [social network]
2. MySpace [social network]
3. World Cup [football]
4. Metacafe [online video]
5. Radioblog [web music player]
6. Wikipedia [collaborative encyclopedia]
7. Video
8. Rebelde [Mexican TV series]
9. Mininova [torrent site]
10. Wiki [tool for collaborative authoring, see #6]

Also see:
Microsoft and AOL's tops for 2006
Yahoo's list of top search queries
Ask.com top searches

{ Via Googling Google. }

Google Buys Endoxon

Google has bought Endoxon, a Swiss company focused on web-based geo information services. The company provided imagery for map.search.ch, a successful map service, and local.ch, a local search service - both limited to Switzerland.

Endoxon has been working on a technology called "blue", that extends their products to the whole world. "blue is visualized information on the web. blue is the clever linking of a world map server, a search engine and a GIS. blue is a high-quality, comprehensive points- and map server, a virtual worldwide marketplace, a search and services platform. The user can search for information or he can visualize his own collected information. The download of selected blue data onto the mobile phone is possible. But blue is not only a vision. Its reality: Endoxon has been collecting, enhancing and geo referencing worldwide satellite and aerial images for a couple of years now."

Google acquired Endoxon's internet, mapping and data processing business units. Google says the acquisition "will enable us to leverage their analysis capabilities and will help us build out and improve the functionality of Google Earth and Google Maps across Europe."

Real Time Weather Information on a Google Map

Weather Bonk shows a lot of information about weather by cleverly mixing many public APIs. The site autodetects your location and lets you choose a weather information provider. You can find on the Google Map: webcams, radar positions, traffic information and more. There's also a very nice trip forecast that lets you find the best day for your trip.

December 17, 2006

Google Adds More Services to the Homepage

This is strange. Google added two new services to the "More" menu: blog search and the newly-released patent search. I don't know how many people are interested in blog search, but adding patent search is an unwise decision.

Maybe Google should let people customize the list.



Update: I went to google.com using another browser, and the homepage didn't have blog search and patent search. That means it's a limited test.

Holiday Spirit, on Google Search Pages



Google shows candles and trees on the borderline between search results and ads for queries like "Christmas", "Hanukkah" (Jewish holiday that started on December 15 and ends on December 23 this year), "Kwanzaa" (a week-long holiday that honors African-American heritage - from December 26 to January 1 in the US).

{ Thank you, Oren K. }

Google Phone?

The Observer reports that Google is in talks with Orange "about a multi-billion-dollar partnership to create a 'Google phone' which makes it easy to search the web wherever you are".

A Google-branded phone could include a browser that uses Google's transcoder to optimize web pages for the phone, easy to access Google search, maps, Gmail, Blogger and maybe more.

"The device would not be revolutionary: manufactured by HTC, a Taiwanese firm specializing in smart phones and Personal Data Assistants (PDAs), it might have a screen similar to a video iPod."

Last month, Eric Schmidt said: "Your mobile phone should be free. It just makes sense that subsidies should increase"

While a Google Phone is just a rumor for the moment, you can't deny it's an interesting idea.

Update: Many rumors floated since this article was posted. Here's a list of the most trustworthy rumors about the Google Phone.

Update 2: Google Phone turned out to be a mobile platform - Android.

December 16, 2006

The Trouble with Google Toolbar for Firefox

Google Toolbar 3 for Firefox has been recently launched, so I was curious to try the new version.

I couldn't open any bookmark. They were listed, but clicking on any bookmak didn't have any effect. The only option that worked was "open in new tab".

I enabled the Docs & Spreadsheets integration, but when I clicked on a doc/xls file, I got a message that said: "Firefox is already running but is not responding. To open a new window, you must first close the existing Firefox process, or restart your system." I tried restarting Firefox and the PC, but still nothing.

I reported the bugs to Google and here is the answer (partially edited):

Thank you for your note. We're sorry you're still having trouble using the Docs and Spreadsheets feature of Google Toolbar for Firefox. Many of our users report this. Please try the steps below:

1. Uninstall the Toolbar.
2. Open Firefox's "Tools" menu and then select "Add-ons."
3. Disable all the extensions in your "Add-ons" screen.
4. Restart your browser, then reinstall the Toolbar from http://toolbar.google.com.
5. If you're able to use the Docs and Spreadsheets feature, please enable your extensions, one by one, until you find the conflicting add-on. Please let us know which add-on caused the conflict.

Please let us know whether this resolves the problem.

I don't think this a good solution, as disabling all extensions and enabling them one by one is time consuming. But I tried to follow at least the first advice: uninstalling the toolbar. I clicked on "Uninstall", restarted the browser, only to see that the toolbar is still there. After restarting the browser, I got the intro dialog that asks you if you want to enable PageRank and other options.

Gmail Opens in Yet Another Country: Russia

After Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Egypt, Gmail is now available without invitation in Russia. This is the third good news for Russian users today, after the launch of Google News and Google Translate in Russian.


{ Spasibo, TomHTML. }

Update. There's even a fourth good news: Google has launched Google AdWords in Russia.