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

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June 30, 2007

Novice vs. Expert Google Users

Dare Obasanjo was at Google Scalability Conference in Seattle last week and took some notes from Marissa Mayer's keynote "Scaling Google for Every User".

The first part of the talk addressed the issue of users that don't know how to optimize their queries for Google.
One thing that does distinguish users is the difference between a novice search user and an expert user of search. Novice users typically type queries in natural language while expert users use keyword searches.

Example Novice and Expert Search User Queries

NOVICE QUERY: Why doesn't anyone carry an umbrella in Seattle?
EXPERT QUERY: weather seattle washington

NOVICE QUERY: Can I hike in the Seattle area?
EXPERT QUERY: hike seattle area

On average, it takes a new Google user 1 month to go from typing novice queries to being a search expert. This means that there is little payoff in optimizing the site to help novices since they become search experts in such a short time frame.

Google actually ignores or pays little attention to prepositions, conjunctions, articles, so people realize that it's faster and more efficient to only list the keywords. But there are already search engines like hakia that want you to use full sentences to take advantage of the relationships between words. Maybe users shouldn't adapt to search engines' limitations, but search engines should become smart enough to understand our requests.

Update: The video of Marissa Mayer's keynote:

June 29, 2007

Google Answers Returns, But Only in Russia

After closing Google Answers last year, Google launched a new version of the service, this time only in Russian (here's the English translation, powered by Google Translate). Unlike the original Google Answers, there are no hired experts and people don't have to pay to ask questions. Instead, you use your points to "pay" for a question and you earn points by posting answers or rating other people's answers. If your answer gets bad ratings, you lose points.

When you start to type a question, Google shows related questions in a sidebar to prevent the problem of duplication. You can set the number of points you are willing to offer for the right answer and the number of days the question remains active. Each question needs to have a list of labels, so it's easy to find related questions.

To find a question to answer, you can perform a search, browse the most recent questions or subscribe to the labels that match your interests. You can't add an answer after a question is closed.

The service has a pretty smart system for rewarding good answers. Each user can rate up to 20 answers a day. For answering a question you get 2 points, but if your answer gets 5 stars, you'll earn 10, 20 or 30 points depending on the number of people that rated your answer. You also get 5, 10 or 15 points for a 4-star answer, 1-3 points for a 3-star answer. For a bad rating, you lose between 3 and 15 points.

The blog of 3form, another free knowledge exchange service, reviews Google's new Q&A site:

"It is remarkable that Google had chosen Russia to test the new service, as Russia is the country where the concept of this kind of service originated. (...) After a quick look at the new Google Q&A service I can say that technologically it closely resembles Naver and Yahoo Answers. I found the main differences in reward structure, style, and user interface. Google seems to have a cleaner user interface, that would be a reason to prefer the Google service over others everything else being equal. The effectiveness of such social search services depends on the community of participants they attract and the efficiency of the technology supporting the exchange of knowledge. Among two technologically very similar services, like those provided by Yahoo and Google, the one that will be able to build a more diverse and motivated community of participants will be able to provide a better service to them."

If successful, Google Q&A could expand globally. For the moment, Yahoo Answers is the most visited Q&A site in the US, with 96% market share in December 2006, according to Hitwise. Yahoo heavily promoted its service and managed to create a strong community.



{ via Google Blogoscoped }

Google Dominates the Online Video Space

Hitwise reports that YouTube has 50% more traffic than the rest of the video sites combined: YouTube has around 60% market share and is followed by MySpace TV (16.08%) and Google Video (7.81%). This data is restricted to the US and doesn't include the traffic generated by the embedded players.

YouTube continues to grow and Google contributed to this growth by including the site in Google Video search and by adding inline previews and thumbnails to the main search results. "Search engines are responsible for about 20% of traffic to video sites, including YouTube. Users are increasingly finding links to video pages in search engine results - and going to them," says LeeAnn Prescott from Hitwise.

It will be interesting to see if YouTube maintains this impressive growth after Google starts to include video ads and if Google uses the data obtained from its video sites to develop a better video search engine.

June 28, 2007

Change Routes Faster in Google Maps

Google Maps lets you set intermediary points in your route and automatically adjusts the directions to the new conditions. You just have to drag the blue line to change its shape.

For example, after getting the directions from Mountain View to Palo Alto, I could change the route to pass through Stanford.

Another way to create complex routes is to add destinations in the sidebar and use drag and drop to change their order.




{ Thanks, Chris. }

Google Desktop for Linux

Google Desktop is now available for Linux. The tool includes only the desktop search engine, like the first version of Google Desktop for Windows or the recently released Google Desktop for Mac.

Google Desktop indexes OpenOffice documents, PDF and PostScript files, text and HTML files, manual pages, multimedia files, your web history and emails from Gmail and Thunderbird. The only browser fully supported is Firefox, but if you don't need to search your web history, any browser should work just fine.

The installer is much bigger than the Windows version (8 MB) and it should run on most popular distributions, including Debian 4.0+, Fedora Core 6+, Ubuntu 6.10+, SUSE 10.1+. One reason for the big size of the installer is the fact that it includes translations for the following languages: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese.

"With this release, Google Desktop joins the Picasa, Google Earth and Google Toolbar for Firefox applications among Google's offerings for Linux. In addition to creating products that run on Linux, Google supports the Linux community in a variety of ways, such as releasing open source code, running the Summer of Code and hosting tens of thousands of open source projects on Google Code," says Google in an announcement.

Linux users already have desktop search tools like Beagle, Tracker or Recoll, but the integration with Google services and the better performance might give Google Desktop an advantage. For now, Google's software supports very few file types (no archives, no chats, no Microsoft Office files), but this is only the first version. At least Google respected its promise of launching more Linux apps.

June 27, 2007

Stats for Google Gadgets

IGoogle's gadget directory shows the number of users and pageviews for each gadget that has at least 1000 users and 10,000 pageviews. There are many gadgets that have more than one million users, but most of them are included by default in the homepage:

* Weather (6,593,949 users / 321,210,021 pageviews)

* Date & Time (4,860,018 users / 157,754,150 pageviews)

* Google Calendar (4,193,468 users / 134,998,968 pageviews)

* Gmail (3,256,386 users / 147,062,862 pageviews),

* How to of the day (3,195,838 users / 85,462,789 pageviews)

* CNN (3,149,220 users / 90,741,669 pageviews)

The numbers seem to be an average for a week and are only approximations. But it's nice to see how popular is your gadget or feed and how many people use it.

Google Docs Has a Trash

If you deleted a document from Google Docs last week and you want it back, you're lucky. All the documents and spreadsheets that were previously deleted are now available in the Trash. You'll also discover a lot of blank documents and that secret report you thought it was gone forever.


Google is the same company that added a "delete" button in Gmail two years after the launch. Until then, the feature was buried in a combo box.

Update: Whoops! The trash was in the previous version as well, but it was pretty difficult to find it. At least for me. Maybe this post should go straight to the trash...

June 26, 2007

Picasa Web Becomes Location Aware

Google's photo sharing site lets you see photo albums on a map. For each photo that has latitude and longitude, Picasa Web shows a small map in the sidebar.

You can enter a single location for an entire album or place each photo from an album to a map using drag and drop. The desktop client can also geolocate photos using Google Earth.

The most impressive is the combination between a map and a slideshow. If you select a photo and click on "play", the photos will move on the map according to their locations.


Google has recently acquired Panoramio, a photo sharing site that let you link photos with the place they were taken. Hopefully Picasa Web will add a way to search for public photos by location and include Panoramio's main functionality.

Picasa Web should've launched a mobile version of the site, but, as usually, the feature is not available even after it was publicly announced. "With Picasa Web Albums for mobile devices, your favorite pictures are always with you. So next time you're at a loss for words when describing just how awesome, cute, or beautiful something really was, just grab your phone for visual backup. Of course, the mobile version of Picasa Web Albums lets you keep track of photo updates from friends and family, too. Just click 'My Favorites' from the main screen to see the latest photo albums that your contacts have posted to Picasa Web Albums -- you can even post a quick comment on their photos, using your phone. Thumbnails and photos are automatically re-sized for your device's screen, so pictures look good and download fast." The mobile site should be available at http://www.google.com/mobile/photos/.

Update: You can find the mobile Picasa Web Albums at http://picasaweb.google.com/m.

Better Document Management in Google Docs


Google Docs looks... smashing. The new start page has a sidebar that lets you filter the documents by tag (renamed to folder in the interface), by type or by collaborator. And you can now see all your files by default, not only the documents or spreadsheets active in the last 30 days.

The folders can now have descriptions and you can send a document to a folder by using drag and drop.

Google removed the option to sort the files by name or author, so the only available sort option is by date.

The search box includes an autocomplete feature for file names, folders, authors. To find the documents or spreadsheets that actually contain your text, you'll have to click on the search button.


The new interface is a huge step forward and makes room for more types of documents and better ways to share your files.

{ Thank you, Keith B. and Hans K. }

Reconstruct a Feed's History Using Google Reader

Google Reader is more than a feed reader: it's also a platform for feed caching and archiving. That means Google Reader stores all the posts from the subscribed feeds and they're available if you keep scrolling down in the interface.

A simple application for this feature is to retrieve the history of a feed for archiving purposes or to import it in a database. If you visit a blog or a news site, the feed will only contain the latest 10-20 posts, but Google Reader can show you more than that.

Just enter this URL in the address bar:
http://www.google.com/reader/atom/feed/FEED_URL?r=n&n=NUMBER_OF_ITEMS
and replace FEED_URL with the address of the feed and NUMBER_OF_ITEMS with the number of historical posts from the feed.

For example, http://www.google.com/reader/atom/
feed/http://feeds.feedburner.com/GoogleOperatingSystem?r=n&n=100
should return the latest 100 posts from this blog as an ATOM/XML file.

Google Docs to Integrate with Encyclopedia Britannica

Among the new features that are referenced by the Google Docs' code, the most important seems to be the integration with online knowledge bases. Google Docs will let you access Merriam-Webster's dictionary and thesaurus directly from a document. You'll also be able to read articles from Encyclopedia Britannica. It's rather curious that Google didn't opt for everyone's favorite encyclopedia, Wikipedia, and choose the oldest English-language encyclopedia still in print, but also an encyclopedia hard to access online for free. Britannica has an odd policy of allowing you to read an article for free only if you place a link to the article in a web page and click on that link.


Google Docs should make use of more online resources and let you integrate information from search results, translate text or use Google's statistical data about languages to correct grammatical errors or reformulate incomprehensible text.

Google News Launches Image Version

If you go to Google News and you want to see the most important news in images, select the new graphical view. If you hover over an image, you'll be able to read a snippet from the news in a nicely animated sidebar and see images from related news.

The new version is available for search results as well and it's easy to toggle between the standard view, the image view and a simplified version. Recently Google Image Search added an option to restrict the results to news sites or to images that contain faces.

June 25, 2007

Email Migration Tools Added to Google Apps

Google Apps added the option to migrate the messages from your existing email accounts if you use the business or the educational edition. "Administrators use a self-service wizard to easily and securely transfer existing email data from an IMAP server over to users' Gmail accounts on Google Apps. Gmail will put messages into conversation threads, display the original sender, recipient, and date of messages, and convert existing mail folders into labels. (...) This tool currently supports email servers with an IMAP interface."

When composing messages, you should be able to access Gmail's new address book by clicking on "choose from contacts" link. Unlike the old way of adding contacts to a new email, you can now browse through your entire address book, choose your frequently mailed contacts, or use the search feature to add more people at a time. The address book includes all the users from your domain. The feature has already been available for a while in Google Video and Google Docs.


Google promises a completely new layout for the document management interface of Google Docs, but it's unclear if this will be available for everyone. "Soon we'll complete a visual overhaul of Docs & Spreadsheets that will make it much easier for users with dozens or even hundreds of documents to search, locate, and organize their documents."

Among other updates, you'll be able to add more gadgets to your start page, including the Google Talk Gadget.

More info: The update for Google Docs will be launched on June 27 for everyone (not just for Google Apps users). "We're going to launch a new Docs list -- a wish fulfilled for those of us who've wanted an easier way to organize and manage our documents and spreadsheets."

Google to Buy GrandCentral



Techcrunch reports that Google is about to acquire GrandCentral, a service that links all your phone numbers and gives you a new number with additional features:
* Check your messages by phone, email, or online
* Keep all your messages online for eternity
* Record and store your phone calls (just like voicemail)
* Quickly (and secretly) block an annoying caller
* Click-to-dial from your address book
* Surprise your callers with a custom voicemail greeting
* Turn your MP3s into the ring tones your callers hear
* Forward, download, and add notes to your messages

"GrandCentral gives people one phone number for life. This number is not tied to a phone or a particular location; it's tied to you. GrandCentral is a unified communications service that integrates all your existing phones, numbers and voicemail boxes and bridges the gap between voicemail and email."

The service is available only for the US and Canada, but you can see a short demo: <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd5gHKU-qnQ">here</a>.


Google could integrate the service with Gmail, Google Talk and your list of contacts. Because all your conversations are recorded and available online for future reference, Google could make them searchable, just like Google Talk's chat messages.

Update (July 2): It's official. "Google acquired GrandCentral because its communications services fit into Google's mission to organize the world's information and to provide services and features that enhance the collaborative exchange of information between our users." The terms of the acquisition are confidential.

The Duel Between eBay and Google



Google launched last year a payment system called Google Checkout, but eBay refused to accept it as an alternative for its own PayPal because Google didn't have a "substantial historical track record of providing safe and reliable financial and/or banking related services".

Two weeks ago, Google Checkout team tried to make an appearance at the eBay Live event to celebrate user choice and to convince eBay to accept Google Checkout as a payment method. But eBay is a major AdWords advertiser, so it decided to use its biggest weapon and dropped all the US ads from Google. The move was pretty unexpected and Google quickly canceled the event: "eBay Live attendees have plenty of activities to keep them busy this week in Boston, and we did not want to detract from that activity. After speaking with officials at eBay, we at Google agreed that it was better for us not to feature this event during the eBay Live conference."

After 10 days, eBay resumed the ad campaign, but not without proclaiming the independence from Google. "I will tell you it will be in a much more limited way than it was before. What we found is that we were not as dependent on AdWords as some people thought," said an eBay spokesman. New York Times reports that eBay will buy more ads from Google's competitors, including Yahoo and Microsoft. Hopefully they won't advertise for dead people, murderers or nuns.

Google and Social Search

New York Times has an article about search engines that allow people to rate, review or even edit search results. Even if the major search engines take into account the links from sites and use them as votes, these social search engines use explicit user voting.

"A growing number of entrepreneurs are placing their bets, however, on a hybrid system that puts humans back into the search equation. They are grouped under a newly coined rubric, social search, and it is becoming a crowded field. Newcomers like Squidoo, Sproose and NosyJoe offer search results based on submissions or votes by users. Bessed also relies on users to suggest the best Web pages for a topic, but then has editors refine them."

The article also mentions Mahalo, a search engine hand-built by editors. "Mahalo is the world's first human-powered search engine powered by an enthusiastic and energetic group of Guides. Our Guides spend their days searching, filtering out spam, and hand-crafting the best search results possible," explains their FAQ. The site shows results mostly for popular queries like Paris Hilton or Google and their goal is to hand-write the most popular 10,000 search terms, although it's unclear who defines that list. Even if their links are very good and well organized, it's hard to beat Wikipedia's pages, which are much more content-rich and extremely up-to-date, at least for popular topics.

In fact, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, plans to launch a search engine that allows people to edit the results. What's more, Mr. Wales says the search engine will be open source. "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."

Google tried to add explicit feedback using Google Toolbar's voting buttons and a link that let you remove pages or entire sites from your search results, but the results weren't that good. In a recent talk, Peter Norvig said that people mostly used the voting buttons to express negative opinions about pages.

For the moment, the only ways to tell Google you don't think a page is relevant to the query is to click on "Dissatisfied? Help us improve" at the bottom of the page or to simply ignore the page (by clicking on the second search result first, Google records that the first results wasn't relevant to you).

Yahoo also experimented with social features added next to the search results, but they were removed. Maybe a Digg approach to search introduces more bias and makes it easier to promote spam pages. After all, people are less predictable than algorithms and more difficult to control.

June 23, 2007

Sync Your Mobile Phone with Google Calendar

Google Calendar has recently launched a mobile version that lets you add events and see your agenda, but if you already use your phone's built-in calendar, you want a way to keep the offline and the online calendars in sync.

GooSync is a free option that works without installing any application (over-the-air). You just set up an account, give GooSync access to your Google Calendar and configure your phone to work with GooSync. GooSync works with mobile devices that support SyncML, and these include Blackberries, most Nokia phones, many Sony Ericsson phones and others. For Palm or Windows Mobile phones you'll have to install a Sync ML client, which is not free.

Besides synchronizing the events, GooSync tries to keep the reminders in sync. Because Google Calendar has some predefined intervals for reminders, this will not work if you define custom reminders for your phone's events. The service's main limitations are that "you are only able to synchronize your primary Google Calendar and you are limited to a sync window of 7 days past and 30 days future of the current date," but if you pay a subscription these limitations are removed.

If you don't mind installing a Java app and synchronizing your calendar manually, then GCalSync is for you. The software is open-source, doesn't have GooSync's limitations regarding the sync intervals and it works pretty well in a wider array of phones. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be developed anymore.

For Windows Mobile phones, you could try OggSync, which is compatible with Outlook, it lets you define an interval for synchronization and supports over-the-air and/or cradle sync. Like in GCalSync or the free version of GooSync, you can only synchronize the main calendar, unless you pay for a yearly subscription.

Another Windows Mobile solution is SyncMyCal, which lets you synchronize all your calendar, but the date range selection is limited to 3 days. The paid version of SyncMyCal is much more affordable than OggSync as there's no yearly subscription.


GooSync
GCalSync
OggSync
SyncMyCal
Price
Free / $39.79 per year
Free
Free / $29.95 per year Free / $25
Supported phones
Phones that support Sync ML
Phones that run Java apps
Windows Mobile
Windows Mobile
Software
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Configurable sync window Paid version
Yes
Yes
Paid version
Scheduled synchronization Yes
No
Paid version
Paid version
Multi calendar Paid version
No
Paid version
Yes
Reminders Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Recurring events Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Google Hosted Domains Yes
?

Yes
Yes

Here's also a comparison of the number of blog posts that mention the sync tools, according to BlogPulse (April-June 2007):

Google Numbers & Facts

Some facts about Google, from the Press Day event that took place in Paris this week, captured by Tony Ruscoe.

Search

* When Google started we indexed 25,000 web pages - today we index billions. Each time we index the web it's grown by 10 to 25%.

* As the web grows, search becomes more important. It's like a library - the bigger the library, the more important the index.

* 20 to 25% of Google queries have never been searched before.

* Google's PageRank algorithm uses more than 200 signals to determine the rank of a website.

* iGoogle was our fastest growing product last year (2006). People have personalized their iGoogle homepages with over 10,000 free gadgets.


Languages

* The Google Book Search index includes books in over 90 languages.

* Google's machine translation service is available in 12 languages.

* Google operates in 112 languages including Breton, Reto-Romanic, Catalan, Kurdish, Frisian and Gaelic.

* Universities in Rwanda, Kenya, Japan, Egypt, Ireland, the Ukraine, Michigan and Arizona are all using Google Apps for Education.


Corporate culture

* In 2007 Google gave free bicycles to all its employees in Europe.

* Google's San Francisco shuttle bus service is the biggest of any company in the area. One shared car provides as much transportation as 20 privately owned cars.

* Google has the largest corporate solar panel installation in the US.


Revenue

* Of the $10.6bn Google generated in revenue last year, $3bn was handed back to our publishing partners through AdSense.

* In the first quarter of this year Google generated over $1bn in revenues from our partners.

June 22, 2007

Search for Google Custom Search Engines

Google launched an interesting way to search for custom search engines created using Google Co-op: a Google Base structured search that only includes the most popular search engines. The cool thing is that you can restrict the results based on the search engine's name, language, its description, the most popular queries or the number of sites that are included. "If you're interested in finding a search engine to contribute to, search specifically for search engines that allow volunteers. For instance, if you're most interested in non-profit organizations, search only for non-profit search engines," suggests the CSE Blog.


Google Base has a very powerful search interface and it would be nice to see it in other products like Blog search, Gmail or Google Calendar. When you perform a search or select an option, Google Base will only show the options that are available in the current state and that's useful to dynamically build a complex query.

Google Talk Gadget Adds Multi-User Chats


Google Talk Gadget added support group chat. Just click on the "Group Chat" button when you are in a conversation, and you can invite other people to join your discussion. Unfortunately, this feature is not available in any other client, so if you invite someone who uses Google Talk for Windows, Gmail Chat or other Jabber client, he'll get a link to the web version of Google Talk.



The Windows client seems to be neglected this year, but I bet we'll see a major new release in the coming weeks that will add all the new features from the web version, phone calls and more.

Translate Words with Google's Bilingual Dictionaries

Google has a powerful translation tool that lets you translate a web page or a text, but that's not very useful if you only need to translate a word or an expression. Without entering a context, Google shows the most plausible translation, but a word can have multiple translations.

To overcome this problem, Google launched a bilingual dictionary that lets you enter an English word and get the translations in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Korean or enter a word in of those 5 languages and get the English translation.

Google also shows related phrases, but it would be nice to see more contexts. "Some of these related phrases will show idiomatic usages of the word or short phrase that you entered, while others will be examples of your word or short phrase being used in its literal meaning."

If you enter a word in one of the supported languages, but you don't know the language, Google offers some options at the bottom of the page.

Google Toolbar also has a feature that lets you translate English words on a web page into another language by hovering your mouse cursor over a word, while Google's define: operator gives you access to definitions from all over the Web.


{ Thank you, Zack. }

June 21, 2007

Opera Mini 4: Get the Full Picture of a Web Page

Opera launched a new version of its free mobile browser: Opera Mini 4, currently in beta. One of the coolest new features is that the browser renders the page almost the same as a desktop browser, so you'll be able to see the web page at a glance. But because the screen of your mobile phone is very small you can't actually read anything: that's why you need to select an area of the page and zoom in. Opera Mini is smart enough to detect the most important part of the page and automatically selects that part.

There's even a small cursor that changes when you hover over a link and moves your position so you can actually read the text.

To try it, go to mini.opera.com/beta on your mobile phone and download the browser or test it on your computer (JAVA required).


One thing I don't link about Opera Mini 4 is that it's much slower than the previous version, but hopefully Opera will improve the performance until the browser gets out of beta.

Opera compared it with iPhone's Safari browser, but, as you can see in this video, iPhone's transitions are much smoother and there are multiple levels of zoom.

June 20, 2007

Share a Tab from Your iGoogle Page

Google's personalized homepage finally added the option to share a tab. If you click on the arrow next to the title of the active tab, you'll see three options: rename, delete and share. Google doesn't provide you a direct link, but it asks you to enter the email addresses of the persons you want to share that tab with.


The email contains a link that includes the URLs of all the gadgets from that tab. If you click on that link, you'll get a page that lets you add all the gadgets or only some of them to a new tab in your iGoogle page. Here's, for example, the link to my iGoogle tab about Google.

Google could generate a similar link for all your feeds and gadgets that could be used to backup your iGoogle page. After all, it's just a list of links.

June 19, 2007

Rate Local Businesses in Google Maps

Now you can add reviews and rate local businesses in Google Maps. Until today, Google crawled sites like Yelp and included their reviews.

"Don't forget that Google Maps indexes a tremendous variety of businesses, and in a number of countries. Tell the world all about your favorite (or least favorite) doctors and dentists, hotels, bakeries, hardware stores, salons, pet spas, auto mechanics, plumbers, and more," recommend Google Lat Long Blog.

Just find a local business, click on "more info" and then find a link that says "write a review". Your review must be at least 100 characters, it will go live instantly, but it's placed after the bottom of the page.

YouTube Goes International


At the unexciting Google Press Day, an event that took place in Paris, YouTube announced 9 localized versions for: Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and UK. The sites will have localized interface and content. YouTube has "various major content partners, like the BBC, France 24, the Spanish Antena 3 and Cuatro TV, as well as football clubs, and non-profit organizations like Greenpeace."

YouTube hopes to expand its audience and to take some market share from video sites that are successful in some of these countries, like DailyMotion in France.

June 18, 2007

Google to Launch More Linux Applications

Google already has two applications that work in Linux: Picasa and Google Earth, but that's not enough for a company that uses Linux a lot. In a presentation [PDF] from Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, Google announced they'll release important Linux desktop applications this year. Some of them will be open source and they'll try to support most main distributions.

Google's applications that aren't available for Linux users include: Google Talk, Google Desktop, SketchUp, Web Accelerator.


{ via Phoronix.com }

Get Fresh Search Results from Google

Google has an option in the advanced search page that lets you restrict the results to pages from the last 3 months, 6 months or a year. Until now, the date was the last time when Google indexed a page. Because this doesn't mean too much and Google crawls the pages pretty fast, it was changed to the date of the first indexing.


As you can see when you search for "Google Maps", the results are still ranked by relevancy, but you won't find (too many) pages that already existed three months ago.


Unfortunately Google doesn't offer a way to define other intervals (at least not in the standard interface), but you can use the daterange operator (daterange:startdate-enddate, where startdate and enddate are Julian dates). This form does the conversion between the Gregorian date and the Julian date for you (based on some code from U.S. Naval Observatory):



{ via Matt Cutts }

June 17, 2007

Search Results that Enhance a Text

Google has an interesting patent that describes the philosophy behind Google AJAX Search API (also known as user-distributed search), a way to bring the search results to the user.
In an increasingly networked world, users frequently use online sources to create and exchange information. Email, instant messaging (IM), message boards, websites, and blogs are all existing communication technologies through which users can create and distribute content to other users. Frequently, in creating such content, a user may wish to reference other online information sources. For example, a user authoring an email may use a browser to navigate to a web page that the user would like to reference in the email, copy the link (e.g., the uniform resource locator (URL)) from the browser to a "clipboard," and then paste the link from the clipboard into the email. In this manner, the user can create an email message that contains links that are accessible by an eventual reader of the email.

Search engines are a popular tool through which users enter a search query describing information of interest and receive back documents or links to documents that relate to the search query. Frequently, when "researching" content for an email message, IM message, message board post, website post, or blog post, the user may perform one or more searches using one or more search engines to locate online documents relevant to the content. The user may then copy a link into the document using the above-described method of copying and pasting a link to the document. This process for annotating user created content can be tedious, difficult to perform for average users, and often results in textual links in the final content that can be difficult to read.

The patent suggests implementing a sidebar that lets you perform searches and easily include the results in the post or message. Another interesting idea is to show implicit search results based on what you type.
Instead of waiting for a user to provide a search query, the UDS may automatically generate search queries based on, for example, entity recognition techniques performed using the content entered by the user. (..) Entity recognition techniques are generally known in the art, and may include, for example, techniques designed to recognize entities such as products, places, organizations, or any other entities that tend to be subjects of searches. The entity recognition techniques can be based on linguistic grammar models or statistical models. In one possible implementation, the entity recognition techniques may be particularly adopted to locate terms that correspond to commercial products or terms that define an address, such as a postal address. In other possible implementations, the entity recognition techniques may be particularly biased to locate terms that are associated with a profile of the user, such as profile explicitly generated by the user (e.g., by the user filling out a questionnaire) or a profile automatically generated for the user, such as a profile based on the user's search history or based on documents created by the user.

This could be the first step towards a rich text editor smart enough to suggest relevant information for what you write and to auto-complete recurrent titles, names or ideas. One of the best existent applications for user-distributed search is Linkify, a bookmarklet that lets you place links in a text box using navigational queries.

{via SEO by the Sea}

June 15, 2007

Mobile YouTube

YouTube launched a mobile interface available at m.youtube.com. To use it, you need a mobile phone that plays streaming videos (RTSP/3GP with H263/AMR) and an unlimited data plan because "YouTube Mobile is a data intensive application". Most 3G phones support 3GP, but you can also play these files on your computer if you have a player like MPlayer, VLC, RealPlayer or Quicktime.

Only a small part of YouTube's videos are available in the mobile version and that includes short videos that were recently uploaded or popular. There are also three special categories: people, entertainment and "grab bag" and a search box that lets you find videos.



{ via Googlified }

Export Your Google Bookmarks

Google Bookmarks offers a simple way to export your favorite links: as a bookmarks.html that can be imported natively in most browsers. You can also use this to backup your list of links, to view them online or to move them to other bookmarking web services.

To import bookmarks or to easily manage them, you need Google Toolbar. Hopefully, Google will improve the way bookmarks are displayed, integrate the tool with Google Notebook and Google Reader and let you share your links.

Until then, Google Bookmarks is a cool way to bias Google's search results towards your favorite sites...


... to view related sites by clicking on the label displayed after the snippet or to see your bookmarks in Google Toolbar's suggestions:

Developing Google Docs & Spreadsheets

Jonathan Rochelle, product manager at Google Docs & Spreadsheets, gave a presentation about Google's online office suite at FOWA 07, in February.

The spreadsheet product came from 2Web Technologies/XL2Web, while the other half is the result of acquiring Upstartle/Writely. In October 2006, the two products merged and in February Google Docs & Spreadsheets was already available in 14 languages. Mr. Rochelle mentioned that they opted for this boring name to make the features transparent to the user even before using the application.

The product's main goals were:

* to have a familiar interface

* to be accessible from anywhere

* to add real-time collaboration

* to create communities around documents

* to let you publish documents on your site

Google Docs only took off after they added the new interface which was easier to use. They also had to choose between "rich conflict resolution or simple 'trust me' collaboration. Professional users need rich controls but most people didn't complain about the 'trust me' version." One of the most important thing they focused on was the performance: they even removed unused features to improve the speed (for example, a way to pan the spreadsheet like a map).

Even if Google plans to add more advanced features, some of them could be implemented by third-parties using an API.

The full presentation is available as an MP3 (38 MB) or using Gmail's MP3 player:

June 14, 2007

Comment Spam in Blogger

"Hi, Added a new value add to my blog this weekend - a news widget from www.widgetmate.com. I always wanted to show latest news for my keywords in my sidebar. It was very easy with this widget. Just a small copy paste and it was done. Great indeed."

Blogger doesn't offer an option to detect spam comments. The only options you have are to add a captcha to prevent automated spam or to moderate the comments, but that takes away from the value of an instant feedback. Even if Blogger adds rel=nofollow to all the links from comments and you don't improve their ranking in the search engines, "bloggers" like Addison post the same spam comment every 5 minutes to promote some mediocre widget site. Because Addison posts the comments manually, he can enter the captcha correctly.

But Blogger could at least check if similar comments were posted to a single blog multiple times. Or use the Akismet model.

It's always surprising to see how a company that actively fights against web spam is defeated by some comment spammers that use cheap methods to promote their latest widgets.


YouTube Redesigns and Moves to Google Accounts

After updating their embeddable player, YouTube experiments with a new layout for the site. The new design places the search box in the center, moves the metadata below the video, makes it easier to rate the video and to find other related videos. There's also an option to embed a video using the old player.

To get the new interface, add &v3 at the end of a YouTube URL, like for this video.


YouTube also added to the homepage a list of videos that are being watched right now using active sharing, cleaned their search results and included a new option to view the results as thumnbnails.

But more importantly, you can now use your Google account to login to YouTube. You can link an existing YouTube account to a Google account or create a new one, but you'll still be able to use your YouTube credentials, so this is more like a temporary solution.


The login page proudly lists YouTube's features:
  • Upload, tag and share your videos worldwide
  • Browse millions of original videos uploaded by community members
  • Find, join and create video groups to connect with people with similar interests
  • Customize your experience with playlists and subscriptions
  • Integrate YouTube with your website using video embeds or APIs

June 13, 2007

Blogger Adds Video Uploading

Blogger has a place where you can test new experimental features: it's called Blogger in Draft and it's available at draft.blogger.com. Everything will look the same as the normal Blogger, but you may discover new features or new interfaces that aren't yet ready to be released to the general public. There's even a new blog that promises to keep us up-to-date with the new functionalities. "Features on Blogger in draft may be updated, changed, re-imagined, transmogrified, or removed at any time. Draft gives us the freedom to see what works and what doesn't before we turn a feature on for everyone, so expect us to make changes — hopefully you'll think they're for the better!"

The first feature added to Blogger's labs is video uploading: you're now able to upload videos directly from Blogger's editor. After you click on the video icon, you only need to select a video from your computer and to enter a title.


The video will be uploaded to Google, but until it's ready you'll see this nice placeholder:


You can continue to edit the post during the upload, but you can't publish it until the upload finishes. The video can be aligned and resized in the rich-text mode and that's a good idea since the initial size is very small.

video

Google hides the details of the implementation and includes this obscure code in your post that depends on some JavaScript to actually work:

<object id="BLOG_video-b1ce175e95d1aa16" class="BLOG_video_class" contentid="b1ce175e95d1aa16" height="255" width="291"></object>

The videos don't seem to be uploaded to Picasa Web Albums and they're not available at Google Video either, so it's unclear how you can reuse them or share them. Blogger mentions that "your videos are kept private and will not be included in Google Video search."

Update (August 24): the feature is now available at Blogger's main site.

Google Frames a Video Search Engine

Google Video, now a video search engine, shows a frame similar to the one from Image Search when you click on a search result. The frame lets you rate the video, share it, and watch related videos. You can also watch the previous or the next search result by clicking on the arrows and perform a new search. If you don't like losing a big part of your screen with redundant features, there's an option to collapse the top frame.

The frame appears for videos hosted at Google Video, for YouTube videos and for other third-party sites. It's interesting that Metacafe uses JavaScript to break the frames, so you'll see a redirect going on after clicking on a search result.

Google Video indexes videos from tens of video sites, including Metacafe, iFilm, Grouper, Yahoo Video, MySpace, Break.com, Daily Motion, Vimeo, Veoh, AOL Video, Jumpcut, Revver, Guba, BBC, but YouTube dominates the search results. Google Video shows previews for videos hosted by Google's sites (YouTube and Google Video) and thumnbnails for Metacafe, Break.com and Veoh videos. With around 60 million videos in its index, Google Video says it's "the most comprehensive [video search engine] on the Web, containing millions of videos indexed and available for viewing. Using Google Video, you can search for and watch an ever-growing collection of TV shows, movie clips, music videos, documentaries, personal productions and more from all over the Web."

Site
Number of videos (estimation)
YouTube
42.5 million
Yahoo Video
3 million
Google Video
2.3 million
My Space
2 million

All in all, Google Video wants to keep its visibility and to compensate for the lack of information about some of the videos, but ends up duplicating features that are already available at most video sites and cluttering the page. It's also much difficult to find the actual link to the original site. Of course, the related videos have a wider scope, while the "email this video" feature uses your Gmail address book.



{ Thank you, Nimish and Will. }

Google Analytics Restores Missing Features

Google Analytics polished its offering by adding some small new features. Now you can actually click on the external pages from the reports, so you don't have to build the URLs from scratches.


The same reports let you see up to 500 rows, like in the previous version of Google Analytics, while the reports related to visitors restored the per-hour view.

Other updates include:
* It's now easier to add an AdWords account to an existing Google Analytics account.

* Bounce rates measurements have had their colors changed for visual consistency. A decrease in bounce rate is now colored green to match other positive changes, while an increase in bounce rate is colored red like other negative changes.

* Cross-segmenting by Network Location has been added to the standard list of segmentation options throughout the interface.

The new interface lets you see more information at a glance, but also drill down more effectively in the reports. It will be interesting to see if Google decides to release a new version targeted to blogs (that expands Measure Map and adds FeedBurner reports for feeds) or Google Analytics will integrate everything in a single package.

Super-Powerful Custom Search Engines

Google's custom search engines have received a huge upgrade. Now when you add a site to your search engine, you can also include all the pages linked from that site. So even if you use the custom search engine only for a single site, you can transform it into a whole ecosystem of pages relevant to your site.

All you have to do is choose the option to "dynamically extract links from this page and add them to my search engine" for your site. You have three options: include only the individual pages linked from your site, include the subdomains or the entire sites, even if you only link to a page.


If you don't have this feature you can test it at this page or in this blog's search box.



A search for "Safari" returns the homepage of Apple's browser and a site that offers a way to preview a site in Safari before my post about Safari and that's a fair enough. That post linked to both sites that are ranked higher.


The feature has already been available in Lijit, a site that let you "easily create your own search engine, which searches your blog, blogroll, bookmarks, photos, and more", but now it's a simple option in Google Co-op. Here are the results for "Safari" in a custom search engine built using Lijit.

You can use this for feeds, directories or for sites that collect a lot of interesting links. Bloggers could dig deeper in their archives and rediscover useful links, while readers have more comprehensive search results.

An important drawback is that if you enter the homepage of a site, Google will retrieve the links only from that page, even if it will continue to monitor it for new links. Also the search seems to be somewhat slower and the results may appear diluted.

But, as the Custom Search blog says, lazy people can rejoice. "If you have a blog or a directory-like site and don't feel like listing all of the URLs you want to search across, you can leave the work to us. With this new feature we'll automatically generate and update your CSE for you."

June 12, 2007

Unlimited Number of Tabs in iGoogle


Google's personalized homepage* removed the strange limit that let you add only six tabs. The performance doesn't decrease if you add too many tabs because each time you click on a tab it's like opening a new web page. By default, Google loads the most popular gadgets related to the title of a tab, so you don't have to browse the directory to add new feeds and gadgets. A cool way to find new gadgets and to preview them is the Gadget Preview Browser.

Now when you try to add a gadget from outside, there's a new page that offers related gadgets and an option to "see this gadget when you visit Google.com". I wonder what that means.


* When iGoogle was called "Google Personalized Homepage", I wanted a shorter name. Now iGoogle sounds too flaccid to be taken seriously.

RealPlayer 11 Lets You Download Videos from the Web

The much-hated RealPlayer will get an upgrade that adds an easy way to download videos from the web, a slicker interface and a friendlier relationship with your computer. "The new RealPlayer gives consumers more control of Internet video than was ever possible before. By floating a download this video button next to video seen on thousands of Web sites, RealPlayer makes it one-click simple," said Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of Real in a press release.


The feature works for video streams and for most video formats available online (Flash, Windows Media, QuickTime, and Real), including those hosted by video sharing sites like YouTube. The same YouTube whose terms clearly state that "you will not copy or distribute any part of the Website in any medium without YouTube's prior written authorization". The same YouTube that sent a Cease & Desist letter to TechCrunch for hosting a tool that downloads videos from YouTube.

In the meantime, Real Player is a part of Google Pack and Real has some distribution deals with Google. It will be interesting to see if Google/YouTube tolerates this. I know there are many sites that let you download FLV videos from YouTube and even extensions that integrate with those sites, but RealPlayer will definitely be more visible.

Although the application will be officially released at the end of the month, Cybernet News managed to find it at this address [13.3 MB, Windows].

Initiative for Energy-Efficient Computers

Intel and Google announced a partnership with 25 companies and organizations: Climate Savers Computing Initiative. "The goal of the new broad-based environmental effort is to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by setting aggressive new targets for energy-efficient computers and components, and promoting the adoption of energy-efficient computers and power management tools worldwide."

Urs Hölzle from Google mentioned that a desktop PC wastes half of its power, a server wastes one-third of its power and 90% of the computers don't use power management settings.


The group hopes to improve the energy efficiency by 50% until 2010 and to reduce the CO2 emissions from computers by 54 million tons per year (equivalent to the removal of 11 million autos or planting 65,000 km2 of trees).



The initiative will try to improve the Energy Star requirements. "Our Initiative starts with the 2007 Energy Star requirements for desktops, laptops and workstation computers—including monitors—and gradually increases the efficiency requirements over the next four years. The Initiative's standard for these machines, which takes effect in July 2007, requires power supplies to be at least 80% efficient for most of their load range. It also puts limits on the energy used by devices when inactive, and requires systems to be shipped with power-management features enabled."

An energy-efficient computers will cost $20-$30 more, but the energy savings will offset the cost in the first two years. As more computers will be sold, they'll become a standard and you won't see any premium price for them. So the next time you buy a computer, make sure it has the Energy Star logo or other distinctive mark that identifies energy-efficient equipment.