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

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November 30, 2007

Google to Bid for the 700MHz Spectrum

Google announced that it will bid in the FCC auction of wireless spectrum in the 700 MHz band. "We believe it's important to put our money where our principles are. Consumers deserve more competition and innovation than they have in today's wireless world. No matter which bidder ultimately prevails, the real winners of this auction are American consumers who likely will see more choices than ever before in how they access the Internet," said Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO.

Earlier this week, Verizon Wireless announced "that it will provide customers the option to use, on its nationwide wireless network, wireless devices, software and applications not offered by the company". This was one the four conditions formulated by Google in order to participate in the auction and one of the two conditions accepted by FCC. In September, Verizon Wireless filed a lawsuit "against the FCC's rules that would require the eventual winner of the spectrum offer open devices and applications".

Here's what Chris Sacca from Google has to say about this:
The state of neutrality for the wireless Net in the United States was woeful. We had inspiring entrepreneurs at Google building game-changing products and some users were not able to get their hands on those apps. It bummed me out. Thankfully, I wasn't the only person at Google who felt that way. Turns out, a lot of people at Google cared deeply about these issues. So we built a humbling team of like-minded folks to explore what we could do to make the wireless industry more open. (...) Our mission is ambitious, but clear: do what it takes to inspire or create a mobile ecosystem in the United States that will allow user choice to flourish and level the playing field for new applications and devices. (...)

In that light, I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to recognize the sea change that occurred in the US wireless industry yesterday [November 27]. As the largest wireless carrier in the country, Verizon Wireless announced that they would soon allow customers the option of bringing their own device to and accessing their own applications on the Verizon network. (...) While Verizon by no means committed to the full openness principles for which Google has been advocating, and substantial risk remains in exactly how they choose to implement their ideas, I do think we need to recognize this as a very positive step forward. (...) There is a lot of work to do still, and the issues of openness and user choice in wireless are far from resolved. However, we have all come a very long way and it is clear that the good guys are building momentum.

Blogger Tests OpenID Support

Blogger in Draft (a pre-release version of Blogger) added the option to comment using an OpenID. According to Wikipedia, OpenID is a "decentralized single sign-on system. Using OpenID-enabled sites, web users do not need to remember traditional authentication tokens such as username and password. Instead, they only need to be previously registered on a website with an OpenID "identity provider" (IdP). Since OpenID is decentralized, any website can employ OpenID software as a way for users to sign in; OpenID solves the problem without relying on any centralized website to confirm digital identity."

OpenID is great because it allows you to use a single account to sign in to multiple sites without worrying about passwords. The system has been developed by Brad Fitzpatrick for LiveJournal (Brad now works at Google).

Some important companies and sites that provide OpenIDs: AOL, Orange, WordPress, Six Apart and others. If you have an account at any of these sites, you also have an OpenID. Unfortunately, very few important sites lets you authenticate using an OpenID.

To enable the OpenID integration in Blogger, you need to visit draft.blogger.com, edit the Settings for your blog, choose the Comments tab and select "Anyone" (allows anonymous comments) or "Registered users". I enabled OpenID for this blog, as you can notice if you try to post a comment.


Hopefully, this is a small step for a full integration with Google's authentication system.

Google Reader Improves Feed Management

Google Reader now shows a list of recommended feeds in the new Discover section. The list is generated by looking at the subscribed feeds from other people that have similar interests with you. I'm pretty satisfied with my recommendations, although I knew most of the blogs from that list.

"Your recommendations list is automatically generated. It takes into account the feeds you're already subscribed to, as well as information from your Web History, including your location. Aggregated across many users, this information can indicate which feeds are popular among people with similar interests. For instance, if a lot of people subscribe to feeds about both peanut butter and jelly, and you only subscribe to feeds about peanut butter, Reader will recommend that you try some jelly."

To decide if you want to subscribe to the feed, you can look at the number of Google subscribers, the frequency of posts or preview it.


But the most important update is that you can now manage your feeds in the sidebar using drag and drop. This allows you to move a feed to a new folder, to change its position inside a folder or to change the order of folders, if you don't like the alphabetical order. For some reason, there's still no option to rename folders and tags.

November 29, 2007

Froogle Checkout

Google has recently replaced the link to Google Video from the homepage with a link to Product Search (formerly known as Froogle). This change is probably related to the increasing number of people that use Google to buy things in this season.


Product Search is also a great vehicle for Google Checkout, the payment service that still needs a lot of promotion. As you can see from the screenshot below, there's so much Google Checkout in Froogle, that you start wondering if the entire service is an ad.


Google Checkout also has special offers (savings, free shipping, frequent flyer miles) for consumers, in addition to more than a year of free processing for merchants.

Google indexes all the reviews from Google Checkout users and adds them to Product Search (e.g.: reviews for SnowandWater.com).

As the stores who use Google Checkout gain more and more visibility in search results and ads, Google hopes to pressure the rest of the merchants to accept Checkout. Users are trained to look after the Checkout badge because they'll buy things faster and more conveniently.

Even if Google appears to lose money in Checkout, the future could bring a bigger spending in AdWords and happier / more loyal users. To achieve this, Google added a link to an unpopular service to the homepage and cluttered search results and Product Search with Google Checkout badges.

Google's fast and frugal checkout makes Google more powerful because you trust it with information about your credit cards and the things you buy and because you finally allow Google to finish the process of obtaining search results with a genuine confirmation: an acquisition.

The New Version of Gmail Adds Group Chat

Having three interfaces for Google Talk (the gadget, Gmail and the desktop client) seems to be a challenge for Google because the new features aren't propagated at the same time in all the interfaces. To make the challenge even more interesting, Google added a new interface: an updated Gmail Chat that's only available in the new version of Gmail.

This updated Gmail Chat includes two features that were already available in the gadget: smileys and group chat. To invite a new contact to an existing chat, click on "Options" and select "Group Chat". The problem is that your contact must use either the gadget or the new version of Gmail. If he uses the desktop client, a message will inform him to open the gadget, but in the old version of Gmail Chat there's no indication that you invited him to chat.


{ via Googlified }

November 28, 2007

Google Experiments with Personalizing the Order of Search Results

There's a new search experiment at Google Labs, but this time not everyone's invited. The new experiment lets you personalize your search experience by directly influencing the order of search results.

Each search result has two buttons: "like it" and "don't like it". The first button moves the search result at the top of the page and you'll see it there every time you search for the same keywords (Google adds an orange marker so you can distinguish it from the algorithmic results). The "don't like it" button removes the search result, but only for the current query. There's also an option to add new pages that don't appear in the list of search results: "at the bottom of the search results you can give the address of a page that's relevant to your search. When you search for these same keyword(s) the page you've suggested will appear at the top with this orange marker."

All in all, you can add a list of favorites for the current query and remove the irrelevant pages. This is especially useful if you know you'll search again for the same keywords because the next time you do that the list of search results promoted at the top will certainly save you time. Google doesn't mention if your action influence the overall quality of search results, but it's likely that they only influence your search results. Google might combine the highlighted web pages to dynamically create custom search engines for specialized domains or use them to better personalize the search results.

Other similar experiments from the past included the option to add better search results, reorder the results and remove search results.



{ via Googlified and Google Discovery. The second screenshot is licensed as Creative Commons by jessamyn (some features are from the Customize Google extension). }

Google Maps for Mobile Shows Your Location

The latest version of Google Maps for mobile phones has a new feature called "my location". Instead of having to enter your location, Google Maps is able to find it. If your phone has GPS support the location detection should be very good, but even if there's no GPS, Google Maps can approximate your location. "The My Location feature takes information broadcast from mobile towers near you to approximate your current location on the map - it's not GPS, but it comes pretty close (approximately 1000m close, on average)." To find your location on the map, just press 0 and look for a blue dot.

Google says that this feature should work on most "Java, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Nokia/Symbian devices", but it doesn't work in Sony Ericsson K750i, so this claim is questionable.

To get the new version (2.0), go to http://google.com/gmm on your mobile device. It's still in beta, so don't expect it to be flawless.



Update:
At this time, My Location (beta) is available for these devices:

* BlackBerry devices
* Some recent Motorola devices
* Some recent Sony Ericsson devices
* Many Windows Mobile devices
* Nokia Series 60 3rd Edition devices

If you have a Java-enabled (J2ME) device, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile device, you can easily check whether or not My Location (beta) is available. Just to go "Help" > "About" from the application. If the box contains "myl: N/A," it means your device isn't reporting a cell.

November 27, 2007

Edit Maps Collaboratively

Google Maps has finally added the missing piece from personalized maps: collaboration. If you create a map in the "My Maps" section, you can now invite people to collaborate or allow anyone to edit the map like in a wiki.

"The My Maps feature of Google Maps lets people create maps to share their hobbies and expertise with the world. For example, a surfing enthusiast could map out their favorite surf spots or a surfing club could plot all the best beaches in Southern California. Now imagine if all the surfers around the globe worked together, leveraging their combined knowledge to create a single map of the best surf spots worldwide, applying the power of wiki-style collaboration to cartography," suggests Google Lat-Long blog.

And if you don't feel like creating a new map from scratches, you can now import it from a KML or GeoRSS file. To find one, search in Google Maps and select the "community maps" option at the bottom of the standard search results.



Then you can invite collaborators and send them a message. The dialog is very similar to the one from Google Docs, except that you can transform a map into a wiki. This would've been very useful for the San Diego Fire Map "that tracked the spread of the fire and included information on evacuation alerts and evacuation center locations", but it's also an interesting way to share your knowledge with other people.



As an example of collaborative map, here's a map where you can add a placemark for your location and maybe something about you. Just click on "Edit", find your location on the map, right-click and choose "Add a placemark".

New Terrain Layer in Google Maps

There's a new tab in Google Maps: "terrain". The view combines street maps with visual information about terrains. Elevation data is not limited to geographic features like mountains, but it's also displayed for buildings.

The satellite view adds data from the hybrid view (street names, city names, roads), but you have the option to hide it.



{ Thanks, Rodney. }

Will GDrive Ever Launch?


This is probably the year of Google's most important product launches. Even if they're much rarer than last year, they are strategically important (personalization, universal search, machine translation, the mobile platform, social gadgets).

Wall Street Journal reports that Google plans to launch a service for storing files. Of course, we all know about GDrive, an internal Google project, and Google's goal to store store 100% of user's data. "With infinite storage, we can house all user files, including: emails, web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc)," mentioned Google in some leaked annotations from a presentation.

But WSJ's article could mean that GDrive's launch is close. "Google is preparing a service that would let users store on its computers essentially all of the files they might keep on their personal-computer hard drives -- such as word-processing documents, digital music, video clips and images, say people familiar with the matter. The service could let users access their files via the Internet from different computers and mobile devices when they sign on with a password, and share them online with friends. It could be released as early as a few months from now, one of the people said."

The article doesn't mention the amount of free storage that will be offered, but Google will probably use the same strategy from Gmail and Picasa Web: some free storage that should be enough for most users and paid storage for everyone else.

"Google is hoping to distinguish itself from existing online storage services partly by simplifying the process for transferring and opening files. Along with a Web-based interface, Google is trying to let users upload and access files directly from their PC desktops and have the file storage behave for consumers more like another hard drive that is handy at all times, say the people familiar with the matter."

The idea of mapping the online storage as an external drive is not new and you can already do this with tools like Gmail Drive or services like .Mac or Box.net. But Google really needs an application for uploading more files at once to Google Docs or Gmail, so the GDrive uploader could be useful to add files to a shared area, directly accessible from all Google services. Now it's difficult to upload files because there are so many different Google services that let you upload different kinds of files (documents, photos, videos etc.)

"Google is hoping the new storage service will help tie together some of its other services through a single search box, says one of the people familiar with the matter. So a user might be able to conduct a single search by keywords to find his own privately stored files, regardless of whether they're accessed through Picasa, Docs or a software program running on the user's computer."

Hopefully GDrive will bring enough free storage (AOL's Xdrive offers 5 GB for free), a simple way to transfer and synchronize files, integration with Gmail, Google Docs and other Google services. If Google actually decides to launch GDrive.

{ Thanks, Jaime. }

Update: thanks to those who read the WSJ article more carefully, I changed the message of this post from "GDrive will certainly launch soon" to "GDrive could launch in a few months, but it's not very sure".

November 26, 2007

Rule-Based iGoogle Themes

While iGoogle already offers 11 themes to customize the homepage, there's no option to create your own theme. Custom iGoogle Skins is an inline gadget that lets you choose between more than 70 user-created themes (some of them are illustrated in this gallery) or create a custom theme.

An interesting new feature from the latest version of the gadget adds rules for displaying themes: you can choose to show a theme only when it rains, on a certain day of the week or if your IP matches a certain value. Google's themes are already rule-based, but you can't switch between them automatically. For example, this gadget lets you have different themes for a tab if you load iGoogle at home or at work (assuming the IP addresses are static).

Some interesting personalization rules for the feature could include changing the theme depending on your mood, your Google Talk status, your Google Calendar agenda the tab's title or the latest news.


Note: you'll have to add the gadget to every tab you want to have a custom theme.

{ Thanks, Greg. }

Add Keyword Suggestions to Google's Search Pages


If you like Google Suggest, the feature that auto-completes your queries based on Google's aggregated data, you can now add it to the standard search pages by joining the keyword suggestions experiment, one of the five experiments from the search section of Google Labs.
As you type into the search box, Google Suggest guesses what you're typing and offers suggestions in real time. This is similar to Google's "Did you mean?" feature that offers alternative spellings for your query after you search, except that it works in real time. For example, if you type "bass," Google Suggest might offer a list of refinements that include "bass fishing" or "bass guitar." Similarly, if you type in only part of a word, like "prog," Google Suggest might offer you refinements like "programming," "programming languages," "progesterone," or "progressive." You can choose one by scrolling up or down the list with the arrow keys or mouse.

Google Suggest is also available by adding &complete=1 to a Google search URL (e.g.: [Google]), in Firefox's search box and in Google Toolbar. Some Asian versions of Google show keyword suggestions by default: China, Korea, India.

This year both Ask.com and Yahoo introduced these suggestions as a built-in component of the search experience, hoping to guide users when typing a query. Yahoo's search assistant shows up as an extension of the search box if you type some letters from a word and then stop for a couple of seconds. Even if you can disable it, many people found it annoying and unnecessary. "Get rid of any of the so-called assistants. They take up space on the screen, slow down processes and insult everyone's [intelligence]." is just an example of negative feedback.


Sometimes search suggestions save you time and help you enter difficult words like deoxyribonucleic, in other cases the suggested query contains the answer to your question. But are they useful and good enough to bring them to Google's search pages?

Google's Base Products

An interesting article from last week talked about Google's growing interest for creating platforms and containers. "Hoping to become the platform for developers and users to create original content, [Google's Derek] Callow said that Google is now creating base products that would allow users and developers to build applications on top of these web platforms."


An example of base product is iGoogle that lets you add mini-web application to a web page. Google made it easy for developers to build gadgets, but it didn't manage to enable users to build their own gadgets. iGoogle Gadget Creator is a very basic tool and should be transformed into a powerful wizard that lets you add content from the web.

Another great base product is Google Maps, which provides a great framework for integrating geographical content. Developers used Google Maps API to create a lot of mash-ups and Google wanted to add these mash-ups back to Google Maps. Mapplets and personalized maps were the products that made this possible. Unlike iGoogle, it's much easier to bring your favorite content to Google Maps and this platform will generate a lot of interesting things when Google will transform personalized maps into wikis, by enabling collaborative editing.

I think we'll see many web pages created on top of Google's base products as they become great ways to gather and organize information. Here's a great story from Jess Lee, product manager at Google Maps:

On Tuesday [October 23], we saw a huge increase in traffic on Google Maps. The traffic spike was so large that our servers thought they were being DoS attacked. It turned out that the additional traffic was due to hundreds of thousands of people constantly refreshing maps about the terrible wildfires in Southern California. Several news outlets and individuals had used the My Maps feature to create maps that tracked the spread of the fire and included information on evacuation alerts and evacuation center locations. (...) What's truly amazing and surprising to me about all of this is that the most authoritative source of information on the wildfire was produced by a tiny broadcasting station like KPBS and that this information was disseminated online using consumer-facing tools like My Maps and Twitter. I would have expected a government agency or a large traditional media outlet like CNN to have been the primary source of fire maps, but a lot of them just linked to the KPBS map in their articles. In fact, Calfires.com (the official fire website maintained by the governor's office) simply embedded the KPBS map on their homepage using Google Maps' embed feature.

And here's the KPBS map.

November 23, 2007

Google News Visualizations

Besides the standard Google News page, there are other ways to explore the news automatically clustered and ranked by Google.

The image version of Google News shows pictures related to the most important news and lets you explore a gallery of images that illustrate a news. This is a great way to find the key elements from a news at a glance, without even reading the text.


Newsmap is a brilliant visualization for the headlines that reflects the importance of a news. Everything is displayed in a single page that is automatically updated. "Newsmap is an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News news aggregator. A treemap visualization algorithm helps display the enormous amount of information gathered by the aggregator."



Google News Cloud displays the most important keywords from today's news in a tag cloud. When you hover over a keyword, other related keywords are highlighted.


Google Trends checks how frequently a word was mentioned in the article indexed by Google News. The results are displayed at the bottom of a chart in the "news reference volume" section.

Buzztracker shows the relation between news and locations. Every day you can see the top cities mentioned in the news on a map. There's also an archive that goes back to 2004. Baghdad, Washington, Gaza, New York seem to be the most frequently mentioned cities.

An interesting way to explore the evolution of a person, company, idea or event is to use the timeline view from Google News Archive. Even if most articles require paid subscriptions, the snippets provided by Google are really helpful.

November 22, 2007

On Google's Navigational Bar


Google's current navigation bar was added in May as a solution for the growing list of Google products that lacked visibility and were difficult to find. The bar added a drop-down that includes less popular services like Reader and Patent Search, while replacing the famous More page. It was placed at the top of the page, detaching it from the search box, as you can see in the screenshot below.


Google's bar has two configurations that depend on the context:
* a search mode (visible in most services and on the homepage) - shows the most important search services
* an apps mode (you can see it in Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Picasa Web and Groups) - shows the most popular web apps for communication and collaboration

Because the space is limited, Google can't afford to include too many links, so here's the structure of a bar:
- 5 links that point to the most important services of the current mode (search or apps). If the active service is included among those services, the link is replaced with a bold text.
- a transitional link to the most popular service of the inactive configuration (Web search or Gmail).
- a drop-down that lists the other 14 services alphabetically.

If the services don't have descriptive names, the bar includes alternative titles: "Photos" for Picasa Web Albums and "Documents" for Google Docs.

It's interesting to note that Google includes 11 search services, 8 apps and Google Labs (it's not clear whether Google Groups is more important for search or for its community features).

While Google's selection is mostly based on the popularity of its services, users may want to see different configurations. Let's say my favorite Google services are: Blog search, Scholar, Blogger, Google Reader, YouTube and Google Project Hosting. That means I always have to click on the "more" link or even to search for YouTube and Project Hosting, because they're not included.

What I'd like to see is an option to choose the services that are displayed in the navigation bar and a task-oriented search box that will look like the Quick Search Box from Google Desktop and is already partially implemented at Google Code. The search box should have auto-complete and should let you search for product names, descriptions and important tasks for each service. For example, you could enter: [compose mail] or [contacts] for Gmail, [create event] or [agenda] for Calendar, [upload document] for Google Docs, [referrals] or [stats] for Analytics etc. The results should prioritize the services you used the most and Google should send you directly to the right page (Gmail's contact page, for example).

To facilitate the discovery of features, the task-based search box could be added to each service and act as a humanized command line that doesn't require you to know parameters and command names.

November 21, 2007

Read Wikipedia Articles Offline

Ajaxian talks about an interesting way to use Google Gears for sites that don't necessarily integrate with Google's toolkit for offline applications: inject code using Greasemonkey. An article shows how you can save a number of Wikipedia articles for offline use, without depending on your browser's cache.
Sites with a lot of static information -- Wikipedia, any API documentation, web-based email -- would be great to be able to use when no internet connection is available. But what if you're a user that always has an internet connection? Then adding Gears to a site doesn't do much, right? Wrong. Imagine your favorite website is now stored on your computer, and it syncs whenever there's altered content. Whenever you look at the site, your browser is grabbing everything straight from your hard drive. Did you just make a search for your best friend on Facebook? Don't wait 5 seconds the next time that search runs, have the results immediately! Meanwhile, save the webmasters' precious bandwidth/server power!

Here's the Greasemonkey script for Wikipedia (requires Firefox + Gresemonkey + Gears). For each Wikipedia article you want to save, click on "cache page" and the script will save the text and the images. It would be nice to make it work with any site.

November 20, 2007

I'm Feeling Lucky

Google's homepage in 1998

The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button is one of the very few things that stand out on Google's minimalistic homepage. It automatically takes you to the first search result and it's helpful for navigational queries, when there's a single good result (e.g.: [Yahoo Mail], [download Opera]). The option was included in a slightly altered manner in Google Toolbar and Firefox: browse by name instead of typing URLs in the address bar.

I'm Feeling Lucky:
http://google.com/search?btnI=1&q=yahoo+mail

Browse by Name:
http://google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=mail
http://google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=yahoo+mail

Marketplace found more about "I'm Feeling Lucky" and its meaning.

"The reason it's called 'I'm Feeling Lucky,' is of course that's a pretty damn ambitious goal. I mean to get the exact right one thing without even giving you a list of choices, and so you have to feel a little bit lucky if you're going to try that with one go," tried to explain Sergey Brin.

"You know Larry and Sergey had the view, and I certainly share it, that it's possible just to become too dry, too corporate, too much about making money. And you know what I think is really delightful about Google and about the "I'm Feeling Lucky," is that they remind you that the people here have personality and that they have interests and that there is real people," said Marissa Mayer.

Even if only 1% from Google's searches bypass the search results page and go straight to the top result, Google will keep the strange button on the homepage as it has become a part of its brand. Probably the last time someone told you to click the button was to show you a Google Bomb: Go to Google, type in "miserable failure" and then press the "I'm feeling lucky" button (don't try, it won't work anymore). Or maybe you've seen the button in Picasa or iGoogle.

Jeff Atwood from Coding Horror thinks that the button is Google's number one UI mistake: "I understand this was a clever little joke in the early days of Google-- hey, look at us, we're a search engine that actually works! -- but is it really necessary to carry this clever little joke forward ten years and display it on the monitors of millions of web users every day? We get it already. Google is awesomely effective."
"I'm Feeling Lucky" boxers (limited edition)

Google will remove the button when you won't have to feel lucky to get the best results every time and when the list of links will be replaced with an actual answer.

{ via Valleywag }

The Irony Behind an Image Search Result

Google's image search engine has always returned many strange results, but universal search made this problem more visible. For some queries, Google shows three images at the top (or at the bottom) of the main search results pages. One of these queries is [RSS icon], which should obviously return the orange icon for feeds. But it also returns something else...


The irony is that the inappropriate picture was included in a post from 2005 that criticized Google's image search engine. Here's the full post [contains a bigger version of the image]:
I wanted to add an RSS icon to my blog, so I turned to the trusty Google images search: RSS. And what do I get. Certainly not the little orange RSS box (though if this really was the RSS icon, maybe people other than serious geeks would use the technology).

This goes to show that Google image search hasn't improved so much since then. Just because a page contains "RSS icon" twice in the neighborhood of an image doesn't mean the image shows an RSS icon.

{ via Digg }

November 19, 2007

Customize the Background of a Google Presentation

The first update for Google Presentations doesn't include the export to PowerPoint format, as one might expected. Instead we get some minor improvements for managing and customizing the slides.

Now you can select more than one slide at a time: press Ctrl while selecting disparate slides and Shift for continous selections. The slides can be moved using drag&drop and copied by selecting the options from the contextual menu.


While there's still no option for custom themes, you can change the background by uploading an image or selecting a color. Right-click on a slide and select "Change theme". Google recommends to use 800x600 images or at least images with an aspect ratio of 4:3.


For the end, here's a simple way to import a PPT attachment from Gmail to Google Docs: right-click on the "View as slideshow" link, copy the link location, paste it in the address bar and replace "disp=vgp&view=att" with "disp=attd&view=wtatt". When Google Presentations becomes more powerful, this tip will probably be unnecessary.

Jaiku, Android and Google's Mobile Ads

Last month when Google bought Jaiku, people wondered why Google preferred the micro-blogging service to Twitter, which is much more popular. Jonathan Mulholland thinks that the answer lies in Jaiku's unique ability to combine micro-blogging with user's location.

"An integral part of the service is a client application for Symbian S60 platform mobile phones. The client uses location APIs within S60 devices to triangulate the handset (and the users) location based on nearby cellular network towers. The Jaiku client was in fact originally conceived as a 'status aware address book', and as such integrates into compatible S60 phones to the extent that it also shares the phones (and again the users) status availability ( - General, In Meeting, Outdoor etc)."

Because his mobile phone is able to broadcast the location automatically (even if it's not very precise), the user posts more than a message. The text can be connected to his location and create a list of preferences for each place you frequently visit.

"Google + Jaiku is not a million miles away from being able to push appropriate advertising to individuals based on their profile, their location and their availability. Imagine walking down the high street and having your mobile phone pop up with a Google notification telling you that Heroes DVD box sets were 20% off at HMV today, or that a new Indian restaurant had just opened in that part of town. (...) It seems obvious that Jaiku is destined to become an integral part of the Android platform over the next year," thinks Jonathan Mulholland.

Android includes an API for location-based services that allows "software to obtain the phone's current location. This includes location obtained from the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite constellation, but it's not limited to that."

Google already offers local targeting for ads, but this could be much more useful when you're using a mobile phone. And if the ads are truly relevant and unintrusive (maybe as a part of a more complex service of local recommendations), people might actually like them.

Edit Locations in Google Maps

Google Maps has a new feature that lets you fix inaccurate addresses for local businesses, even if you're not the owner. You just have to click on "edit" in the info window and choose a new location. If you move the marker more than 200 meters away, the change will need to be reviewed before going live. There's also a history of previous changes and an option to go back to the original location.

"You might be worried about people monkeying with markers. Fear not, we've thought of that. Whenever you find a recently-moved address or business, you'll see a "Show original" link you can click to see where the marker was originally. If it's in the wrong place, just move it to the right one," explains Google LatLong Blog.

This also works for locations of addresses and landmarks, but only in the US, Australia and New Zealand. More about the new feature here.




Simple Bookmarks

As you browse the web, you find interesting web pages or just useful information that may help you later on. For some web pages you may want to get alerts if there's any change in the future, for others you're happy with the static content.

It would be nice to have a simple option for all these actions. You could just bookmark a page and choose from a list of options:

* save content (you could save the entire page or just some clips)
* get updates (dynamically create gadgets by selecting some information from a page that is likely to change - weather, news; subscribe to feeds or to newsletters; get all the changes of a page)
* share with others

The bookmarking application could be integrated with your web history (that could be saved locally or online), could determine the web sites you visit frequently and automatically bookmark them. From your bookmarks and clips, you could create web pages and share them with other people.

The simple bookmarks could combine in a single interface Google Bookmarks, Shared Stuff, Google Notebook, Google Alerts, iGoogle, Dapper and other applications.

November 18, 2007

Filter Messages from a Mailing List in Gmail

The new version of Gmail makes it easier to create filters for mailing list. If you select "filter messages like this" when you read a message from a mailing list, Gmail will filter the right messages using the listid: operator, that corresponds to the List-ID header. For example, listid:googlepress.googlegroups.com is the best way to find messages sent from the Google Press group. You should create filters that automatically label these messages, archive them or mark them as read.


Gmail also has a clever way to handle mail sent to a list you are subscribed to: it bypasses the inbox, but it's still available in Sent Mail or in other views. When you set a vacation responder, it won't be sent to mailing lists. If you don't want to read the next replies from a thread, you can ignore them by clicking on "Mute" in the "More actions" menu: all the replies will be archived.

{ Thanks, Hernan. }

November 17, 2007

PageRank and Paid Links



PayPerPost, an ad network that pays bloggers for writing product reviews, reports that some of the sites that use its ads have been punished by Google. "Last night Google decided to go after some of the bloggers in our network, reducing their PR from whatever they previously had to zero."

The main reasons why a company pays bloggers to review a product is to get backlinks from relevant sites, as you can see in the beautiful ad that begins this post: "buying reviews for links is the newest way to build links". Paid links artificially increase the PageRank of a site as they're no longer genuine votes for web pages.



It's not the first time when Google drops the PageRank to 0 for a site. "By the end of 2001, the Google search engine introduced a new kind of penalty for websites that use questionable search engine optimization tactics: A PageRank of 0. (...) Characteristically for PR0 is that all or at least a lot of pages of a website show a PageRank of 0 in the Google Toolbar, even if they do have high quality inbound links," explains eFactory.de.

PageRank is the initial innovation that made Google a popular search engine: it introduced a query-independent way to determine the importance of a site. Here's Larry Page's description from the PageRank patent:
Intuitively, a document should be important (regardless of its content) if it is highly cited by other documents. Not all citations, however, are necessarily of equal significance. A citation from an important document is more important than a citation from a relatively unimportant document. Thus, the importance of a page, and hence the rank assigned to it, should depend not just on the number of citations it has, but on the importance of the citing documents as well. This implies a recursive definition of rank: the rank of a document is a function of the ranks of the documents which cite it. The ranks of documents may be calculated by an iterative procedure on a linked database.



The interesting thing is that every web page has the right to vote by linking to other pages. But what happens when a very popular site starts to abuse its power and charges money for placing links? Should you continue to trust its votes?

Here's how Google Toolbar describes the PageRank feature. "Wondering whether a new website is worth your time? Use the Toolbar's PageRank™ display to tell you how Google assesses the importance of the page you're viewing." Google Toolbar is the only official way to find a truncated value for PageRank (the real value is a percentile), but there are many sites that query Google's servers directly. PageRank is now one of the more than 200 signals used to rank webpages, but it's still a measure of authority.

Back in September 2005, Matt Cutts explained the relation between text links and PageRank:
A natural question is: what is Google's current approach to link buying? Of course our link-weighting algorithms are the first line of defense, but it's difficult to catch every problem case in adversarial information retrieval, so we also look for problems and leaks in different semi-automatic ways. Reputable sites that sell links won't have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized – a search for [daily cal] would still return dailycal.org. However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext).

What if a site wants to buy links purely for visitor click traffic, to build buzz, or to support another site? In that situation, I would use the rel="nofollow" attribute. The nofollow tag allows a site to add a link that abstains from being an editorial vote. Using nofollow is a safe way to buy links, because it's a machine-readable way to specify that a link doesn't have to be counted as a vote by a search engine.

In April, Google introduced an option to report paid links and last month SearchEngineLand obtained the confirmation that "PageRank scores are being lowered for some sites that sell links. In addition, Google said that some sites that are selling links may indeed end up being dropped from its search engine or have penalties attached to prevent them from ranking well." Also, Google's help center mentions that "buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google's webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results."


From deceiving search engines by using hidden text, keyword stuffing to participating in link schemes, those who try to manipulate search engine rankings adapted. And search engines must react to remain relevant.

At the end of the day, you shouldn't let Google or any other search engine dictate the way you build your site. You should just be honest with yourself and your visitors and don't try to earn money from sites that deceive search engines. You should build a site for your visitors and not for search engines.

{ via Google Blogoscoped. Also read: "The paid links economy".

Two of the screenshots from this post show AdWords ads for queries like: [pagerank 0] and [buy pr8 links]. The AdWords guidelines say you're not allowed to place ads "for the promotion of cloaking, keyword stuffing, search engine spamming, and doorway pages".
}

November 16, 2007

Migrate from Outlook to Google Apps

Google has recently updated the migration tools from Google Apps to "move email from anywhere – not just IMAP systems – to the Premier, Education or Partner Editions of Google Apps." An example of solution that uses the API is gMOVE from LimitNone, a tool that migrates your email, contacts and calendars from Outlook to Google Apps. gMOVE also migrates the tasks from Outlook to an iGoogle gadget.

The tool costs $19 and it works with any Google Apps account. If you post an insightful comment that explains why do you want to migrate from Outlook to Google Apps, you could get gMOVE for free. Don't forget to include your email address so I can contact you.

LimitNone also has a free tool that lets you move from a Gmail account to another Gmail account or to Google Apps: it transfers your messages, filters, contacts and calendar events.


Connecting Data Using Google Spreadsheets

A short video tutorial from Google reminds us that Google Spreadsheets has a lot of functions that pull data from the web: facts, financial information, feeds and other files. You obtain interesting results when you use the result from a function as an input for another function. And if you combine this with the magical autofill powered by Google Sets, your spreadsheets is populated with related names and words.

It's enough to write in a column the name of two or three countries from South America and you can obtain the rest of the countries, their capitals, a description from Wikipedia. If you publish the spreadsheet, you can show the locations on a map. From a simple list of country names to a map with automatically generated descriptions, from a list of companies to a stock portfolio, Google Spreadsheets and other Google APIs can be the bridge.

Picasa Web Integrates with Google Image Search

I've always wondered why Google prevents search engines to index a lot of user-generated content from its properties (photos uploaded to Blogger and Picasa Web Albums, public documents from Google Docs). It's a strange decision from a company whose goal is to make information widely available. For example, no photo uploaded to this blog can be found in Google Image Search or in other image search engines because a robots.txt file disallows that.

Some reasons could be more technical: Picasa Web uses a lot of AJAX and loads images using JavaScript, so search engines can't crawl its pages, but that doesn't mean Google can't come up with a interface that uses less JavaScript.

To solve this problem, a message from Picasa Web Albums announces the integration with Google Image Search:
Get more exposure for the public albums you're currently sharing on Picasa Community Search. Now, public albums from users with 'Public Search' enabled may also be included in Google image search results.


What I don't understand is why Google calls it an integration and why the public albums are available only in Google Image Search. Last time when I heard about an integration between a photo sharing site and an image search engine, Yahoo's search results were crowded with a lot of irrelevant images from Flickr, even if Flickr allows all search engines to index its pages.

Since there's no change in Picasa Web's robots.txt file, I suspect Google will do the same thing as Yahoo: mix the results from Picasa Web with the standard results, hopefully in a balanced manner. That means the public photos from Google's image hosting service will continue to be searchable only from Google's properties (previously, you could search them inside Picasa Web).


It's interesting to see that Google requires to login to Picasa Web Albums, even if you are already logged in your Google Account and the photo that appears in the search results for [caleb 2 months old] is from a public album.


Another change is that photos embedded in other pages are searchable, as you can see by restricting your search to these subdomains: lh3.google.com, lh4.google.com, lh5.google.com and lh6.google.com. Google sends you to the full-size image even if the author of the page only linked to a thumbnail.

Update. A better query: site:lh3.google.com sunset.

November 15, 2007

YouTube to Introduce High-Quality Videos

YouTube doesn't innovate too much and many of the features introduced lately have already been available elsewhere. Unlike other video sharing websites, YouTube is entering the mainstream and a big audience means a lot of pressure and responsibility.

CNet reports that YouTube intends to offer higher-quality video streams in the near future. "Although YouTube's goal, [Steve Chen] said, is to make the site's vast library of content available to everyone, and that requires a fairly low-bitrate stream, the service is testing a player that detects the speed of the viewer's Net connection and serves up higher-quality video if they want it." Steve Chen said that the high-quality streams will be available in the next months, but only for some of the videos. This is probably the reason why YouTube's bulk uploader increased the size limit for a video from 100 MB to 1 GB.

According to Wikipedia, "YouTube's video playback technology is based on Macromedia's Flash Player 7 and uses the Sorenson Spark H.263 video codec. (...) [The video] has pixel dimensions of 320 by 240 and runs at 25 frames per second. The maximum data rate is 300kbit/s." Flash Player 8 introduced a better codec: On2 TrueMotion VP6, which is used by blip.tv.

YouTube recommends to use these settings when you upload videos: MPEG4 format, 640x480 resolution, MP3 audio and 30 frames per second.

Other video sites already offer high-quality videos. Stage6 from DivX shows high resolution videos, but it requires a special plug-in. Vimeo has a channel for high definition videos: the maximum resolution is 1280 x 720, 12 times higher than the one available at YouTube.

Alternate Google Usernames

If you have a very long or a difficult-to-write Google username, there's a way to create up to four new usernames that could be used to login to your Google account. Just go to the settings page for Picasa Web Albums and add new usernames in the Gallery URL section. The purpose of this feature is to protect your privacy: the URLs of your albums don't have to include your Gmail username.

All usernames added at Picasa Web Albums are valid, so there's no Gmail account that uses one of them. Unfortunately, they're not aliases (you can't use them to send/receive messages) and Google doesn't offer an option to remove them. Maybe in the future Google will convert these alternate usernames to email aliases and make them more visible and easier to manage.


Language Detection in Gmail

Googling Google posts about a hidden Gmail operator that lets you restrict your messages to a certain language. For example, if you search for lang:pt or lang:Portuguese or language:Portuguese, you'll find some of the messages that contain Portuguese text. You can combine the lang: operator with keywords or other operators. The language detection is not perfect, so not all the messages are labeled correctly.

Gmail could provide an option to automatically translate messages written in a language you don't know and add many other useful features from web search (spelling suggestions, query expansion, search refinements).

November 13, 2007

Version Numbers for Google's Apps

While most Google apps are still in beta, it's clear that some of them are more mature than others. For example, Gmail has more than six years of development, three years and a half since launch and more features than other "out of beta" mail services. That shouldn't worry people too much because leaving the beta stage is not a sign that everything is perfect (Yahoo Mail is a perfect example, look at the comments from this post).

Google's applications have their own versions and roadmaps, but these are not public. That's why it's interesting to see what versions you would attribute to each Google application: 0.1 should mean a very early release, 1.0 should mean the first major release etc. Here's a list of some important Google apps.

Gmail: released on April 1st, 2004 (interface)
Google Calendar: released on April 12th, 2006 (interface)
Google Reader: released in October 2005 (interface)
Google Docs - documents: Google acquired Writely in March 2006 (interface)
Google Docs - spreadsheets: released in June 2006 (interface)
Google Docs - presentations: released in September 2007 (interface)
Google Notebook: released in May 2006 (interface)
Picasa Web Albums: released in June 2006 (interface)

An example of versioning:
Gmail 2.9 - the old version
Google Calendar 1.3 - needs synchronization
Google Reader 0.8 - better feed management, faster updates
Google Docs (documents) 0.5
Google Docs (spreadsheets) 0.7
Google Docs (presentations) 0.2 - should be alpha
Google Notebook 1.1 - one of the best Google apps
Picasa Web Albums 0.8 - still needs a community

What are your versions and why?

November 12, 2007

The Web in Google's Mobile Browser

Android's SDK offers an emulator that, among other things, lets you use the browser. Google used WebKit, an application framework that also powers Safari and Nokia's S60 browser.

Android's browser does a good job at rendering complex web pages, but it doesn't have Flash support and it's really slow. You can zoom in, zoom out and move inside a web page. Here are some popular web sites rendered by an early version of Android's browser.

Useragent.org:


Gmail:


Google Maps:


NY Times:


Yahoo:


Digg:


YouTube video:


Adobe:


Acid2 Browser Test:


Apple's iPhone site:


iGoogle:



{ Idea by Luka. }