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

Send your tips to gostips@gmail.com .

September 30, 2007

Different Themes for Each iGoogle Tab

iGoogle's themes were an instant hit. More than 30 percent of the users changed the default theme in the first weeks after the launch.

Now you can have different themes for each of your iGoogle tabs. If you select a new theme, you'll notice that only the current tab has a new look. All the other tabs have the old theme. This is also works when you share a tab: the theme is saved and is part of you tab's identity.

Google promised to release an interface that lets you create your own theme, but for the moment a good way to add custom themes is this third-party gadget. Note that you need to add the gadget for each tab you want to have a custom theme and you shouldn't expect to find themes that change depending on weather or time of the day.


{ spotted by Colin Colehour }

Google's Secret Sauce


While there are many start-ups called by the media "Google killers", becoming more popular than Google is increasingly difficult. Even if Google started with an algorithm for search, it built an infrastructure that prepared its later expansion and became more important than the initial innovation. From New York Times:
Consider the question of Google's greatest business secret. Is it the algorithms behind its search tools? Or is it the way it organizes vast clusters of computers around the globe to answer queries so quickly? Perhaps predictably, Google won't disclose the number of computers deployed in its vast information network (though outsiders speculate that the network has at least 450,000 computers).

I believe that the physical network is Google's "secret sauce," its premier competitive advantage. While a brilliant lone wolf can conceive of a dazzling algorithm, only a superwealthy and well-managed organization can run what is arguably the most valuable computer network on the planet. Without the computer network, Google is nothing.

Eric E. Schmidt, Google's chief executive, appears to agree. Last year he declared, "We believe we get tremendous competitive advantage by essentially building our own infrastructures."

Process innovations like Google's computer network are often invisible to the public, and impossible to duplicate by rivals. Yet successful companies realize that maintaining competitive advantage depends heavily on sustaining process innovations. Great process innovators often support basic research in relevant fields, maintain complete control over the creation of every aspect of a product and refuse to rely on outside suppliers for important components.

Google built a file system "for large distributed data-intensive applications", a programming model and a distributed storage system called BigTable that works on top of Google's file system. Hadoop, an open source project supported by Yahoo, wants to replicate Google's distributed systems.

{ Image from Eric Schmidt's presentation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in April 2004. }

September 29, 2007

All Videos Uploaded by a Google Video User

One of the reasons why YouTube became successful and Google Video didn't is that YouTube built a community around videos. Each registered user has a profile, a list of uploaded videos and favorite videos. You can subscribe to the videos uploaded by a user and send him a private message.

Google Video doesn't have any of these options: the only thing you can see about someone who posted a video is a list of other uploaded videos. But what if you want to get notified when this unknown person posts other videos? In Google Video, each user has an unique alphanumeric ID. To find all the videos posted by a user, you need to search for: [source:USER_ID]. The ID can be retrieved from the page's source code, but I made a bookmarklet that gives you the URL of a feed which contains all the videos posted by a user, sorted by date.


GVideo Author Feed


How to add the bookmarklet?

1. Make sure the link toolbar is visible in your browser. You can enable it if you go to the View menu in your browser, click on Toolbars and check:
* Bookmarks Toolbar in Firefox
* Personal Bar in Opera
* Links in Internet Explorer

2. For Firefox and Opera, drag and drop the blue box above to the toolbar. For Internet Explorer, right-click on the blue box, select "Add to Favorites", ignore the security warning and choose "Links" from the list of folders.

A good example of interesting Google Video channel is "Google Tech Talks", that shows presentations on different topics from Googleplex. If you go to this tech talk and use the bookmarklet, you'll obtain a feed for all the tech talks uploaded by Google. You can subscribe to the feed using any feed reader, but Google Reader is a good choice because it lets you play videos without opening a new page.

September 28, 2007

YouTube Video Units


Google tested last year a way to embed videos from different content providers and monetize them with video ads (only MTV participated in this test). Basically, you had a video channel that displayed a playlist selected by the content provider. The playlist was changed every three to seven days and it was an opportunity to deliver premium content that keeps your visitors on your site more.

Google wants to use a similar idea for YouTube. The new YouTube video units will let you create a video channel related to your site's content a monetize it with text or image ads. It's not clear what kind of videos you'll be able to add, but it's likely the videos will be from YouTube's content partners. Music labels and other important content owners already had a special YouTube interface that included AdSense ads, but they didn't allow to embed their videos because they didn't gain revenue from the embedded players (or at least not directly).

"[Relevant, premium content] Deliver high quality video content to your site. Choose categories or have Google target your site content, and decide which categories you want to exclude.

[Targeted, non-intrusive ads] Earn revenue from ads targeted to your site content and to the videos being played. Ads appear as part of the YouTube player and outside of the video content to ensure a smooth user experience."

The new video units are an extensions of the custom players, so they're customizable and look better than the standard YouTube player. The option to create a video unit is not yet available for everyone, but you should be able to see it when you generate the code for a custom player.

{ spotted by ProBlogger }

Update (October 9th): The feature is now live in the US. Video content comes from some small YouTube partners, including: TV Guide Broadband, Expert Village, Mondo Media, lonelygirl15, Extreme Elements, and Ford Models, but Google hopes to add bigger names in the future. "There are three ways to choose video content:

* Selecting individual content providers, YouTube partners who have chosen to distribute their videos to publisher websites along with targeted ads
* Selecting content categories, topics and themes of video content you'd like to show on your site
* Automatic targeting, in which the video content you display will be automatically targeted to the content of your site. You can assist the targeting by providing relevant keywords. (...)

Video units may display two types of ads: text overlay ads, which are displayed in the bottom 20% of the video as it plays, and companion ads, which appear above the video content within the player. The ads displayed can be either contextually targeted or site-targeted, and may be paid on either a cost-per-click or cost-per-thousand impressions basis."

The Disjointed GDrive (or Where Do I Upload My Files?)

It's pretty weird to be a company that wants to move your data online, but not have a central place for uploading and managing that data. The long-awaited and much-delayed GDrive could be that place. But for now you have to spread your files in way too many places, with different interfaces, restrictions and options.

What Where Limits How
Documents : .html, .txt, .rtf, .doc, .odt, .csv, .xls, .ods, .ppt Google Docs Documents: 500 KB. Spreadsheets: 1 MB. Presentations: 10 MB. Maximum 5000 documents and presentations, 200 spreadsheets. One by one or by email.
Photos: .jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp * Picasa Web Albums
* Blogger
* orkut
* Picasa Web: 20 MB per image. 1 GB free space.
* orkut: 5 MB per image, up to 25 images.
One by one, by email, using an ActiveX control, a Mac uploader or using Picasa. The photos uploaded in Blogger are hosted by Picasa Web.
Videos: .mpg, .mp4, .avi, .wmv, .rm * Google Video
* Picasa Web Albums
* Blogger
* YouTube
* Google Video: 100 MB per video for the web uploader. Unlimited size for the desktop uploader.
* For Picasa Web, the maximum space is 1 GB.
* For YouTube, you can upload videos that have less than 100 MB and less than 10 mins.
* Google Video: from the web or using a desktop uploader.
* For Picasa Web, you can only use Picasa.
* For YouTube, you can only upload videos from the web interface.
Any file * Google Page Creator
* Google Groups
* Google Project Hosting
* Google Base
* Gmail
* Pages/ Groups/ Project Hoting: Maximum 10 MB per file. 100 MB free space for a site/group/project.
* Google Base lets you attach up to 15 files and less than 20 MB to an item; it has restrictions for file types.
* The maximum size for Gmail's attachments is 20 MB. You can't upload executable files.
* Only from the web interface. No way to group files.
* Google Project Hosting should be used to host open source software.
* You can use Gmail Drive, a 3rd party software "that creates a virtual filesystem around your Google Gmail account, allowing you to use Gmail as a storage medium". Don't upload too many files in a short time.

{ Idea by Philipp Lenssen. }

Chat Rooms for Google Talk

PartyChat adds one of the many missing features from Google Talk: chat rooms. You need to add partychat@gmail.com as a friend and use commands to create a room or join an existing one. To make sure nobody joins your room accidentally, password-protect it.
PartyChat is like a group chat, except that it's less obtrusive and persistent across different login sessions.

For example, say your friends are in a party chat named "drivel". To enter the chat, IM partychat@gmail.com with the line "/enter drivel." After that, you'll receive messages sent in "drivel" from partychat@gmail.com and all messages you send to partychat@gmail.com will be broadcasted to your friends in "drivel."

If you log out of Google Talk and then log back in, you're still in the party chats you were in prior to logging out. To leave a party chat, IM "/leave" or "/exit" to the address you were chatting with (e.g. partychat@gmail.com).

PartyChat is an open-source project created by a Google employee: Akshay Patil in December 2005, not long after Google Talk was released. Since then, Google Talk didn't add too much features. Only Google Talk's gadget has an option for group chats, while PartyChat can be used in Gmail Chat, the desktop client or any other Jabber client.

Some useful commands:

/create chat_name [optional_password] - creates a new party chat. If you provide a password, then other users must give this password to enter the chat.

/join chat_name [password] - join an existing party chat. If the chat has a password, you must give the password to enter.

/alias [name] - give yourself an alias; if you do not specify a name, your current alias is removed

/commands - displays the list of commands

September 27, 2007

Google Buys Zingku, Mobile Social Network

Google's plans to extend in the mobile space could include the launch of a mobile phone. For now, Google bought another mobile social network: Zingku. "We've entered into an agreement to have Google acquire our Zingku service," informs us Zingku.com.
Our service is designed from the mobile phone, outward, allowing you to create and exchange things of interest ranging from invitations to "mobile flyers" with friends in a trusted manner. On the mobile phone, Zingku uses standard text messaging features that come with every phone. On the web, our service uses your standard web browser and instant messenger. There is nothing to install.

With Zingku, things you wish to promote or share, can easily be created and fetched via mobile, instant messenger, and web browser. Our service integrates your mobile phone with a personalized web site so that you can easily move (zing) things back and forth between the web and and your mobile as well as powerfully connect with friends and optionally their friends.


Zingku's features include:
* Store & fetch mobile photos and txt reminders with alarms on your companion mobile web site.

* Share mobile photos and posts with friends and friends-of-friends with txt msg'ing, instant messenger, & web.

* Gather a big crowd & their friends with txt messaging, IM, and email, all at once!

* Take an instant poll among friends, all with txt messaging. "Hey what should we do ? 1. Movie 2. Dan's party"

* Your own mobile cards that people fetch by txt'ing a magic code. Make as many as you want & link them together.

* Fetch postings from any blog or any syndicated feed (RSS, Atom) to your mobile phone via txt message.

The service is limited to the US and, until Zingku migrates to Google's servers, you can't create a new account.

In 2005, Google bought dodgeball, another mobile social network, but the product stagnated and its founders decided to leave Google. Grandcentral, another Google acquisition, links all your phone numbers. Zingku could unify instant messaging, SMS and email.

Update. Google confirms the acquisition: "It is true that we acquired certain assets and technology of Zingku. We believe these assets can help build products and features that will benefit our users, advertisers and publishers."

{ Thank you, Mark and Andrew. }

Google's 9th Birthday

Two weeks ago, AFP informed us that "Google, at age 10, is the official heart of the Internet. Born 10 years ago, the Google Internet search engine has grown into the electronic center of human knowledge by indexing billions of web pages as well as images, books and videos." That's true, except that Google is 9 years old. Even if Larry Page and Sergey Brin registered the google.com domain in 1997, Google was officially launched one year later.

"Google opened its doors in September 1998. The exact date when we celebrate our birthday has moved around over the years, depending on when people feel like having cake," says Google's help center. You can read more about it directly from Google. In the recent years, Google's birthday has been celebrated on September 27th with a doodle displayed on the homepage. Happy birthday, Google!



Update: "Happy Birthday, Google!" is in Google Hot Trends.


Update 2: A reader noticed that Google used in this year's logo a piƱata, "a brightly-coloured paper container filled with sweets and/or toys. It is generally suspended on a rope from a tree branch or ceiling and is used during celebrations".

Live Search Launches Major Update

Nobody remembers exactly how many times Microsoft updated its search engine hoping to attract more users. But this time Live Search (formerly known as MSN Search and Windows Live Search) received a major update, "our biggest update since our debut in January 2005", according to its corporate blog.

Even though the update isn't yet... live, you can't still see the new version if you click on the URLs from this post. They contain a parameter that triggers the updated interface and set a cookie. To compare them with the results from the old Live Search, open a different browser and perform the same searches directly from live.com.

Old version:


New version:


The new design moves the search box to the left, transform the tabs for other search engines into links, changes the text colors and the fonts (from Verdana to Arial) and the page is easier to read. The page also loads faster because Microsoft optimized the code (7.23 KB vs 15.9KB when you search for [Google]).

Microsoft says the new index is four times bigger than the previous one, but that's not a measure for quality. As you can see in the screenshot above, Live Search 2.0 shows two spammy web pages at #3 and #4 when you search for [Google Pack]. The same pages have lower ranks in the previous version.


Microsoft updated the instant answers to show more information about celebrities, including a Celebrity XRank, which is similar to Google Hot Trends. You'll also find rich information about products from MSN Shopping.


The new video search engine shows video previews while you hover over the thumbnails. This is useful to decide if a video is right for you, but it's also very easy to accidentally trigger a video while moving your mouse on the page. Unfortunately, if you click on the thumbnail of a YouTube/MySpace/Metacafe video, Microsoft will only show the embedded player, without any description, comments, ratings. Other videos, like those from MSN Video, are played at their original page.

Live Search detecting more subtle misspellings and includes related terms by expanding your query. "The new Live Search does a much better job in predicting the intent of the query to return the best results possible. New investments improve the search service's ability to read and understand queries in a way that more accurately determines intent despite common problems such as spelling errors, stop words, punctuation and synonyms," says Microsoft in a press release.

The new ranking algorithm is closer to Google, although it seems to not be influenced too much by the number of links or their importance. A search for [Google OS] returns as the fourth result a page that was linked from this blog and very few other sites.

Live Search is still far behind Google in terms of quality, but this is the first time when Microsoft focuses on the important things: relevance, speed and user interface.

Update: Read this very cool live blogging from Microsoft's Searchification event where they launched these updates. The post was written by Vanessa Fox, a former Google employee.

September 26, 2007

New Homepage for Google Book Search

Google Books Search's redesigned homepage invites you to discover books by clicking on a category or the cover of a popular book. "At Book Search, we have a lot of books, but we don't have shelves or sections, which can make casually browsing books in our index difficult," mentions the product's blog. The intimidating search box is placed at the top of the page, leaving space for some examples of books:

* interesting: practical books like "How to be an even better manager", Math books, medical books

* classics: Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Goethe, Francis Bacon, Alexander Pope - all of them are in the public domain and can be downloaded as PDF files

* highly cited in scholar papers: authoritative books like Hegel's "Science of logic", Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan"

* random subject: books from a randomly-selected topic

Google also lists the main subjects for fiction and non-fiction books and some random subjects. It's interesting that Google Book Search defaults to the cover view when you explore the books from a subject and to the list view when you do a normal search.

For ambiguous queries like [logic], you'll be able to restrict the results to an appropriate subject. You can also use the subject: operator to make your search more precise (for example: war subject:"Science fiction"). Google doesn't offer the complete hierarchy of subjects, so a clever autocomplete would be helpful.

Google Using Traditional Advertising

Google became popular without having to use advertising to promote its search engine. People liked the tool and started to recommend it to others. Even if Google uses its own advertising system to promote some of its services, Google has always been reluctant to use traditional advertising. Here are some of the few offline Google ads:

* a billboard that asked you to solve a Math problem: find the first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e. If you visited the site and answered other complicated questions, you were directed to Google's jobs site.



* job ads posted in newspapers: "Google is looking for engineers with great aspirations" (Wired), "Are you scary smart?" (New York Times)

* 15-seconds TV ads on a science program from PBS, in 2005. "The spots, which quietly launched at the end of the summer, start with the keywords string theory, Egyptology, and astronomy being typed into a search bar; as the terms are typed in, videos that relate to the subject appear behind the search bar. The spots end with the tagline: Google is proud to support NOVA in the search for knowledge." This is probably the first brand ad for Google (here's the video).

In the recent months, Google started to promote its own products using undisclosed ads or partnerships with media companies. Last week, Google 411 graduated from Labs and it's promoted using billboards and taxi ads in San Francisco.




Google, which is still trailing behind Baidu in China, intends to heavily advertise its products to gain more market share. "Google has not done any marketing until now. But in China there are many users who are new to the internet, and many other name-brand search engines," said Lee Kai-fu, Google China's president.

"By always placing the interests of the user first, Google has built the most loyal audience on the web. And that growth has come not through TV ad campaigns, but through word of mouth from one satisfied user to another," says Google in "Ten things Google has found to be true". But even though search is almost synonymous with Google, the company still has services that are unknown to the general public and important markets to conquer.

Google Hosts Videos from Third-Party Sites

I was complaining in May that Google Video served content from third-party sites (not from Google-owned sites) in a Google Video-branded player and hosted all the content on its servers. Google changed its mind in June and started to only show thumbnails from the videos.

Apparently, this was only a change in exposing the content, because Google continue to host FLV videos from third-party sites like Metacafe. Searching for [Sunshine Metacafe] on SearchMash, an experimental Google site, you'll notice that, even though all the videos come from Metacafe, the interface doesn't communicate this. The only way to realize that the source of the videos is Metacafe is by clicking on "see larger video". You'll be sent to a Google Video page that shows the original source in a frame.

All the videos from third-party sites are displayed in a Google Video player...


... and they're hosted on Google's servers:


I agree that it's more convenient to host all the videos in the world and play them using a standard interface, but I don't think copyright laws allow you to do that. It's the same reason why Google only shows thumbnails in Google Image Search and sends you to the original site to see the images in full size.

Other video search engines have different ways of displaying videos: Yahoo Video shows a thumbnail and sends you to the original site, Truveo displays the embedded player of the original site, while Blinkx hosts a 30 seconds preview for each video.

September 25, 2007

More Google Alerts

Executive summary: Google adds video alerts and you have more options to monitor search results.

Sometimes a search results page is not the best medium for finding things: if you want to find great new web pages about Google Web Toolkit, searching every day for this query and trying to find what's new is time-consuming and inefficient.

Google Alerts lets you receive email notifications when new web sites appear in the top results for your query. You can get alerts for results from web search, blog search, Google News, Google Groups and now Google Video. There's also a type of alert that combines the results from three search engines (web, news, blogs): you could call it the universal alert, but the official name is comprehensive alert. The number of top results that are potential candidates for Google Alerts is: 10 for blogs/news/videos, 15 for Google Groups and 20 for web search.

Depending on how often you want to receive the alerts, there are two types of alerts:

* as-it-happens: this is useful if you want to monitor an event or an important news. You should choose this option if you want to receive the alerts as soon as a new web page becomes relevant for your query. If your query is too general, you'll receive a lot of alerts, so use quotes or negative terms to make your query more precise.

* daily or weekly summary: this option is useful to monitor the latest news about a product, a company, a person, a research subject. The most common type of alert is the daily summary.


Usually, to monitor an event you should choose Google News, to find opinions about a product choose the Blog Search alerts, for new important pages about a subject Web Search alerts are the way to go, for answer to technical or not-so-technical question Google Groups alerts are helpful, while the new video alerts are great to find the latest video of your favorite band or a demo for that Google killer that's still not ready for the prime time. The comprehensive alerts are useful to get the full picture of a subject, for example to find if there's anything newsworthy or at least interesting about Google Reader.

Some of Google's search engines (Google News, Blog Search, Google Video) provide feeds for search results, so you can monitor the results in a feed reader. You should note that Google's alerts only include the top results sorted by relevance, while the feeds can also be sorted by date. So if you've wanted feeds for Google's search results, you could use Google Alerts as a partial replacement or subscribe to Yahoo's search feeds.

Google Alerts are also a way to produce "content" for your site with minimal effort. For example, Blogger has an option that lets you post by email and it's so easy to setup a Gmail filter that automatically forwards Google Alerts to Blogger's mail address. A way to monetize this "content" is to use Google's contextual ads. A simple Google search reveals a lot of sites that pollute the web with search results in disguise. Indirectly, Google Alerts, Blogger, Gmail and Google AdSense can be connected to generate revenue and pollute the search results.

Hopefully, Google will start to detect patterns in your search results and offer the option to create alerts if you search for some keywords frequently. The alerts might be combined with recommendations in a web interface that shows search results without having to type queries. Google could also add SMS alerts for important Gmail messages, traffic increases in Google Analytics, breaking news, weather changes, sports results and combine the service with Google SMS. Until then, you could try other alert services from Yahoo, Microsoft or AOL, which are less focused on search.

September 24, 2007

Gmail Mobile Improves the Interface

Gmail updated the mobile version available at m.gmail.com by adding more features from the desktop version. Now you can configure the links to some of your labels and add other views like Spam or Drafts. Next to the messages you'll see a checkboxes that allow you to perform one of these actions for all the messages: archive, delete, report as spam, add a label, star or mark as read.

There's also a link to the AJAX-free version, for mobile browsers that are able to render more complicated web pages. Of course, a better way to use Gmail on your mobile phone is to install the Java application, which preloads some of the messages and requires less clicks and keystrokes.

For example, to read a conversation that has 16 messages at Gmail's mobile website, you have to go to a page that shows previews for the first 9 messages, click on the first message and then move to the next message 15 times (if a message is very long, Gmail uses pagination so you need to click even more). In the desktop version and the Java app, you can read all the messages in a single page.


{ Thank you, Chance. }

iPhone Interface for Google Calendar

"We wanted the best web browser in the world on our phone, not a baby web browser or a WAP browser, a real Web browser, and we picked the best one in the world, Safari, and we have Safari running on iPhone. It is the first fully usable HTML browser on a phone."
(Steve Jobs, Macworld Conference and Expo, January 2007)


It's unclear whether Safari is the best browser in the world or whether iPhone has the first usable mobile phone browser, but one thing is for sure: many web sites launch iPhone-optimized versions. Maybe it's cool to have a website that looks really well in iPhone or maybe it's fairly easy to target a single mobile phone, because I've never heard about a website that launched an interface optimized for Opera Mini or Nokia's S60 browser.

Google Calendar released an interface for iPhone, based on the mobile version launched in May. Each calendar has a distinctive color, so it's easier to locate important events. Google Calendar for iPhone is available at calendar.google.com, but you can also try it at TestiPhone.com (don't forget to change your user-agent).

Google Trends, Updated Daily

After many complaints about the infrequent updates from Google Trends, Google decided to allocate more resources for the project and update the data daily. Google Trends shows information about queries: how popular they are over time, the locations where they are popular and some news that might have influenced their popularity. Google Trends doesn't show actual numbers, so the best way to draw some conclusion is to compare two or more related queries.

For example, the graph below compares how often people entered in Google's search box orkut, Facebook and MySpace in the last 12 months. As you can see, MySpace's popularity is declining, Facebook grows steadily, while orkut is pretty constant. You can also see that orkut is popular, but mostly in Brazil and India.


Now that Google Trends has fresh data every day, it would be nice to have an embedding option. It's easy to hot link to the image, but Google could provide a mini-version of a Google Trends page that shows the graph and the refinements. Maybe they can even build a site like Swivel that lets you rate Trends comparisons, add comments and find explanations for the bumps.

Another improvement would be to automatically generate related queries using Google Sets or even from Google's live data. This could be even more useful if you could discover related queries that are popular in a region: for example, enter [MySpace, Facebook] and find other popular social networks in Russia.

{ via Google Blog }

Gmail 2.0


Garett Rogers reports that Google prepares a new version of Gmail, according to a message from the translation console. It's not clear what are the new features, but one thing that will change is the user interface.

When Google introduced Gmail in 2004, it was one of the first important web applications that used AJAX, but not in an excessive manner. Meanwhile, Yahoo and Microsoft released new versions of their mail services that tried to duplicate the familiar interface of a desktop mail client like Outlook (Yahoo bought Oddpost - an AJAX pioneer, while Microsoft rewrote Hotmail from the ground up). Yahoo Mail Beta had many problems with performance and that's why the classic version of Yahoo Mail is still available as an option. Windows Live Hotmail offers by default a classic version that doesn't use AJAX because the new interface "was too slow to load, too different and, well, just not like the old Hotmail it was intended to replace". The advantages of a desktop-like interface are many: an easier way to move a message to a folder using drag & drop, a reading pane that lets you read messages, "infinite scrolling" for reading your mail, but the trade-off is an interface that reacts very slowly and is not user-friendly.

The new Gmail interface could add some new views for your messages, a way to group related messages, sorting messages by size or sender and improve the search by indexing attachments and providing a better way to filter search results.

Beyond the interface, Gmail 2.0 could be an important part of the new social trend at Google and may even become Social Gmail. Google could use your messages to detect social relations that would the base of a new contact management application. Because you use Gmail's address book in an increasingly number of Google applications to share web pages, photos, documents, blog posts, Google could show you a comprehensive overview of all the items shared with a contact.

Many people asked for a Google Reader integration in Gmail (you can already do that using a Greasemonkey script) and a recently leaked video mentioned this possibility, even though Google Reader still has problems with scaling and wouldn't handle Gmail's traffic.

Gmail should also add offline support using Google Gears. "Gmail Offline will allow users to browse, reply, save drafts and do everything that currently Gmail does in an offline mode even when you don't have an Internet connection," reported an Indian newspaper. More likely, the offline Gmail will provide limited access to some of your recent messages, to your contact list and will let you compose new messages. It's just a small compromise for those who don't want to use a desktop mail client, but need offline access for their mail and contacts.

The IMAP support would make Gmail an even better option for the enterprise, so Google might also consider complement POP3 with a more robust and flexible protocol.

Hopefully, Gmail 2.0 will continue to focus on simplicity and user-friendliness, while polishing the interface and adding new features that connect it with other Google applications. One of the goals for Gmail 2.0 is "70% user happiness", so don't expect it to be perfect.

Update (October 30): Gmail 2.0, now available.

September 23, 2007

A Social Network for Google Earth?

Arizona State University's students have the opportunity to test a new product "that will be publicly launched later this year". The invitation page mentions that the product is developed by "a major Internet company" and there are hints that the application is related to social networking, 3D modeling and video games. To complete the questionnaire and get the opportunity to test the product, you need to be a student at ASU.

So where's Google in this picture? One of the questions from the form asks you if you have a Gmail account and if you are willing to get one. The product's name is "My World" and the logo shows a globe - this could be related to Google Earth. Google also owns a 3D modeling software that could be used to create avatars.

Arizona State University has a very close relation with Google: it's one of the first large universities in the US that uses Google Apps, the site search is powered by Google Search Appliance, the university uses Google Maps and the ASU campuses already have 3D models in... Google Earth. But there's actually more than this: the university offered photos for the Google Mars project, Google employees serve as guest speakers or adjunct lecturers at ASU and Google has an office on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University.

The speculation about a Google Earth Second Life started last year. "The notion that you can create objects and buildings and place them in a virtual world makes Google Earth sounds less like a mapping tool and more like a metaverse. What's a metaverse? Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson introduced the term in his seminal 1992 novel, Snow Crash. (...) In Stephenson's novel, millions of users uploaded customized "avatars," or virtual personalities, and strolled the street, entering shops and exclusive nightclubs, conversing and trading with the metaverse's other denizens." In fact, Snow Crash inspired the development of Google Earth.



{ via MacRumors }

September 22, 2007

Saving Search Results in Google Maps

Google Maps does a pretty good job at ranking search results, but sometimes you want to save some of the results and review them later. You may want to compare them or to share a list of the most interesting places with someone else.

An easy way to save only some of the search results is to use Google My Maps. When you click on a result, a tooltip shows more information about the place and lets you save it to My Maps. You'll have to create a new map and add the results you like. Each result will become a blue placemark on the map. When you save a search result, the title and the description are pre-filled, but you can change them and add notes. You can switch between "Search Results" and "My Maps", enter a new query or go to the next page of search results.

When you're finished, click on "Clear search results" and make sure all the placemarks are visible. The personalized map can be printed, sent by email or embedded into a web page. It's also accessible in the My Maps tab and you can always add new places later.


If you want to collaborate on a map with other people, use Google Notebook (don't forget to install the plug-in). Create a new notebook, go to "Sharing options", make it public and invite other collaborators. To obtain a map-enabled notebook, switch to the text view in Google Maps. For each search result you want to add to the notebook, select the title and the address, right-click and choose "Note this".


A notebook can have multiple sections and you can write comments next to each note. When you go to the published notebook, you'll see a link that says: "View this notebook on a map". All the notes become placemarks on a map.

Google to Open up Its Social Platform

TechCrunch has the news that Google plans to open "a new set of APIs on November 5 that will allow developers to leverage Google's social graph data. They'll start with Orkut and iGoogle (Google's personalized home page), and expand from there to include Gmail, Google Talk and other Google services over time. On November 5 we'll likely see third party iGoogle gadgets that leverage Orkut's social graph information - the most basic implementation of what Google is planning. From there we may see a lot more - such as the ability to pull Orkut data outside of Google and into third party applications via the APIs."

The idea isn't surprising if you look at Google's renewed interest in orkut, a social network that didn't get too much traction in the US. orkut has recently added a new feature that shows updates from your friends and the new design leaves a lot of space for gadgets. Google didn't exploit the wealth of information from a social network and ignored that many of its other services could be even more valuable in the context of a trusted environment. For example, a news or a video recommended by many of your friends has an added value. Your search results could be better if you subscribe to recommendation feeds from orkut communities related to your interests.

An internal Google video showed that Google intends to integrate all of its communication apps and to create activity streams for each user. All the streams from your contacts could be aggregated in a single place that shows what's going on with the people you care about. A glimpse from this project is the recently launched Shared Stuff that lets you share web pages with your contacts and keep track of the shared items.


I think one of the problems that hinder Google's social plans is the distinction between Gmail contacts and orkut friends, which are two separate lists. Google tried to synchronize them with the Google Talk integration, that automatically added your orkut friends to the list of Gmail contacts. In the future, Google could create a special layer for "friends" in Gmail: those who get the list of broadcasted activities. The list of Gmail friends could include your orkut friends and the Google Talk contacts.

iGoogle, the personalized homepage, is another central point in Google's social plans. The homepage lets you create gadgets that can be shared with your friends, you can share tabs and customize the page using themes. The gadgets are similar to Facebook's applications, except that they don't have a social aspect.

Google intends to open this data to other developers and to other social networks. Brad Fitzpatrick, who now works at Google, wrote an interesting article last month that proposed the creation of a decentralized social graph that combines data from different social networks. "There doesn't exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that's comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens." Google could support this project by sharing its data and providing search features for the graph.

All in all, the social component of web applications is increasingly important and a big differentiator. YouTube was more successful than Google Video because it had a stronger community and many loyal users. While search is an important way to find things online, a social filter could enable to discover more interesting things without having to actively search for them.

September 20, 2007

Google Maps Brainstorming

In this video, Google Maps team from New York tries to figure out how to display the information about a business in a better way. The brainstorming doesn't generate too many ideas, but one Googler admits that the interface is "unreadable".


Even if Google shows a lot of information, it doesn't do a good job at helping you find a place you like. If you search for a pizza place in New York, Google Maps shows the same results for everyone and you can't refine your query with details about the menu, delivery area, price or the amount of recent positive reviews. Google Maps could also let you add a business to your favorites and personalize the search results based on your bookmarks and search history. As for the presentation, it would be nice to compare the results side by side and choose what are the most relevant criteria for comparison.

Anyway, here's the Google Maps brainstorming. Maybe you can help Google find the best way to structure the interface.

Google Shared Stuff

Google's social side is more visible every day. A new service called "Shared Stuff" lets you share interesting links with your friends and the entire world. You need to drag a bookmarklet to your browser's link bar or to click on the "Share" button from a web page (the button can only be found at Google Video right now).


When you click on the button, a new window pops out and you can choose between posting the page to your profile, emailing it to your contacts or bookmarking the page using services like del.icio.us or furl.


A profile page is public and can include information about yourself, a photo, links to your sites. You can select the photo from one of your public Picasa Web Albums. Here's the profile of Kevin Marks, a former Technorati engineer who now works at Google.


This page lets you see the latest web pages shared by your Gmail contacts:



There's also a page that lists all the popular items shared by Google users, but some of them are questionable (I saw pages that only had a single view):


... and a way to see popular items from a domain or for a tag:


You can also subscribe to feeds for all of these pages, but it would be nice to have a special feed for your contacts and gadget that keeps you up-to-date.

Overall, the service adds the social component to Google Bookmarks and integrates a lot of ways to share content online. It will be interesting to see if Google manages to build a community around the new service and if you can rely on it to find and disseminate what's cool on the web. Google will probably allow you to add the "Share" button to your site so you can replace all the bookmarking/sharing buttons for del.icio.us, Digg, Facebook etc. and provide a better experience to your users.

This is probably the first appearance of the Moka-Moka social project and Google will include shared information from other services (Picasa Web Albums, public events from your calendar, Google Reader's shared items or public Google Docs).

{ via Blogoscoped forum }

September 19, 2007

Promoting Your Own Services in Search Results

What happens when you have a search engine, but also some services that produce content? Well, you could use the search engine to promote those services or at least to leverage the fact that you have better access to their data.

Let's say you are Google and you own a very popular video site called YouTube. What do you do? Here's what Google did:

* YouTube was the first video site added to Google Video when it was relaunched as a video search engine. Even if Google added other sites, YouTube dominates the search results. Of course, YouTube has a lot of videos and a strong community that provides feedback, but Google Video still can't provide the right balance between YouTube and the rest of the sites.


* as part of the Universal Search, YouTube videos that appear in Google's search results have extended snippets that include thumbnails, links to related videos and the full video can be played inline. Google doesn't do this only for YouTube, but Google Video and YouTube are the only video sites for which you can play videos directly from the search results page. This decision was probably influenced by the fact that Google can't control the performance for other video sites and those sites didn't want to lose traffic.

But what if you are Yahoo and own a photo-sharing site called Flickr? The site doesn't have a dominant position like YouTube (6.42% for the US in July 2007, according to Hitwise) and an image search engine can easily integrate images from other sites.

Yahoo also shows extended snippets for Flickr images, but it commits the cardinal sin for a search engine: forget about relevance and promote arbitrary sites. For example, the first page of search results for [Google Reader] only includes Flickr photos, while you can find many other relevant images on the web (in fact, the first 49 Yahoo results are from Flickr). Other queries also show a very-difficult-to-justify Flickr domination. While Flickr is a great place to find photos, it's not very relevant if you want to find Vista screenshots: 9 from the first 20 results are from Flickr and all of them show Vista wallpapers. A search for minimal surface includes a single result from a math-related site, while the rest of the images are from Flickr.


The conclusion is that it's difficult to have a search engine and sites for user-generated content. You can be tempted to arbitrarily increase the influence of these sites and show biased results.

Using the Command-Line to Get Things Done

I've written before about Enso, a very interesting project that lets you perform tasks from a command-line that interacts with the user interface. The software comes with some basic commands (like launching programs, performing calculations), but it can be extended with other commands. Enso has recently launched in beta some plug-ins that add new commands.

Let's say you need to translate into French some text from an email message you're composing in Gmail. You'll have to select the text, open a new window or tab, go to Google Translate or other translation service, paste the text, choose the option to translate from English to French, click on a button, select the translation and copy it, go back to Gmail and paste the text. The new translation commands for Enso let you perform the same task much faster: select the text, trigger the command line (press Caps-Lock), type the first letters from the command ("translate to French") and the translated text will replace the selected text. Of course, you won't get a more accurate translation, but at least you won't lose the original context and get distracted by other tasks.


The search commands let you select some text and type the name of one of the supported search services to launch a new page with the corresponding search result. This is faster than using your browser's search features or extensions like Hyperwords because you don't have visually identify the right option from a long list. Unfortunately, these commands defeat the one of the main purposes of Enso: don't lose the context. An alternative way to implement them would be to use APIs like Google AJAX API to display search results without leaving the page. In fact, my favorite use of this API is a tool called Linkify that allows me link to a search result by selecting some text from a textarea and choosing one of the search results displayed in a small sidebar.

There are also commands for controlling music players or to convert LaTeX markup into a nice mathematical expression. Of course, an API would make it easier to build many other plug-ins for Enso.

For now, Enso works only on Windows 2000/XP/Vista and the main program costs $20 (there's a 30-day trial), while all the plug-ins described above are free. I think a better approach would be to pay for some additional commands and make the main program free. When you can find a lot of great software like Google Desktop, Launchy, Quicksilver, Foxytunes, I'm not sure many people are going to pay for Enso.

The software comes from a small company called Humanized that promises "to provide you with the most humane software we are capable of making". Great interfaces, easy to use software, simplicity - I've heard these things before (I wonder where?).

"Some tasks—for instance, teaching a child arithmetic—are intrinsically pretty complicated. But some aren't. Setting the time on a wristwatch, for instance, shouldn't be that hard; on old analog wristwatches, it basically involved pulling out a knob, twisting it until the watch showed the correct time, and pushing the knob back in again. But on newer digital wristwatches—ones that claim to be more powerful and feature-loaded than their analog counterparts—it involves pressing a series of buttons in a hard-to-remember, often unforgiving order. Most people dread setting the time on their digital watches, and for good reason."

September 18, 2007

Google Launches Gadget Ads

As mentioned earlier this year, Google tested a new ad format that uses gadgets to display interactive content. The gadget ads are now officially launched and available for many (but not yet all) AdWords advertisers. "The new widget ads represent a more aggressive push by Google to attract big brand advertisers who like flashy ad units rather than the simple text ads commonly run in Google's ad network," reports The New York Times.

The main benefits of the new format: it's easy to create a gadget using Google's API, the gadget can be stored and/or cached on Google's severs and people can add the gadgets they like to Google's personalized homepage. "Gadget ads can incorporate real-time data feeds, images, video and much more in a single creative unit and can be developed using Flash, HTML or a combination of both. Designed to act more like content than a typical ad, they run on the Google content network, competing alongside text, image and video ads for placement," says Google (my emphasis).

Because most of the normal gadgets can be embedded into a web page and many people already use iGoogle, the gadget ad will be a familiar presence. "Google Gadget Ads are nearly identical to Google Gadgets, except that they run as rich media ads on the Google content network. By adding a small bit of code called a click URL to your Google Gadget, the gadget becomes a Google Gadget Ad, capable of running as an ad on thousands of content network sites. Otherwise, the two can be identical in their basic construction and content." This way, Google also solved the problem of monetizing iGoogle in a clever way: users will voluntary add gadget ads to the homepage and interact with them. The ads won't be perceived as annoying because you chose to include them in your homepage. "Widgets are a dream for marketers. They allow them to extend their brand off of their individual sites and allow their brands to live as long as consumers want them to live," thinks Dimitry Ioffe, chief executive of Media Banners.

Here's an ad for Nissan that lets you see information about traffic from Google Maps (example of US zip code: 90210). There's also an option to explore the car and a link to Nissan's web site, but the gadget is attractive because it's useful:



The gadgets can be contextually targeted or site targeted, but you won't find too many of them right now. Unfortunately, Google doesn't offer granular options for publishers, so if you choose to display image ads, you'll also get video ads, Flash ads and now gadget ads. Because advertising agencies can add anything from Flash animations to mini-websites created with AJAX, some of the ads could be obtrusive. If you look at the samples offered by Google, some of the ads show an animation for 10-15 seconds to attract your attention, while others are static until you interact with them. Here are some quotes from Google's editorial guidelines:
* Audio and video effects are allowed, but must be user-initiated.
* Users must have the ability to 'mute' all sounds in the ad, if applicable.
* Google Gadget Ads that contain Flash must not exceed 50% utilization of a user's computer.
* Gadget ads that directly capture any personally identifiable user information must have an applicable privacy policy which is directly accessible from the gadget ad.
* Animation is restricted to a maximum of 15 seconds (at a 15-20 fps frame rate).
* The ads must be 50K or smaller in size "on load".

I think a successful gadget ad should include useful content so you could use it as a stand-alone mini-application. It should include animations only if they're necessary and not just as a distraction. LabPixies is one of the companies that creates cool gadgets for all kinds of companies. "Gadgets are easy to install and easy to use, with no technical knowledge necessary, so they work very well as a distribution platform. Gadgets are the next generation of content syndication," says Ran Ben-Yair, co-founder of LabPixies.

"Gadget ads provide new mixed media interactions across Google's AdSense network. A Starbucks ad unit could display a web feed of the latest 5 tracks playing in its stores, query the local weather and suggest either an iced or hot drink, display local stores on a Google Map, and help you browse seasonal offerings from within a single ad unit. Google serves all of the content via proxy, and the rich media load never touches Starbucks' servers," thinks Niall Kennedy, who also found a directory of branded Google gadgets.

Searching for Celebrities in Reuters Videos

Reuters has a wealth of interesting videos, but the descriptions don't include all the persons that appear in the footage or the time when they appear. That's why Reuters started to use face recognition technology developed by Viewdle to power a new search engine that finds people in the videos.

"The technology, devised by Viewdle, analyses each frame of video footage, looking 'inside the clip' to identify the appearance of people on-screen. (...) The technology is largely impressive and Viewdle says it's building the world's biggest people-in-video reference database and has multiple patents in preparation," reports Journalism.co.uk. Viewdle is one of the companies selected for the Techcrunch 40 conference.

The project is part of Reuters Labs, which showcases a lot of interesting technologies that improve the way you interact with news. Reuters Popup Video lets you add comments for a certain part of a video, while Newsbeats mixed news with electronic music (the service was discontinued).

September 17, 2007

Google Presentations Finally Launched

File manager


Google has finally released the presentation app. You can only import Microsoft PowerPoint files that have less than 10 MB and export a presentation as an HTML file with images. You can change the theme or the layout of a slide, but there aren't too many options available. There's also an option to create the first slide of a presentation from a document, but it only works for short documents.

Editing a presentation


The presentation can be shared with everyone and any viewer can follow the presenter or take control of the presentation. The preview includes a group chat feature based on Google Talk's gadget that shows the active collaborators and viewers. If all the viewers click on "View presentation", they can watch the presentation at the same time.

Viewing a presentation


To see a scrollable overview of all the slides in a presentation, check the "Printable view". It's also a way to search inside a presentation, but you can't go to a certain slide.

"As with its other applications, Google intends to add additional features, like customization for mobile screens and the ability to integrate files stored on remote servers," mentions InformationWeek. But for now, Google's new presentation app is pretty average: it doesn't have options for embedding, you can't export the presentation as a PowerPoint file, there's no option for adding transitions, notes, audio files or content from the web. Google Presentations' strongest point is collaboration, but it delivers far less than other online presentation apps.

"Presentations are a natural addition for Google Docs , as they are usually created with the intention of being shared. Web-based, collaborative presentations offer users much-needed relief from manually managing and compiling group members' input in separate attachments, and they make it possible for multiple users to view a set of slides while a moderator controls the presentation. Users will see that these features are still in simple, early stages; the Google Docs team is making them available today in response to strong user demand for presentation-sharing, and updates and improvements will continue to roll out over the coming months," explains Google.

It's also worth mentioning that the new member of the Google Docs family doesn't have a name and that Google Docs & Spreadsheets transformed into Google Docs.

The local copy of the presentation


Update: Here's an example of published presentation.

Yahoo Buys Zimbra to Compete with Google Apps

Yahoo paid $350 million for Zimbra, a collaborative online suite that integrates email and group calendar using an AJAX interface. The application can be installed on your server or you can choose from one of the many hosting solutions. Because it's open source, you can install it for free unless you need support or some proprietary components.

The ugly-yet-versatile application has many of Gmail's features (conversation view, labels, attachment preview), but adds IMAP support, attachment indexing, saved searches and shared address books. Zimbra Mail is closely integrated with the calendar, so you can always see the recent events and the events that take place in a day mentioned in a message. Zimbra also offers an offline version, mobile clients for many devices and great compatibility with the most important enterprise software.

"Zimbra is a global leader in email and collaboration software and its services are aimed at universities, businesses, and ISPs worldwide, which is a major driver of what made the company so attractive to us," explains Yahoo. The decision to buy Zimbra had a lot to do with the growth of Google Apps and the potential partnerships with universities and ISPs that could endanger Yahoo Mail's position. By combining its existing solutions with Zimbra, Yahoo could extend its influence in the corporate space. After all, both Yahoo Mail Beta (previously known as OddPost) and Zimbra Mail are heavily influenced by desktop email clients like Microsoft Outlook and sacrifice the performance for a familiar interface.

When Zimbra was launched, in 2005, many people were impressed. "I would go out on a limb and say that it combines the best of both Microsoft Outlook and Google's GMail," said Om Malik. Others think this is not the right approach: "To me, Zimbra doesn't in any way resemble my mental model of a web application; it resembles Microsoft Outlook. On the other hand Gmail, which is also an Ajax-based email application, almost exactly matches my mental model of how a web application should look and feel."

Both Gmail and Zimbra were revolutions that had a big impact. Here's how Zimbra described enterprise email's problems in 2005:

As an email administrator, are you happy with how much time you spend per mailbox on basic "care and feeding"? Is Email Broken? Web browsing and email are the two killer applications of the Web. Given the ubiquity of email, it is perhaps surprising that we users are not a happier lot. The frustrations oft associated with the email experience stand in contrast to the relative satisfaction of web browsing and web administration.

You can judge for yourself if Zimbra solved email's problems from this demo or this Flash tour. As for Google Apps, the competition from Yahoo could accelerate its development. Here's some free advice directly from Zimbra:

"Since all Google Docs are stored on Google's servers, public companies would face big Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues if they deployed Google Apps. Zimbra's Web 2.0 messaging and collaboration platform provides enterprise customers with freedoms that Google Apps just can't provide, including the ability to archive for compliance purposes. They can use Zimbra as a hosted service or deploy it on-site. They can use it online or offline while retaining killer AJAX functionality. They can offer their employees access from any desktop, Web, or mobile client."

Google's Server Names

Here's a list of the Google Servers used by different services as they're returned in the HTTP headers. Not all of them have transparent names and some of them may suggest interesting data (like the ctcserver for the not-yet-existent Google Call service linked from Google's robots.txt). Google Web Server is a modified version of Apache custom server that runs on Linux.

Server Name
Services
GWS (Google Web Server)
Web Search, Image Search and many other services
GFE/1.3 (Google Front-End)
Gmail, Calendar, Picasa Web Albums, Docs, Blogger, orkut, Reader and many other services
GWS-GRFE/0.50
Groups
bsfe (Blog Search Front-End)
Blog Search
OFE/0.1 (Ocean Front-End)
Book Search, Patent Search, Catalogs (Ocean is Google Book Search's code-name)
SMS search frontend 1.0
Google SMS
Search-History HTTP Server
Web History
Auto-Completion Server
Google Suggest, Firefox/Google Toolbar auto-complete
TrustRank Frontend
Safe Browsing
GCS/1.0
Safe Browsing
SFE/0.8
Finance
FTS (C)1997-2007 Interactive Data Managed Solutions AG
Finance charts
asfe
Base
mediaserver
Base (images)
cffe
Product Search (Froogle)
btfe
Thumbnails: Image Search, Google Video, Youtube
Video Stats Server
Google Video
cachefe:image (Cache Front-End)
Picasa Web photos
staticfe
interface images (Picasa Web)
ctcserver
Google Call ( www.google.com/call )
GoogleChartServer/1.0
used for dynamically-generated charts (e.g.: Google Video's stats)
NFE/1.0 (News Front-End)
News
mfe (Maps Front-End)
Maps
Keyhole Server 2.4
Maps, Earth (imagery)
PSFE/4.0
Alerts
igfe (iGoogle Front-End)
iGoogle
COMINST/1.0
Testing software installation (Pack, Picasa)
TWS/0.9 (Translation Web Server)
Translate
mws (Music Web Server)
Music Search
R2FE/1.0 (Reviews Front-End)
Reviews (Music, Movies)
zfe
Reviews
pfe
Co-op
codesite/5477219
Code
ga-reporting-fe
Analytics reporting
ucfe
Analytics
lpfe
Analytics (www.google-analytics.com/siteopt.js)
Toolbar Gaia User Service Server
Google Toolbar authentication
cafe (Ad Conversion Front-End)
Conversions
AdClickServer
Google test ad server
Google Trends
Google Trends
TFE/0.0 (Transliteration Front-End)
Google Indic Transliteration
Apache
most Labs services

{ Thanks, Tony. }