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

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January 31, 2008

Personalizing Search Results Using Social Information

VentureBeat has an interview with Google's VP Marissa Mayer about social search. Marissa's definitions for social search is "any search aided by a social interaction or a social connection... Social search happens every day. When you ask a friend what movies are good to go see? or where should we go to dinner?, you are doing a verbal social search. You're trying to leverage that social connection to try and get a piece of information that would be better than what you'd come up with on your own."

She explains that Google tried to add a social layer by allowing its users to annotate search results in Google Co-op, but that didn't work very well. "There have been a few topical areas that have had a lot of traction, but overall the annotation model needs to evolve."


Marissa Mayer suggests that Google could show you the results labeled by the people you trust, for example your Facebook friends. Google could also personalize your search results by promoting web pages bookmarked by your friends. "PageRank itself relies on the link structure of the web to try to find the most authoritative pages. For example, it's clear that people would attribute more authority to the pages that their friends have visited."

Asked about the future of search, Marissa predicted that in ten years search engines will answer to queries like "what movies are good to see?", "where's the nearest sushi restaurant that's good?" by using information from the user's social context. Basically, the social data is just another way to personalize search results, along with your search history or your location.

Once your social data becomes portable (and OpenSocial could play an important role here), Google could use aggregate information from your friends to modify the weights in a personalized PageRank model.

Related:
Google and social search
Google's no-longer-existent Facebook app

The Number of Google Subscribers

Google Reader Subscribers Count is a discreet Greasemonkey script that shows the number of Google subscribers to a site's feeds. The number is overlayed at the bottom of each page that has feeds and it's one of the ways you can measure the popularity of a site. If you click on the number, you can subscribe to the feed.

As usually, the script requires Firefox and the Greasemonkey extension, although it could also work in other browsers. A related script is Google Reader Subscribe Button, which shows if you've subscribed to a feed and lets you subscribe to it in Google Reader. It would be interesting to combine the two scripts.

January 30, 2008

Tips for Google Mobile Search

Google's mobile search engine (google.com/m) has a lot of features that aren't available in the regular desktop interface. Its latest interface was launched in March last year in the US and yesterday in the UK, France, Germany and Canada. The main change in Google's mobile interface is the integration between the web results, images, news and local results, which are displayed on a single pages, based on their relevance to the query. Here are some features specific to Google Mobile Search:

1. Information about sports: European football, NBA, NHL and more.


2. Optimized calculator that shows the results in a search box so you can use them for other calculations.


3. Weather conditions for airports


4. Since Google shows the transcoded version of search results, it can improve the way you access the web pages. If the results are very big, Google splits them in several pages and it can send you directly to the section that is the most relevant to your query.

5. The phonebook listings let you call people directly from search results, the same as Google's local search results:


6. Google promotes the site specifically designed for mobile phones and you can recognize them by looking for a small phone icon next to the snippet.

7. You can hide the images from search results by clicking on "Hide Images" at the bottom of the page. Google only shows thumbnails, which load faster and are more appropiate for small screens.

8. If you enter your location on the homepage, you won't have to add it to your queries. Since Google knows you're in Boston, you should only enter "weather", "movies", "book stores" etc. Google also saves your recent locations and they're accessible from a drop-down next to each group of local search results.

9. Google reformats the links to point to the transcoded versions so you can use Google Mobile Search as a bridge between your mobile browser and the web. You won't be able to access through Google Mobile Search secure web pages and some web pages lose their functionality as Google removes embedded objects, JavaScript code, tables etc. There's also a simple interface for Google's transcoder that lets you enter a URL.

10. If you have a mobile browser that is able to display web pages, you can disable Google's transcoder by going to Settings and deactivating "Format web pages for your phone". You can also go to the standard Google interface by selecting "View Google in... classic" at the bottom of Google's homepage.

Subscribe to Feeds in Google Reader Mobile

MG Siegler reports that the iPhone version of Google Reader has an option to add subscriptions. "Recently the 'Feeds' area welcomed the 'Add subscription' button that you'll recognize from the regular version of the site. Clicking on this button from the iPhone takes you to a 'Discover and search' page where you can search for a new feed or quickly add any of their pre-packaged bundles."

Not everyone has an iPhone and I'm sure this would be a welcome feature in the mobile Google Reader. Fortunately, the feature already exists, even if not in Google Reader, but in the mobile Google Search. To go from Google Reader to Google's homepage, click on "More Google Products" and select Search from the list. If you search the web using Google and click on a search result from a site that has feeds, the feeds are listed at the top. Clicking on a feed, you'll be able to preview it in Google Reader and also subscribe to it.

If you already know the address of a feed, you can use this URL to subscribe to it:
http://google.com/reader/m/view/feed/<FEED_URL>
(replace <FEED_URL> with the actual URL)


Related:
Mobile Google Reader is also a good way to read blogs on a mobile phone

January 29, 2008

Display a Google Calendar in Google Maps

Tony Hirst found a simple way to place the events from a Google Calendar on a map. Assuming that the calendar is public, all you need to do is to find the XML address of the calendar, enter the address in a Yahoo Pipe that extracts the locations and generates a geoRSS feed, click on "More options" and copy the link to the KML output. You can enter the URL in a Google Maps search box and you'll see the events on a map. The items can be saved to My Maps or embedded into a web page if you select "Link to this page".

Tony notes that "the call to the Yahoo Pipe sometimes times out in the map. To guarantee the map displaying the KML feed, you could always save the KML feed as a KML file, then upload it somewhere and use that URL in the Google Map search box".

Bookmark Google Search Results

An interesting side effect of Google Notebook's integration with Google Bookmarks is that you can now bookmark search results without having to install plug-ins or use bookmarklets. When you log in to a Google Account, a new option appears next to each search result: "note this". If you click on "note this", Google will open a small version of Google Notebook and add a link to the search result, the title and its snippet as a note. Google's service has a predefined notebook that stores bookmarks (Unfiled bookmarks), so Google also creates a bookmark from your link.

The only thing you need to do before clicking on "note this" is to make sure that the active notebook is "Unfiled bookmarks". You can click on the "My Notebooks" link from the top of Google's search results page to activate that notebook.

After bookmarking a page, you can add labels and comments. The bookmarks can be accessed from Google Notebook's mini-window, Google Bookmarks or from an iGoogle gadget, but also from plug-ins like Google Toolbar.

January 28, 2008

Things Google Can Improve


Durrell Robinson has a lot of great ideas for Google and he decided to share them with you. I only selected some of the most interesting ideas and found their place inside this post.

Contact manager integration with Picasa Web Albums and customizable Facebook-like tags that allow you to tag a person you know in a picture you took and maybe even allow them to untag themselves like the Facebook allows. People will be more likely to upload and tag pictures if they are connected in some way to people they already know or have in their contact list. People are also more likely to make pictures public if they have a specific "public" in mind instead of the very large, abstract "public" that is anyone who uses Google and Google Image Search. We might also be more comfortable with it if we can untag ourselves. Also, people tagging us makes us more likely to be fully aware of the photo option and more likely to share our own photos (Google has an edge over Facebook because you can geotag photos and display them on Google Maps. People will also be able to use these pictures in Gmail which can be very helpful).

People tagging in Facebook. Screenshot licensed as Creative Commons.


A Picasa Albums quota that increases as your items are viewed more. So if you share photos with friends who actually view them and download them or comment on them, you get more storage space. If you add photos from your vacation that are viewed in the Picasa layer on Google Maps then you get more space, etc. So people who use it for personal storage stay at 1GB while people who use it to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible (;-)) get more space to continue doing it. It will be like people whose invites signed up got more invites to use when Gmail was in private beta. People will also probably be excited about the auto-space upgrades (maybe even send them a little email) and become obsessed with having as large a storage limit as possible and so they will begin to add more and more popular items. This will feed into itself.

It would be really nice to have text messages saved to my Gmail like Google Talk chats. I always wonder sometimes what I told someone and I hate having to delete sweet texts because I don't have space.

Integration of Google Docs and Picasa Web Albums into Gmail to allow the searching and sending of files directly from Gmail as attachments or otherwise. This will increase the ease of collaboration and other use of Google Documents that are sent and edited often. This will also help build a community around Picasa.

Add Google Profiles to Google Contact Manager so people can change the information listed for them. Also make it layered like in Orkut based on how close I am to someone (close friend, business associate, etc.). Consolidate my identity with my friends so I only show up once on their chat list whether I'm on GChat or AIM. They can also list my other screen names, location, birthday and status based on my calendar settings (busy v. available), etc. etc. but only in layers depending on how close I am to a contact. Allow me to list my spouse and have a link to their account/profile like in Facebook. Allow me to see if I have friends in common with my other contacts, etc. Give Google the social element that no other sight can have. Plaxo Pulse is hot but Google has interesting products that can make it even better than what Plaxo can offer.

Google's unified profiles, available in Google Maps and Google Reader.


Add a Google Site to everyone's Google Profile like a Facebook or MySpace page. It will have to have aspects (like photos, location, etc.) that can be made restricted based on friendship status. This is one of the reasons people share so much on Facebook. They feel that they better know the people who are the audience of their material. I don't want everyone in the world to see my daughter's baby photos. It will have several pages to it just like a regular website (not just a one-sided, slim webpage like Facebook and MySpace) and will be linked up to other Google services. Instead of fighting to get new users, Google can create heavy users out of its current loyal users. Like with many businesses, it is often wise to increase total sales by catering to repeat customers to tap into a steady source of longterm users who give regular feedback, are pioneer early adopters of technology, and who can help fine tune several types of products.

Integrate my other services into the Google Site so you can have a natural transition from this page to my profile (one of the pages on my site) and see maps and reviews I've written, a list of common friends' profiles and shared Google Reader subscriptions with recently shared posts (a page on my site), my library from Google Books (and Google Scholar) and books we have in common, my blog(s) (a page on my site), my photos and photos and videos I've been tagged in (a page on my site), upcoming events on my calendar that I want to share on my site for other people to add to their calendars.

Picasa Web Albums can be transformed into an art room looking page with paintings, photographs, cool frames, etc. as the background theme. There can be pictures with slideshows, comments, geotag/Google Maps info, etc. Either way, this can be people's creative design for showing off their pictures on a web page that is more unique and dynamic than the simply MySpace or Facebook pages that say "I have pictures. Here." You can display the most commented, shared, favorited, etc. pictures that we've uploaded.

An exhibit of Andrew Wyeth's art. Photo licensed as Creative Commons.


It would be great to have GrandCentral integration with Google Calendar. I can set certain settings that make a meeting send all calls to my work number so my assistant can take the call, write down what's important, etc. If I have nothing listed it can go to my cell depending on the number. It will make Calendar more useful (people will want to make sure they have all their events on their calendar and that their calendar's are up to date and once they are they will want to share it more (like with receptionist that maybe keeps it up or partner to coordinate schedules, etc.)) and more popular. It will also make people want phones with Google Calendar on them so they can change a little event (push it back 15 minutes) whenever necessary so their life is completely organized. People with Blackberries do it already all the time. It would also be really nice to be able to "Ignore with text" automatically. If I'm in a meeting, it can reply "I'm sorry I can't take your call right now. I'm in a meeting which I expect to end at 5:00 PM EST" or "I'm unavailable. I am available in approximately 2 Hours and 43 Minutes at 5:00PM EST" or something like that. Phone companies love giving an excuse to send texts and we would love for each time someone called me for it to tell them I'm busy and not to waste their time calling back in 15 minutes.

Sharing advertisements. I have often seen something that is somewhat related to me but not exactly what I need. It might, however, be exactly what my brother, dad, best friend, etc. were saying they were looking for. This might be an ad for a job (I'm sure my parents would love to send my brother a few of these his way when they come across them), or deals on a vacation getaway package, personal tutors, nail fungus remover, etc. If we could have an option to access your contacts and send them a recommended advertisement, we can tap into the "word of mouth" way that people have been selling things for years. Instead of judging a site by its content or tracking people's movement across several webpages (which people think is very creepy) we can allow people to be the judge of what others will like to see (this will also encourage people to pay more attention to ads even if not for themselves) based on how much better they know that person than Google ever could (or should). We might wanna try pay-per-action ads first since people might be more likely to click on an ad because its funny or send/share it as a prank instead of as a legitimate lead and pay-per-action can help flush out people being silly from people making purchases or signing up for services. Also, people tend to hate ads generally speaking but they are likely to be much more receptive to them when it comes with a friend's recommendation (like a word-of-mouth purchase which people tend to feel much more comfortable making than going on the advertisement alone or from a salesperson/solicitation). People will be more attentive to ads that catch their eye for sales and other events that if their friends saw it and didn't pass the information along they would be upset (i.e. Friend: I saw an ad the other day for exactly what you're talking about and I think it was cheaper. You: Well why did you send it to me or something? You knew before that I would've been interested in that!).

January 27, 2008

Share Almost Any Blog Post in Google Reader

Google Reader's sharing feature is very cool, but it's limited to your subscriptions. If you find an interesting post and you want to share it with your friends without subscribing to the feed, Google Reader is not very helpful. On a closer look, you'll notice that Google Reader lets you preview any feed without subscribing to it if you go to this page:

http://www.google.com/reader/view/feed/FEED_URL

But it's not that easy to find the feed and build that URL every time you want to share a post. And even if you do that, you'll still have to find the post.

So I created a bookmarklet that automates the process: it finds the feed and creates a different URL that tells Google Reader to search for the page's title in that feed. Hopefully, the first result is the page you want to share.

Here's how to add the bookmarklet to your browser (because of a Google Reader bug, this doesn't work in Opera and Safari):

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
* Links in Internet Explorer

2. Don't click on the link below! For Firefox, right-click on the link, select "Bookmark this Link" and choose "Bookmarks Toolbar" from the dropdown. For Internet Explorer, right-click on the link, select "Add to Favorites", ignore the security warning and choose "Links" from the list of folders.

Share in Google Reader

Note that you'll be able to share pages only from sites that have feeds and only if you go to the blog post, not to the blog's homepage. If the post is very recent, it's likely that Google Reader didn't index it yet. If the page's title is not identical to the post's title, select the title before clicking on the bookmarklet.




Credits: the bookmarklet contains code from Google Reader's subscription bookmarklet; based on a idea by Louis Gray.

Google Apartment View

In which two young men discover that Google Maps tests an on-demand street view feature, but it's not yet ready for launch. A video from The Vacationeers, "a stylized comedic film group that features Todd Berger, Kevin Brennan, Jeff Grace and Blaise Miller".


{ via Jess Lee }

Google Docs in Firefox Sidebar

Google Docs Bar (gDocsBar) is a Firefox extension that shows the list of documents from Google Docs in the sidebar. The extension has many features from Google's file explorer: you can search for a file, restrict the list to documents, spreadsheets or presentations and view a certain folder (the subfolders aren't yet supported).

A great feature that makes this extension more valuable is uploading files using drag and drop. Drag one or more files from Windows Explorer to the sidebar and they'll be uploaded in the background.

For those who are worried about security, the extension sends your credentials directly to Google and stores them in Firefox's password manager. After installing the extension, you can make the sidebar visible by going to View > Sidebar > Google Docs Bar. The sidebar will always show the list of documents and it's useful if you frequently use Google Docs.


Related:
Google sidebars for Firefox and Opera
Google Maps in your sidebar (Firefox extension)

{ via Firefox Facts }

Google Shows More Results in the Local OneBox

When you search for something like [italian restaurant ny], the local search results are more useful than the web results, so Google displays a OneBox that includes these results at the top of the page or in other position. Google has recently increased the number of results displayed in the local OneBox from 3 to 10.


Last year, in January, the OneBox was enriched with a static map, information about reviews, directions. To make room for 10 results instead of 3, Google removed the addresses, the links to directions and the ratings.


It's very interesting to see that the other general search engines (Yahoo, Live Search, Ask.com) link to pages from their local search engines, while Google links to the homepage of each business. Another difference is that Google's box has a variable position, depending on the relevance to user's query.


Search Engine Land asked Google why it decided to increase the number of results. The reason is that "many people didn't realize there was additional local content available beyond the three listings, despite the more results... prompt. Accordingly, Google said that with the 10 links it is hoping to signal people that there is much more local content a click away. The ranking of those ten results is based on a range of factors, including the query, proximity, availability of ratings/reviews and their quality and several other variables."

January 26, 2008

Completely Uninstalling Windows Applications

When you uninstall a Windows application, the uninstaller doesn't remove all the files and registry entries created by the application. Sometimes the developers were too lazy or they thought those files might be needed if you reinstall the application. The end result is that your computer loads slower because your registry contains more entries and the hard drive stores unnecessary files.

Revo Uninstaller is a software that lets you completely uninstall programs and it's easier to use than the built-in "Add or remove programs". You can search for a program or locate it in a more intuitive way: enter in the Hunter Mode, open the program you want to uninstall and drag the target to your program's window.


After finding the program, Revo Uninstaller analyzes the program's data, launches the uninstaller and shows you a list of leftovers (files, folders, registry entries related to the application). The application does a pretty good job at identifying them, but you should still check the results before selecting everything. "Even if you have a broken installation, Revo Uninstaller scans for an application's data on your hard disk drives and in the Windows registry and shows all found files, folders and registry items so you can delete them."


Revo Uninstaller also includes a junk files cleaner and a way to remove the history from browsers, Microsoft Office and some Windows application, but CCleaner is a better application for this.

January 25, 2008

Invite Collaborators to Multiple Documents

If you have a lot of documents in Google Docs and you need to collaborate with the same people on all of them, it's pretty tedious to open each document, go to the Share tab, enter the email addresses and choose the right settings. Now you don't have to do this anymore, because there's a new button in the file manager that lets you invite people to collaborate on more than a single document: it's called "Share".

It would be nice to automatically add a certain group of people as collaborators for all the documents from a folder, but that's not currently possible.


{ via Google Docs Blog }

Google Reader Shows the Published Date

Besides a new favicon and a confirmation dialog displayed when you mark all the posts as read, Google Reader now shows the published date of a post in a tooltip. Next to the snippet, Google Reader displays the date when the post was indexed by Google, not the date when it was published. Sometimes the difference between these two dates can be a single minute, but it could also be much bigger.


Google Reader also added some new keyboard shortcuts: a to add subscriptions, g+d to open the feed directory, e to email the current item. You can see the list of keyboard shortcuts by typing ? in Google Reader.

January 24, 2008

Save Google Presentations as PDF Files

Google Presently, the poorest member of the Google Docs family, added some new features and they're almost as exciting as the previous update. Now you can finally save your presentation in a decent format: PDF and this is especially useful if you want to print the presentation. To select the number of slides displayed on a page before exporting the presentation, choose the printing option.

Presently also redesigned the rich text editor's toolbar and added a small number of shapes you can insert into your slides: block arrows, circles, bubbles.

While Presently's biggest problem is the poor performance, there are many basic features that are missing: export to PPT, slide master, tables etc.

Mobile YouTube Application



YouTube updated its mobile site available at m.youtube.com to include all the videos from the desktop version and to provide access to your account, the option to rate videos and post meaningful comments. To use the mobile interface, you need a phone that is able to stream 3GP files over RTSP.

But there's a better way to play YouTube videos from your mobile phone: a Java midlet currently available for some phones from Sony Ericsson (K800, W880) and Nokia (S60 3rd Edition phones: N73, N95, E65, 6110, 6120). The JAR file for Nokia phones can be found here, in case you want to test it on unsupported phones. YouTube's mobile application also lets you upload videos from your phone. To install it, just go to m.youtube.com/app on your phone and follow the steps described in YouTube's help center.

"You may be wondering, Is YouTube for Mobile the same as what's available on the Helio Ocean or Apple iPhone? In a nutshell, yes -- YouTube for Mobile is all about bringing video to mobile phones. We believe in providing the best user experience possible for all users, which in some cases means different YouTube solutions for different phones," explains the YouTube blog.

Google Docs Uploader

Google released a basic application for Windows that lets you upload files to Google Docs by using drag and drop. The application is more like a sample for Google Docs API, but it's pretty useful if you want to upload a lot of documents. There's also an option to add "Send to Google Docs" to the contextual menu so you can upload files directly from Windows Explorer.

The application can be downloaded from this URL and requires .NET Framework 2.0.



Another way to upload more files at once is to send them to the email address displayed on this page, but this only works with documents and presentations and there are some restrictions regarding the size of the uploaded files: for example, you can send by email only presentations smaller than 500 KB. Google Toolbar for Firefox also has a feature that lets you open files in Google Docs.

January 23, 2008

Make about:blank Your Homepage

Many sites try to convince you to set them as your homepage: for example, every time you visit google.com using Internet Explorer, the site prompts you to make Google your homepage (Firefox's default homepage is already a skinned google.com).

Other sites are created just to become your homepage: from classic portals like Yahoo.com to personalized homepages like My Yahoo, iGoogle or Netvibes. But none of the sites is better than about:blank.

According to Wikipedia, "about: is an internal URI scheme (also known as a URL scheme or, erroneously, protocol) in various web browsers to display certain built-in functions and Easter eggs. It is not an officially registered scheme, and has no standard syntax." One of the most common addresses is about:blank, whose only purpose is to display a blank HTML document. It's supported by most browsers and it has a lot of advantages:

* your browser loads much faster
* it works even if you don't have an Internet connection
* it's not distracting so you can continue your work
* you are free to decide where to go, without letting others decide for you
* if you open a new window, some browsers (for example, Internet Explorer) load the homepage
* it's the most minimalist homepage in the world



Fortunately, most browsers have an option to set the blank page as a homepage, but you can always type about:blank to replace the default homepage. And next time when you install a toolbar or any other popular software, keep an eye on settings like "Make Yahoo.com your homepage". By default, most software from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft has the mission to change your homepage and the default search provider.

January 22, 2008

Dividing Lines in Google's Navigation Menu

To separate the search and the non-search properties, Google added two dividing lines in the More menu. Another change is that the services are no longer sorted alphabetically, but probably by usage. The order for non-search services is: YouTube, Google Calendar, Picasa Web, Google Docs and Google Reader, while in the search area: Google Video, Google Groups, Book Search, Google Scholar, Google Finance, Blog Search.

It's still difficult to understand why Google doesn't let you customize the navigation bar, the same way you can customize it in the new iPhone interface. This will probably encourage more people to use the menu and to go to their favorite services more often.



{ Thanks, Kevin. }

January 21, 2008

Popular Shared Items in Google Reader

The idea of aggregating the posts shared by Google Reader users to create a memetracker somewhere between TechMeme and Digg is not new. Mario Romero created a Facebook app called Feedheads that shows the most popular items shared by your friends, your groups and by all those who use the application.

ReadBurner doesn't focus on aggregating shared items from your friends and it's not restricted to Facebook: the application gets data from any shared items page. "In order to filter out the best stuff ReadBurner counts whenever an item is shared by multiple persons. Since Google Reader users can generally be described as very tech-aware, I think that over time lots of good stuff can come out of ReadBurner," explains the author of this project, Alexander Marktl. For now, most of the popular items are related to technology and a post can get at the top of the list if 20-30 people share it.


Louis Gray, who found this site in the referrer logs, thinks "there is a market for people looking for most popular shared items, and finding new people sharing what they read on Google Reader." It's not clear why Google Reader doesn't experiment with this idea, at least by de-duplicating the reading list and showing only once the posts shared by more people.

January 20, 2008

Making Google Reader More Like Gmail

Google Reader could add a lot of features from Gmail that would improve the way it organizes information.

A filtering mechanism would allow you to automatically star, share, email, label or mark as read the posts that match a certain pattern. For example, you could receive an email for each post that contains GDrive in the title or automatically label as Apple all the posts that contain one of the keywords: iPod, iPhone, Mac, iMac, iTunes, Steve Jobs etc.

Conversations are a great way to group related messages and could also be used to cluster posts based on their topic and the backlinks. You'd see the chronology of the articles and read all the posts about a certain subject successively.

Colored labels should make it easier to identify related conversations, especially if you read them in a combined view.

To reply to a post, select a fragment and send it to Google Notebook, Blogger or another blogging platform. To forward a post, send it as an email, an instant message in Gmail Chat.

Create an inbox-like view that doesn't include all the incoming posts: only those that weren't automatically classified and archived using filters.

Mute annoying conversations: a post gets a lot of replies, but you don't think it's interesting. A special option would automatically archive all the future posts from that thread.

If you don't like the web interface, an API should allow those who develop desktop feed readers to implement synchronization with Google Reader.

Editors for Creating iGoogle Themes

igThemer is a simple way to create iGoogle themes. This week, Google released an API for creating themes, but if you don't want to read the documentation and create the theme files, igThemer lets you select the colors and the necessary images, while previewing the theme on the same page.

igThemer doesn't let you create themes with multiple scenes, but it hosts your theme so you can share it with your friends or submit it to iGoogle's directory. Regardless of the way you create a theme, an easy way to preview it is to use this URL:

http://www.google.com/ig?skin=SKIN_URL
(replace SKIN_URL with the location of your theme's XML file)



An even cooler solution lets you edit the theme directly in iGoogle and see the changes in real-time. Just go to iGoogle, copy the code below and paste it in the address bar (you could also bookmark the script):

javascript:var s=document.createElement('script');s.id="igteid"; s.type="text/javascript";s.src= "http://igoogle-theme-editor.googlecode.com/svn/" +"trunk/iGoogleThemeEditor/dist/ige.js?lang=en&" +new Date().getTime(); document.body.appendChild(s);void(0);


{ The first screenshot is based on the photo Colourful life, licensed as Creative Commons by BlueSunFlower. }

Associate Email Addresses with a Google Account

Alternate email addresses are useful if you forget the password of your Google Account and now you can add more than one. In your account, click on Edit next to "Personal information" and associate additional email addresses with your Google Account. Note that you can't add email addresses already associated with another Google Account or Gmail addresses.

After you associate an email address with your account, Google sends a confirmation message to authenticate that the address is actually yours. An added benefit is that your other email addresses are connected to your account and Google can use this information: for example, Google Calendar shows you the invitations sent to any of the associated email addresses. You can also log in by using any of the additional email addresses.


{ Thanks, Anonymous. }

Related:
Alternate Google usernames

January 18, 2008

AOL Tests Jabber Gateway

Florian Jensen blogged about an AOL test server that lets you connect to AIM and ICQ accounts using XMPP, an open protocol also used by Google Talk. This tutorial shows how to connect using a client that supports XMPP, but you shouldn't expect too much from an experimental project.

Edwin Aoki from AOL confirmed the news: "We've been working really hard over the past few years in making all of our services more open and standards based, working with the SIP as well as the Jabber/XMPP communities. Our XMPP gateway at xmpp.oscar.aol.com, which we've been working on for a while now, is just one approach we're tinkering with. (...) This particular server at xmpp.oscar.aol.com is a test server, so I wouldn't count on it being reliable or even continuously available until we put some more work into it to bring it up to our standards. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for more announcements from us soon."

Justin Uberti, a former AOL employee who now works for Google, is hopeful about the future. "Right now you can only connect to the AIM/ICQ network using this gateway, there is no XMPP Federation. This means that you cannot talk to users on any other IM network at this time, including Google Talk. Hopefully AOL will add support for XMPP Federation in the near future."

For now, Gmail lets you chat with your contacts from AIM or ICQ, but you still need accounts on those networks.

Blogger Becomes an OpenID Provider

After allowing you to authenticate your comments using an OpenID, Blogger is now an OpenID provider. To use any of your blogs as an OpenID identity, you need to check "Enable OpenID for blogs" in your Blogger profile (the feature is still experimental, so it's not added in the public release yet) and save the settings.


Blogger inserts this line in the head section of your template:

<link rel="openid.server" href="http://draft.blogger.com/openid-server.g" />

so now you can use any of your blogs as an OpenID. Some simple things you can do with your OpenID are to claim your blog at Technorati (you still need a Technorati account), sign in using your OpenID at Plaxo, Zoomr or post comments in a LiveJournal blog, like Brad Fitzpatrick's blog. A small inconvenience is that Blogger uses the subdomain of your blog instead of your name.

Yesterday, Yahoo announced it will support OpenID 2.0 (Blogger is a provider for OpenID 1.1), so the future is bright for this authentication system.

January 17, 2008

Yahoo Will Add Support for OpenID


In one of the greatest moves since the Zimbra acquisition, Yahoo announced today that it will provide support for OpenID 2.0 at the end of this month. "Yahoo! (...) announced its support for the OpenID 2.0 digital identity framework for all 248 million active registered Yahoo! users worldwide. OpenID, an open framework based on proven Internet technologies, enables users to consolidate their Internet identity, eliminating the need to create separate IDs and logins at all of the various websites, blogs, and profile pages they may visit in the course of their online session. In addition to the many leading Yahoo! services users already enjoy, anyone with a Yahoo! ID will be able to use the same ID for easy access to any sites that support OpenID 2.0. Yahoo!'s initial OpenID service, which will be available in public beta on January 30, enables a seamless and transparent web experience by allowing users to use their custom OpenID identifier on me.yahoo.com or to simply type in www.yahoo.com or www.flickr.com on any site that supports OpenID 2.0."

From January 30, any Yahoo ID will also become an OpenID that could be used to authenticate on any site that accepts OpenIDs (for example, to post comments on Blogger). Even if many important companies backed this authentication system, very few started to support it and this reduced its usefulness. Yahoo mentions that it will triple the number of OpenIDs to 368 million, although I don't think there's a way to calculate the total number of OpenIDs.

Hopefully this is just a start and many other companies, including Google, will become OpenID providers and will accept OpenIDs.

Related:
Blogger implements OpenID
Use your own domain as an OpenID

January 16, 2008

iGoogle Theme Directory

iGoogle will soon let you create your own theme and upload it to a directory. The documentation for building themes is very detailed and you can already select some themes created by famous designers: Troy Lee's Supermoto Mayhem, Yves Behar's Earth-light, John Maeda's Simplicity is Complex, Mark Frauenfelder's Adventure in Lollipopland and a new theme created by Google: Countryside.

"The Themes API lets you create custom designs for iGoogle. Themes are visual designs that personalize iGoogle pages for millions of users. Themes are not just static designs--they can change throughout the day to reveal a visual storyline, message, or anything else."

Google Code Blog encourages everyone to personalize iGoogle. "Creating your own theme isn't rocket science. If you can create a webpage, then you can create a theme. There are only three steps involved: designing images for the header and footer, entering metadata and color information in an XML file, and submitting the theme."




Update. More themes (not yet included in the directory): Projected Box (3-D rendering of colorful projected boxes), Books, The Sims 2, Spore, Eat Every Sandwich, Harvest Party, Chris Anderson's The Long Tail.

Google to Launch Picasa for Mac

TechCrunch found from a Google employee that we should expect to see a version of Picasa for Mac later this year. "I asked if Picasa for Mac was coming, and as luck would have it I managed to pick the Google employee with the least amount of media training and immediately put her on the spot. Her response: Picasa for Mac is under-development and will be launched later this year."

For now, Picasa only works in Windows and Linux, using WINE. There's also a Mac uploader for Picasa Web Albums that lets you upload photos from iPhoto.

Google is increasingly concerned with supporting other operating systems than Windows: a single Google software works only in Windows - Google Talk, even though there's a limited web version.

Software
Windows
Mac
Linux
Google Toolbar
yes
yes - Apr. 2006
yes - Apr. 2006
Google Desktop
yes
yes - Apr. 2007
yes - June 2007
Google Earth
yes
yes - Jan. 2006
yes - June 2006
SketchUp
yes
yes - June 2006
no
Picasa
yes
no
yes - May 2006
Google Talk
yes
no
no

January 14, 2008

Switch Between Your Gmail Accounts

A useful feature of Gmail Manager, a great Firefox extension that notifies you when you receive new Gmail messages, is that you can easily log in to a different Gmail account without entering the username and password: after adding your Gmail accounts and Google Apps accounts, select the account by right-clicking on the Gmail Manager icon in the status bar and then click on the icon.


Another way to easily switch between your Gmail accounts is the Google Account Multi-Login Greasemonkey script, but it stores the passwords in a non-secure way.

Hopefully, Google will add a feature that lets you link a main Google account with your other accounts and log in once to access all your Google accounts, like you can do in Windows Live Hotmail:


If you want to minimize the number of times you access your secondary Gmail accounts, forward all the messages to your main account and enable it to send messages using custom From: addresses.

Google Prepares for a Better Mobile Web


One reason why Google and other companies develop interfaces optimized for iPhone is that people actually use Apple's phone to browse the web. New York Times (free login) reports that "on Christmas, traffic to Google from iPhones surged, surpassing incoming traffic from any other type of mobile device (...). A few days later, iPhone traffic to Google fell below that of devices powered by the Nokia-backed Symbian operating system but remained higher than traffic from any other type of cellphone."

Google has another reason for providing special interfaces for iPhone: they'll work on Android phones too, since Android's default browser uses the same rendering engine as Apple's Safari, namely WebKit.

Today, in the first day of MacWorld, Google will announce an update for its unified mobile interface, codenamed Grand Prix. Among the new features, the navigation bar will be customizable, Gmail will automatically show new messages without having to refresh the page, the compose page will include contacts, while Google Calendar will add a month-at-a-glance view. The updated iGoogle will probably be integrated in the interface.

"Google, which developed the first version of Grand Prix in six weeks, is introducing a new version on Monday, just six weeks after the first one. That is a speed of development not previously possible on mobile phones," said Vic Gundotra, vice-president at Google.

Vic Gundotra expects that "consumers are going to demand Internet browsers [as good as Apple's]" and the mobile web experience will improve.

Update.
From a Google announcement (my emphasis): "These new features provide iPhone users with a desktop-like Google web application experience in terms of ease-of-use, speed, and feature richness but optimized for the iPhone. This experience is made possible by the iPhone's general usability and the capabilities of its web browser, combined with Google's innovative mobile web applications. We plan to expand this experience to international versions of the iPhone and to other platforms that offer similar usability and browser capabilities. One of our goals is to support platforms that are fulfilling the promise of the mobile web - like the iPhone - and to ultimately deliver unique and compelling mobile experiences that improve people's daily lives."

Update 2: Google Mobile Blog has some screenshots of the updated interface.

January 11, 2008

Search, No Longer the Main Feature of Google Desktop

If you install the latest version of Google Desktop for Windows, you'll notice a new dialog that presents a list of features and lets you select the ones you want. Google Desktop enables by default the sidebar with gadgets, but the search feature is limited to filenames. To actually search the full content of your files, you need to enable the "enhanced search".


This is a strange choice, considering that Google Desktop was built for this "enhanced search", which is now disabled by default. Here's the description of the application when Google launched it, in October 2004:

"Google Inc. today announced a beta desktop search application that enables users to search their email, files, web history, and chats. Called Google Desktop Search, this new application makes it possible for users to find information on their computers as fast and easily as they can search the web with Google."

The desktop search application added gadgets in the subsequent versions and was renamed to Google Desktop. "Google Desktop is a new, easier way to get information – even without searching. You can think of it as a personal web assistant that learns about your habits and interests to identify and present web pages, news stories, and photos that it thinks you will be interested in," explained Marissa Mayer the shift.

Maybe performance was the main cause for disabling search, or maybe users didn't think it was very useful. You can still enable the search feature both when you install the application and in the settings, but not everyone will discover it. I recommended Google's software to someone who needed a tool for searching his documents and I was surprised to hear that the software didn't work as advertised: obviously, Google Desktop didn't index any file.

iGoogle for iPhone

Google created a version of iGoogle optimized for iPhone, that displays all the gadgets and feeds from tab in a single column. To switch to another tab, choose a name from the drop-down displayed at the bottom of the page.

The iPhone interface has a public URL: http://google.com/ig/i, but iPhone users will be automatically redirected to this URL.



The standard mobile version of iGoogle available at http://google.com/m is much more limited: it only displays feeds and a very small number of gadgets, you need to manually add items to your page and you can't change the number of items displayed from a feed. Another limitation is that it only works in the US.


{ via Blogoscoped Forum. The image doesn't show a real iPhone. }

January 10, 2008

Trends in Google Checkout

Google is all about numbers, metrics and stats, so it's natural to see features that explore trends in user's activities. There's a product for search trends, one for music trends and now a product that shows trends in Google Checkout.

"Google Checkout Trends aggregates the sales data of Google Checkout merchants and charts it in a matter of seconds," explains the product's blog. As usually, Google doesn't show actual numbers, just the revenue evolution over time. The charts are borrowed from Google Finance, so they'll look familiar.

Import Your Hotmail Messages into Gmail

I finally found an use for Microsoft's Windows Live Mail, a mail client that replaces Outlook Express as the light version of Outlook. Windows Live Mail has a unique characteristic: it's free and it allows you to access Hotmail accounts. Microsoft also provides a plug-in for Outlook with an exuberant description:

"With Microsoft Office Outlook Connector, you can use Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 or Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 to access and manage your Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail or Microsoft Office Live Mail accounts, including e-mail messages and contacts for free!"

Microsoft probably thinks it makes you a favor by providing ways to access your mail from a desktop client, so it uses a proprietary mechanism that can only be interpreted by Microsoft's software.

But I digress: Windows Live Mail is a good way to migrate the messages from your old Hotmail accounts to Gmail.

1. Enable IMAP for Gmail.

2. Download Windows Live Mail. Microsoft no longer links to the standalone version of the product and it forces you to install a package, but you can choose the software you want to install.

3. Add the Hotmail accounts from Windows Live Mail's interface.

4. Add your Gmail account and make sure you manually configure the IMAP settings.

5. To prevent some new Gmail labels from being created, right-click on your Gmail account from Windows Live Mail's sidebar, select Properties, go to the IMAP tab and uncheck "Store special folders on IMAP server".

6. Then go to the inbox of each Hotmail account, select all the messages (Ctrl+A), right-click, choose "Move to folder..." (or "Copy to folder..." if you want to keep them in Hotmail) and select the Inbox of your Gmail account (or create a new folder). You should repeat this for each folder created in Hotmail.


If you don't expect to receive other message in your Hotmail accounts, uninstall Windows Live Mail. Otherwise, check your Hotmail accounts from time to time and manually move the messages to Gmail. Microsoft doesn't allow you to create rules for IMAP and HTTP mail accounts, so you can't forward new messages to Gmail. If you try to use the forwarding option from Hotmail, you'll notice that Microsoft still tries to keep your mail hostage.

Social Yahoo Mail: from Contacts to Connections

Yahoo's CEO, Jerry Yang, made an announcement at CES about a new version of Yahoo Mail that will be more social and will integrate third-party apps.

"Jerry walked through a vision demo showcasing the possibilities of a more open Yahoo!, in this case focused on one of our key starting points, Yahoo! Mail. He showed how a smarter inbox could prioritize the most relevant connections in his life, both from Yahoo! and multiple social networks, and make all of his communications (email, IM, SMS, voice, status text, photos, etc.) simpler to manage. He then walked through how Yahoo! as an open platform—using Yahoo! Mail, Flickr, Yahoo! Local and Maps, and third party applications like Evite and eBay—could let you tap into the collective tastes, interests, and knowledge of the people you know and of the rest of the world. His example was trying to corral a bunch of very different friends, family, and execs for an awesome dinner. He was able to discover and explore what millions of people find interesting in Las Vegas (via Flickr and our TagMaps prototype) and what his dinner guests might enjoy as well."

It's interesting that the prototype allowed you to create "connections" by adding people from your inbox, your Yahoo Messenger list, but also from social networks like LinkedIn. So Yahoo tries to make the inbox more powerful by unifying all your connections and merging all their details in a single place. Based on information extracted from all these contexts, Yahoo Mail shows a list of the most important updates from your connections.

The third-party apps become tools that help you find information related to conversations and have access to your connections. The maps application can find a restaurant based on the preferences of those you want to invite for dinner.

Yahoo Mail moves from being a mail application to a social application that integrates mail in a broader context. Yahoo intends to connect you more with your contacts and to transform them into connections, links in a social graph.

{ Image licensed as Creative Commons by sdk. }



Related:
More screenshots from the Yahoo Mail prototype
Email connections
Updates from your Gmail contacts

January 9, 2008

RescueTime, Attention Monitoring Tool

What would you get by combining Google Web History with Google Analytics? An application that shows where do you spend most of your time on the web using beautiful charts.

RescueTime takes this idea, but also tracks the usage of desktop applications. "RescueTime is a web-based time management and analytics tool for information workers who want to be more productive. [It] doesn't record what apps or sites you have open, but rather what app or site you are paying attention to!"

RescueTime installs a desktop client (available for Windows and Mac) that monitors the web sites you visit and the software you use. The data is sent to a web application that processes it and displays statistics. For now, you can only see the domains, subdomains and apps sorted by the time spent and details for each item, but it would be interesting to see information about navigation paths and individual web pages.

If you don't like the application or you're concerned about your privacy, RescueTime lets you delete your data. It also makes it clear in the FAQ that the application only monitors "the names of the apps and sites you use and the times that you use them."