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

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July 30, 2008

Bypass Gmail's Spam Filter

If you wanted a way to bypass Gmail's spam filter, now it's possible. Just create a filter that describes the cases when Gmail should not flag the incoming messages as spam and then check "Never send it to spam". To bypass the filter for all the messages flagged as spam, type label:spam in the "Has the words" input box.

I intended to use the new option for my secondary Gmail accounts that automatically forward messages to my main account, but it doesn't seem to work. Until now, the spam messages were not forwarded and I didn't receive many important messages that were mistakenly flagged as spam. Since I can't bypass the spam filter and forward the messages to a different account, another idea would be to use Gmail's mail fetcher for my main account and download the messages from the secondary accounts.

There's one situation that doesn't require to set up a filter: if the messages from certain senders are constantly flagged as spam and they shouldn't be, just add them to your contacts list.


{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

More Options for Printing Directions in Google Maps

Google Maps has changed the layout to the one tested in May. The new interface is less cluttered and it emphasizes the powerful search box that can be used for finding businesses, locating addresses and even for directions. For some strange reason, the directions can't be collapsed and you can no longer reorder the destinations if you enter more than two.


When you print the directions, you'll notice that there are more options: Google can display a map or street view imagery for every step or only for some of the steps. There's also an option to print a large road map. Google suggests to "save trees and go green" by downloading the mobile Google Maps application and using it to get driving directions.


{ Thanks, Tim and Mark. }

Cuil's Query Suggestions

One of the few things that are interesting about Cuil, the search engine launched two days ago, is the query suggestions feature. Most search engines suggest queries using a list of popular searches, but Cuil didn't have this option. The site obtained the suggestions by compiling a list of n-grams from web pages. For example, if you type "web images", you'll get a lot of variations of Google's navigation bar. A Google search for "web images * * *" returns similar results.




A simple way to view just the suggestions is to use:
http://www.cuil.com/suggest?q=click here (replace "click here" with your search). You'll notice that the results are very different than the suggestions from Yahoo, Google or Ask.

Finally, Google!

All the rumors about Google are true. Or at least most of them. I've finally decided to collect some excerpts from news articles and blog posts that announce a new Google service or a new feature and start with "Google has finally". In retrospect, everything seems obvious probably because Google set the bar so high that nothing seems impossible.

#1 "Google has finally launched the long-awaited Lively virtual reality service."

#2 "Google has finally added a link to its privacy policy on its home page."

#3 "Google has finally remembered it has an IM client, releasing a Labs test of a new version of Google Talk."

#4 "Google has finally released its long awaited answer to Amazon's web services."

#5 "Google has finally released a version of its Google Desktop search for Mac OS X users."

#6 "Google has finally enabled offline access to Google Docs using their Google Gears plug-in."

#7 "To google has finally been added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary."

#8 "Google has finally added the long-awaited search box to their popular web-based RSS reader."

#9 "Google has finally come out with Street View."

#10 "Google has finally opened up Orkut subscription for all users."

#11 "Google has finally proved its seriousness about healthcare by opening Google Health release to general public."

#12 "Google has finally launched Google Finance, its Yahoo Finance slayer."

#13 "Google has finally announced its open-source mobile phone software, Android."

#14 "In addition to giving us ever-growing amounts of e-mail space, Google has finally added IMAP access to Gmail."

#15 "Google has finally posted a public message about their new favicon on their official Blog."

#16 "Google has finally released a product/service that is NOT stamped with a 'beta' moniker - Google Checkout."

#17 "Google has finally begun introducing some support for Boolean operators with the addition of an OR operator." (that's from January 2001)

#18 "It may have taken 16 months, but Google has finally done something with its JotSpot acquisition."

#19 "Google has finally announced their long anticipated paypal killer. The name: Google Checkout."

#20 "After gangbuster earnings quarter after quarter, search king Google has finally disappointed Wall Street."

#21 "Google has finally released a beta version of its long-awaited and much anticipated blog search, two years after it acquired the popular Blogger technology."

#22 "Google has finally lifted the invitation-only restriction on opening Gmail accounts."

#23 "Google has finally revealed its hand in the scholarly research market, unveiling a beta search site called Google Scholar."

#24 "Google has finally made another acquisition, and this time, the lucky target was a company known as Jaiku."

#25 "It took nearly a decade, but Internet giant Google is finally honoring Veterans Day with a special holiday design for its famous logo."

#26 "Synchronization is probably the most requested feature for Google Calendar and Google has finally done something about it." (other contexts from this blog)

I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Google has finally launched a browser, an operating system, a time travel machine or that it has finally released a search engine for obvious news.

July 28, 2008

Cuil, a New Search Engine

Cuil, the start-up founded by Tom Costello and two former Google employees: Anna Patterson and Russell Power, unveiled a search engine that claims to have more than 120 billion pages in the index. According to Cuil, that's "three times as many as Google and ten times as many as Microsoft."

At Google, Anna Patterson designed TeraGoogle, a system that is able to index a large number of documents, while Russell Power worked on web ranking and automatic spam detection.


"Cuil's goal is to solve the two great problems of search: how to index the whole Internet - not just part of it - and how to analyze and sort out its pages so you get relevant results." Cuil thinks that today's search engines can't index all the information that is available on the web (more than one trillion pages, according to Google). Even Google admits that it's selective: "many [web pages] are similar to each other, or represent auto-generated content that isn't very useful to searchers".

Regarding ranking, Cuil combines metrics that measure popularity with information about the context of each web page. "Cuil prefers to find all the pages with your keyword or phrase and then analyze the rest of the content on those pages. During this analysis we discover that your keywords have different meanings in different contexts. Once we've established the context of the pages, we're in a much better position to help you in your search."

The most striking new idea is the way search results are formatted. Instead of the ten blue links displayed linearly, Cuil makes better use of the space by using columns. The search engine also shows thumbnails next to some of the results, but they don't always represent images included in the adjacent web page. Another interesting idea is the explorative category section that shows related Wikipedia categories and topics. Cuil has an excellent auto-complete feature and it displays a list of related searches using an design pattern that suggests exploration.


It's probably not fair to compare Cuil with Google, but when Google was launched, users could see substantially better results. Cuil returns results that are either similar to Google's results or substantially worse. In some cases, the site doesn't return any result for your queries, probably because of the huge traffic from the launch day.

Cuil has problems with relevancy, spam, robots.txt (the site indexes albums from Picasa Web) and the number of search results for almost every query is smaller than the number of Google results. This is especially obvious for queries that return a small number of results:

[louis monier altavista research labs]:
- Google: 609 results
- Cuil: 8 results

[teragoogle]
- Google: 634 results
- Cuil: 42 results

All in all, Cuil is the best search engine launched this year, but it doesn't offer convincing reasons to switch from Google. If Cuil focuses on developing technologies that allow faster indexing of web pages, it's probably the perfect match for existing search engines with less frequently updated indexes like Live Search or Ask.com.

Related:
Cuil launches - can this search start-up really best Google?
Ex-Google engineers debut 'Cuil' way to search
TechCrunch's coverage
Cuil shows us how not to launch a search engine

Google Calendar Adds CalDAV Support

After many months of testing, Google Calendar finally adds CalDAV support. "CalDAV is an open protocol that allows calendar access via WebDAV. CalDAV models calendar events as HTTP resources in iCalendar format, and models calendars containing events as WebDAV collections. This allows you to publish and subscribe to calendars, share them collaboratively, sync between multiple users and sync between multiple devices."

For now, the only application supported by Google Calendar is Apple's iCal. "With CalDAV support in Google Calendar, you'll be able to view and edit your Google Calendar events directly in iCal. Any changes you make in iCal will automatically appear in Google Calendar the next time you sign in (and vice versa). If you use iCal while offline, changes you make will be saved and updated in Google Calendar when you get back online."

Rick Vugteveen tested the new feature and found that the 2 way synchronization works well, but there are some problems. "The largest issue that I had is that I needed to create a new CalDav server account for every calendar in Google Calendar. Not only did this make further setup cumbersome, it degraded the iCal UI as a 1-1 relationship between each folder (server) and calendar is created. Normal re-ordering and organization of calendars does not work with this setup so be careful with the order you enter your calendars. This multiple server setup also removed the ability to move events between different calendars within iCal."

This page provides instructions for adding your calendars in iCal and you should also read the known issues.


Google Calendar also provides basic applications for synchronizing data with Blackberry devices and Outlook, but there are many third-party applications that use Google's API to add more advanced functionality: Spanning Sync (iCal - $25/year), BusySync (iCal - $25), Calgoo (iCal/Outlook - free), SyncMyCal (Outlook - $25), gSyncit (Outlook - $10), GCALDaemon (cross-platform/open source), Plaxo (cross-platform/free), GCalSync (Java mobile app - open source), GooSync (SyncML service/mobile app - £20/year), GMobileSync (Windows Mobile - open source), OggSync (Windows Mobile/Outlook - $30/year).

Google News Source Filtering

When you view a cluster in Google News, there's a new option to filter sources: you can restrict news articles to blogs and to local news sites that are relevant to your query. The filters are a good way to find opinionated articles and more up-to-date information from local sites.

Here's an example of cluster that groups articles about some new information regarding last week's Qantas Airways flight that was forced to make an emergency landing in Manila. Google shows three filters: blogs, Australia (Qantas is the national airline of Australia) and Manila, Philippines.

There's also a search box that is supposed to let you find articles from the cluster, but it doesn't work properly right now.

July 26, 2008

iGoogle Redirects

Google would be more than happy if all its users switched from the clean Google homepage to iGoogle. The personalized homepage works best if you have a Google account, it's a way to promote other Google services and to find information about your interests that could be used to personalize search results. At the earnings call from last week, Sergey Brin said that the artist themes launched in April made "hundreds of thousands of people to sign up for iGoogle".

Besides adding new themes to promote the service, Google uses some other tricks to increase iGoogle's usage. If you click on the iGoogle link from the homepage, Google sets a cookie preference so that every time you go to Google.com, you are redirected to iGoogle.


When you add a gadget from a web page to iGoogle, there's a vague setting enabled by default: "See this gadget when you visit Google.com", which also sets a cookie preference that redirects you to iGoogle.


The cookie preference is reverted when you click on "Classic Home" in iGoogle, but the effect of that extra click is not obvious.


"iGoogle is a more personal way to use Google.com. Customize your page anyway you like, by adding your favorite themes and gadgets from across the web." That's how Google describes the personalized homepage of today, the social network of tomorrow.

For those who use both the classic homepage and iGoogle, but would rather see the classic homepage when they go to Google.com, the only solution is to type in the address bar http://www.google.com/ig or http://www.igoogle.com instead of clicking the iGoogle link.

Google redirects people that visit Google.com to different pages, based on their locations or devices, but it would be nice to explicitly define the preferences. Windows doesn't change the default browser to Internet Explorer just because you accidentally clicked on the IE icon.

A Better Interface for Google Bookmarks

Google promotes a new interface for Google Bookmarks, as part of Google Notebook. A similar interface can be accessed directly from Google Notebook if you click on "Unfiled bookmarks".

The old version of Google Bookmarks was integrated with the web history and allowed you to bookmark previously visited pages with one click. Another feature that's missing from the new version is full-text search, since bookmarks have been converted to notes.

On the bright side, the new interface is more responsive, it uses "infinite scrolling" to display the bookmarks and the notes can be formatted using a rich-text editor. Google Toolbar 5 (IE-only) lets you save the selected text from a page, which appears highlighted every time you visit the page.

Google Homepage Links to Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

You may have noticed that Google's homepage has a small message at the bottom: In Memoriam Randy Pausch (1960-2008).


"Pausch, the married father of three, was an energetic and fun-loving computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh when, in 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A year later, despite surgery and chemotherapy, physicians discovered the cancer had spread to his liver and spleen. He had been told he had perhaps six months to live," remembers Chicage Tribune.

On Sept. 18, 2007, Pausch delivered an inspiring speech about fulfilling childhood dreams. "Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals." The video had almost 4 million views at YouTube and Google decided to link it from the homepage (there's also a transcript):



"Get a feedback loop and listen to it... Show gratitude... Don't complain. Just work harder... Be good at something, it makes you valuable... Find the best in everybody... And be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity." That's how it ends.

July 24, 2008

Force Gmail to Always Use Secure Connection

Gmail rolls out a new option that lets you set the https version as default. If you go to the Settings and select "always use https", Gmail will automatically redirect to the secure version. Until now, you had to manually type https://mail.google.com in the address bar, bookmark the address or use a Greasemonkey script.


"If you sign in to Gmail via a non-secure Internet connection, like a public wireless or non-encrypted network, your Google account may be more vulnerable to hijacking. Non-secure networks make it easier for someone to impersonate you and gain full access to your Google account, including any sensitive data it may contain like bank statements or online log-in credentials. We recommend selecting the 'Always use https' option in Gmail any time your network may be non-secure," explains Google.

Read, for example, David Pogue's post about Wi-Fi eavesdropping. "All Jon needed [to read my mail] was a packet sniffing program; such software is free and widely available. (He used a Mac program called Eavesdrop.) It sniffs the airwaves and displays whatever data it finds being transmitted in the public hot spot."

Https is typically used for sites that deal with sensitive data, so you'll see it when you authenticate to sites like Google or Facebook and when you use your mobile banking account, PayPal, Google AdWords and a handful of similar sites. The benefit is that the connection between your browser and the remote servers is encrypted and nobody could capture the sensitive data.

"We use https to protect your password every time you log into Gmail, but we don't use https once you're in your mail unless you ask for it (by visiting https://mail.google.com rather than http://mail.google.com). Why not? Because the downside is that https can make your mail slower. Your computer has to do extra work to decrypt all that data, and encrypted data doesn't travel across the internet as efficiently as unencrypted data," says the Gmail blog.

In addition to the worse performance, Google also mentions that the mobile application could show errors if you don't enable 'Always use secure network connections (slower performance)' in the app's settings section. If you use Firefox, don't forget to disable the Greasemonkey scripts that redirect Gmail to the secure version and to deactivate the similar option from Firefox extensions like Better Gmail and CustomizeGoogle.

The good news is that you don't need a similar setting for other Google applications if you use the navigation bar: Google automatically links to the secure versions of Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Reader and Google Sites. If you don't see the new option in Gmail's settings, you have to wait until Gmail enables it in your account.


July 23, 2008

Share Your Expertise in Google's Knol

Knol is a new Google service created for sharing knowledge. The service has been announced in December 2007 and it's now publicly available.

Knol has much more in common with Squidoo and HubPages than with Wikipedia. The service is centered around authors: each Knol article displays the name of its author and links to a small biography. Google even lets you verify your identity, but this only works if you live on the US.


Knol doesn't intend to become an encyclopedia, so there's no single article about a topic. An author can write about almost any topic, but it's recommended to write authoritative content.

There are three levels of collaboration in Knol:

* open collaboration (any Knol user can edit the article)
* moderate collaboration (any Knol user can suggest changes to the article - enabled by default)
* closed collaboration (only the co-authors can edit the article)

Google uses a rich-text editor borrowed from Page Creator, so it's much easier to edit knols than Wikipedia articles. Users can rate the articles, add comments and write reviews, much like for scholarly works.


By default, articles are licensed as Creative Commons Attribution, but you can change the license in the settings. It's nice to see that Google encourages the use of flexible licenses that allow content reuse.

Like in Blogger, Google provides an option to monetize your articles using Google AdSense, but the ads are displayed in a fixed position. Knol doesn't let you customize the layout of the page and you can't add JavaScript code, objects or iframes.

Search Engine Land says that Knol is a service created by Google's search quality team. "I do believe [Knol] does solve a search problem. The problem we have, unlocking what people know and bringing it online. This is another tool to help release some of this knowledge," explains Cedric Dupont, the product manager for Knol.

While Google has many other services that allow people to share their knowledge (Blogger, Google Docs, Google Sites), Knol encourages experts to make the search results better by sharing what they know. After all, Knol articles are indexed by search engines and Google promises to not give them preferential treatment.

"Your name is behind your knol, and it should reflect your unique point of view. Be succinct, but comprehensive on your topic of choice. Provide references, and display your credentials. Readers will want to know who you are and gain context on the knols you are writing." - these are some of the guidelines for writing good Knol articles.

I think that Google managed to develop a very solid service with a lot of interesting features that encourage originality (a list of web pages with similar content), a sense of ownership (your name is included even in the URL) and information accuracy (peer reviews and suggested edits).


Update. Some example of knols: How to Backpack, Buttermilk Pancakes, Type 1 Diabetes, A Distributed Document Repository.

Export the Feeds from a Google Reader Folder

Most feed readers let you import and export subscriptions using the OPML format. For Google Reader, you'll find this option in Settings > Import/Export.

But what happens when you need to export the feeds from a single folder so you can share them with a friend or upload them to a site? Google Reader lets you export the feeds from a folder:

http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user/-/label/FOLDER
(you should replace FOLDER with the actual name of the folder)

Another way to share the subscriptions from a folder is to make it public and to use this link for the OPML file:

http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user/USERID/label/FOLDER
(USERID can be obtained from the public page created by Google Reader)

This also works if someone shares with you the page of a public folder and you want to obtain the list of subscriptions from that folder. If I share with you my Googlers folder:

http://www.google.com/reader/shared/user/13577231804381328821/label/googlers

you can easily obtain the link to the corresponding OPML file by replacing shared with public/subscriptions:

http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user/13577231804381328821/label/googlers

{ Inspired by Abhijeet M. }

The Unlikely Integration Between Google News and Digg

TechCrunch reiterates the rumor that Google is about to acquire Digg. "The two companies have reportedly signed a letter of intent and are close to a deal that will bring Digg under the Google News property. The acquisition price is in the $200 million range, says one source." While I don't find too many reasons why Google would buy Digg, it's clear that Digg and Google News don't have almost anything in common.

Google hand-picked more than 4500 sources and used them to cluster news articles. The idea behind Google News was to display different perspectives on the same subject and to rank them algorithmically. Even the homepage is generated automatically, based on the editorial decisions of the publication included in Google News. Last year, when Google News added comments, the feature surprised many people: the comments could only come from "people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question".

Digg gets the stories from users, who have to manually submit each item. To be promoted on the homepage, a story has to be voted by a sufficient number of users, who can also post comments. "Digg is democratizing digital media. As a user, you participate in determining all site content by discovering, selecting, sharing, and discussing the news, videos, and podcasts that appeal to you," explains the site. Launched as an alternative to Slashdot, Digg expanded from technology news to general news.

To integrate Google News with Digg, Google would have to radically change its news site and this is unlikely. Besides, Google News could easily add a voting system and user comments like in the recent Google search experiment, without needing a site like Digg. If Google does acquire Digg, I think it's for mining a big amount of votes and detecting patterns that could be used to improve features like "edit search results". Digg is also a good platform for experimenting with filtering information, news recommendations and could be helpful in Google's new social quests.

July 22, 2008

Walking Directions in Google Maps

As anticipated two weeks ago, Google Maps added walking directions. "Starting today, you can tell Google Maps that you want walking directions, and we'll try to find you a route that's direct, flat, and uses pedestrian pathways when we know about them. Just get directions as you normally would. If you're going 10 km or less (some call this 6.2 miles), we'll show you a link that you can click to get Walking directions," informs Google LatLong blog.

The feature is still in beta because Google has incomplete data about pedestrian pathways. Google Maps advises you to "use caution when walking in unfamiliar areas".

Tip. If you only see driving directions, copy the permalink of the page by clicking on "Link to this page", append &dirflg=w and paste the new URL in the address bar.


As usually with Google Maps directions, you can print them, email them, obtain a permalink that can be bookmarked or embed them in a site. Another option is to save the directions as a custom map: just click on "Link to this page", copy the link, add &output=kml at the end and then create a new map in the My Maps tab by importing the KML file.

Until recently, Ask.com offered walking directions, but the feature is no longer available because Ask.com decided to replace its mapping service with Microsoft Virtual Earth.

July 21, 2008

Google Suggests Sites for Your Profile

Google started to use the Social Graph API to suggest links that can be added to your public Google Profile. If you add links to sites that are connected to other sites using FOAF or the XFN microformat, Google makes it easy to import all the links. For example, if you have an account at FriendFeed, add a link to your FriendFeed page to import the sites you shared: videos uploaded at YouTube, Google Reader shared items, del.ico.us bookmarks etc.


Google's unified profiles are slowly added to all Google services that allow user-generated content. "A Google Profile is simply how you represent yourself on Google products — it lets you tell others a bit more about who you are and what you're all about. You control what goes into your Google Profile, sharing as much (or as little) as you'd like," explains Google. For now, the profiles are displayed next to the list of shared items from Google Reader, in the Google Books library and next to the custom maps, reviews and edits from Google Maps.

{ via Blogoscoped Forum }

Better Comment Moderation in Blogger

Blogger doesn't do too much to prevent comment spam. You can enable word verification and annoy your readers, moderate the comments and remove the instant feedback or disable the comments. Until recently, I didn't use any of these options and I manually deleted spam comments one by one, but this becomes excruciating when you have to delete hundreds of comments. So I enabled CAPTCHAs and made it more difficult to post comments.

If you decided that moderating comments is the best way to deal with spam, there's a new option to enable comment moderation only for old posts. I'm not sure if Blogger's default value of 14 days is the best option, but you can change it to any other number. This way your readers will be able to comment on the recent posts without moderation, while the visitors who find older posts using search engines or links from other sites will need to wait until you approve their comments.

Blogger > Settings > Comments

Moderating comments (Blogger can't detect identical comments)


I still think that Blogger needs better tools to filter comment spam and I'm surprised to see that Google can't come up with a real solution like Akismet. The spam filter could also be used in Google Groups, orkut and other community sites.

July 20, 2008

Ads as a Source of Information

At the most recent Google earnings call, Sergey Brin said some interesting things regarding the ads from search results pages. Google tries to reduce the number of ads that are displayed and the number of queries that show ads as it improves the targeting and the ads are more effective.
We try to reduce our coverage at the same time as improving the monetization. But clearly that's not the ideal strategy indefinitely, because we don't want to end up with no ads. And in fact from a quality point of view, we now find our ads are a significant addition quality-wise to our page. They are just a very important source of information. (...) We're all the time running experiments. We run some people without any ads at all, and we know that our ads add value so we know that we're happy about having them.

Jonathan Rosenberg quoted Larry Page, who "often says that we'd be best off if we just showed one ad, the perfect ad". Showing ads that are relevant to the context makes the sponsored links section an alternative to the list of search results, but I wouldn't call some paid links "a very important source of information". Most ads try to convince people to buy a product or a service and to achieve this they may use manipulation or misleading messages.


Last year, one of Google's ad blogs tried to convince healthcare companies to promote their messages using Google ads:
Moore's film [Sicko] portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare's interest in patient well-being and care. Sound familiar? Of course. The healthcare industry is no stranger to negative press. A drug may be a blockbuster one day and tolled as a public health concern the next. (...) Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through Get the Facts or issue management campaigns. (...) We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message.

Advertisers have an agenda and they're rarely objective. They provide facts that are difficult to verify and they rarely support their claims.


AdWords has a big list of guidelines that includes supporting competitive claims, third party verification of the claims and an accurate representation of a product, but not all the ads respect these guidelines.


In an interview from 2004, Sergey Brin said that Google's ads "aren't distracting; they're helpful. (...) We know that when people are looking for commercial things, they use the ads. They know they're ads and they know they're just commercial, yet they use them."

Did you use Google's ads as a source of information? You could check your ad history to see if the ads that attracted your attention supported their claims and offered useful information.

Is a Google Talk Contact Invisible?

Sometimes error messages can reveal more than they were supposed to. Rahul Bansal writes about a simple trick that helps you find out if one of your Google Talk contacts is offline or uses the invisible mode. The trick takes advantage of Google's off the record feature which lets you chat with your contacts without saving the conversations in Gmail.

"Chats that have been taken off the record aren't stored in your Gmail chat history, or in the Gmail chat history of your contact. You and the person you're talking to can both see when a chat is taken off the record, and you'll be notified if off the record mode is disabled. Your off the record settings will apply whenever you chat with this person, until one of you makes a change."

Let's say you want to know if your co-worker Michael is really offline. If you start a chat when he is online and select "go off the record", none of your messages will be saved in Michael's Gmail account. That means the next time Michael appears to be offline and you send a message, there are three possibilities:

1. Michael is offline or he has blocked you: Google will display the error "Michael did not receive your chat" (Gmail Chat) or "Michael may not have received your message" (Google Talk gadget). Offline messages are sent as regular messages in Gmail, but this is not possible because the conversations between you and Michael are off the record. Michael won't receive your message.

2. Michael is invisible: you won't see any error, but Michael will receive your message.

Michael is "invisible"

Michael is now offline

"Now the only tricky part is finding a user online for once to set chat off the records. This doesn't seem hard as invisible status is still limited to Gmail version of Google Talk and you may be in luck if your friend uses Google Talk desktop clients/gadgets or third party IM client to chat," concludes Rahul. It's important to note that the invisible status is available in Gmail Chat, Google Talk gadget, Google Talk Labs Edition and Google Talk for iPhone, not just in Gmail Chat. Of course, your contact can always disable the "off the record" setting or block you.

July 18, 2008

Google's Services Converge in the New iGoogle

Is this Google Reader? It's actually an iGoogle feed in canvas view, which happens to borrow Google Reader's interface. If you click on the drop-down, you can access all your Google Reader subscriptions.


Is this Gmail? It's the Gmail gadget in canvas view, but you get almost all the features available in Gmail's standard interface.


Is this Gmail Chat? It's the chat feature from Gmail integrated in iGoogle's sidebar so that you can chat with your contacts while reading your feeds, watching videos, answering your mail or checking the weather.


The new version of iGoogle, currently available for a small number of randomly-selected users and for developers, will bring together all the Google services in a single fluid interface. At some point, iGoogle was a part of an initiative called Fusion that allowed users to combine content from across the web. The next major iteration of iGoogle goes further and it lets you actually access the full content, monitor the updates and share them with your friends.

Quick tip to access the new iGoogle:
- go to google.com/ig
- paste this in the address bar:
javascript:_dlsetp('v2=1');
- to go back to the old version, paste in the address bar:
javascript:_dlsetp('v2=0');

July 17, 2008

Google Docs in Full Screen

If you need more space to edit your documents in Google Docs or if you want to read a document, there's now a full-screen mode that hides the menus and the toolbar. Just select View > Full-screen mode or type Ctrl-Shift-F to go into full-screen mode. Unfortunately, the same shortcut is also used by the Web Developer extension to display element information, but you can change it in the options.

Since you no longer have access to the menus, it's useful to know the keyboard shortcuts and to remember that Esc brings you back to the normal mode.


If you publish a document and you want to display it in fixed-with page view, just append &pageview=1 to the URL:
http://docs.google.com/View?docid=d0n7b3_3v1l&pageview=1

To hide the footer automatically added by Google, append &hgd=1 to the URL:
http://docs.google.com/View?docid=d0n7b3_3v1l&hgd=1

Gmail and Google Calendar to Add Offline Support

It seems that this year Google's most popular web applications will work offline. After Google Reader and Google Docs, two other services will integrate with Gears. Andrew Fogg saw a preview of the integration at Google's offices and found that Gmail and Google Calendar will add offline support in approximately 6 weeks.

In the past months, Google accidentally enabled the option in Google Calendar and some users saw the dialog illustrated below: "To view and edit the next 3 months of your Google Calendar when you're not connected to the Internet, click OK."

Screenshot licensed as Creative Commons by NOTICIAS-TIC.

Andrew also found out that Google will add SyncML support for Gmail contacts next month. He thinks this is "related to the sync that they worked on with Apple for 3G iPhone". SyncML is a standard for data synchronization supported by a lot of companies. "SyncML is most commonly thought of as a method to synchronize contact and calendar information between some type of handheld device and a computer (personal, or network-based service), such as between a mobile phone and a personal computer."

Update: Andrew Fogg deleted the tweets referenced in the post, but I have a screenshot.

Another update (Jan. 2009): Much later than expected, Gmail gets offline supports.

July 16, 2008

Portable Gmail Contacts

If you use Gmail, many Google services have access to your contacts list and you can easily add addresses using autocomplete or from a contact picker. But what happens when you need to enter an email address on a site that's not from Google? Many news sites have options to send a link to your friends and sometimes this is more convenient than loading Gmail and pasting a link to the article.

Google Contacts Autocomplete is a Greasemonkey script that brings your Gmail contacts everywhere you go on the web. When you start to type the name of your friend or his email address, the script shows a list of suggestions.


For now, the script only provides suggestions for a single email address, but I'm sure this could be easily fixed. Unlike Gmail, the script sorts the suggestions alphabetically, not by affinity.

Google Docs Templates

It's so difficult to start with a blank document, especially when it should have a standard format. Now you can use one of the 309 templates from the new Google Docs directory as a starting point for your timesheets, resumes, invoices, photo albums or party invitations.

"A template gives you a quick start towards creating a document, spreadsheet, or presentation. Each template has boilerplate content and preset design styles that are meant to be reused. (...) You can then edit the document, replacing boilerplate text and images with your own," explains Google.


The option to use a template is available in Google Docs when you click on New > From template and the list of templates that you've recently used can be found here.

While Google doesn't explicitly offer an option to create your own templates, you can save them as regular documents and use File > Save as new copy (Copy spreadsheet) to create duplicates. If you publish a spreadsheet, append &newcopy to the URL to obtain a template link.

July 15, 2008

Almighty Google

The Vacationeers have some new futuristic videos that show an omniscient Google which is already a part of people's lives. After the creepy video about Google Street View, the comedy group explored some other Google services.

Google SMS can sometimes offer free dating advice:


My Maps can anticipate your actions and add placemarks in advance:


Google Moon might show some things that you aren't supposed to know, like the fact that NASA never landed on the Moon.


{ via Jess Lee }

Google's "Edit Search Results" Experiment

Google tests an enhanced version of last year's experiment that allowed users to hide search results and to move some results at the top of the page. The new experiment adds an option to comment on a search results and to view everyone's edits.

According to the FAQ, "your comments and the webpages you add, promote, or delete, along with the user nickname for the account you're logged in with, may be viewed by other Google searchers also in the experiment." Google mentions that this is "an experimental feature served to a random selection of participants and may be available for only a few weeks".

Screenshot licensed as Creative Commons by quasarkitten.


Google explains that the motivation behind this experiment is to test if "giving searchers increased control over their search results improves the overall user experience". Google currently personalizes the list of search results using information from a user's search history, but this experiment lets you create your own list of annotated results and share it with the world.

In a recent post from Google Blog, Amit Singhal said something very interesting:
No discussion of Google's ranking would be complete without asking the common - but misguided! :) - question: "Does Google manually edit its results?" Let me just answer that with our third philosophy: no manual intervention. In our view, the web is built by people. You are the ones creating pages and linking to pages. We are using all this human contribution through our algorithms. The final ordering of the results is decided by our algorithms using the contributions of the greater Internet community, not manually by us. We believe that the subjective judgment of any individual is, well ... subjective, and information distilled by our algorithms from the vast amount of human knowledge encoded in the web pages and their links is better than individual subjectivity.

Update. Justin Hileman has more screenshots that show some other features: you can search everyone's edits and there's a list of search edits for each user. "This whole thing looks like an experiment into crowdsourced search results," concludes Justin.

Update 2. The page where you should see your search edits: http://www.google.com/reviews/w.

July 14, 2008

Google Demoes Video Search with Speech Recognition

Google released a demo for a speech-to-text technology that allows you to search inside a video's content. You can add an iGoogle gadget that is restricted to a small number of political videos from YouTube. Since the gadget is actually an iframe, you can also go to the original page.

"Using the gadget you can search not only the titles and descriptions of the videos, but also their spoken content. Additionally, since speech recognition tells us exactly when words are spoken in the video, you can jump right to the most relevant parts of the videos you find," explains Google.


EveryZing uses speech-to-text technology to search for audio and video across the web. The site has a separate section for YouTube videos, but the coverage is unimpressive.

Find the Email Addresses from a Page with Google Toolbar

Google Toolbar has a useful feature called AutoLink which detects the content from a page that follows some predefined patterns and adds links to pages that offer more information. AutoLink detects US addresses, UPS tracking numbers, International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) and Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) and links to relevant pages from sites like Google Maps, Amazon or CarFax. Despite its name, AutoLink adds the links only after you click on the Google Toolbar button and also shows the links in a drop-down menu.

The latest version of the Google Toolbar for IE (Google Toolbar 5) adds two new patterns: email addresses and URLs. If you click on AutoLink, Google Toolbar will transform into links all the email addresses and the web addresses from a page. You can click on the button again to highlight the content that has been detected, but a better idea is to see all the results in a drop-down.


According to the privacy policy, "AutoLink works by sending Google page text (such as addresses or ISBN numbers) for which AutoLink information is available." I noticed that Google Toolbar sends the address of the page to Google's servers, probably for detecting physical addresses, since everything else can be performed locally.

In 2005, when AutoLink became a part of Google Toolbar 3, many people complained that Google changes the content of web pages, but they ignored that users need to click on a button to add the links. It's also worthwhile to mention that you can change the services that are linked using this feature and that Google doesn't make money from referrals.

Google Suggest Preparing for Global Launch?

Google France's homepage tests a query suggestion feature based on Google Suggest. The feature seems to be enabled only for the homepage and there's a setting that lets you disable it. In March, other people noticed Google Suggest enabled by default at Google.com.


Launched in 2004 as part of Google Labs, Google Suggest is available in many interfaces and in some international Google sites:
* Google Labs
* Google Experimental Search
* Google Toolbar for IE and Firefox
* Firefox 2+ search box
* Google's homepage for iPhone
* Google China, Google Korea, Google Russia, Google India
* YouTube

You can even use the suggestions in your applications thanks to the unofficial JSON API:
http://www.google.com/complete/search?hl=en&client=suggest&json=t&jsonp=CALLBACK_FUNCTION&q=QUERY

Similar suggestion features are already available at Yahoo and Ask.com. Yahoo's suggestion feature called Search Assistant is more advanced as it displays popular queries that contain your keywords, not just queries that start with your text.

July 13, 2008

Gmail Superstars

One of the 13 features added to Gmail Labs in May is Superstars, an extension of Gmail's starring system. Instead of using a single star to flag all the messages, you can choose between 12 icons.


After enabling Superstars in Gmail Labs and clicking on "Save changes", go to the settings and select the icons you want to use. The exclamation mark is useful to flag important messages, quotes could show that a message needs a reply, while the info icon could be used for messages that contain valuable information.


To star messages faster, enable keyboard shortcuts in the settings. "The superstars will rotate when you press the 's' keyboard shortcut or when you click successively," explains Google. "Rotating through the superstars only works when you click (or hit 's') successively. If you pause for a second, then the next click will turn off the superstar. It's designed this way so that if you never click successively, then you'll just get the original on/off toggle behavior."

If you want to find the messages that have a certain kind of star, use one of the following queries:
has:yellow-star (or l:^ss_sy)
has:blue-star (or l:^ss_sb)
has:red-star (or l:^ss_sr)
has:orange-star (or l:^ss_so)
has:green-star (or l:^ss_sg)
has:purple-star (or l:^ss_sp)
has:red-bang (or l:^ss_cr)
has:yellow-bang (or l:^ss_cy)
has:blue-info (or l:^ss_cb)
has:orange-guillemet (or l:^ss_co)
has:green-check (or l:^ss_cg)
has:purple-question (or l:^ss_cp)

You can enable the Quick Links labs feature to save some of these queries so that they are always accessible with a single click. Just search for has:blue-star or any other value and click on "Add Quick Link".

July 12, 2008

Gmail to No Longer Auto Add Contacts

Google has finally realized that it's a bad idea to automatically add to the list of Gmail contacts all the people you've sent an email. An updated version of Gmail's contact manager has a separate section for the people you've emailed: "suggested contacts".

"My Contacts is a place to import, store and view all of the contact information that's important to you. You can also create your own groups of contacts to easily email many people at once. We add people you've emailed to Suggested Contacts. You can move contacts from Suggested Contacts into My Contacts at any time."

There's an option to automatically move suggested contacts into My Contacts if you frequently email them, but the previous behavior doesn't seem to be an option.


I don't have this new version of the contact manager, so if you notice other changes, post them in the comments.

Update (July 16): Gmail's blog announces the new feature, explaining that all of the addresses show up in auto-complete. The contacts are now separated in two sections: My Contacts (the addresses explicitly added to Gmail) and Suggested Contacts (addresses automatically added by Gmail). "By default, Suggested Contacts you email frequently are automatically added to My Contacts, but for those of you who prefer tighter control of your address books, you can choose to disable usage-based addition of contacts to My Contacts."

{ Thanks, Brian G. }

Google Shows Search Volumes

Google AdWords Keyword Tool started to display actual numbers for search volumes. The tool is useful to find related keywords for search ads, but it can now be used to find the number of searches in the previous month and average for the past 12 months. For more accurate results, you should select "exact" in the Match Type column and choose appropriate values for country and language.

Google mentions that the values include the number of searches from the search network (sites like Ask.com, AOL, Netscape) and they're approximate. "These approximate numbers are intended to provide better insight into keywords' monthly and average search volumes than previously provided by the tool. (...) The Keyword Tool also provides several other keyword-related metrics that can help you select highly relevant keywords to improve the overall performance of your campaigns. You can easily view data on advertiser competition, search volume trends, estimated average CPCs, and estimated ad positions for keywords," mentions Inside AdWords blog.

July 11, 2008

Google Notebook Bookmarklet

There are many ways to add notes to Google Notebook: you can visit google.com/notebook or click on "My notebooks" from any Google search results page. To add excerpts from web pages, you need an extension: Google Toolbar 5 for IE or Google Notebook for Firefox. But what happens if you use a browser like Safari or if you aren't allowed to install add-ons?

Google Notebook bookmarklet is a lightweight alternative that doesn't require installation. You just drag and drop a link to your browser's links bar or bookmark the link. To copy some content from a web page to a notebook, just select the text and click on "Note this".


For some reason, Opera can only view notebooks, so this bookmarklet can't be used to add notes.

Related:
Useful Google bookmarklets

{ via Google Notebook Blog }

Find YouTube Videos from a Location

When you upload a video to YouTube, one of the optional fields lets you enter the place where the video was recorded. Now you can restrict YouTube's search results to videos from a certain location. Just click on the "advanced" link next to the search box, type your query, enter the location and click on "show map" to adjust your location.


YouTube automatically detects locations from queries, so it's not necessary to use the advanced search options. A search for [live szeged] displays a small box with four geocoded videos that can expanded to see all the results.

Another way to find YouTube videos recorder in a country or city is to add the YouTube mapplet to Google Maps. In some cases, you can just search for a location, select "Explore this area" and then click on "More videos" to enable the mapplet.


{ via Search Engine Land }

Web Address Mapping for Google Sites

If you use Google Sites as part of Google Apps, you can now map the sites to your domain. Instead of having to link to ugly URLs like http://sites.google.com/a/domain.com/wiki, you'll be able to customize the addresses and replace them with subdomains like: http://wiki.domain.com. "The new location can be your domain home page or any sub-domain in your domain, and can be set up on the Web Addresses tab of the Sites service settings in your Google Apps control panel," informs Google Sites Blog. You can find more details in the help center, which notes that private sites are redirected to the standard URLs.

Many people expected something different from Google Sites and the name doesn't help the service too much. Google Wikis would have reflected the true intention of the service. "A wiki is a website designed for collaboration. Unlike a traditional website where pages can only be read, in a wiki everyone can edit, update and append pages with new information and without knowing HTML. Wikis are great for all types of collaboration, from writing documents and managing projects to creating intranets or extranets," explained JotSpot's intro tour.

Wikis created with Google Sites allow a very limited amount of customization and you can only embed content from trusted sources like YouTube or Google Docs. One of the causes for the lack of customization is that the wikis are hosted at google.com, instead of a separate domain like googlesites.com, and a script could easily compromise your Google account.

July 10, 2008

Popular Posts from Your Google Reader Subscriptions

Depending on the number of subscriptions, if you don't visit Google Reader for 2-3 days, your reading list will have hundreds of new items. Google Reader doesn't provide a way to filter the items that are most relevant to you, so the best idea is to read the new posts from your favorite blogs and then go to "all items" in list view.

Another idea is to use the AideRSS extension for Firefox to restrict the reading list to the most popular items. AideRSS uses some arbitrary data that could measure the popularity of a post: the number of comments, Google Blog Search backlinks, del.icio.us bookmarks or the number of votes at Digg and reddit. All these values are used to calculate PostRank, a number from 1 to 10 that tells the popularity of a post among all the posts from the same feed.

Once you install the extension (or just the Greasemonkey script), AideRSS adds the PostRank value next to the title of each post and lets you filter the most popular posts. If you select a folder or switch to the "all items" view, AideRSS adjusts the ranking values based on the context.


While AideRSS has an interesting approach to deal with information overload, PostRank is not a great measure to determine if a post is popular, since it relies on a small number of arbitrary signals. It's also useless for recent posts and it's biased against popular sites. The extension may slow down your browser if you have many subscriptions.

AideRSS also integrates with NewsGator and it lets you subscribe to the most popular posts from a feed: best posts from Google Operating System or from an OPML file.

{ via AideRSS Blog }