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

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October 31, 2008

Google Uses OCR to Index Scanned PDF Files

Google started to index to full text of "scanned" PDF files using a technique called OCR (optical character recognition). "Every day, people all over the world post scanned documents online -- everything from official government reports to obscure academic papers. These files usually contain images of text, rather than the text themselves. But all of these documents have one thing in common: someone somewhere thought they were they were valuable enough to share with the world," says Evin Levey.

The great thing about the new feature is that you won't notice it unless you look for it, but it improves the quality of Google's search results. Google doesn't mention how many of the 300 million indexed PDF files were converted into text, but you can see some examples if you search for: [repairing aluminium wiring], [Steady success in a volatile world] and click on "View as HTML".


Google sponsors an open-source OCR software called OCRopus and it's likely that Google used it for indexing PDF files from the web. "OCRopus is a state-of-the-art document analysis and OCR system, featuring pluggable layout analysis, pluggable character recognition, statistical natural language modeling, and multi-lingual capabilities. (...) It's initially intended for high-throughput, high-volume document conversion efforts. We expect that it will also be an excellent OCR system for many other applications."

SMS in Gmail Chat

Gmail is about to introduce a new Labs feature that will let you send SMS messages to your contacts from the US, announces InformationWeek. Google explains how it works:
You can send SMS messages to your contacts' mobile phones using Gmail Chat. To do so from Gmail:

1. Enter your contact's name in the 'Search or invite friends' box in Chat, and select Send SMS from the box of options that appears to the right of your contact's name. Or, if you already have a Chat window open for this contact, just click Video & more, and select Send SMS.
2. In the dialog box, enter a phone number in the 'Send SMS messages to this number' field. For now, this feature works only on United States phone numbers. If you're outside the US, you can still use it, but you won't see the SMS option in Chat until you enable it manually in the Chat settings page.
3. Click Save.
4. A Chat window appears. Just type your message as you would normally. When you hit Enter, the message will be sent to the phone number you entered.

If your contact replies, the text message response will appear as a reply in Chat. These conversations are stored in your Chat history just like regular chats (but keep in mind that you can’t go off the record while communicating via SMS).

The nice thing about Gmail SMS is that each user gets a virtual phone number that facilitates replying to messages. "To write back, reply to the message as you would any other text message, and your message appears as a Chat message in your friend's Gmail account. If you don't want to receive any SMS messages from Gmail, reply with the command STOP. If you'd like to block the person who sent you the message, but still be able to get Gmail SMS messages from other contacts, reply with the command BLOCK," informs Gmail's help center.

You probably noticed the reference to a new Gmail option called "Video & more", which suggests that Gmail could add video chat. I don't see the new feature, but InformationWeek mentions that it will be slowly rolled out to all Gmail users and it will only be enabled by default if you are in the US.

Yahoo Mail added a similar feature last year: "From my Yahoo! Mail window (and using my comfortably full-sized keyboard), I can type a note to my son, letting him know I'm on my way to his soccer practice, and send it straight to his phone. And he can send a text message right back to my email, letting me know where to meet him. The intuitive, chat-like interface makes it super easy, even if you're a novice at text messaging."


Even more than Yahoo Mail, Gmail wants to integrate all your communication channels, so it allows you to pull messages from other email accounts, chat with Google Talk and AIM users. The integration with GrandCentral is also bound to happen.

Update: The launch has been delayed. "We found a glitch. When you'd try to turn it on, it wouldn't fully enable. We thought about keeping it out there -- bugs and all -- but the experience wasn't that great. So, in the spirit of Labs, we've pulled SMS chat back to fix it, and we'll get it back out to you as soon as it's ready -- probably within 2 weeks, so stay tuned." AOL must be happy.

{ Thanks, Paul. }

October 29, 2008

Google SearchWiki

Google's experiment that allows users to vote and annotate search results is back and this time it has a name: Google SearchWiki. Justin Hileman is one of the lucky people who has access to the experimental feature: "Things are a bit smoother this time. Moving results is a nice, polished animation. I can't wait for more community features to show up."


Garett Rogers noticed some new messages related to SearchWiki in Google's translation console. Google describes the service as a way to "customize your search results with your rankings, deletions, and notes — plus, see how other people using Google have tailored their searches". You can promote or demote search results, add new web pages to your search results, post comments and read other people's comments. It's not clear whether user votes influence the overall ranking algorithm, but it's likely that this is not the case.


SearchWiki is not yet available to all users, but you can see a small trace by appending "&swm=2" to the URL of a search results page: an inappropriate header for "all SearchWiki notes".

The new feature is a more transparent way to personalize search results; this time, Google allows users to decide which search results are the most relevant and to share those findings with other users. Instead of bookmarking the results or saving them in Google Notebook, you can make them more visible on a search results page and find them when you search later. Unfortunately, Google's interface will become cluttered unless Google decides to hide the new options until you click on a link like "Edit the search results".

Further reading:
* Help page for the initial experiment from last year
* Edit search results FAQ

{ Screenshot courtesy of Keith Dsouza. }

October 28, 2008

More Data About Feeds in Google Reader

Google Reader shows more information about your subscriptions. Click on a feed from the navigation sidebar (or type g, then u, followed by the first letters of the title) and you should see the most recent posts from that feed. If you click on "show details", Google Reader has a lot of interesting data: the number of posts per week, the number of subscribers and a histogram of the feed's activity in the past 30 days.

The most interesting thing is that you can see how many posts you've read and when do you usually read the posts from a feed.



{ via FlowingData }

Feeds for Google Alerts

Google Alerts has a new option: you can now subscribe to feeds instead of receiving periodic email messages. Google Alerts notifies you if there are new pages in the list of top results for a certain query. You can subscribe to alerts for web search, Google News, blog search, Google Groups and Google Video.

Google Groups and Google Web Search are the only search engines from the ones mentioned above that don't provide feeds for the results. In fact, Google is the only major search engine that doesn't offer feeds for search results.

The new feature from Google Alerts is useful, but Google should've provided an option to subscribe to feeds for each search result. Right now, the feeds from Google Alerts have cryptic addresses like:

http://www.google.com/alerts/feeds/LONG_NUMBER/ANOTHER_LONG_NUMBER

and you can only generate feeds from Google Alerts.





Note that you have to log in to a Google account if you want to get feeds for your alerts.

YouTube Highlights Previously Viewed Videos

If you are logged in, YouTube saves a list of all the videos you watch, but there's no interface that displays them. When you perform a search, YouTube shows a label next to the videos you've previously viewed.



Google shows a similar label next to the search results you've already visited from Google search and you can find the number of visits and the date of the most recent visit. The difference is that Google shows your search history and makes it searchable.

Gmail Modes


If you can't access Gmail, try some of these URLs:

Safe mode - http://mail.google.com/mail/?labs=0. It disables the experimental features from Gmail Labs, just in case some of them are buggy. You can remove some of the features from Gmail's settings page.

Secure mode - https://mail.google.com/. It encrypts the traffic between your computer and Gmail's servers. Use it from public computers, Wi-Fi networks or to bypass some proxies and web accelerators. There's a Gmail setting that redirects the standard version to the secure mode ("Always use https").

Older version - http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=1. This version has been replaced in October 2007 by a rearchitectured Gmail, but the old version is a little bit faster.

Basic mode - http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=html. It's the version that doesn't use JavaScript, so it loads faster and it works well with older browsers. Unfortunately, many Gmail features are missing (contacts autocomplete, chat, spell checker, rich formatting) and each click loads a new page. If you like this version, click on "Set basic HTML as default view" at the top of the page.

Mobile mode - http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=mobile or http://m.gmail.com. This is a simplified Gmail interface for mobile phones that has even less feature than the basic mode. Use it if no other Gmail mode works for you.

iPhone mode - http://mail.google.com/mail/x/gdlakb-/gp/. A more user-friendly mobile version for iPhone and other mobile phones that use WebKit-based browsers.

iGoogle gadget - http://www.google.com/ig/gmailmax. This is the canvas view for the updated Gmail gadget which can be found in the new iGoogle. Some people found that this interface bypasses most corporate filters that prevent them from accessing Gmail at work.

"No browser checking" mode - http://mail.google.com/mail?nocheckbrowser. If you use a cutting-edge new browser and Gmail serves you the basic HTML mode, try this URL to bypass browser detection.

Google Gadgets in Gmail

People spend a lot of time in email applications, so it makes sense to have links to other applications and useful information next to the email. Some would like to see their bookmarks, others would find useful to have their agenda and the list of to-do items.

Gmail Labs lets you add two gadgets in the left sidebar: Google Calendar and Google Docs, so you can add events, see your agenda and open recently-edited documents. There's also an experimental feature that lets you add any gadget by entering the address of its XML file, but I couldn't find gadgets that work and look well.

"We realize this isn't very user friendly right now; it's a sandbox mainly aimed at developers who want to play around with gadgets in Gmail. We're not tied to the left-nav as a primary way to extend Gmail -- in fact we think it is relatively limited and doesn't offer scalable real estate. There are also some downsides to the iframe-style Gadgets we're using today -- they can sometimes slow down the page. We're fanatical about speed, so we'll be keeping a close eye on performance," says Dan Pupius.

To make room for the gadgets, you could try these experimental features from Gmail Labs: Right-side chat, Right-side labels (move Gmail Chat and the list of labels in a right sidebar) and Navbar drag and drop (reorder containers).

{ Thanks, roody. }

October 27, 2008

Street View for Spain

Spain is the fifth country from Google Street View's map. You can now view street-level images for the biggest 4 Spanish cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville.

Unlike the previous launches, I was able to find low-quality photographs in less than two minutes, right next to the Royal Palace of Madrid.


Here's Street View's coverage map so far:


{ via Google Blogoscoped }

New Default Groups for Google Contacts

Gmail added three new built-in contact groups. "Friends, Family, and Co-workers are groups to help you organize your contacts. You can move contacts in and out of these groups at any time. Various Google products let you share information with people in these groups. In addition, you can create a Google profile to help people in these groups keep in touch with you. They will be able to easily find your profile from various Google products."

iGoogle is one of the services that will use these groups for managing your shared activities. One size doesn't fit all, so separating your contacts could simplify the way you share and receive information.


If you don't like the new groups, the bad news is that you can't delete them. Try to ignore them, but keep in mind that they'll be useful at some point.

Google has three other default contact groups: My Contacts (manually-added contacts), Suggested Contacts (email addresses collected from your conversations) and Most Contacted (20 frequently-used email addresses). Google no longer automatically adds email addresses to My Contacts. "Only contacts that you've edited, imported or added to a group will remain in My Contacts. This will provide everyone with a clean slate and, we hope, a better point for syncing contacts with mobile devices."

{ Thanks, Roody. }

150,000 of Google Profiles

Google wants to index all the existing public profiles of Google users, so it created an index of sitemaps and placed the address at google.com/robots.txt. Since the Sitemap protocol has been adopted by all major search engines, creating a sitemap is the easiest way to inform search engines about a large number of web pages from your site that don't have backlinks.

The sitemaps include about 150,000 Google profiles and this seems to be the number of people who took the time to create a profile in Google Maps, Google Reader and the other services that integrated the unified profiles. Since Google didn't promote this feature, the number of people that create a profile will increase once it becomes more visible.

As Jérôme Flipo noticed, Gmail started to link to the profiles pages of your contacts, probably only for Google Talk friends.


To create or edit a profile, visit this page and enter as much or as little as you want. "A Google profile is simply how you present yourself on Google products to other Google users. With a Google profile, you can easily share your web content on one central location. You can include, for example, links to your blog, online photos, and other profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and more," explains Google.

Google Earth for iPhone

The first desktop application ported by Google to a mobile phone is Google Earth. iPhone and iPod Touch users can download for free from the App Store the best way to explore satellite imagery in 3D.

"Not only is having Google Earth on your iPhone convenient, but the touch interface is a very natural way to interact with the Earth. Just swipe your finger across the screen and you fly to the other side of the globe; tilt your phone and your view tilts as well. You can pinch to zoom in or out, or just double tap with one finger to zoom in and two fingers to zoom out," says Google LatLong Blog.


CNet writes that iPhone's multitouch makes the experience much more intuitive than in the desktop version of Google Earth. Like Google Maps for Mobile, the application can detect your location using information from GPS, Wi-Fi networks, and mobile phone towers. You can explore interesting places and discover more about them using the integrated layers: Wikipedia and Panoramio photos.


The cool applications that were only available from your computer start to be ported to mobile phones. In the future, the most exciting applications will be first launched for mobile phones.

Google Street View Tidbits

The French blog Zorgloob found some interesting information about Google Street View, the project that wants to capture street level photographs all over the world.

After launching Street View in the US, Australia, Japan and France, Google will expand the coverage to Spain tomorrow. The next countries will be Italy, Germany, UK and the Netherlands. Google has just started to capture photos in the Eastern Europe, as you can see from these images taken in Bucharest, Romania.


Zorgloob estimates that Google's cameras take 8 simultaneous photos every 5 meters and each compressed photo has about 1 MB. That means each kilometer adds 1.6 GB of data.

And when Street View cars aren't allowed, Google uses tricycles. Capturing street-level imagery is a big effort (Zorgloob says that Google Street View costs 500 million Euro) and it may seem that the benefits aren't very significant, but Street View makes Google Maps more valuable and it's a great opportunity to connect Google with the real world.

Zorgloob's original article (in French) | English translation

October 26, 2008

Link Within a YouTube Video

Two weeks ago, I posted how to embed a YouTube and make it start from a certain point. Now you can do the same thing for YouTube's watch pages: just append #t=XXmYYs to a YouTube URL, where XX is the number of minutes and YY is the number of seconds. For example:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBNDYggyesc#t=24m30s.


Google Video has a similar way to link within a video: add #XXmYYs to a URL. YouTube implemented another feature from Google Video: when you mention a time value in a comment, YouTube automatically creates a link that takes you to that sequence.

It seems that YouTube gradually adds all the features from Google Video: captions, MP4 downloads (not yet linked from the interface), theater view, but Google Video doesn't receive too much attention. I wonder if Google will disable the video uploading feature from Google Video and migrate all the existing videos to YouTube.

{ via TechCrunch }

October 24, 2008

Search from YouTube's Player

At the end of a video, YouTube's embedded player displays a list of related videos. If they're not very relevant or you have a specific video in mind that you want to see, use the new search box and type a query. To see more results, click on the right arrow.

Unfortunately, you can't go back to the list of results after selecting a video and the related videos displayed at the bottom aren't updated, but this is yet another step towards a more interactive player.


Here's a video where you can see the new feature in action (wait until the video ends or click on the up arrow button and select the only option that's available):


In other YouTube news, the homepage is more customizable: you can select how many videos are displayed in each module and change the layout to list view or grid. There are two new modules that show statistical information about your uploaded videos: Insight Map and Insight Chart.

{ Thanks, Phil. }

Android Market Fees

Last month, Google said that Android Market is a key component for all mobile phones that run Android. "We made a strategic decision not to revenue share with the developers. We will basically pass through any revenue to the carrier or the developer."

Android Market is now live, but developers can't upload their applications until next Monday. For now, developers can only upload free apps and they're required to pay $25 before registering. "We charge this fee to encourage higher quality products on the market (e.g. less spammy products)," explains Google.

From next year, developers will be able to distribute paid applications. Google opted for a similar revenue sharing model like Apple (70/30), except that 30% of the revenue will go to carriers. "Developers will get 70% of the revenue from each purchase; the remaining amount goes to carriers and billing settlement fees — Google does not take a percentage. We believe this revenue model creates a fair and positive experience for users, developers, and carriers," notes Eric Chu.

Although applications are one of the most exciting things about Android-powered mobile phones, Google didn't manage to provide an auto-update mechanism for applications and you can only install applications on the phone's internal memory.

October 23, 2008

Gmail Emoticons :-)

Here's a Gmail feature I wouldn't have noticed without a post from Gmail's blog: emoticons. If you use the rich-text mode when composing messages, you can now include small images that reflect your intentions.

"The black and white days of text-based emails have had their day. Following the evolutionary path blazed by colored labels, we present, in all their technicolor glory, emoticons in your mail," says Darren Lewis from Google.


Google also added a new set of emoticons in Gmail Chat and it's strange to see that you can add much more emoticons in an email than in an IM conversation.

Gmail Mobile App 2.0

Google released version 2.0 of Gmail's mobile application for Java-enabled phones. The new version has been initially released for Blackberry phones, but you can now use it on any phone that supports Java.

What's great about Gmail Mobile 2.0? It works offline: you can preload messages from the inbox and from all your labels to read them when you are offline. You can also compose messages when you don't have an Internet connection and Gmail sends them when you are online.

The application notifies you when there is new mail in the inbox, so you don't have to constantly click on Refresh. It's now possible to save the credentials for more than one Gmail account and switch between the accounts directly from the menu. What's more, Gmail Mobile 2.0 supports Google Apps accounts, which previously required a separate application.

Some cool things to try:
* scroll using the left or the right key of your phone
* the updated interface for contacts which has more powerful search

To install the new version, go to m.google.com/mail from your mobile phone's browser. From what I noticed, this version is less responsive than Gmail Mobile 1.5 and it uses more data.

October 22, 2008

G1 Promoted on Google's Homepage

Is this the first time when Google promotes on the homepage a gadget? Some users from the US spotted an interesting line below Google's search box: "New! G1 is available now. Learn about the phone."


The landing page links to t-mobileg1.com and features Google's homepage on Android's WebKit-based browser and a Street View image from New York.


G1 is more than just the first Android-powered phone, it's a true Google phone. It comes preloaded with everything that's necessary to enjoy Google's services on a mobile phone: it's easy to search on the web using Google, YouTube and Google Maps are ubiquitous, your contacts, emails and calendar events are synchronized to a Google account.

Ten years after making the web searchable, Google brings the web into your pocket. A web that's more personal and more relevant to your life.

Related:
G1 launch event in San Francisco

Gmail Autoresponder

If you've ever sent an email to Google's support addresses, most likely you received an automatic reply vaguely related to your message. Using a new feature from Gmail Labs, you can create your own canned messages and use them as automatic replies.

"If you're sick of typing out the same reply every time someone emails you with a common question, now you can compose your reply once and save the message text with the "Canned responses" button. Later, you can open that same message and send it again and again," explains Chad Perry.

After enabling "Canned Responses" in the settings page for Gmail Labs, you'll see a new drop-down when composing a message. The "canned responses" option can be used to save a new message or to load an existing autoreply. It's interesting that Gmail saves the messages as hidden drafts: you can find them if you search for label:drafts, but they're not visible in the Drafts view.



The best thing about the new feature is that Gmail added a new action for filters: "send canned response". If you receive many messages about the same issue and you have a standard response, create a filter that includes some relevant keywords and select an existing canned response. This should come in handy if iGoogle users continue to ask how to go back to the previous version of Google's personalized homepage.


{ Thanks, {roody}. }

October 21, 2008

Android Is Now Open Source

One day before T-Mobile G1 goes on sale and one year after the first Android announcement, Google open sources Android.

Android is not the first open source mobile OS, but it claims to be "the first free, open source, and fully customizable mobile platform. Android offers a full stack: an operating system, middleware, and key mobile applications. It also contains a rich set of APIs that allows third-party developers to develop great applications."

The source has about 2.1GB, but you need to use Linux or Mac if you want to build it. Alternatively, you can inspect the code online.

Android comes with a list of applications that provide basic features: a phone application, a web browser, a media player, but all of them can be replaced. Even if T-Mobile G1 has a lot of strange limitations, like the requirement to have a Gmail account or the limit of maximum 5 additional email accounts, it's important to remember that G1 is the first, but not the only Android phone and these issues could be solved by third-party applications and future mobile phones.


{ Image licensed as Creative Commons by jugglerpm. }

October 17, 2008

Google Chrome to Add Greasemonkey Support

A recent build of Chromium, the open source project behind Google Chrome, added support for user scripts. For now, the support is limited: Chromium reads the scripts from the hard-coded directory c:\scripts and it ignores the @include metadata which restricts scripts to one or more web addresses. To enable Greasemonkey support, you need to use the flag: --enable-greasemonkey, for example by appending it to the target of a shortcut.

I tested the Greasemonkey support with the old script Linkifier, which turns text URLs and email addresses into links.


The new feature has been contributed by Aaron Boodman, the creator of the Greasemonkey extension for Firefox, who happens to work at Google.

In September, Google's Sundar Pichai said that Chrome will have an API for extensions. "We don't have that in the beta today, but we definitely plan an extension API. It is one of the things we will get to next." It seems that Google Chrome will provide native support for Greasemonkey scripts before releasing the API.

Tips:
* to get early access to developer-oriented Google Chrome builds, subscribe to the Dev Channel and read the release notes.
* the latest Chromium snapshots are available at the BuildBot site, but they don't support Google's auto-updater and they're less stable than the official releases. You only need to download the file chrome-win32.zip from the most recent folder.

Footnotes in Google Docs

Google Docs added footnotes, a feature that would've been useful for those who write academic papers or books if it were implemented properly. You can insert a footnote by clicking on the Insert menu and selecting Footnote.

"Footnotes appear on-screen in the document margin and at the bottom of the page when printed. You'll be able to see how the footnotes will appear when printed by selecting Print (Ctrl+P) or Download file as... PDF from the File menu. There will also be a footnote marker within the actual document designated by a pound sign (#). You can drag and drop a footnote anywhere you'd like in the document by simply clicking on this pound sign and dragging," notes Google's help page.


Google did a good job at integrating footnotes in the interface, but they should be displayed at the bottom of the page and they should be numbered. Unfortunately, Google Docs still doesn't support pagination.

Another compatibility issue is that word processors will display footnotes as endnotes, at the end of your document.

October 16, 2008

The New iGoogle, Publicly Launched

After months of painful testing, the new version of iGoogle has been launched for everyone in the US. iGoogle 2.0 moves the tabs to the left, brings a persistent Google Chat widget and it adds a canvas view that allows gadgets to become full-fledged applications.

"Canvas view allows developers to deliver richer content, games, and UI to users on iGoogle as well as the opportunity to monetize," explains Google. Not all the gadgets take advantage of the canvas view, but this page highlights some gadgets that can be maximized and the list includes: Google Reader, Google Calendar, Gmail, weather, Wall Street Journal and regular feeds. For example, the new Gmail gadget lets you read your messages and send replies directly from iGoogle, but it lacks some features that would've made it a good replacement for the full-featured Gmail: links and attachments are stripped from messages.

Google has been testing the new version of iGoogle for the past three months on a small sample of users and many of them complained about the new navigation interface.



"We're very excited about these changes because it makes iGoogle a more useful homepage and a better platform for developers. And this is just the beginning: expect to see more canvas gadgets created by developers and more new features on iGoogle soon. Not in the U.S.? Don't worry. We'll also be rolling out this updated version in other countries very soon," mentions Google's blog.

The next big thing for iGoogle is the support for OpenSocial that will make Google's personalized homepage more social.

Update: For those who don't have the new iGoogle yet, go to the settings page, change the language to English (US) and then go to this URL: http://www.google.com/ig/v2invite.

If you have the new version, but you prefer the previous interface, go to the settings page and select English (UK) from the list of languages. Please note that this is just a temporary fix.


{ Thanks, Pascal, Samuel, Chrissz and everyone who commented. }

October 15, 2008

KallOut, Powerful Contextual Search

When you read an article, you often find concepts or names that aren't properly explained, but it's inconvenient to interrupt your reading and use a search engine to find more information. KallOut is a Windows application that addresses this problem: whether you read the document in a browser, a word processor or in a PDF reader, you can select some text and obtain some useful information in a mini-browser.

KallOut lists many search engines and reference sites from which you can choose, but it also suggests good options. For example, if you select "DMCA takedown", KallOut suggests an article from Wikipedia, for "Flickr" KallOut points to Flickr's homepage, while "NY" is linked to Google Maps and geotagged photos from Flickr.



The software displays search results, maps, videos, Wikipedia articles, definitions, translations - all without opening a new page. For now, KallOut supports Internet Explorer, Firefox, Microsoft Office 2003/2007, Adobe Reader, WordPad and Notepad.

Internet Explorer 8 introduced accelerators, a similar feature that already has a public API and an impressive gallery, but KallOut is not limited to Internet Explorer, it's easier to use and it requires less clicks.

October 14, 2008

Google Street View Expands Coverage in France

After including Tour de France's routes in Street View, Google expands the coverage for France, by adding Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Lille and Toulouse. The French blog Zorgloob links to a video prepared for the launch:


If you've never visited Paris, Street View is a great way to explore Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, Basilique du Sacré-Cœuror or Jardin du Luxembourg.

Here's a "flipbook" created using still images from Paris:

How Many Times Have You Searched Google?

While it's difficult to estimate your number of searches, Google Web History shows the total number of searches performed when you were logged in. The service was launched in April 2005, but my account shows data from December 2005.

Google Web History is enabled by default when you create a Google account and it records your searches, the search results you click on and your browsing history, but the last feature is opt-in.


In 2003, Google tested a counter that displayed the number of searches, but that feature didn't go live. "The counter is displayed at the bottom of Google's home page, and shows both a numeric count and a color bar to represent the frequency of your searching. (...) Beyond being an interesting gimmick, what's the purpose of the counter? Though Google has removed the counter FAQ page, its answer to the question What do I win was the zen-like There is no winning. There is only self-awareness. The search is endless."

Who Links to Non-Existing Pages from Your Site?

Google Webmaster Tools is a valuable source of information if you have a website: Google lists crawl errors, popular searches that lead to your site, backlinks and SEO tips. Until now, Google listed the URLs from your site that returned the 404 (page not found) error, without mentioning how GoogleBot found those addresses. This has been fixed and you can find the list of pages that link to broken URLs from your site in the "Linked From" column of the "Diagnostics > Web crawl > Not found" report.


"If we report crawl errors for your website, you can use crawl error sources to quickly determine if the cause is from your site or someone else's. You'll have the information you need to contact them to get it fixed, and if needed, you can still put in place redirects on your own site to the appropriate URL," suggests Google Webmaster Central blog.

October 11, 2008

No More Annoying Frames in Google Video

Google has finally made the right decision and it removed that were created when you clicked on a result from Google Video. Instead of directly linking to the original site, Google used frames to show both the external site and a list of related videos from Google Video. This duplicated the functionality from video sites like YouTube, while making it difficult to navigate and to share a URL.

Here's the first version of the frame, from June 2007:


... and a screenshot from April 2008, when Google Video has been redesigned:


Google Image Search uses a similar frame, but it's more useful as it provides information about search results. If you don't like the frame from Google Image Search, you can use Greasemonkey scripts like Google Image Relinker or Google Image direct links to bypass it.

October 10, 2008

Embed a Part of a YouTube Video

If you want to embed a YouTube video that starts to become interesting somewhere in the middle, there's a simple way to skip the boring part. YouTube's embedded player has a parameter that lets you specify the number of seconds that should be skipped before starting to play the video. Here's how you should edit the code: append &start=[number of seconds from the start of the video] to both URLs.

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/abcdefghijk&hl=en&fs=1&start=15"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/abcdefghijk&hl=en&fs=1&start=15" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

For example, the video below includes some excerpts from Google Chrome's launch, but I skipped to the last part, when Sergey Brin answers some interesting questions.


Unfortunately, YouTube doesn't provide an option to link to a part of the video, but you can still use the embedded player:
http://www.youtube.com/v/w8oPEJiCqi4&start=249&autoplay=1,
where the autoplay parameter is necessary to automatically start the video.

Since there's no end parameter, you can try Splicd, a site that uses YouTube's API to isolate a part of a video.

Related:
YouTube embedded player parameters

Advanced IMAP Settings for Gmail

Gmail offers more options for IMAP through an experimental add-on from Gmail Labs: "Advanced IMAP Controls". After enabling the add-on, you'll find two categories of options:

* the Labels tab lets you control which labels show up in your email client, including built-in labels like Drafts, All Mail, Spam or Trash. If you have a lot of messages in your Gmail account, most email clients will perform poorly when processing the "[Gmail]/All Mail" folder, so you might hide it.


* the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab lets you turn off auto-expunge. "The IMAP protocol allows messages to be marked for deletion, a sort of limbo state where a message is still present in the folder but slated to be deleted the next time the folder is expunged. In our standard IMAP implementation, when you mark a message as deleted, Gmail doesn't let it linger in that state -- it deletes (or auto-expunges) it from the folder right away. If you want the two-stage delete process, after you've enabled this Lab, just select 'Do not automatically expunge messages' under the 'Forwarding and POP/IMAP' tab in Settings," explains Gmail's blog.


If a message is removed from the inbox or from a custom IMAP folder, Gmail still keeps it in "All Mail". You can now change the default behavior and instruct Gmail to send the message to the trash or to delete the message forever.

October 9, 2008

Enhanced Snippets for Discussion Boards

Google has been experimenting with displaying additional information for discussion boards in the search results and now the experiments are live. Below the title, Google lists automatically generated data about forum threads: the number of posts, the number of authors and the date of the last post.

The additional information helps you decide if the search result is likely to be useful. If a thread has a single post or the last post is very old, you could ignore the result.


This new feature shows that Google is able to automatically classify web pages and to extract relevant information. Once Google starts to show data for other kinds of web pages, we can expect to see an option to restrict the search results to a certain category (forums, reviews, blogs, news articles).

Related:
Google detects the published date of a web page
Metadata for scientific papers in Google's search results

October 8, 2008

YouTube Links to Online Music Stores

YouTube started to add links to iTunes and Amazon MP3 for music videos from EMI Music and Universal Music. "Click-to-buy links are non-obtrusive retail links, placed on the watch page beneath the video with the other community features. Just as YouTube users can share, favorite, comment on, and respond to videos quickly and easily, now users can click-to-buy products -- like songs and video games -- related to the content they're watching on the site," announces Google Blog.

YouTube hopes to add this option for other types of videos and to offer an alternative way to monetize videos. "Our vision is to help partners across all industries -- from music, to film, to print, to TV -- offer useful and relevant products to a large, yet targeted audience, and generate additional revenue from their content on YouTube beyond the advertising we serve against their videos."

For now, the links are only available in the US, but they will be added internationally if this experiment turns out to be a success. YouTube shows ads only next to the videos uploaded or claimed by its partners, which account for 4% of the videos hosted by YouTube.

Machine Translation and Speech Recognition at Google

Google's technologies for automatic translation and speech recognition already have visible results: you can translate texts in 35 languages at translate.google.com or use voice to find a local business with GOOG-411, but Google intends to expand their use. You should be able to translate an email written in a foreign language or find answers to simple questions by voice.

Mike Cohen, who leads Google's speech technology efforts, and Franz Och, machine translation researcher, chat with Alfred Spector, VP of Research and Special Initiatives at Google, about two technologies that might seem unrelated to Google's core competency. Both statistical machine translation and speech recognition are search problems and Google's computer infrastructure can process large amounts of data that are needed to build language models. Another big advantage for Google is that it has popular services that generate a lot of useful data.

"When we first created GOOG-411, we had no speech data. Because we had so much query data here at Google (textual queries that people had typed to Google Maps), we could already train a pretty good language model. Now, obviously, text is a little different than speech and now that we've also trained on speech, we have better performance than we had back then, but even out of the box we could get good performance on that problem because we had so much textual data," says Mike Cohen.

October 6, 2008

YouTube Theater View

YouTube shows a new option for long videos: a theater view that enlarges the player and fades out the rest of the page. Randall Munroe's talk at Google and Steve Jobs' speech at Stanford are two examples of feature length videos that should display the new option.


You can restrict YouTube's search results to feature length videos by appending &longform=1:
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=site:youtube.com&longform=1

It's not clear how YouTube filters feature length videos, but most of them are from the Authors@Google series, Standford University, Carnegie Mellon University and Vancouver Film Studios.

If you want a YouTube interface that looks more like Google Video, try the YouTube Googler Greasemonkey script.

{ Thanks, Daniel. }

Better Answers in Ask.com

Ask.com went back to its roots and enhanced the snippets for search results if the query is a question. Snippets are usually excerpts that include your query, but Ask.com replaced them with the actual answers, as you can see if you search for [how to tie a tie]:


"Presenting direct answers to your searches, front and center, has always been at the heart of the Ask.com experience, and we push further down that path today with the introduction of three new answer technologies: DADS, DAFS, and AnswerFarm. These technologies take both structured and unstructured data, and - instead of delivering a title and description for each document - they deliver answers," explains Ask's blog. This is a clever idea, but Ask.com only shows at most 2 results with enhanced snippets.

The new feature is part of a broader update that mixes specialized search results with organic web results, much like Google's universal search. Ask.com goes one step further and almost eliminates standard, as you can see if you search for [Madonna]: in the top 10 results, you can find 4 web search results, one direct answer, image results, news results, event listings, video results and an encyclopedia result.

Google Spreadsheets Redesign

One more step towards a consistent Google Docs interface: Google Spreadsheets has been redesigned and it now includes the same old-fashioned menu like the word processor and the presentation app.

"We were hoping to accomplish three things with it: make it faster, make it more consistent with our siblings (documents and presentations), and give us more room to add features without clutter," explains Google.

The toolbar includes some of the most frequently used features, but I don't think Google did a job at ordering them: for example, the cell formatting options are too prominent, while pasting and sorting have been neglected. It's great that the formulas can be added without switching to a different tab and you can share the spreadsheet without opening a new page. The most stylish UI element is the chat box that can be loaded by clicking on "(name) is viewing...".


If you don't remember the previous interface, here's a screenshot:


A very cool new feature is the full-screen mode: press Ctrl+Shift+F repeatedly to alternate between two full-screen views and the standard view. The same shortcut lets you switch to the full-screen mode in the word processor, but you need to press Esc to return to the normal mode. Where is the consistency?

{ Thanks, Kevin. }

October 4, 2008

Audio Knols

Google Knol tests a cool feature that automatically converts articles to audio files, which can be played or downloaded. For now, the option is available for a small number of knols, like this one about multiple sclerosis.

"We are experimenting with Audio Playback as an option for some knols, starting with a handful of English language featured knols. If this experiment is successful, we may make Audio Playback available to more knols in additional languages, and additional features," mentions a Knol help page.


Hopefully, Google will add support for text-to-speech conversions to other services like Google Docs, Google Reader or Google Book Search.

October 3, 2008

Google Tests Image Search Ads

TechCrunch reports that Google started to experiment with displaying ads next to image search results. This isn't a surprise, since Google announced in May that it intends to test display ads.

There are different formats and positions for the ads, which combine a small image with a standard text ad. Steve Poland spotted a blended ad that looked deceivingly similar to an image result.

"The big insight of Google wasn't text ads; it was that the ads should be conducive to the format. We were doing text-based search that was all textual. Visual ads don't work in that format," explained Marissa Mayer in February, when Google started to test video ads next to web search results.


Google Image Search prepares to become more useful by adding options to find similar images, recognize faces and objects. The new features will increase the site's popularity and will attract more commercial queries that could be monetized using display ads.

No More Definition Links in Google Search?

One of the easiest ways to find definitions for words and idioms was to do a Google search and then click on the words from Google's blue bar. Google linked to dictionary.com until 2005, when it switched to the more comprehensive answers.com. Unfortunately, the feature is no longer available and users will have to find other ways to get definitions.


Here are some other ways to find definitions using Google:

1. search for [define word] and you'll get a short definition for your word, most likely from WordNet. To get other definitions from different glossaries and dictionaries, click on "web definitions for...". Example: define cup.


2. a shortcut for finding a list of definitions from the web is to use the define: operator. Just search for define:cup and you'll get a lot of definitions from a variety of source, but not all of them are authoritative.

3. subscribe to the Merriam-Webster OneBox to add a special search result with definitions.


According to Search Engine Land, Answers.com got 20-25% of its traffic from the Google definition links in 2007 and there wasn't any paid deal between Google and Answers.com. The only other important search engine that shows definition links is Yahoo, but it doesn't use a third-party service.

{ via Google Blogoscoped }

Update: The feature is back. Maybe it was just a technical glitch.

October 2, 2008

Google Homepage Time-lapse

You can go back and see how Google's homepage evolved in the past 10 years. The video uses cached versions of Google's homepage from Internet Archive.


Google's special site for the 10th birthday shows 17 of the most interesting homepage interfaces and Philipp Lenssen analyzes some of them. My favorite Google homepage is the one from April 1999 which only included a search box, two buttons and a link to "More Google!". If you like it, there's a slightly different version at google.com/ie_rsearch.html.

Google linked to many pages that no longer exist, but they're still available at Internet Archive:
* some credits from 1998
* press coverage from 1998-1999
* older versions of Google's logo
* Google's affiliate program
* an old Google tour
* the special Katrina page.

The Invisible GoogleUpdate.exe

Most of the recently released Google software uses live installers that download the required files from Google's servers and enable an auto-updater. Whether you want to install Chrome, Gears, Lively or Google Earth's plug-in, Google first downloads a small setup file that needs an Internet connection to obtain the software.


The most important reason why Google doesn't provide offline installers for these applications is the auto-update software, which has a separate development cycle. Instead of integrating an auto-update feature in all the applications, like in Picasa, Google Desktop or Google Toolbar, Google decided to create an independent tool that deals with keeping Google software up-to-date.

"GoogleUpdate.exe is a software component that acts as a meta-installer and auto-updater in many downloadable Google applications, including Google Chrome. It keeps your programs updated with the latest features. More importantly, GoogleUpdate allows your Google applications to be rapidly updated if security flaws are discovered," details Google.

Web applications can be easily updated and everyone gets the latest version, but desktop software needs to be updated manually or by the software itself. Google chose to automatically update most of its applications, in many cases without providing an option to disable the updates and without informing the user when a new version is installed.

GoogleUpdate automatically runs in the background when you start your computer and it connects to Google's servers every few hours to check if there are updates and to report some usage data.

"When GoogleUpdate communicates with Google servers, it sends IDs of GoogleUpdate-managed applications on your computer and general usage information for these applications. GoogleUpdate also uses its own, randomly-generated unique ID number to accurately count total users. This information includes version numbers, languages, operating system, and other install or update-related details, such as whether or not the applications have been run."

GoogleUpdate is installed as a system service, which can be disabled from the services console, but there's no transparent option to uninstall it. It also installs the GoogleOneClick plug-in for Firefox, IE, Chrome that allows Google to launch the updater directly from a web page. If you kill GoogleUpdate.exe from the task manager, a scheduled task will reopen the service when your computer is idle. Google says that the service is uninstalled a few hours after you uninstall the last application that uses it. "Google Update Service uninstalls itself when there is no Google software using it. It may take a few hours after uninstalling Google software for Google Update to uninstall."

To make things even more difficult for those who manually remove the updater, "you may find that your Google programs no longer function properly and, in many cases, you may see GoogleUpdate return automatically".

Even if the software's intentions are noble, it's unfortunate that Google doesn't inform users about the updater and it doesn't provide an option to disable GoogleUpdate or to ask before downloading updates.

October 1, 2008

Google News for Blogs

Google Blog Search's homepage has been updated and it now includes a list of popular stories, which are categorized and clustered similarly to Google News.

"Blog Search uses a set of algorithms to try to determine the most popular stories in the blogosphere. We consider factors such as a blog's title and content, as well as its popularity throughout the rest of the blogging community. Then we display groups of posts that are closely related," explains the FAQ.


It seems that Google Blog Search didn't select some authoritative blogs to be listed on the homepage and almost any blog post could be included in a Blog Search cluster. There are 11 categories: politics, US, world, business, technology, video games, science, entertainment, movies, television and sports, but they aren't equally represented.

Google shows a chart for the number of blog posts that discuss a story:


Unfortunately, Google is not able to detect spam posts, plagiarism, forums or blog comments. Google Blog Search doesn't provide yet feeds for the top stories and the search results aren't clustered.


The new Blog Search homepage is a decent alternative to the technology-focused Techmeme and to Technorati's front page. Hopefully, Google will filter the low-quality posts and it will integrate the service with Google News.

{ Thanks, Jonathan. }