Sunday, July 31, 2011

Goodbye, Google Friends!

Google Friends is Google's monthly newsletter that incorporated the latest announcements and product releases. 13 years after the first newsletter issue, Google announced that Google Friends will be retired.

It's hard to consider, but this monthly missive is now 13 years old. We hope you've enjoyed reading it over time, and required you to know that we are retiring it in its current form.

As you may know, the Google Friends Newsletter was shaped by Larry Page in April 1998, when Google was still on Stanford servers. In the early days, the Friends notes offered newsy details like "We are gearing up to do another crawl. We should start within a few weeks" and tips on tweaking your search queries.

Obviously a lot has happened since then, counting changes in how we communicate updates to all of you. So this will be our last Google Friends Newsletter. We in progress the Official Google Blog in 2004 and joined Twitter in 2009, and we've seen dramatic growth on those channels. Meanwhile, the number of subscribers to this newsletter has remained flat, so we've completed that this format is no longer the best way for us to get the word out about new Google products and services.

Google Friends started as an eGroups mailing list, then it became a Yahoo Group and was later enthused to Google Groups. "We used the company eGroups to mass-mail our Google Friends newsletter to users, because Larry's brother, Carl, was one of eGroups founders. Larry had done the pattern for the original eGroups server himself, and for a while the company's computational heart has lived under his desk. The same week we announced our deal with Yahoo, Yahoo announced they were buying eGroups for $428 million (Yahoo has been very kind to the Page family)," remembers the former Google marketing director Douglas Edwards.

The early issues of the newsletter take in a geek-friendly changelog of Google's search engine. You'll find about the long-gone operator flink: (forward links), the PageRank bar displayed next to each search result and Google's plans to "have a much bigger index than our current 24 million pages".

"After combining our web server and search engine for better performance, we have been experiencing intermittent problems with our system being down for short amounts of time fairly regularly. If you have trouble getting to the system, try back in a minute or two, and it should be back up." (July 1998)

This is a paragraph you'll never find in a Google blog post, Twitter message or a recent Google Friends issue.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Updated Code for Google +1 Buttons

As reported last month, the code for Google +1 buttons could be enhanced so that the buttons load faster and stop blocking other resources. Google updated the code and recommends publishers to produce a new code.

"We're introducing a new asynchronous snippet, allowing you to make the +1 skill even faster. The async snippet allows your web page to carry on loading while your browser downloads the +1 JavaScript. By loading these elements in parallel, we're ensuring the HTTP request to get the +1 button JavaScript doesn't lead to an augment in your page load time," explains Google.

Google also optimized the existing code so that the button renders up to 3 times faster. Even if you don't modernize the code, you'll still benefit from these changes.

The code generator is easy to use and I've noticed that a lot of sites extra a +1 button next to Facebook's "Like" button. It's unfortunate that Google didn't optimize the code when it was released.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Google Toolbar for Firefox Has Been Discontinued

Another Google product bites the dust. This time it's a well-liked add-on: Google Toolbar for Firefox. Many users were surprised to see that Google hasn't rationalized the toolbar for Firefox 5, even though it wasn't a difficult task. After enabling the Add-on Compatibility Reporter, most of the features worked well in Firefox 5.

It turns out that Google no longer wants to modernize Google Toolbar for Firefox, but it doesn't admit that the product has been discontinued.

"Google Toolbar for Firefox is well-matched with Firefox version 4 or older. If you use Firefox version 5 or newer, you won't be talented to use Google Toolbar."

Google suggests a long list of add-ons that might replace Google Toolbar's features, but the suggestions are too generic. For example, Google links to the hunt results for [bookmarks sync] or [language translate] in the Firefox add-ons gallery.

A Google blog post offers an explanation: "many features that were once obtainable by Google Toolbar for Firefox are now already built right into the browser" and thanks the loyal users. That's also true for the IE toolbar, but there are many useful features that aren't built-in in the browser: auto-translation (a built-in Chrome feature), Google Bookmarks integration, using Google Docs to open documents, smart spell-checking using an online service, highlighting search terms, suggestions for navigation errors (another built-in Chrome feature), custom buttons and gadgets.

You almost certainly remember that Google Toolbar for Firefox was released in 2005, five years after the Internet Explorer version. At that time, Firefox users who wanted to put in a Google Toolbar with PageRank support could try an unofficial extension called Googlebar. Maybe that addition will be resurrected, now that Google Toolbar for Firefox is no longer available. Releasing some of the source code under an open-source license would be helpful.

For now, Google Toolbar still works in the latest Firefox releases if you put in the Add-on Compatibility Reporter first and restart the browser. Here's Google Toolbar in Firefox 7 Alpha 2 (Aurora):

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A New Look for Google Translate

Google Translate is the newest Google service with a new plan based on Google+. Since Google Translate's interface is simple, there aren't many changes: a new grey header, updated buttons and drop-downs.

"We're working on a project to bring you a new and enhanced Google experience, and over the next few months, you'll carry on to see more updates to our look and feel. The way people use and experience the web is developing, and our goal is to give you a more seamless and reliable online experience—one that works no matter which Google product you're using or what device you're using it on," explained Google last month.

After launching a new border for Google Search, Google created two themes that preview Gmail's new design and ongoing to test Google Calendar's new UI and Blogger's new UI. Up next: Google Docs, Google Sites, Picasa Web Albums, Google Reader and almost certainly other services.

Google Music Lyrics

Google Music Lyrics is a Grease monkey script that adds a lyrics panel to Google Music. It only facility in Firefox and there's a single lyrics provider:

The lyrics are cached so that they're displayed right away the next time you play the same song. You can also edit the lyrics and the changes are saved using HTML5 local storage. To hide the panel, click the title.

Chris Hendry, who urbanized the script, plans to add other lyrics providers, allow users to import and export lyrics and to make the script work in Google Chrome.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Find latest Images in Google Image Search

Google Image Search extra a filter that lets you restrict the results to the pages created in the past week. Just click "past week" in the left sidebar and you'll see a list of latest images that include labels like "20 hours ago" or "5 days ago" to show how recent they are. Google's image search engine shows the same labels even if you don't limit the results to recent images.

The interface doesn't let you modify the date range, but you can edit the URL and replace "qdr:w" with "qdr:h" (past hour), "qdr:h20" (past 20 hours), "qdr:d" (past 24 hours), "qdr:d2" (past 2 days), "qdr:w2" (past 2 weeks), "qdr:m" (past month), "qdr:y" (past year). Another trick you can try is to type your query in Google Web Search, use the date filters from the sidebar and then click "Images" in the upright menu. Custom date ranges don't work in Image Search yet.

Here are some examples: Beijing photos from the past year, wedding photos from the past month, Android-related images from the past 2 weeks, Tour de France photos from the past week. It's significant to keep in mind that the photos may not be so recent, but they're incorporated in recent articles, blog posts and other Web pages.

The nice thing about the "recent images" filter is that you can unite it with other advanced filters. You can sort the images by subject and limit the results to recent images, find images that have a certain size or a predominant color and they were uploaded in the past year, find new Creative Commons images or generate a list of current images from a site.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What Do You Love?

A while back, a few of us required to make a little tool that we could use to show just about anybody more of what Google makes. That led to some simple ideas, and then a few more ideas and eventually, to a challenge: how we could attach people to products they might not know about and may find useful, but make the discovery applicable to them and keep it fun.

Playing about with that challenge shaped a website—What Do You Love?—that we hope meets at least some of the challenge by demonstrating how dissimilar Google products can show you different things about any particular search query. Like always, you’re the judge, so give it a go. Type in something that you love—polar bears, space travel, pickup trucks, Lady Gaga, early Foghat—whatever strikes your fancy (for some reason, the results for cheese always crack us up, so try that if you’re briefly stumped). No matter what it is, we’ll give you back impressive that will let you get even more into what you love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I'm Feeling Lucky, the Book

You should have seen this message when installing Google Toolbar in Internet Explorer: "Please read this with awareness. It's not the common Yada Yada."

If you've ever used orkut, you possibly remember the famous error message: "Bad, bad server. No donut for you."

Remember Mentalplex, Google's first April Fools' Day joke?

What about the "10 things Google has found to be true"?

All of these were printed by Doug Edwards, Google's director of consumer marketing and brand management from November 1999 to March 2005. Doug was "the voice of Google", the one who wrote the text for Google's communal pages and FAQs. He's now the author of the book "I'm Feeling Lucky" (Google Books, Amazon), which tells the story of the five years he used up at Google.

"Google was becoming my own individual publishing platform. (...) We had built a global bully pulpit and my voice rolled forth from it, My thoughts, my ideas, my imprecations would be seen by more people than read the New York Times or watched a network newscast. I was the man after the curtain giving voice to the all-knowing Oz, and I tried not to let it go to my head," remembers Doug.

He came up with the name "AdWords", a cross flanked by "AdsDirect" and "BuyWords", two other names suggested for Google's online ad service.

Doug was the marketing directer of a company whose founders didn't want to use too much money on marketing. "Efficiency. Frugality. Integrity." These were Google's most significant principles. "Growing by word of mouth suited Larry and Sergey's animosity just before advertising. They scoffed at extravagant startups and their Superbowl spots, because TV ads lacked accountability. (...) 'If we can't win on quality', [Larry] said quietly, 'we shouldn't win at all.' In his view, winning by marketing by yourself would be deceitful, because it would mean people had been tricked into using an substandard service against their own best interests."

Actually, Google shaped a marketing department because "a board member or a friend from Stanford had insisted the founders needed people to do staff that wasn't engineering."

Douglas shares a lot of interesting things concerning the early days of Google, when the company struggled to rewrite Google's original code, build a scalable infrastructure, induce major portals like Yahoo and AOL to use Google's search technology and find a way to monetize search. Google started with a great idea, but turning a research project into a victorious company wasn't easy. Hiring smart people and creating a flat organization that replaced bureaucracy with meritocracy helped a lot. "Great things would come from packing [engineers] tightly together so that thoughts bounced into one another, colliding and recombining in new, more patent ways," remembers Douglas.

Google has always been the anti-corporation, where you might question authority and where engineers were in the driving seat. That's almost certainly the reason why "don't be evil" became Google's mantra. As Google became a bigger company, "don't be evil" helped Google stay true to itself. Even when Google did evil things, like testing ads varied with search results, the mantra was always there to show the right path.

Douglas had an increasingly significant role: from a marketing director that tried to endorse Google without spending too much money to the voice of Google, the one who wrote or adjusted most of the text from Google's pages. He questioned many decisions of Google's co-founders, from adding daily doodles to creating an ad overhaul that didn't require moderation, but he later realized that they were great ideas. A former marketing manager at Mercury News, Douglas had to alter a lot of habits at Google, while learning a lot in the process.

His decision to leave the company came after he realized that a major Google reorganization made his role needless. "I had ongoing at a small startup as a big-company guy. Now I was leaving a big company as a small-startup guy." Douglas thinks that Google's main flaw is the "impatience with those not quick enough to grasp the clear truth of Google's vision." After leaving the company, he found himself "impatient with the way the world works" and exposed a lot of problems in everyday life. "Smart people, aggravated to make things better, can do almost anything."

That's one of the most important things about Google: the inspiration to make things better at a global scale. Creating a better browser, a better mail service, an ad service built approximately relevant ads, a translation service that continually improves shows that Google cares a lot about finding the right answers to the important problems.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tonight, watch the Google Science Fair ending event live

The young scientists of the world have established themselves truly impressive people—inventing technologies to get better the accuracy of prosthetic devices, developing video-audio memory aids for dementia patients and improving switch designs to stop train derailments. These are just three of the top 15 projects competing for the grand prize in the opening Google Science Fair final tonight, which we’ll be live streaming at 7pm PDT at

Back in January, we launched the first Google Science Fair in partnership with CERN, LEGO, National Geographic and Scientific American. We asked youthful people from ages 13-18 all over the world to submit projects online that were creative, inspiring and groundbreaking. Ten thousand students from 91 countries submitted 7,500 projects, from which our international team of judges chosen the top 15 finalists.

Today, those finalists are at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. where they’ll present their projects to a panel of science luminaries, inventors and Nobel laureates. The winners will obtain amazing prizes including $100,000 in scholarships, internships at Google or our partners and a National Geographic Expedition to the Galápagos Islands.

So pull up a chair in your home laboratory and tune in to a live stream of the first Google Science Fair to find out which promising young Einstein will take home the grand prize. The event begins tonight, Monday July 11, at 7pm PDT—watch at

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Try Blogger's New Interface

Google promised a new Blogger interface back in March and started a imperfect test in April. "The new design is not only cleaner and more modern, but it also uses Google Web Toolkit, delivering the newest in web technology."

The new interface is now obtainable in Blogger in Draft, but it looks quite different. "Over the last couple of months, we've made important improvements to our new user interface. First and foremost, we've incorporated your feedback and made many fixes based on that feedback. Also, we've rationalized the look and feel of our new design, inspired by Google's newest design evolutions," explains Google. Blogger uses Ajax, so all the pages load a lot faster, including the post editor. Unfortunately, Blogger is still very slow when you carry out a search and try to display posts or comments.

Blogger's new UI is cleaner and it offers added information about your posts: the number of page views. Tabs have been replaced by a upright menu and the list of labels is now a drop-down. The post editor is much better, particularly if you use the default view. Blogger's new editor takes up most of the page and post settings are now incorporated in a sidebar.

There's a lot of white space in the new border, buttons aren't big enough to be legible and Blogger includes too much information that's not very useful: the total number of published comments and the total number of page views. The new interface is a mixed bag: it's modern, clean, faster and more powerful, but there are many belongings that need to be changed before replacing the accessible interface.
You can try the new UI at and you also have the alternative to make it the default interface.

Friday, July 8, 2011

YouTube Cosmic Panda

YouTube tests a new border code-named Cosmic Panda. There are many cosmetic changes: videos are centered, player's wheel are now black, video thumbnails are a lot bigger, suggestions are displayed below the video, profile photos are displayed next to the comments, channels and playlists have a totally new layout.

Probably the most attractive thing about the new interface is a Chrome-only feature that lets you play a video in the background while you visit a channel. YouTube is more fluid and I wait for to see a similar feature when you perform a search and when you click "view all comments".

The new border can be enabled and disabled at

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Quickly insert a YouTube Video to a Playlist

YouTube's embeddable player additional a new feature that lets you quickly update your playlists with new videos. Click the arrow next to the "plus" button and you can add the video to one of your playlists. You can't make new playlists from the player and you can only see the first 10-15 playlists, depending on the player's height. I couldn't discover a way to scroll the list.

Here's a video you're almost certainly anxious to add to your playlists (there's no "remove" button in the player, sorry about that!):

It's surprising that the embeddable player doesn't have like/dislike buttons and you have to go to YouTube's video page for such a easy action. There's also a related menu that lets you copy the video's URL and the embedding code, but YouTube uses the old Flash-only code.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blogger and Picasa Web Could Be Rebranded

Mashable reports that Blogger and Picasa Web Albums could change their names and become Google Blogs and Google Photos. "Google intends to leave several non-Google name brands and rename them as Google products. The move is part of a better effort to unify its brand for the public launch of Google+."

While Google Photos makes a lot sense, replacing Blogger with Google Blogs is not a great idea. When people say "Google Blogs", they refer to the long list of Google's business blogs. "Google Blogs" is previously used for Google Blog Search, but only on the homepage.

On the other hand, Blogger could be redesigned and use boundary elements from Google+, Blogger's profiles could be replaced by Google Profiles, the commenting system could be revamped and included with Google+.

One of the reasons why Picasa Web Albums didn't get improved too much is that it has always been perceived as Picasa's online extension. It wasn't a separate photo sharing service and many of its features required Picasa. You couldn't upload more than 5 photos, download albums or edit photos without installing Picasa. Google measured changing Picasa Web's name back in 2008.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Google Real time Search, Temporarily engaged

It's not the most accepted Google service, but Google Real time is useful as an alternative to Twitter's search engine. The service is no longer obtainable at the moment, the "Real time" option disappeared from Google's sidebar and time returns a 404 error. Google says that this is just temporary. "We've temporarily disabled time. We're exploring how to slot in our lately launched Google+ project into this functionality going forward, so stay tuned."

Google+ doesn't offer a search feature for messages yet, but it should be obtainable soon. It's strange to see that Google had to stop a service to add support for a new site.

Search Engine Land also reports that Google's Wonder Wheel feature is no longer obtainable. "[Google's] spokesperson said that the search tool was removed due to the 'initial stage' of the Google site redesign announced [last] week."

It's probable that both Google Real time and Wonder Wheel had to be redesigned, but Google didn't want to delay the launch of the new border until they're ready. When Google Instant was launched, many of the higher features were not obtainable, but some of them were extra after a few weeks.

How Google+ Transformed Picasa Web

Even though it's not obvious, after you facilitate Google+ in your Google account, Picasa Web turns into a completely new app with a dissimilar set of rules. Some of these rules make Google's photo sharing service not viable for many existing users and it's important to know them in advance.

Picasa Web's face recognition feature helped you systematize your photos. The integration between Picasa Web and Google Contacts made it easy to connect your photos with some of your contacts. By the default, the name tags from your public albums were hidden, but you might also hide the name tags from unlisted albums. When you join Google+, all of this changes. Adding a name tag to a photo is no longer a personal action: your contact will get a announcement that you tagged him. He will get access to your photo and to the entire album that includes the photo.

"You'll receive an email letting you know you've been tagged in a photo. By default, name tags by people in your circles are regularly approved. You can view or remove tags at any time on the photos homepage in Google+ as well as the Photos tab on your Google profile," informs Google. Name tags change their visibility too: if you have entrée to an album, you can see all the name tags from that album. You're not the only one who can add tags to your photos: anyone in your wide network at Google+ (friends and friends of friends) can add tags.

While these changes could get better Google's face recognition software and agree to Google to add new social features, transforming Picasa Web's private tagging into Facebook's photo tagging is a radical shift. Sharing an entire album with someone just because you've added a tag is something that might baffle a lot of Picasa Web users who don't comprehend that Picasa Web is now Google+ Photos.

The good news is that the existing name tags remain unchanged and your contacts won't be able to see your albums just because you've tagged them at some point. But that's true only for the name tags added before joining Google+.

Now when you share an album with your contacts, they're permissible to re share it with other people, so you can no longer firmly control the visibility of an album without continually monitoring the access list. Google Docs has a similar rule, but you can change the sharing settings so that "only the owner can change the permissions." Google has an explanation: "to give self-assurance the natural flow of conversation, once you sign up for Google+, all albums can be re shared by people that have way in to the album - those people on the album's 'Shared with' list in Picasa Web Albums."

It's worth pointing out that the new Picasa Web adds some benefits (unlimited free storage for photos up to 2048 x 2048 pixels, easier photo sharing) and that you can wander your photos to a different Google Account, but it's sad to see that Picasa Web is now a Google+ app which no longer works well standalone and that users can no longer use superior features without sharing their photos.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Google Calendar's plan Refresh

After Google Search and Google Maps, it's time for Google Calendar to toggle to a Google+ interface. The new design is a lot cleaner, even if no significant feature was removed. "Quick add" is now obtainable if you click the arrow next to the "Create button" (not very intuitive), "Print" and "Refresh" are now buttons instead of links, the month view below the "Create" button can be distorted, "Save" and "Discard" buttons are only displayed at the top of the page.

"Right now, the changes are just aesthetic and have not affected the way Calendar works. You can choose to turn off the new look by clicking the gear icon and choosing Use the classic look (you can turn it back on by going to the gear icon and choosing Try the new look)," explains Google. Perceptibly, at some point, Google Calendar will put together with Google+ and we'll see even more changes.