Monday, July 31, 2006

Google Earth and Katrina help



When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast almost a year ago, people across the country and around the world wondered how to help. Many donated money; others lent their homes to dislocated survivors. A group of Googlers lent their expertise by leveraging the power of Google technology.

Over several long nights, the teams from Google Earth and Google Maps created satellite imagery overlays of the devastation in the affected region, which showed more accurately the scope of the disaster. Soon after, we were told that rescue workers and the U.S. Air Force were using Google Earth to find people who were stranded.

And last week, we received formal recognition from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Members of the NGA presented the "Hurricane Katrina Recognition Award" to the Google Earth team, as well as the Google Enterprise and Global Support groups, for their direct support during the Katrina disaster. Individual recipients included Brian McClendon, Andria McCool, Wayne Thai, Charlie Chapin, Michael Ashbridge, Chikai Ohazama, Lenette Howard, and Rob Painter, along with two folks from Carnegie Mellon University who assisted us: Randy Sargent and Anne Wright. We're pleased to be recognized in this way -- but even more pleased that we could help.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer health tips



Our esteemed Google doc, Taraneh Razavi, M.D., has kindly provided a few tips on coping with such summer challenges as tick bites, thunderstorms, and heat exhaustion. She's also blogged about insect repellents and sunscreen. But as she reminds us, summer also means - there's ice cream. Stay healthy and cool, people, and have fun this and every weekend.

Make your own buttons



Custom Buttons are by far my favorite feature in the new Google Toolbar, which comes out of beta today. Clearly I’m not the only one, either -- we have over 600 buttons in the gallery, with new buttons being added every day -- and here are some some of my favorites, if you'd like to add them to your Toolbar. If you’re interested in making your own, it’s pretty easy. Just go to one of your favorite sites, right-click on the search box, and then click “Generate Custom Search.” You can find out how to add advanced features to your buttons here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lane's Gifts settlement ruling



We know many have you have been following the Lane's Gifts v. Google case, so we want you to know that Judge Joe Griffin ruled today to approve the proposed settlement. Here is his ruling. We're pleased Judge Griffin has affirmed the settlement as appropriate and fair to advertisers. We look forward to continuing to manage invalid clicks effectively and provide our advertisers with an outstanding return on their investment. If you're an advertiser, there's more about how the settlement applies to you here.

A roadmap for Google help



Those of us in user support had a pet peeve: there was no single place that held all of Google's help information at your fingertips. So we decided to build one -- and now you can visit Google Help to find tips, tricks, and troubleshooting solutions for just about every Google product and service. We don't want you to have to work hard to find anything, so we also added an A-Z guide in case you do know exactly what you're looking for.

From the Support page you can also visit the Help Center of your choice to discover answers to frequently asked questions and link to our interactive help groups to discuss various features with other Google users. So remember to keep google.com/support handy, and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

London conference on test automation



Earlier we announced a first-time conference on test automation, something of interest to an admittedly select group. Just a reminder to those of you who work in this area that our deadline for requesting a spot at the London meeting this fall is coming up at the end of the week. Here's more information if you'd like to sign up.

Corporate info on the go



In keeping with the blog's mobile theme today, we've just made enterprise information -- corporate networks, databases, content management systems -- searchable on mobile devices. You can read more here.

Home on the road



It may be liberating to step away from your computer and out into the world -- but who can stand to leave the convenience of the Internet behind? I like to take the information I need with me -- like news, weather, Gmail, and everything else from my Google Personalized Homepage -- and now so can you. Before you take off, customize your mobile home page from your computer. On your Personalized Homepage, decide what you want to add to your phone, then drag and drop to reorder the items. On the road, in line, or wherever you go, you can view all this information on your phone. The world is waiting!

Saving the galaxy, one traffic jam at a time



Is it wrong to refer to your own handiwork as "the new hotness"? Probably, but we're hoping you'll humor us for a bit. So what is with the new Google Maps for mobile? Well, to paraphrase Agent J:

Old and busted: Being stuck in traffic
The new hotness: Checking traffic conditions from your phone*

Old and busted: Showing up late
The new hotness: Driving directions with real-time traffic estimates

Old and busted: Typing in the same addresses over and over
The new hotness: 1-touch recall of favorite locations and routes

This release won't avert an intergalactic disaster any time soon, but we'd like to think the Men in Black would give it a try. You can too: just point your mobile phone's web browser to www.google.com/gmm.

*Update: Currently available across the U.S. with comprehensive data coverage for more than 30 metro areas; partial coverage elsewhere in U.S.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Findings on invalid clicks



Those of you who follow news about online advertising closely are seeing plenty about the issue of "click fraud" lately. Since there's been a development in a case Google is involved in, you might like to hear about it.

As part of the settlement in the click-fraud case Lane’s Gifts v. Google, we agreed with the plaintiffs to have an independent expert examine our detection methods, policies, practices, and procedures and make a determination of whether or not we had implemented reasonable measures to protect all of our advertisers. The result of that is a 47-page report, written by Dr. Alexander Tuzhilin, Professor of Information Systems at NYU. The report was filed with the court in Texarkana, Arkansas, this morning.

The bottom-line conclusion of the report is that Google’s efforts against click fraud are in fact reasonable. At several points in his report, he calls out the quality of our inspection systems and notes their constant improvement. It is an independent report, so not surprisingly there are other aspects of it with which we don’t fully agree. But overall it is a validation of what we have said for some time about our work against invalid clicks.

Here are excerpts of some of the positive things Dr. Tuzhilin has to say about Google and invalid clicks:

“During this project, I visited Google campus three times and interviewed over a dozen of the Click Quality team members from the Spam Operations and the Engineering groups, as well as the Product Manager of the Trust and Safety Group. I found the members of both groups to be well-qualified and highly competent to perform their jobs. Most of them have relevant prior backgrounds and strong credentials.” (p.4)

“The current set of Google filters is fairly stable and only requires periodic 'tuning' and ‘maintenance’ rather than a radical re-engineering, even when major fraudulent attacks are launched against the Google Network.” (p.25)

“These inspection systems have been developed by Google over an extensive period of time and are constantly improved to extend their functionality and make them better for the investigators to do their inspections more effectively. I have personally observed several such inspections and can attest to how successfully they have been conducted by Google’s investigators. This success can be attributed to (a) the quality of the inspection tools, (b) the extensive experience and high levels of professionalism of the Click Quality inspectors, and (c) the existence of certain investigation processes, guidelines and procedures assisting the investigators in the inspection process.” (p. 40)

“Google has built the following four 'lines of defense' for detecting invalid clicks: pre-filtering, online filtering, automated offline detection and manual offline detection, in that order. Google deploys different detection methods in each of these stages: the rule-based and anomaly-based approaches in the pre-filtering and the filtering stages, the combination of all the three approaches in the automated offline detection stage, and the anomaly-based approach in the offline manual inspection stage. This deployment of different methods in different stages gives Google an opportunity to detect invalid clicks using alternative techniques and thus increases their chances of detecting more invalid clicks in one of these stages, preferably proactively in the early stages.” (p. 47)

We also filed a document with the court today that may be of interest. You can find it here. And there's more information on invalid clicks and how we manage them here and here.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Update: Google Desktop Gadget Contest



Just a quick update to let all you know that, due to popular demand, we've extended the Google Desktop Gadget Contest another two weeks. So if you have a great idea for a gadget, and want to enter it for a chance to prove your brilliance and creativity, you now have until August 14 to do so.

And if you're interested in some tips and tricks on creating Desktop Gadgets, have a look at the Inside Google Desktop blog. Good luck!

Finding easy-to-read web content



Like most of you, when I search the web, I want to find relevant information with a minimal amount of distraction. But because I can't see and I use a device that converts web text to speech, I'm even more in tune with the distractions that can sometimes get in the way of finding the right results. If the information I'm after is on a visually busy page, I have to sort through that page to find the text I want--an extra step that can sometimes be very time-consuming.

That's why I've been passionate about a project I'm working on at Google called Google Accessible Search. Accessible Search adds a small twist to the familiar Google search: In addition to finding the most relevant results as measured by Google's search algorithms, it further sorts results based on the simplicity of their page layouts. (Simplicity, of course, is subjective in this context.) When users search from the http://labs.google.com/accessible site, they'll receive results that are prioritized based on their usability.

In its current version, Google Accessible Search looks at a number of signals by examining the HTML markup found on a web page. It tends to favor pages that degrade gracefully--that is, pages with few visual distractions, and pages that are likely to render well with images turned off. Google Accessible Search is built on Google Co-op's technology, which improves search results based on specialized interests.

This is still an early-stage experiment, and we hope to improve the product's quality over the next few months based on user feedback. Check it out over on our Labs page and tell us what you think.

Stocking up



A few months ago we launched Google Finance. Since then, we've listened carefully to your feedback and learned a lot about what you like and what you don't like about our product. And in response to these requests, we're pleased to announce a few small new features, including a stock-market module on the business section of Google News and support for multiple portfolios. We've also added an auto-suggest feature to the search box to help you find the companies and funds you're searching for more quickly, as well as an auto-refresh feature that keeps the data on your portfolio page current. In addition, rumor has it that a lot of users like to have the choice of reading message boards in reverse chronological order. So we've made sure our discussion groups have that feature, too. Lastly, it's earnings season, and we've been impressed by a small company called SeekingAlpha that offers free transcripts on many earnings calls, so we've added links to them.

These are small steps, and you can expect to see more features and ideas from us in the coming months. We appreciate your feedback and hope you'll continue to push us to make Google Finance better.

Friday, July 14, 2006

"Let click fraud happen"? Uh, no.



You may have seen some of the media coverage generated by a blogger's quoting Eric Schmidt about click fraud. By using select excerpts and ignoring the context of the remarks, that blog post made for an interesting read, but was unfortunately misleading.

Eric spoke at a SIEPR economics event at Stanford in March. At the end of his remarks he took questions. (You can view the whole presentation and Q&A that followed here.)

Here's the relevant question Eric was asked about click fraud: "Recently there’s been some talk about click fraud being a potential threat to the entire advertising business model. I was just wondering what your thoughts on that were and if there’s an economic solution to it more than just technical solutions."

Eric made clear from the very beginning that he wasn't describing our approach to click fraud and was answering hypothetically. He introduced his answer by saying: "Let’s imagine for purposes of argument that click fraud were not policed by Google and it were rampant ..."

The "let it happen" excerpt followed, in which he discusses the economic forces that can retard click fraud: "Eventually the price that the advertiser is willing to pay for the conversion will decline because the advertiser will realize that these are bad clicks. In other words, the value of the ad declines. So, over some amount of time, the system is, in fact, self-correcting. In fact, there is a perfect economic solution, which is to let it happen."

But he made clear that we don't take that approach, by adding that click fraud is "a bad thing and because we don’t like it, and because it does, at least for the short-term, creates some problems before the advertiser sees it, we go ahead and try to detect it and eliminate it." He also said, "In Google's case, we worry about this a lot and we have a number of technical engineers who think that this is great fun to try to go ahead of this and get ahead of it."

The fact is that Google strives to detect every invalid click that passes through its system, and to prevent those clicks from ever reaching an advertiser's account. And Eric and many others at Google have discussed the problem of invalid clicks publicly many times -- on our quarterly earnings calls, at our Press Day, and in other places, such as blogs. Anyone who has followed Google knows that Eric, and others at Google, have stated several times that Google fights invalid clicks, that we've devoted significant resources to manage it, and that we take it very seriously.

Update: Added link to the original story.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Code Jamming in Dublin



On June 29th, Google Dublin hosted the onsite finals for Code Jam Europe 2006. This is the third of four code competitions slated for this year, with China in January, India in April and a Global Code Jam this fall.

After nearly 10,000 registrants and three intense online rounds, the top 50 finalists persevered and flew to Dublin for the final challenge. ACM members also joined the coding community fun, traveling from countries as far afield as Kazakhstan, Russia, Sweden, Egypt, Spain, France, Poland and Bulgaria to celebrate the success of the finalists. Several of the ACMers had qualified for the Code Jam Finals in their own right, and having them in Dublin added a real buzz to the proceedings.

Over 15 countries were represented in the finals, and 31 of the top 50 are from Eastern Europe. We celebrate the success of the top finishers: Tomasz Czajka from Poland took home the €2500 grand prize; second- and third-prize winners were Petr Mitricheve and Roman Elizarov, both from Russia, who won €1000 each.

Watch the fun that defined Code Jam Europe in this short clip from the 3-day event -- and keep on coding to prepare for the next one!

Tour de France goes 3D with Google Earth



I don't know about you, but with the action and excitement heating up in the Tour de France, it's hard to keep track of exactly where everybody is riding. When you're trying to understand the Herculean effort that these cyclists go through in stages like L'Alpe d'Huez, or which streets in Paris the final stage will pass through, 2D maps just aren't as compelling.

But now you can make sense of it all by flying around the route yourself. A new KML file available on the official Tour de France website lets you see the entire course overlaid on satellite imagery for Google Earth.

This special Google Earth tour is available in French, German, and Spanish as well as English. Pick your language on the Le Tour site, and once you've done that, look for the "Tour on Google Earth" link in the lefthand navigation under Route. Then you can see the starts, the finishes, even information on each of the cities along the way. Just move the KML file into your "My Places" folder on Google Earth, and follow along day by day. (Did you know that Huy has the unique privilege of hosting stages for the Tour de France, the Giro and the Tour of Belgium this year? We didn't either.)

Be sure to try out the tilt feature to see the truly daunting magnitude of all of those climbs where riders are battling it out in this year's wide-open race. "Beyond Category" climbs? No thanks -- we'll stick to the flats and leave those verticals to the pros!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Armchair travel with Google Pack



Even though I've lived in one city my entire life, I've always loved to travel and experience all the languages and cultures around the world. So it's been exciting to be a member of the team responsible for making Google Pack available internationally.

I'm happy to tell you that starting today Google Pack is available in Australia,
Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the U.K. It includes a batch of useful software like Picasa (for organizing your vacation photos), and Firefox (for safer web browsing). And it comes with Google Updater, which keeps all the Pack programs current so you don't have to. Maybe with all the time you save, you can do some travelling of your own.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

We get letters (4)



Our inbox is filled with stories from people who tell us how they use Google, and occasionally we feature these stories here. If you have a noteworthy tale, write to us.

In the world of marketing, there's always keen interest in knowing what the "target customer" does with the company's products. What are these people really like? How do they use our products?

Well, now we know about one in detail. Meet Alex, age 12. She just completed 6th grade in the Seattle area. And she wrote this essay for her class. If we made Alex up, you wouldn't believe us, so take a moment to read her report yourself.

Her dad Bill wrote to say that Alex "just totally loves doing research on the web and playing with making web sites. She did a cyber camp a couple of years ago, but most of what she knows comes from her mom" (who at the time led development of an online commerce business).

What's more, Bill goes on to say, Alex "has just discovered geocaching" and he adds "I started teaching her python as a first programming language this winter, but she got bored until I could figure out how to do some visual stuff that was more engaging than console read/writes :-)." He also notes that she "just discovered usability studies, and has been seen "flipping through one of her mom's several books on web design, engaging the reader, and ecommerce. Her dream job when she grows up is to be a technical program manager or web designer."

To us, the ideal Google user sounds a bit like Alex - resourceful, keen to try new things, and clearly, someone who appreciates ease of use. So we're really pleased that a number of our services meet her needs.

By the way - she got 106/100 for her essay (extra points for writing technique). Nice work, Alex! And a happy holiday weekend to our American readers. We'll see you next week.