Friday, November 30, 2007

Tracking Santa, then and now



It was more than half a century ago, on Christmas Eve in 1955, that a Sears Roebuck & Co. store in Colorado Springs advertised a special hotline number for kids to call Santa. What the company didn't know at the time was that they had inadvertently misprinted the telephone number. Instead of Santa's workshop, the phone number put kids through to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the bi-national U.S.-Canadian military organization responsible for the aerospace defense of the U. S. and Canada. Worse, it wasn't just any number at NORAD: it was the commander-in-chief's operations hotline. In the spirit of the season, Colonel Harry Shoup, the director of operations at the time, had his staff check radar data for any indication of a sleigh making its way south from the North Pole. They found that indeed there were signs of Santa, and merrily gave the children who called an update on his location. Thus, a tradition was born, and NORAD has continued to help children track Santa on Christmas Eve ever since.

It just so happens that Colonel Shoup is my grandfather, which is why I'm so excited that, 52 years later, Google is joining the effort. This holiday season, NORAD has partnered with Google to use technology including Google Maps, Google Earth, iGoogle and YouTube to track Santa. I can remember tracking Santa with my grandfather as a child, and I'm so proud to see my company carry on his vision of doing something this special for kids around the world.

The countdown begins December 1st on NORAD's website, where families can find a new kid-friendly game or activity every day until December 24th. And starting at 1:00 am PST on December 24th, you'll be able to track Santa's trip in real time. You can download Google Earth and add the NORAD Tracks Santa iGoogle gadget to your iGoogle page anytime, but make sure to come back to noradsanta.org on December 24th to download the special Santa Tracking file for an enhanced 3D Santa-tracking experience.

Harry and Carrie.

Who's going to win the spectrum auction? Consumers.



Here at Google, we see the upcoming 700 megahertz spectrum auction at the Federal Communications Commission as one of the best opportunities consumers will have to enjoy more choices in the world of wireless devices. That's why we announced today that we are applying to participate in the auction.

We already know that regardless of which bidders ultimately win the auction, consumers will be the real winners either way. This is because the eventual winner of a key portion of this spectrum will be required to give its customers the right to download any application they want on their mobile device, and the right to use any device they want on the network (assuming the C Block reserve price of $4.6 billion is met in the auction). That's meaningful progress in our ongoing efforts to help transform the relatively closed wireless world to be more like the open realm of the Internet.

Regardless of how the auction unfolds, we think it's important to put our money where our principles are. Consumers deserve more choices and more competition than they have in the wireless world today. And at a time when so many Americans don't have access to the Internet, this auction provides an unprecedented opportunity to bring the riches of the Net to more people.

While we've written a lot on our blogs and spoken publicly about our plans for the auction, unfortunately you're not going to hear from us about this topic for awhile, and we want to explain why.

Monday, December 3, is the deadline for prospective bidders to apply with the FCC to participate in the auction. Though the auction itself won't start until January 24, 2008, Monday also marks the starting point for the FCC's anti-collusion rules, which prevent participants in the auction from discussing their bidding strategy with each other.

These rules are designed to keep the auction process fair, by keeping bidders from cooperating in anticompetitive ways so as to drive the auction prices in artificial directions. While these rules primarily affect private communications among prospective bidders, the FCC historically has included all forms of public communications in its interpretation of these rules.

All of this means that, as much as we would like to offer a step-by-step account of what's happening in the auction, the FCC's rules prevent us from doing so until the auction ends early next year. So here's a quick primer on how things will unfold:
  • December 3: By Monday, would-be applicants must file their applications to participate in the auction (FCC Form 175), which remain confidential until the FCC makes them available.

  • Mid-December: Once all the applications have been fully reviewed, the FCC will release a public list of eligible bidders in the auction. Each bidder must then make a monetary deposit no later than December 28, depending on which licenses they plan to bid on. The more spectrum blocks an applicant is deemed eligible to bid on, the greater the amount they must deposit.

  • January 24, 2008: The auction begins, with each bidder using an electronic bidding process. Since this auction is anonymous (a rule that we think makes the auction more competitive and therefore better for consumers), the FCC will not publicly identify which parties have made which bid until after the auction is over.

  • Bidding rounds: The auction bidding occurs in stages established by the FCC, with the likely number of rounds per day increasing as bidding activity decreases. The FCC announces results at the end of each round, including the highest bid at that point, the minimum acceptable bid for the following round, and the amounts of all bids placed during the round. The FCC does not disclose bidders' names, and bidders are not allowed to disclose publicly whether they are still in the running or not.

  • Auction end: The auction will end when there are no new bids and all the spectrum blocks have been sold (many experts believe this auction could last until March 2008). If the reserve price of any spectrum block is not met, the FCC will conduct a re-auction of that block. Following the end of the auction, the FCC announces which bidders have secured licenses to which pieces of spectrum and requires winning bidders to submit the balance of the payments for the licenses.
If you're interested in keeping track of the publicly available details of the auction, check out this page on the FCC's website or Google News. In the meantime, my lips will be sealed (something, frankly, that I'm not used to).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Google Gadgets on your Dashboard



A question everyone asked when we launched Google Desktop for the Mac was: where are the gadgets? Today, we have an answer: they're in your Dashboard! Now there's a new feature for Google Desktop, Google Gadgets for the Mac, which is ready to install. With this launch, we're bringing hundreds of Google Gadgets to the Mac OS X platform. You can take advantage of gadgets to do things like browse YouTube videos, nurture a virtual flower pot, or even check your day's agenda in Dashboard.

Not only that, the new Google Gadgets applications let you add gadgets with one click and interact with them beside your Apple widgets in Dashboard. There's an automatic update to the gadget list each week, so you'll always have something new to look forward to.

Watch the Gadget application in action:



Attention, gadget/widget developers: this launch makes it possible for you to write your gadget once and have it run on a Mac, a PC, and any webpage on the Internet. Learn more about how to write a cross platform gadget.

The CNN/YouTube Republican Debate



First up were the Democrats, and now it's the Republicans' turn. Tonight marks the much-anticipated CNN/YouTube Republican Debate, in which the 8 GOP candidates on our You Choose '08 platform will descend on St. Petersburg, Florida to answer video questions submitted via YouTube. The two-hour debate will be aired live on CNN at 8 PM ET, and all the clips will be hosted soon after on YouTube.

People submitted almost 5,000 questions (4,927, to be exact) to the GOP hopefuls right on YouTube -- 2,000 more than the Democrats got on July 23. In true YouTube style, some of the questions are creative, but most are compelling -- and demonstrate the concerns of voters trying to differentiate between the candidates in a crowded primary field.



Back in July, we broke new ground in presidential debates with our first-ever CNN/YouTube Debate. Thirty-nine questions were posed to the Democratic candidates, and when Stephen Sixta asked a question about whether or not the presidential contenders would speak directly to foreign dictators, a conflict broke out between Senators Obama and Clinton that has matured into the defining difference between these two front-runners in this campaign.

The core concept behind these debates is to let real questions from real people drive the dialogue. The power of YouTube is that it lowers the barrier to entry to engage in the political process, and levels the platform for political discussion. It used to be that a voter had to live in Iowa, New Hampshire, or Florida to engage with the candidates at this stage of the campaign, but YouTube has broken down those barriers, and has brought more transparency and access to the political dialogue than ever before. We think that politics will never be the same (thankfully).

Lost? No, found!



We know a lot of you are using Google Maps for mobile to view maps and satellite imagery, find local businesses, and get directions. But to date not many of you have been able to take advantage of the increased speed and convenience that location information from technologies like GPS can afford, if only because there are very few GPS-enabled devices on the market.

Well, when it comes to location information, GPS is no longer the only game in town. Today we released a version of Google Maps for mobile with a new beta technology called My Location, which provides approximate location information for those of us without GPS, and complements GPS location information for those who do have it. Head over to our new mobile blog to learn more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Towards more renewable energy



Clean and affordable energy is a growing need for our company, and we’re excited about the opportunity to help create competitive green alternatives. Our new initiative isn’t just about Google’s energy needs; we're seeking to accelerate the pace at which clean energy technologies are developing, so they can rival the economics of coal quickly. We've gained expertise in designing and building large-scale, energy-intensive facilities by building data centers that lead the industry in efficiency. We want to apply the same creativity and innovation to the challenge of generating inexpensive renewable electricity at scale.

Promising technologies already exist that could be developed to deliver renewable energy cheaper than coal. We think the time is ripe to build rapidly on the tremendous work on renewable energy. For example, I believe that solar thermal technology provides a very plausible path to generating cheaper electricity. By combining talented technologists, great partners and large investments, we have an opportunity to quickly push this technology forward. Our goal is to build 1 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic that this can be done within years, not decades. If we succeed, it would likely provide a path to replacing a substantial portion of the world’s electricity needs with renewable energy sources.

To lead this effort, we're looking for a world-class team. We need creative and motivated entrepreneurs and technologists with expertise in a broad range of areas, including materials science, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, land acquisition and management, power transmission and substations, construction, and regulatory issues. Join us. And if you're interested, read about our previous work toward a clean energy future.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Holiday savings with Google Checkout



The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and Google Checkout can help you shop fast, stay organized, and save money. Starting today Checkout buyers can take advantage of exclusive discounts and free shipping at more then 100 Google Checkout stores, and earn frequent flyer miles on holiday shopping. Learn more about Google Checkout holiday offers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A taste of fall



For an ambitious addition to your holiday feast, try my buttercup squash soufflé. The flavors are simple enough that you can serve it as an appetizer, plate it up with a small salad, or just present it to the crowd family style.

Happy cooking, and happy Thanksgiving!

Buttercup Squash Soufflé
with aged balsamic, hazelnuts, and Parmesan

What you'll need:
2 buttercup squash (2 1/2 lbs.)
(I prefer buttercup for its creaminess, but you can substitute butternut squash)
1 egg yolk
3 whole eggs
1/4 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 egg whites
1 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1 cup Parmesan, freshly shaved
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
8-10 ceramic soufflé cups
1 baking pan (large enough to hold the soufflé cups)
parchment paper

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Halve each squash through the stem to create 2 identical pieces. Coat each piece with olive oil and place face down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Bake for about an hour or until the flesh of the squash is completely soft. Allow to cool. (This step can be done a day in advance.)

3. Peel the cooled squash and dice the flesh. Place the skinless squash in a food processor and puree until smooth.

4. In a large bowl, combine the squash, whole eggs, egg yolk, mascarpone, salt, nutmeg and grated Parmesan. Stir until the mixture is completely combined and smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to medium or soft peaks. Gently fold egg whites into squash mixture, taking care not to over mix and deflate the whites.

5. Spray soufflé cups with cooking spray. Carefully divide mixture into 8 to 10 ceramic soufflé cups (number of cups depends on the size of the squash), but don't fill the cup over halfway. Place filled cups in the baking pan and fill the pan with warm water, taking care not to drip any water in the filled cups. The water level should be about halfway up the cups. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly.

6. Place the soufflé upside down on plate and remove ceramic cup. It should pop out cleanly. Garnish with shaved Parmesan, aged balsamic and toasted hazelnuts.

7. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Never a dull moment



We see a lot of exciting projects come to fruition around here, but two Googlers recently added delivering a baby to their on-the-job experience, giving a whole new meaning to working well under pressure.

One day last month, Matthew, a software engineer in our Seattle/Kirkland office, arrived at work as usual. As he got to his desk, he learned that his expectant colleague Min was home sick. He thought this was strange, since she seemed fine the day before and her baby wasn't due for another 17 days. He sent her an email to make sure everything was okay. Min responded that she thought she might be experiencing contractions, but that everything was fine. Fifteen minutes later, he got a second message: Please come help me get to the hospital right away. Matthew rushed over and had barely backed out of the driveway when Min managed to say, "The baby's out." He picked up the little bundle in his right hand and declared, "It's a boy," and gave him to her to hold. An ambulance arrived on the scene seconds later. And just like that, Min and her husband became the proud parents of Andy.

Min and Andy

Meanwhile, Jessica, one of our Mountain View tech writers, was recently on her way to the office from San Francisco. Running late, her thoughts were on her list of to-dos, until she noticed a peculiar sight in the car next to her. A family in an SUV had stopped in the left-turn lane with a woman in the front passenger seat reaching over into the backseat. Then she noticed a man standing outside of the car screaming and waving his hands for help. She immediately pulled over, turned off her ignition and went to see what was the matter. While the mom was stretched out in the backseat, a grandmotherly sort had a panic-stricken look on her face and her hands out to catch the baby.

Thinking back to her own experience when she gave birth, Jessica tried to calm the family and answer their questions as best she could. She was on hand for less than 10 minutes before the police arrived and took over, but during that time, the baby was born.

We're happy to report everyone in both locations is doing well.

Custom Search goes global



In our Mountain View, California lobby, there's an image of a globe radiating colo(u)red beams of light, representing searches in different languages in countries all over the world. It's quite mesmerizing to watch. (You should check it out if you visit.)


Today, we're pleased to tell you that the Google Custom Search platform is available in 40 languages, in close to 80 countries worldwide. And now you can search your Custom Search engine (CSE) in the language of your choice. We hope to see more people creating useful CSEs -- we want to see more colo(u)red beams on the globe!

The Custom Search platform brings the relevance, reliability, speed and power of Google search to webmasters and developers worldwide. Webmasters can use CSE to create tailored search experiences on community web sites; businesses can add hosted site search to their web sites; users can add search to their blogs and web pages; and developers can build search right into their applications with the Custom Search APIs. There's no software to install or hardware to maintain. CSEs can be built in minutes and are easy to customize and manage. You can also control the appearance of the search results to match the look and feel of your web site. Now, you can administer your favo(u)rite CSE in the language of your choice.

There's a free, ads-supported version, and there's also the Custom Search Business Edition (CSBE), in which further customization of search results is possible using an XML API, and ads are optional. CSBE also offers options for email and phone support.

Our international launch of the Custom Search platform now brings CSBE to your country. Millions of businesses all over the world have a web presence but offer users no ability to search their site. Users are left on their own to navigate content once they land on a site. Now, organizations and businesses everywhere can enable Google-hosted site search to help users find what they need.

The UK Parliament uses CSBE on its website to make nine million documents easily accessible to the public. Monarch Airlines is using CSBE to help manage the growing number of customer enquiries about hand baggage regulations and the increased focus on airline security. Since adding CSBE they have seen a 30% reduction in inbound email as more customers now find what they need online. A leading Serbian media system B92, which includes both a TV and radio station and a leading web portal, B92.net, offers Custom Search on various sections of its site, such as sport, business, culture and technology. B92.net also uses several unique features, including linked CSEs, search refinements, and the capability to exclude certain sections of their sites from search results. Belfabriek, a provider of 0800 and 0900 service numbers in The Netherlands, wanted to offer customers the speed and quality of searching with Google. Since using CSBE, the number of callers has decreased substantially as people find the information they need and register their numbers directly through their website. Indian cricket site Cricbuzz uses a CSE to provide cricket fans relevant cricket content for any search related to cricket, using search refinements for drilling down into scores, player profiles, records, blogs and news.

We'd like to hear from you about your CSE too. Please keep that feedback coming.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Getting to know the candidates



Yesterday Senator Obama became the latest U.S. presidential candidate to visit Google headquarters in Mountain View for a talk and then Q&A. We're heartened to see how most every candidate is taking full advantage of the Internet, by making good use of YouTube together with their own websites, blogs and social networks to inform voters of their positions and share more of their thinking than traditional campaigns ever allowed.

The next big event we're looking forward to is the November 28 CNN/YouTube Republican debate. Stay tuned for that, and if you'd like to watch the talks other candidates have given at Google, here they are.

Google Checkout badges for non-profits



You may have heard about the recently launched Google Checkout for Non-Profits, which is a fast and easy way to make online donations to your favorite non-profits. Now we'll begin displaying the Google Checkout badge on the AdWords ads of non-profits, which will help connect donors with the organizations they'd like to support. Visit our Checkout Blog for more details.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Australia's election map redrawn



Australia's federal election is on 24 November 2007, and the campaign is well and truly in its final stages. Prime Minister Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd are adding final details to their policies and making their final appeal for votes.

You may recall that we launched an election site in September to help Australians stay informed. We've now updated the "Australian 2007 Election" feature in Google Maps so that, for all 150 House of Representatives seats, you can click on any candidate's name to see all their Google search results, or their YouTube channel. And with one click, you can now find an incredible array of information from across the Internet -- news stories, videos, personal websites, party websites, blogs, and all the rest -- about all 1,054 candidates for all 150 seats.

We've also added in all polling booth locations based on information from the Australian Electoral Commission, so voters can easily find their nearest polling booth on the map, together with opening hours and wheelchair accessibility. Voting in Australia is compulsory, so there's now no excuse not to turn up and have your say next Saturday.

Free expression and controversial content on the web



Our world would be a very boring place if we all agreed all the time. So while people may strongly disagree with what someone says, or think that a particular newspaper article is total nonsense, we recognize that each of us have the right to an opinion.

We also know that letting people express their views freely has real practical benefits. Allowing individuals to voice unpopular, inconvenient or controversial opinions is important. Not only might they be right (think Galileo) but debating difficult issues in the open often helps people come to better decisions.

While most people agree in principle with the right to free expression, the challenge comes in putting theory into practice. And that's certainly the case on the web, where blogs, social networks and video sharing sites allow people to express themselves - to speak and be heard - as never before.

At Google we have a bias in favor of people's right to free expression in everything we do. We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. But we also recognize that freedom of expression can't be -- and shouldn't be -- without some limits. The difficulty is in deciding where those boundaries are drawn. For a company like Google with services in more than 100 countries - all with different national laws and cultural norms - it's a challenge we face many times every day.

In a few cases it's straightforward. For example, we have a global all-product ban against child pornography, which is illegal in virtually every country. But when it comes to political extremism it's not as simple. Different countries have come to different conclusions about how to deal with this issue. In Germany there's a ban on the promotion of Nazism -- so we remove Nazi content on products on Google.de (our domain for German users) products. Other countries' histories make commentary or criticism on certain topics especially sensitive. And still other countries believe that the best way to discredit extremists is to allow their arguments to be publicly exposed.

All this raises important questions for Internet companies like Google. Our products are, after all, specifically designed to help people create and communicate, to find and share information and opinions across the world. So how do we approach these challenges?

It should come as no surprise to learn people have different views about what should appear on our sites. How and where to draw the boundaries is the subject of lively debate even within Google. We think that's healthy. And partly because of this, we realize that creating a flawless set of policies on which everyone can agree is an impossible task.

Google is not, and should not become, the arbiter of what does and does not appear on the web. That's for the courts and those elected to government to decide. Faced with day-to-day choices, however, we look at our products in three broad categories: search, advertising and services that host other people's content.

Search is the least restricted category. We remove results from our index only when required by law (for example, when linked to content infringing copyright) and in a small number of other instances, such as spam results or results including unauthorized credit card and social security numbers. Where feasible, we tell our users when we remove results.

At the other, most restrictive, end of the spectrum, we have what might be called commerce products –- the text of the advertisements we carry, which are subject to clear ad content policies.

The most challenging areas are where we host other people’s content -- offerings like Blogger, Groups, orkut and video. On the one hand, we're not generating the content and we aim to offer a platform for free expression. On the other hand, we host the content on our servers and want to be socially responsible. So we have terms that we ask our users to follow. (See Blogger and orkut for examples.)

So the question becomes: how do we enforce those terms? In general, Google does not want to be a gatekeeper. We don't, and can't, check content before it goes live, any more than your phone company would screen the content of your phone calls or your ISP would edit your emails. Technology can sometimes help here, but it's rarely a full answer. We also have millions of active users who are vocal when it comes to alerting us to content they find unacceptable or believe may breach our policies. When they do, we review it and remove it where appropriate. These are always subjective judgments and some people will inevitably disagree. But that’s because what’s acceptable to one person may be offensive to another.

We also face the added complication that laws governing content apply differently in the different parts of the world in which we operate. As we all know, some governments are more liberal about freedom of expression than others. These legal differences create real technical challenges, for example, about how you restrict one type of content in one country but not another. And, in extreme cases, we face questions about whether a country's laws and lack of democratic processes are so antithetical to our principles that we simply can't comply or can't operate there in a way that benefits users.

But it's not only legal considerations that drive our policies. One type of content, while legal everywhere, may be almost universally unacceptable in one region yet viewed as perfectly fine in another. We are passionate about our users so we try to take into account local cultures and needs -- which vary dramatically around the world -- when developing and implementing our global product policies.

Dealing with controversial content is one of the biggest challenges we face as a company. We don’t pretend to have all the right answers or necessarily to get every judgment right. But we do try hard to think things through from first principles, to be as transparent as possible about how we make decisions, and to keep reviewing and debating our policies. After all, the right to disagree is a sign of a healthy society.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Calling all developers: $10M Android challenge



Last week we announced the Open Handset Alliance, a group of mobile and technology leaders committed to improving the mobile experience and Android, the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices.

Today, the team is releasing an early look at the Android SDK for developers interested in building applications for Android. To get things rolling, we've also announced the Android Developer Challenge, which provides $10 million in awards for developers who build great applications for Android. Read more on the new Android Developers blog to learn about this exciting mobile platform.

With so many brilliant minds striving to design engaging, innovative applications, mobile users around the world (3 billion and counting!) can expect phones equipped with dynamic and unprecedented applications very soon.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Crossing team and global boundaries



In my first month at Google, I complained to a friend on the Gmail team about a couple of small things that I disliked about Gmail. I expected him to point me to the bug database. But he told me to fix it myself, pointing me to a document on how to bring up the Gmail development environment on my workstation. The next day my code was reviewed by Gmail engineers, and then I submitted it. A week later, my change was live. I was amazed by the freedom to work across teams, the ability to check in code to another project, the trust in engineers to work on the right thing, and the excitement and speed of getting things done for our users. Engineers across our offices (and across projects) have access to the same code; I didn't have to ask for anyone's permission to work on this.

Since then, I've done my best to use my 20% time on other projects. A few weeks ago, I noticed that our engineering team in India had launched an on-screen keyboard for several Indic languages on Labs. I speak Farsi, and thought it would be useful to make one for myself and ham-zaboonam (that's Farsi for 'people who speak my language'). After launching my latest project for Google Maps, I emailed M. T. Raghunath, the engineer in India who built out the keyboard Gadgets, to learn how I could make one for Farsi. He had already worked with several language experts to create keyboards in 14 Indic languages and had recently included right-to-left support for Urdu and Arabic, which he created with the help of Googlers from our Hyderabad office. He was excited and pointed me to the code. After a week of iteration, you too can now use the Farsi Gadget.

Google has many engineering offices around the world; I currently work in Seattle and M. T. works in Bangalore. We have a lot more engineers than a few years ago when I made the changes to Gmail, but I'm happy to relive the same magic I shared with the Gmail team with a Googler across the globe. By the way, a Kashmiri Gadget is also available, thanks to help from Sarwat Nisa, a Hyderabad-based Googler.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Congrats to Google scholarship winners



Google aspires to be an organization that reflects our global audience by supporting a diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures, which is one reason we created scholarship programs with both the United Negro College Fund and Hispanic College Fund. These programs provide $5,000 to both undergraduate and graduate students who have demonstrated academic excellence in the fields of computer science and computer engineering. They're meant to encourage students to excel in their studies and become active role models and leaders. It's our hope that these programs also help dismantle barriers that keep women and minorities from entering computing and technology fields. (Read more about the various Google scholarship programs.)

A few other Googlers and I recently volunteered to help select the winners for this year's round. We were inspired reading the scholarship applications; in fact, we identified with the difficulties that these students faced in order to get a great education.

Now it's time to congratulate the 33 winners. This accomplished group of men and women demonstrated excellence in the field of computer science and made significant contributions to their communities. Each person receive $5,000 towards their studies, and they're all invited to attend our annual scholarship weekend, held at our Mountain View headquarters next spring.

2007 Google United Negro College Fund Scholarship Winners
  • Christopher Clark, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Linda Mmayi, American Inter-Continental University
  • Delvin Kelleybrew, Howard University
  • Andrew Pryor-Miller, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Nia Bradley, Howard University
  • Kieran Jordine, Albany State University
  • Shanna-Shaye Forbes, University of Texas, Austin
  • Tanisha Washington, CSU Long Beach
  • Kalifa Llewellyn, Howard University
  • Jason Mars, University of Virginia
  • Hans Anderson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2007 Google Hispanic College Fund Scholarship Winners
  • Nicole Ameche, University of California, Irvine
  • Garrett Brown, University of Michigan
  • Lina Cordero, CUNY City College
  • Carolina Gomez, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Sonny Hernandez, University of Southern California
  • Juan Lang, University of California, Davis
  • David Mireles, University of Texas, El Paso
  • Josh Morales, University of Texas, Pan American
  • Omar Oropeza, University of Texas, Brownsville
  • Hillaury Perez, University of Houston
  • Isaac Persing, University of Arizona
  • Christian Roca, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art
  • Adelein Rodriguez, University of Central Florida
  • Jose Romero-Mariona, University of California, Irvine
  • Amanda Ryan, Victoria College
  • Marlies Santos Deas, Miami Dade Community College
  • Caio Soares, Auburn University
  • Christopher Soghoian, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Oscar Tapia, New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Yuly Tenorio, University of California, Berkeley
  • Pablo Guikubi Vanwoerkom, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Joshua Zuniga, Oregon State University

Google Earth for 557 boxing champs



Recently, a group of Chicago Googlers who are passionate about sports came together to find ways to support Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. We got in touch with folks from World Sport Chicago, who had recently agreed to organize the AIBA World Boxing Championships, and asked them how Google technology could help support this local event with global reach. Together, we came up with an idea to educate fans about the boxers and their home countries through an information overlay on Google Earth, embedding select information about each boxer and their sponsoring country in pop-up windows across the globe.

Then we took this idea further by matching up our software with Accenture's Interactive Wall Technology to make the information even more lively. The Accenture Interactive Wall literally put the power of Google Earth at one's fingertips, so that people could manipulate the globe using their hands. Thousands of fans visited this display during the championships and we're pleased we could play a part in developing this learning tool for them.

Here's Chris Lobdell in front of the interactive wall.

When members of the Mongolian boxing team visited and asked how it worked, a volunteer helped them learn the controls, and they were quickly off to explore the planet. In a few seconds, they made their way to Mongolia, and were able to locate the gym back home where they had trained in for these very championships. They were amazed at the technology and the ease of use in finding their homes.

Chris Lobdell, one of our customer solutions engineers, worked closely with Bruno Bowden from the Google Earth team to build this interactive mashup. Using boxer profile information provided by the USOC, Chris merged the profile for each boxer and coach with data about the represented country (population, land mass and currency).

Googlers love a challenge, and this was an interesting one, especially considering the short timeframe in which it needed to be done, the massive information overlay development, and the integration with Accenture's display.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

With a little help from your friends



Ever feel like your first idea isn't always your best idea, or that brainstorming with a friend really helps to inspire you? Similarly, when you're writing an essay or a short story, why would your first draft be the best one -- wouldn't you always want to take advantage of input from your pals?

Revision writing is a critical piece of the writing process, and more and more, teachers are using the concept of working with a "writing buddy" to help make writing more fun and collaborative, and to teach students the importance of having support throughout the creative process.

Google for Educators and the talented writers at Weekly Reader have buddied up on a lesson about revision writing, having worked with teachers all over the country to come up with tips and checklists for incorporating buddy writing in the classroom. Our online word processing tool, Google Docs, helps students create their first drafts, brainstorm with and inspire their peers, all while keeping track of each and every comma change, word replacement and new stroke of genius along the way.

Come check out the lesson, grab a few hints on using Google Docs and introduce your kids to buddy writing. We suspect their collaborations will get your creative juices flowing, too.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The road to better path-finding



Way back at the end of 2005, Google Maps' driving directions were on par with other sites, providing basic driving directions in a few seconds. But the nature of the existing system made it nigh impossible to make it faster, add new features, or improve the quality of the routes. And better directions can yield tangible real-world benefits by saving people time and fuel, alleviating frustration, and making travel more pleasant. For all these reasons, it made sense to take a fresh look at the problem and to try to reinvent things such that we could provide a service markedly superior to the status quo.

It's important to us to solve big problems. Automatically finding routes quickly is a hard problem -- especially at a global scale (there are several hundred million road segments worldwide). Even if a routing program is needed to only look at 10% of the map and only examine each segment for a microsecond, it would take tens of seconds to compute a path. Route-finding has to be done automatically because it would be impossibly time-consuming to compute the best routes between all pairs of locations by hand.

Fortunately, we have the tools, technologies, and expertise that make it easier to tackle such hard problems and to build systems for searching large data sets quickly. A small group of engineers (of which I was a part) created the Google Maps route-finding project in Kirkland, WA with the hope of building a world-class system for route-finding. This is the first project I've worked on at Google, and it has given me the opportunity to learn all about the infrastructure we have to build and launch products and features.

We started with the geographic data sets already in use by other groups at Google. Then we designed, built, tested, and deployed a complete route-finding solution in under 12 months. Commutes across the 520 Bridge from Seattle became a favorite test query. As someone with a background in path planning and robotics, it's been great to work on a problem with such substantial theoretical and practical aspects. It took 10 months of hard work, thousands of MapReduce passes, and an uncountable number of lattes to complete.

And 'complete' doesn't really capture it. Our new route-finding system is hundreds of times faster: it can find and describe a cross-continental shortest path in well under a second. Shorter paths can be found proportionately faster.

As evidenced by our 'draggable directions' launch earlier this year, this kind of performance fundamentally changes your Maps experience. It's now possible for you to change your route by simply dragging it or its endpoints. (Here's an example of the above route adjusted to use I-90 instead of WA-520.) No other planning service provides this feature, and it would have been impossible to ship without the massive speedup provided by the system we created.

In the last few months, we've also added other features, like 'avoid highways' and 'estimated time-in-traffic.' Plus, we now cover about 50 countries worldwide. We've raised the bar for what a route-finding system can and should provide. We're pleased with what we've built, and you can expect further improvements in the coming months.

Just recently, the Google Maps route-finding team moved to our new Fremont Engineering office. I'm happy to report we don't have to commute across Lake Washington at all anymore. In fact, nearly half the team cycles in every day! And we're always looking for great people, so if any of this sounds like the kind of challenge you'd be up for, we'd love to hear from you.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bloggers blog, readers donate, students benefit, tomatoes dance



Back in early October we announced our support for the Blogger Challenge put on by DonorsChoose.org. Now that October has come to a close, it's time to recognize what DonorsChoose, 100+ bloggers and their readers have accomplished: they've raised $420,000 for classroom projects, which will benefit more than 75,000 students in low-income communities.

We promised a nod to those who helped raise the most money for students, so without further ado, here are the Blogger Challenge categories and winning blogs:
We extend our gratitude and congratulations to these winners and all of the participating bloggers for making this a success. Of course, we all owe thanks to their readers for supporting students. Sarah Bunting of Tomato Nation took this to heart and thanked her readers in her own (tomato) way -- enjoy!

Where's my Gphone?



Despite all of the very interesting speculation over the last few months, we're not announcing a Gphone. However, we think what we are announcing -- the Open Handset Alliance and Android -- is more significant and ambitious than a single phone. In fact, through the joint efforts of the members of the Open Handset Alliance, we hope Android will be the foundation for many new phones and will create an entirely new mobile experience for users, with new applications and new capabilities we can’t imagine today.

Android is the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications -- all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation. We have developed Android in cooperation with the Open Handset Alliance, which consists of more than 30 technology and mobile leaders including Motorola, Qualcomm, HTC and T-Mobile. Through deep partnerships with carriers, device manufacturers, developers, and others, we hope to enable an open ecosystem for the mobile world by creating a standard, open mobile software platform. We think the result will ultimately be a better and faster pace for innovation that will give mobile customers unforeseen applications and capabilities.

We see Android as an important part of our strategy of furthering Google's goal of providing access to information to users wherever they are. We recognize that many among the multitude of mobile users around the world do not and may never have an Android-based phone. Our goals must be independent of device or even platform. For this reason, Android will complement, but not replace, our longstanding mobile strategy of developing useful and compelling mobile services and driving adoption of these products through partnerships with handset manufacturers and mobile operators around the world.

It's important to recognize that the Open Handset Alliance and Android have the potential to be major changes from the status quo -- one which will take patience and much investment by the various players before you'll see the first benefits. But we feel the potential gains for mobile customers around the world are worth the effort. If you’re a developer and this approach sounds exciting, give us a week or so and we’ll have an SDK available. If you’re a mobile user, you’ll have to wait a little longer, but some of our partners are targeting the second half of 2008 to ship phones based on the Android platform. And if you already have a phone you know and love, check out mobile.google.com and make sure you have Google Maps for mobile, Gmail and our other great applications on your phone. We'll continue to make these services better and add plenty of exciting new features, applications and services, too.

What would your phone do?

Friday, November 02, 2007

OpenSocial makes the web better



As the web goes, so goes Google, and that's why we care about making the web better. Five months ago, we launched Google Gears to make the web better by making it work offline. Now, we want to make the web better by making it more social.

A tremendous amount of activity is occurring on social networks these days. Hundreds of millions of people share photos, rate movies, and throw virtual sheep at one another. All these social networks are looking to give their communities more and more things to do -- and they realize they can't do it on their own. They need to open up and become platforms for developers to extend. So, many social networks have looked at, or launched, their own APIs that typically do the same kinds of things: give access to user profiles and friend networks, and allow an application to post activities so that everyone's circle of friends knows what the others are doing. All of this has been good news, because developers could get their applications onto a social network.

But there's a problem: it wasn't one or two social networks doing this, but ten or fifteen. Now, to get on all the social networks a developer has had to customize their application for each one. When your "development team" is just one or two people, the proliferation of APIs forces you to make tough choices, because you can't do that much one-off work. Not only is this situation bad for developers, it's bad for consumers too: When developers can't afford to do the work to make their applications work on a certain social network, the people using those networks lose out.

That's why today we're excited to introduce OpenSocial, a set of common APIs that make it easy to create and host social applications on the web. OpenSocial allows developers to write an application once that will run anywhere that supports the OpenSocial APIs.

It's good for developers because it makes it easier for them to focus on making their web apps better; they get lots of distribution with a lot less work. It's good for websites, because they can tap into the creativity of the largest possible developer community (and no longer have to compete with one another for developer attention). And finally, it's good for users, because they get more applications in more places. Global members of the OpenSocial community include MySpace, Engage.com, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo, Salesforce.com, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING.

We were thrilled to see so many partners turn out for our very first CampFire One event, a small gathering of developers at the Googleplex. They do the best job of explaining why they support this vision of an open, programmable web. And so in the spirit of being social, we want to share the video from tonight's event.