Thursday, January 31, 2008

International Science + Engineering Fair



You aren't likely to find your standard potato battery project at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), a project of the Society for Science & the People. Nor will you see many forced volcano eruptions. You're more likely to notice the 1,200 students from across the world coming together to share projects like "FDIS: A Fast Frequency Distribution Based Interpolation Search Algorithm" and "Probing for Cancer with Smart shRNA."

In 2010, the ISEF will return to Silicon Valley, bringing talented young minds together for innovative discussions and projects in San Jose. We're very pleased to be sponsoring this gathering, which will attract promising young minds from more than 40 nations. Since we're committed to engaging talented minds, we will be delighted to give this global community of future scientists the chance to meet and compete. Prizes on offer include more than three million dollars in awards and scholarships, in addition to opportunities for internships and scientific field trips.

It's no surprise that this has been called the "Olympics of science fairs" -- we're excited to see what the next generation of scientists and engineers has to offer! And you may wonder why we're telling you about this now, since 2010 seems far off. Budding scientists who want to compete have a lot to do between now and then. Read more about the participation process.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Google Finance UK open for business



The UK Google Finance site, geared to investors in the UK, is now live. You can access stock prices, mutual funds, financial news, blogs, and charts, all through our easy-to-use and familiar interface. Here are some highlights:
  • Search with a preference for UK companies and mutual funds.
  • Google News integration – With a preference for news from British sources. The news is organized in groups by news topic, rather than listed by date, so you won't have to scroll through multiple headlines for the same news story.
  • Interactive Charts – Maps market data with corresponding news stories in a single interactive chart, so you can track news to stock performance. You can also click and drag on the charts to see different time periods, and zoom in for more detailed information.
  • Front page market summary with FTSE indices and British pound exchange rates.
  • Blogs – Incorporates blog postings for related company information from Google Blog Search.
  • Discussion Groups – High quality discussion forums are part of the service. We have a team of folks dedicated to keeping the conversation experience free of spam and irrelevant posts.
  • Portfolios – A fast and easy way for you to create and track portfolios of stocks and mutual funds in the currency of your choice.
Feel free to leave comments on this blog or send us email through the Help Center. While we can't respond to all notes, your feedback has a huge impact on how we prioritize new features.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Introducing new search views



Introducing experimental views for search results
There have been a lot of recent improvements to web search, but the appearance of results themselves has been pretty constant -- 10 or so web pages in a vertical list. Frequently this is exactly the right format, but for some searches you need more options and more control. That's why we've created our experimental search page to let you try out some of our newest ideas.
You may have noticed our "alternative views" experiment showcased last May. This lets you visualize your search results in new ways, and we'd like to highlight some of the features we've recently added.

Map view
Suppose you're scouring the web trying to find out about math conferences happening in your state. Or you'd like to sit back and enjoy some jazz around town. This information is on the web and accessible through regular web search, but probably spread out over many sites and pages. Unless one of these pages has a map, it might be hard to visualize all the locations at once. Map view solves this problem by plotting some of the key locations contained in your web results onto a map.

After scrolling or zooming the map, try clicking on the "Update Results" button near the top left corner of the map to show more results just in the area you're looking at.

Timeline view
Timeline view does the same thing as map view, but for dates found on the web. This includes dates of upcoming or historic events, or even biographical information -- all generated automatically from your search results.

The graph across the top of the page summarizes how dates in your results are spread through time, with higher bars representing a larger number of unique dates. Click anywhere on the graph to zoom in to that particular period of time, and use the text box to the right to specify any range of years, months, or days. Much as in map view, the results below the graph emphasize the dates contained on each page.

Info view
Info view is a bit different. It doesn't dramatically change the visualization of results; web pages are still displayed vertically as usual. Now you'll notice a new control panel on the right side of the page:



Clicking on the different options in the panel changes the information shown below each result. Usually we show some text from the page that includes a few of the words you searched for. Now you can instead reveal text containing dates, locations, measurements, or images. For example, selecting "dates" from the control panel reveals the date of the Sputnik launch in the first result for "space exploration":


And selecting "images" from the control panel displays some nice images from the page:


If you run a search and find many of your results are looking similar, try using info view. It may highlight the differences between results and help you select the best page for your needs.

Tell us what you think
You can opt in to the alternative views experiments so they become your main search UI -- as well as try out many other new search tools -- on the experimental search page. After opting in, send us feedback by clicking on the experiment name in the upper right part of the search page and selecting "Take our survey". We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Three more languages for Blogger



Millions of people around the world already use Blogger to participate in the wider Internet community. Blogging is a powerful way for people to publish online, reach a large and varied audience, and communicate with others who share their interests. And today, Blogger is available in Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew. This brings the number of languages we offer to 40. We've been really excited about adding these languages and widening the world of bloggers.

We're especially pleased that Blogger now supports composing text and displaying blogs right to left. This has long been an challenge for bloggers in Hebrew, Persian, and Arabic. We've added new features specifically for these users, and also made sure every page of the Blogger application displays right-to-left in these languages. This project has been very technically challenging, but among the most thrilling I've ever worked on. I hope that everyone enjoys using it as much as I've enjoyed developing it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Celebrating data privacy



Last year, the Council of Europe had a great idea. Based on polling that showed that 70% of Europeans did not understand how their personal data was being protected, the Council decided to hold the first annual Data Protection Day on January 28, 2007. Privacy experts visited schools and universities, launched information campaigns, and held press conferences in locations throughout Europe, informing and educating consumers about their personal data rights and protections.

Lack of understanding about data protection on the Internet is not only a European issue, it's a global one. As more and more personal information comes online every day, it's increasingly important that users all over the world understand both the benefits and potential risks of online data sharing, and the tools at their disposal to control and manage the data they share online. In recognition of the global importance of data protection, the U.S. and Canada have joined 27 European countries to celebrate Data Privacy Day 2008 this Monday, January 28th.

As part of the day's events, we'll join legal scholars, privacy professionals, and government officials from Europe and the U.S. at an international data privacy conference being held at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. We'll also contribute to efforts to raise awareness and promote understanding of data privacy issues by releasing the third video in our privacy series ("Google Privacy: A Look at Cookies") on our YouTube Privacy Channel. This video offers a closer look at how cookies work and how web sites and advertisers use them to personalize our online experiences. We've also developed a privacy booklet (pdf-web version coming soon!) that you can download to get an in-depth look at our privacy practices and approach, and have co-sponsored the creation of educational materials on teen online privacy for parents and educators. The goal of all these efforts is to help educate you about online data privacy so that you can make more informed choices about how you use online products and services.

We hope that you'll take a few minutes on Monday to learn something new, and that Data Privacy Day reinforces existing global efforts to educate consumers about online data collection, use, and protection.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gmail in your words



Since launching Gmail in 2004, we've always supported the idea that email should be useful, fast, reliable, and fun. But instead of just hearing what we think about Gmail, we wanted to hear from you. So we recently invited Gmail fans to share stories about how you're using it in unique and productive ways. Turns out that you're a creative bunch, and we got the video submissions (and 1500+ emails) to prove it. With so many stories to choose from, we decided to put them all together and showcase a bit of everything you had to say. To check out the collaborative video and some of the email stories we received, head to gmail.com/yourstory. You might even discover a new way to use Gmail that you'd never considered.



We always love hearing from you, so if you still have a story to share give us a shout.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Public transit made easy


From time to time, our own T.V. Raman shares his tips on how to use Google from his perspective as a technologist who cannot see -- tips that sighted people, among others, may also find useful. - Ed.

A little over a year ago, I blogged about our simple textual directions as an alternative to the popular graphical Google Maps interface. Those directions help me orient myself and learn my way around. But in the interest of safety -- my own and others! -- I choose not to drive and rely heavily on public transportation.

Now that Maps has textual directions in place, it's easy to build on top of that interface to introduce new innovations that become immediately useful to someone like me. Google Transit is a great example of this -- it helps me locate public transportation options and does so in the text format that I need. In addition, it offers several nice features to help me plan my trip:

  • I can specify the desired departure or arrival time.
  • It will show more than one trip choice, allowing some flexibility with respect to when I'd like to start.
  • It estimates the amount of walking required to get to a transit stop/station.
  • It identifies the length of waiting at each transit point.
  • It estimates the comparable cost of transportation options, where available.

But these aren't the only benefits. Behind the scenes is the Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), an open data format used by public transit agencies to upload their data. Several agencies are already using these public feeds. Though GTFS is never seen by commuters directly, it opens up a wealth of possibilities with respect to accessibility and alternative access, such as building custom user interfaces and specialized route guidance applications that are optimized for people with special needs.

Though we added this alternative view to enhance the accessibility of Google Maps for blind and low-vision users, we hope that everyone finds it a useful addition to your commute arsenal. So next time you use the Maps graphical interface, give its cousin, the simple textual directions, a try -- there might be times when you find yourself using it even if you can see.

And here's to ever more open data feeds from the various public transport agencies!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Searching for solutions



Just over two years ago, I wrote here that we were taking a broad approach to philanthropy under the umbrella of Google.org. Today Google.org shared its game plan, announcing five core initiatives to help combat climate change, global poverty and emerging threats such as pandemic disease. These initiatives draw upon Google's strengths in access to information and scalable technology. We'll use a range of approaches including grants, investments in for-profits and advocacy, and will continue to tap the experience of Google engineers and other team members.

We're working alongside experienced partners to carry out these initiatives. For example, one of the initiatives is aimed at improving the quality of delivery of basic services, such as education or clean water. In rich countries we take it for granted that clean water comes out when we turn the tap, and our children learn to read when they go to school. But in many countries in the developing world, essential public services are not working, especially for the poor. Governments are investing huge sums -- to the tune of $700 billion -- to provide basic services, but the lack of two-way information flow inhibits the effectiveness of delivery and the ability of communities to hold providers accountable. The Inform and Empower initiative explores ways to bridge that gap. One of our partners is Pratham, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in India that creates the ASER Report, a yearly nationwide survey on education outcomes. Their 2005 report provided data for the first time on basic reading and math skills for children in rural India. The report seeded a national conversation between governments, NGOs and private providers about the state of education and served as a catalyst for change. Our support will help expand their work to other sectors and potentially to other countries.

Please visit Google.org for more information on Inform and Empower and the other initiatives announced today.

Google India Women in Engineering Award 2008



Diversity at Google means having a workforce that reflects the diversity of our customers' perspectives, ideas and cultures -- one that thinks and acts inclusively, and fundamentally values people's similarities and differences. As part of our ongoing commitment to encourage women to excel in computing and technology, the India team has taken our first steps: in December we launched the Google India "Women in Engineering Award" to recognize women in the field of computer science and engineering.

In its inception year, we have extended this award to recognized engineering schools across India; it is open to any woman student in computer science engineering who meets the application criteria. This initiative has been received positively, as has been indicated by the inundating queries and subsequent applications. The last date for applying is January 31st and we are looking forward to hearing from even more applicants.

After our panel reviews all applications, the winners will be announced in a little more than a month, on February 29th. The winners will be invited to visit the Google engineering office in Bangalore during first week of March for a conclave comprising of keynotes, panel discussions, tech talks, breakouts and an award ceremony.

We hope this award will encourage students to take up computer science engineering as their study, and perhaps inspire some of you to take this up as a career too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Team Aquaduct wins Innovate or Die competition



The contest said to "Innovate or Die" – and Team Aquaduct lives! In fact, the San Bruno, California team – consisting of John Lai, Adam Mack, Brian Mason, Eleanor Morgan, Paul Silberschatz – is living in grand (prize) style today after winning the first Innovate or Die Pedal-Powered Machine contest.

Team Aquaduct was declared the winner out of 102 entries by building a unique and functional solution to provide rural communities with access to clean water. The quintet will share the $5,000 grand prize, and each will receive a Specialized Globe bicycle – as will all five of the finalist runners-up (read more about all the winners).

The contest encouraged people to evaluate environmental issues and develop ingenious solutions surrounding climate change. Many original and inspiring ideas emerged; make sure to visit the YouTube Innovate or Die page to view all of the entries.

And here's the video for Team Aquaduct's winning pedal-powered water transportation and filtration vehicle:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The iGoogle Themes API



Since we launched themes on iGoogle last March, we've enjoyed seeing how people have connected with them. For instance, we've gotten fan mail for the "fox in the teahouse" theme, and seen some great blog posts generated when folks discover the Easter egg for each theme.

Users and developers alike have been clamoring to know when they can develop themes for the iGoogle homepage, and we're happy to say that today is the day! Whether you like outer space, cartoons, dogs, or anything else, you can now create your own theme and help personalize iGoogle for millions of people.

The Themes API lets you customize many portions of the iGoogle page. Your theme can also update the page's design based on variables, such as the time of day or location. This makes it easy to create a narrative that unfolds throughout the day, a landscape that changes as the sun rises and sets, or an abstract image that becomes more complex.

Anyone who can build a website can create an iGoogle Theme. We worked with designers Yves Behar, Mark Frauenfelder, Troy Lee, and John Maeda to create some custom iGoogle designs to show some great examples of the types of themes you can create.

Read more on the Google Code Blog and start creating your theme.


Earth-light by Yves Behar, founder of the San Francisco design studio fuseproject

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The flow of information at the Googleplex



Earlier on this blog, we shared some exciting early results from our firm's implementation of prediction markets. At last Friday's meeting of the American Economic Association, we shared the results of a deeper study, "Using Prediction Markets to Track Information Flows: Evidence From Google," that uses prediction markets to show how organizations process information and respond to external events. Here are some interesting findings:
  • Traders in the same location tend to make the same trades at the same time. The trades of cubemates within a small radius is the best predictor we found. By using a record of historical office changes, we could observe that the correlation begins shortly after people are seated nearby. It makes sense, because the physical proximity enables easy communication. As Eric Schmidt (our CEO) and Hal Varian (now our Chief Economist) advised in 2005: "The best way to make communication easy is to put team members within a few feet of each other. No telephone tag, no e-mail delay, no waiting for a reply." As you can see below, our finding about the importance of proximity holds, even once we account for many other factors.
  • Although we did find strong correlations among professional and social contacts, these were substantially weaker than the correlations for micro-geography. We also measured the influence that people on similar projects, in similar places in the organization and with similar demographic characteristics exert on each other. This helped establish that geographic proximity -- and not some other type of similarity -- was responsible for the correlations we saw.

  • Despite the markets' strong forecasting abilities, there is a slight optimistic bias driven mainly by new employees. On average, outcomes that were good for Google were overpriced by 20%. This bias was strongest on days after appreciations in Google stock and, ironically, for outcomes under our own control! We also find biases against extreme outcomes and short selling. Given a range of five outcomes, the middle ones were typically overpriced and unprofitable by comparison with the outliers.
Although the proof is in the paper, nothing quite helps like a graphic. Below you can see a snapshot of trading in one of our offices. The areas where employees are making profitable decisions is green, and the areas where employees are making unprofitable decisions is red. There are about 16 profitable traders in that big green blotch in the middle!


Friday, January 04, 2008

Baby steps to a new job



In late 2004, Google opened an engineering office near Seattle, and my son Elliott was born. I had heard great things from my friends who worked for the company down in California, and I was eager to join their ranks in this new local office. But the timing was all wrong: I wanted to spend a few years at home with my new baby.

Elliott and I had lots of fun. We went to the park and the library together. We read nursery rhymes and played peek-a-boo. We baked muffins and did finger painting. We did not, however, debate the relative merits of our favorite cache replacement policies, or write and debug multithreaded C++ code. So by the time Elliott was ready to start preschool and I was ready to go back to work, I had to ask: Would I still be able to pass a Google interview, or had I forgotten all of my technical skills?

If I wanted to land the job, I had to get serious: I needed to brush up on my data structures and algorithms, my coding, not to mention general interview skills. For the next few months, I hired a babysitter to come and watch Elliott one afternoon a week. I split that time between studying my college computer science textbooks and participating in online coding contests. The coding contests were particularly valuable because they forced me to work through the design and coding stages quickly, just like in an interview. The details of the standard Java and C++ libraries came back to me as I scrambled to get my contest code to run before time was up. I even asked friends to do mock interviews with me so I could get used to writing code on a whiteboard again.

In the end, all of this paid off. My day of interviews went really well, and I got the job!

The Seattle-area office and Elliott turned three recently; they're both thriving. I feel very fortunate to have the two of them in my life. And I'd encourage anyone -- including new moms -- who is interested in a job at Google to go for it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

AdWords and local markets



According to a WebVisible-Nielsen survey from October 2007, 74% of people use search engines to find information when purchasing a product or service from a local business. Yet millions of businesses don’t have websites, and even those that do, don’t often engage in search marketing because they lack the time, knowledge or resources. To address this gap, our AdWords Local Markets Team has partnered with companies including Yellow Pages directories, website developers and traditional media businesses to help create search-based ad products and strategies.

We recently hosted the first annual Local Markets Symposium at our Mountain View Googleplex, which brought together more than 150 current and prospective Google AdWords Authorized Reseller partners to discuss how we can bring the power of local online advertising to small and medium-sized businesses. An array of experts spoke, including Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, local advertising guru Greg Sterling, industry bloggers, a Wall Street analyst, as well as a panel of local AdWords advertisers. What became clear throughout the day is that there’s a tremendous opportunity for local merchants to grow their business through online marketing.

If you’re with a company seeking to promote the adoption of search engine marketing by small and medium-sized businesses, visit our Google AdWords Authorized Reseller site.

Update Feb 25, 2010: Fixed link to reseller site.

Front row for First in the Nation



Tonight when Iowans gather in living rooms and high school gyms to take the first step in selecting our U.S. Presidential nominees, Google and YouTube will give you a front row seat.

We're working together with local Iowan media organizations and political parties to bring you real time results and citizen-generated videos from the caucuses –- an up-close and personal perspective in the process to elect the next President.

Iowa caucus goers and out-of-state political pundits alike can upload videos of the Iowa Caucus to YouTube, giving you a direct view into this vibrant political scene. These Iowa Caucus videos can be found at the Des Moines Register's YouTube Channel and span a variety of perspectives from predictions and personal reflections to interviews and candidate analysis.

And starting tonight (approx. 8-10 pm CST), you can use Google Maps to view real-time caucus results by county. The political parties in Iowa will be working with us to publish these results to our Iowa Caucus map as soon as they come in, so that everyone can access results online when Iowans finish caucusing.

To stay on top of campaign coverage, check out the Google News Election section, where you can also find the Election 2008 Google gadget for a one-stop shop to follow the campaign trail.