Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hello from A2

We set up shop in Ann Arbor, Mich. nearly two years ago. And we’ve been so busy, we’ve barely had time to say hi. But before we tell you about the interesting things we're doing in our new location, we figure you might want to know a little bit more about our state and our town.

Sandwiched between two Great Lakes, peppered with forestry, and teeming with kindhearted Midwesterners, Michigan is the kind of place you'd be lucky to visit and we get to live here. Not only that, but we’re located in Ann Arbor, a town with a great progressive story:
  • Popular Science magazine ranked Ann Arbor in the top 25 greenest cities in America.Some 50,000 trees grow along Ann Arbor streets, and city parks boast another 50,000. And while no trees actually grow in the Google office, our cheeks do seem to be turning a nice leafy shade of green — probably from walking and biking to work as part of Ann Arbor’s Commuter Challenge, swapping paper for reusable dishes in our cafeteria, and educating ourselves on composting and recycling.
  • On Oct. 14, 1960, President John F. Kennedy announced his proposal for the Peace Corps on the front steps of the Michigan Union, in downtown Ann Arbor. Nearly 50 years later, we "A2ooglers" feel a similar sense of urgency — but this time, it’s a desire to work with our very own state, from soup kitchens to river cleanups. We’re also connecting local schools and businesses with Google products.
  • In the first Rose Bowl Game in 1902, University of Michigan (located in Ann Arbor) defeated Stanford 49 - 0. Like our Wolverine neighbors, we're burning with competitive spirit — one that’s given birth to office teams for kickball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, basketball, skiing, ultimate Frisbee and trivia.
Forgive us our moment of boosterism, but there's more:
Inside our walls, you’ll find a team that's committed to our AdWords advertisers — from identifying potential advertisers, to assisting current ones with day-to-day challenges, to strategizing with others for the future. That’s who we are. We’d love to have you join us.

Back to school with more than 1 million users worldwide

Google Apps is rapidly gaining momentum in education. We now have more than a million people on campuses worldwide actively using Google's suite of email, calendar and docs to share information and study. This makes perfect sense. Schools have always been a proving ground for innovative ideas. And as we prepare for the new school year, we are happy to welcome more than a dozen universities across the U.S., joining the thousands of other schools that have already embraced cloud computing in education. Here are the new additions:
  • Collin County Community College District
  • Francis Marion University
  • George Washington University
  • Indiana University
  • Kean University
  • Kent State University
  • Kishwaukee College
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • Montgomery County Community College
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • University of Florida
  • University of San Diego
  • University of Virginia
This is really just the beginning. As we continue working to make it easier to communicate and collaborate online, we are going to meet with some of the top technology experts -- the students themselves. For the entire month of September, we are heading "App to School" by embarking on a cross-country bus tour to visit campuses, listen to students and learn more about how cloud computing is helping education. Please check out our Enterprise blog for more info.

Jeff Keltner

More transparency in customized search results

As we continue to refine our search algorithms to deliver more relevant results, we strive to be as open as possible about how we use data to improve your search experience. Today, we're rolling out a new feature in Google Web Search that will help you better understand how your search results are already customized. Over the next few days, you may start to see messages like this in the upper right corner of your search results page (click on the image to view larger):

You can click the "More details" link to get to a page like this:

You'll see these new messages whenever your search results have been customized based on one or more of the following types of information:

  • Location. By default, we identify your approximate city location based on your computer's IP address and use it to customize your search results. If you'd like Google to use a different location, you can sign into or create a Google Account and provide a city or street address. Your specific location will be used not only for customizing search results, but also to improve your experience in Google Maps and other Google products.
  • Recent searches. We take into account whether a particular query followed on the heels of another query. Because recent search activity provides such valuable context for understanding the meaning behind your searches, we use it to customize your results whenever possible, regardless of whether you're signed in or signed out. In order to customize your results and show you the customization details, we keep the most recent query on your browser for a limited time. After that, the information is removed from your browser and disappears immediately if you close your browser.
  • Web History. If you're signed in and have Web History enabled, we customize your search results based on what you've searched for in the past on Google, and what web sites you've visited. One important note about Web History: it belongs to you and you have complete control over it. You can remove specific items or pause the service at any time. And if there's a particular search that you'd rather not have personalized based on your Web History, you can also just temporarily sign out of your Google Account.
This new feature doesn't change anything at all about how you search on Google and the results you get; it just gives you more of a behind-the-scenes look at how we customize your search experience. We consider this to be an important step in our commitment to transparency, and we hope you find it informative and useful.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Goodbye to Randy Pausch, a great teacher

Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and a good friend of Google, passed away last night. In addition to being recognized as a pioneer in virtual reality research, he became widely known as a gifted teacher and a mentor to many. Millions of people saw his inspiring "Last Lecture" on YouTube. Read more about Randy and his contributions on our Research Blog.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ragogmakan (Google) goes to the Amazon

Last month, a group of Googlers traveled to Brazil, to conduct our first-ever project in the Amazon. Organized by our Google Earth Outreach team, we went at the special invitation of Amazon Chief Almir Naramayoga Surui, who'd invited us down to train his people on using Google Earth, YouTube, blogs and other Internet tools in order to preserve their history and culture, protect their rainforest, and create a sustainable future for their tribe.

This was an unusual request, especially because until recently, the Surui Indians used stone tools and hunted and fished with bows and arrows. But as we considered this request, we realized that it was very much within the mission of Google Earth Outreach, which helps people around the world learn how to use Google Earth and Maps for public benefit. We had previously collaborated with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to map destroyed villages in Darfur, with UNHCR to show "A Refugee's Life", with Appalachian Voices to illustrate mountaintop removal coal-mining, and with the Jane Goodall Institute to follow chimpanzees in Tanzania. Maybe, we thought, it was time to go to the Amazon.

"New Technologies and Indigenous Peoples" - the logo
created by the Surui for our partnership


We learned from Chief Almir that just as the Amazon rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate, so too are the indigenous peoples who live there. This loss of biological and cultural diversity, of natural resources, habitats and human beings, has profound consequences both locally and globally. Al Gore has called the Amazon rainforest "the lungs of the planet" for the vital role it plays in consuming carbon dioxide and producing oxygen for all of us to breathe. Chief Almir explained that his tribe had already begun replanting thousands of hectares of their forest which had been illegally logged by outsiders. He hopes that through this project, they will be able to participate in the emerging carbon offset marketplace. And he wants to use Google Earth, YouTube and blogs to give the world a virtual tour of these projects, to raise awareness, and educate other tribes in how to do the same thing.

So we spent several months preparing special training materials. We partnered closely with the Amazon Conservation Team, who'd previously taught the Surui how to GPS-locate their significant sites that the Surui now wanted to map in full 3D, in Google Earth. Along the way, we found that many people asked us these questions: "So why is Google going to the Amazon?" "Why are you trying to train Indians?" "Won't technology harm their culture?" "Are Amazon Indians even capable of learning to use the Internet?"

Without giving away too much of the story, the answer to the last question is YES. During the trainings, we were moved to see how committed the young Surui students were to learning everything they possibly could. Their first two web searches were "Povos Indigenas do Brasil" (Indigenous peoples of Brazil) and "Desmatamento Amazonia" (Deforestation of the Amazon). They succeeded in importing their cultural map into Google Earth (see image), as the starting point for their virtual tour. They showed their warrior spirit in their very first YouTube video. They began building a Google Site. All of these are now works in progress, and when they are ready to release to the world, we expect that they will be unlike anything anyone has seen before.

The Surui call Google "ragogmakan", or "messenger", because they are using our tools to get their message out. Although we traveled to the Amazon rain forest expecting to be the teachers, there are lessons for all of us in the story of the Surui. As they engage with the modern world, they are making choices about what to adopt, adapt or reject. If we pay attention, we may have as much to learn from them as they from us.

Read more on the Lat Long blog, and experience the story of our trip on the Google Earth Outreach site.

Surui cultural map

We knew the web was big...

We've known it for a long time: the web is big. The first Google index in 1998 already had 26 million pages, and by 2000 the Google index reached the one billion mark. Over the last eight years, we've seen a lot of big numbers about how much content is really out there. Recently, even our search engineers stopped in awe about just how big the web is these days -- when our systems that process links on the web to find new content hit a milestone: 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs on the web at once!

How do we find all those pages? We start at a set of well-connected initial pages and follow each of their links to new pages. Then we follow the links on those new pages to even more pages and so on, until we have a huge list of links. In fact, we found even more than 1 trillion individual links, but not all of them lead to unique web pages. Many pages have multiple URLs with exactly the same content or URLs that are auto-generated copies of each other. Even after removing those exact duplicates, we saw a trillion unique URLs, and the number of individual web pages out there is growing by several billion pages per day.

So how many unique pages does the web really contain? We don't know; we don't have time to look at them all! :-) Strictly speaking, the number of pages out there is infinite -- for example, web calendars may have a "next day" link, and we could follow that link forever, each time finding a "new" page. We're not doing that, obviously, since there would be little benefit to you. But this example shows that the size of the web really depends on your definition of what's a useful page, and there is no exact answer.

We don't index every one of those trillion pages -- many of them are similar to each other, or represent auto-generated content similar to the calendar example that isn't very useful to searchers. But we're proud to have the most comprehensive index of any search engine, and our goal always has been to index all the world's data.

To keep up with this volume of information, our systems have come a long way since the first set of web data Google processed to answer queries. Back then, we did everything in batches: one workstation could compute the PageRank graph on 26 million pages in a couple of hours, and that set of pages would be used as Google's index for a fixed period of time. Today, Google downloads the web continuously, collecting updated page information and re-processing the entire web-link graph several times per day. This graph of one trillion URLs is similar to a map made up of one trillion intersections. So multiple times every day, we do the computational equivalent of fully exploring every intersection of every road in the United States. Except it'd be a map about 50,000 times as big as the U.S., with 50,000 times as many roads and intersections.

As you can see, our distributed infrastructure allows applications to efficiently traverse a link graph with many trillions of connections, or quickly sort petabytes of data, just to prepare to answer the most important question: your next Google search.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Knol is open to everyone

A few months ago we announced that we were testing a new product called Knol. Knols are authoritative articles about specific topics, written by people who know about those subjects. Today, we're making Knol available to everyone.

The web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the web. An enormous amount of information resides in people's heads: millions of people know useful things and billions more could benefit from that knowledge. Knol will encourage these people to contribute their knowledge online and make it accessible to everyone.

The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It's their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.

With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together that we call "moderated collaboration." With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content. After all, their name is associated with it!

Knols include strong community tools which allow for many modes of interaction between readers and authors. People can submit comments, rate, or write a review of a knol. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads from our AdSense program. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with a revenue share from the proceeds of those ad placements.

We are happy to announce an agreement with the New Yorker magazine which allows any author to add one cartoon per knol from the New Yorker's extensive cartoon repository. Cartoons are an effective (and fun) way to make your point, even on the most serious topics.

Everyone knows something. See what people are writing about, then tell the world what you know: knol.google.com

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hitting 40 languages

One of our goals is to give everyone using Google the information they want, wherever they are, in whatever language they speak, and through whatever device they're using. A huge part of that goal is making our services available in as many languages as possible. And as I’m sure you can imagine, that isn't as easy as simply as translating a few lines of text.

Take Hebrew or Arabic, which are written from right to left. An Arabic speaker may search for [world cup football 2008] [كأس العالم 2008 لكرة القدم]. Part of the query will be written from right to left in Arabic, while the numbers will be written left to right. Sometimes the right-to-left difference can mean having to change the entire layout of a page, as with Gmail.

Or take Russian, where words change depending on their placement and role in a sentence. In Russian, for example [pizza in Moscow] is [пицца в Москве] but [pizza near Moscow] is [пицца рядом с Москвой].

Then there's the whole challenge of ensuring that results are locally relevant. While many Australians searching for [freedom] are looking for the Australian furniture chain, UK and US users are often looking for the definition of the word itself. Our search results, then, have to take into account these local differences.

Our efforts to make Google products available in as many languages as possible dates to 2001, when we started Google in Your Language, which lets volunteers translate and edit translations of Google products in their native languages.

As more and more users, advertisers, and partners interact with Google across the world, the need for local products has become even more obvious. In 2007, we undertook a company-wide initiative to increase the availability of our products in multiple languages. We picked the 40 languages read by over 98% of Internet users and got going, relying heavily on open source libraries such as ICU and other internationalization technologies to design products. Do you need web search in Chinese or AdWords online support in Spanish? Perhaps Google News in Hindi or Google Scholar in Korean? Not a problem.

Here's a taste of how far we've come.

Growth in local language versions.
  • 30 in 30: Today we have more than 30 products in more than 30 languages, up from 5 products in 30 languages just a year ago.
  • In 2004, we had 150 local-language versions of various products (e.g. a product local to the UK, not just the English-speaking world); today we're at more than 1500.
  • From January to March of 2008, we launched 256 local-language versions of various products, compared to 55 in the same period of 2007.
  • We've upgraded to Unicode 5.1 to make sure that we can handle any characters people read or write in.
The web is only useful - or utile, 便利, pożyteczny, or nyttig, depending on what language you speak - to the degree it can be accessible in your language. That's why we're so excited about how far we've come - and why we know there's still a lot of work to be done.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Celebrating young computer scientists

Last week, the ten grand prize winners for the first Google Highly Open Participation Contest, our initiative to get pre-university students involved in open source development. We were very excited to welcome these burgeoning computer scientists and their families to Silicon Valley in a celebration of their many accomplishments.


Our grand prize winners and the Open Source team

Chosen from more than 350 students worldwide, our winners created software, documentation and marketing materials for ten different open source projects, getting all this work accomplished in just over two months. For more details, including interviews with the winners and their mentors, check out the Google Open Source Blog.

Introducing our European 2008 Anita Borg Scholars



A few months ago we had the great pleasure of announcing the fifth class of Anita Borg Scholars in the U.S. and our first class of Scholars in Canada. Now it's the Europeans' turn.

This scholarship program, originally established in the U.S. to honor the work of Anita Borg and to recognize outstanding young women scholars in computer science and related fields, expanded to Europe most recently. Nearly 300 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 31 countries applied for the award. Sixty-three finalists were selected; 20 women received a €5,000 scholarship for the 2008-2009 academic year. The remaining 43 finalists received a €1,000 award.

Each of the finalists visited our Engineering Centre in Zurich for our annual Scholars' Retreat, which included tech talks, career panels and social fun. All of it was a way for the young women to share experiences and come together as leaders in the computer science field.

Visit the Google Europe Anita Borg Scholarship page for more on the program. Hearty congratulations to these winners!

The 2008 Europe Anita Borg Scholars
  • Cynthia Liem, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
  • Despina Michael - University of Cyprus, Cyprus
  • Dina Petri - University of Reading, UK; Aristotle University, Greece; Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain
  • Inbal Talgam -Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
  • Katy Howland - University of Sussex, UK
  • Kerstin Wendt - Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain
  • Ksenia Rogova - Petrozavodsk State University, Russia
  • Mirela Ben-Chen - Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
  • Nadezhda Baldina - Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology, Russia
  • Olga Boronenko - University of Reading, UK; Aristotle University, Greece; Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain
  • Patricia Moore - Dublin City University, Ireland
  • Rebecca Stewart - Queen Mary, University of London, UK
  • Sara Elisabeth Adams - University of Oxford, UK
  • Seda Gürses - Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
  • Silvia Breu - University of Cambridge, UK
  • Siska Fitrianie - Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
  • Stefanie Jegelka - Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tuebingen, Germany
  • Svetlana Obraztsova - Steklov Institute of Mathematics, Russia
  • Sylvia Rueda - University of Nottingham, UK
  • Ulyana Tikhonova - Saint Petersburg State Polytechnical University, Russia

Update: Added photo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Templates bring Docs to life

What do wedding planners, gas mileage calculators and photo albums have in common? They're all examples of templates available in the Google Docs Template Gallery that Sarah Beth Eisinger (Docs Templates engineer), Grant Dasher (intern), and I built and (happily!) released today.

When researching how people use templates, we saw that lots of you create documents for all aspects of your lives. You need resumes and cover letters to look for jobs and fax cover letters and invoices to run your businesses. And of course you want to use documents in fun ways with family and friends, such as unique designs and layouts for invitation cards and calendars. Finally, everyone wants to be able to have tools that "just work": print mailing labels, track portfolio values, and manage projects without having to painstakingly create documents from scratch.

These needs inspired our new templates and gallery. We developed these in conjunction with Avery Dennison, Vertex42.com, TemplateZone, and Visa Business.

Many templates leverage the collaborative aspect of Google Docs so that several people can work on a single document online without having to email attachments back and forth. To hear the story behind two templates, watch these videos:





To get started, go directly to the template gallery or access it from the "New" menu in your document list. Templates are currently available only in English, but other languages are coming soon. They're also available to Google Apps users.




(Cross-posted on the Google Docs Blog.)

Technologies behind Google ranking

In my previous post, I introduced the philosophies behind Google ranking. As part of our effort to discuss search quality, I want to tell you more about the technologies behind our ranking. The core technology in our ranking system comes from the academic field of Information Retrieval (IR). The IR community has studied search for almost 50 years. It uses statistical signals of word salience, like word frequency, to rank pages. (See "Modern Information Retrieval: A Brief Overview" for a quick overview of IR technology.) IR gave us a solid foundation, and we have built a tremendous system on top using links, page structure, and many other such innovations.

Search in the last decade has moved from give me what I said to give me what I want. User expectations from search have rightly increased. We work hard to fulfill the expectations of each and every user, and to do that we need to better understand the pages, the queries, and our users. Over the last decade we have pushed the technologies for understanding these three components (of the search process) to completely new dimensions.

When we talk about queries at Google, we use square brackets [ ] to mark the beginning and end of queries (see "How to write queries" by Matt Cutts), a notation I will use throughout this post. (Pages and search results change frequently, so in time, some examples used here may not behave as explained.)
  • Understanding pages: Over years we have invested heavily in our crawl and indexing system. As a result we have a very large and very fresh index. In addition to size and freshness, we have improved our index in other ways. One of the key technologies we have developed to understand pages is associating important concepts to a page even when they are not obvious on the page. We find the official homepage for Sprovieri Gallery in London for the Italian query [galleria sprovieri londra], even though the official page does not have either London or Londra on it. In the U.S., a user searching for [cool tech pc vancouver, wa] finds the homepage www.cooltechpc.com even though the page does not mention anywhere that they are in Vancouver, WA. Other technologies we have developed include distinctions between important and less important words in the page and the freshness of the information on the page.
  • Understanding queries: It is critical that we understand what our users are looking for (beyond just the few words in their query). We have made several notable advances in this area including a best-in-class spelling suggestion system, an advanced synonyms system, and a very strong concept analysis system.
Most users have used our spelling suggestion system at one time or another. It knows that someone searching for [kofee annan] is really searching for Mr. Kofi Annan, and is prompted: Did you mean: kofi annan; whereas someone searching for [kofee beans] is actually looking for coffee beans. Doing this internationally with very high accuracy is hard, and we do it well.

Synonyms are the foundation of our query understanding work. This is one of the hardest problems we are solving at Google. Though sometimes obvious to humans, it is an unsolved problem in automatic language processing. As a user, I don't want to think too much about what words I should use in my queries. Often I don't even know what the right words are. This is where our synonyms system comes into action. Our synonyms system can do sophisticated query modifications, e.g., it knows that the word 'Dr' in the query [Dr Zhivago] stands for Doctor whereas in [Rodeo Dr] it means Drive. A user looking for [back bumper repair] gets results about rear bumper repair. For [Ramstein ab], we automatically look for Ramstein Air Base; for the query query [b&b ab] we search for Bed and Breakfasts in Alberta, Canada. We have developed this level of query understanding for almost one hundred different languages, which is what I am truly proud of.

Another technology we use in our ranking system is concept identification. Identifying critical concepts in the query allows us to return much more relevant results. For example, our algorithms understand that in the query [new york times square church] the user is looking for the well-known church in Times Square and not for articles from the New York Times. We don't just stop at identifying concepts; we further enhance the query with the right concepts when, for instance, someone looking for [PC and its impact on people] is in fact looking for impact of computers on society, or someone who searches for [rainforest instructional activities for vocabulary] is really looking for rain forest lesson plans. Our query analysis algorithms have many such state-of-the-art techniques built into them, and once again, we do this internationally in almost every language we serve.
  • Understanding users: Our work on interpreting user intent is aimed at returning results people really want, not just what they said in their query. This work starts with a world class localization system, and adds to it our advanced personalization technology, and several other great strides we have made in interpreting user intent, e.g. Universal Search.
Our clear focus on "best locally relevant results served globally" is reflected in our work on localization. The same query typed in multiple countries may deserve completely different results. A user looking for [bank] in the US should get American banks, whereas a user in the UK is either looking for the Bank Fashion line or for British financial institutions. The results for this query should return local financial institutions in other English speaking countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa. The fun really starts when this query is typed in non-English-speaking countries like Egypt, Israel, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland. Likewise the query [football] refers to entirely different sports in Australia, the UK, and the US. These examples mostly show how we get the localized version of the same concept correctly (financial institution, sport, etc.). However, the same query can mean entirely different things in different countries. For example, [Côte d'Or] is a geographic region in France - but it is a large chocolate manufacturer in neighboring French-speaking Belgium; and yes, we get that right too :-).

Personalization is another strong feature in our search system which tailors search results to individual users. Users who are logged-in while searching and have signed up for Web History get results that are more relevant for them than the general Google results. For example, someone who does a lot football-related searches might get more football related results for [giants], while other users might get results related to the baseball team. Similarly, if you tend to prefer results from a particular shopping site, you will be more likely to get results from that site when you search for products. Our evaluation shows that users who get personalized results find them to be more relevant than non-personalized results.

Another case of user intent can be observed for the query [chevrolet magnum]. Magnum is actually made by Dodge and not Chevrolet. So we present the results for Dodge Magnum with the prompt See results for: dodge magnum in our result set.

Our work on Universal Search is another example of how we interpret user intent to give them what they (sometimes) really want. Someone searching for [bangalore] not only gets the important web pages, they also get a map, a video showing street life, traffic, etc. in Bangalore -- watching this video I almost feel I am there :-) -- and at the time of writing there is relevant news and relevant blogs about Bangalore.
Finally let me briefly mention the latest advance we have made in search: Cross Language Information Retrieval (CLIR). CLIR allows users to first discover information that is not in their language, and then using Google's translation technology, we make this information accessible. I call this advance: give me what I want in any language. A user looking for Tony Blair's biography in Russia who types the query in Russian [Тони Блэр биография] is prompted at the bottom of our results to search the English web with:
Similarly a user searching for Disney movie songs in Egypt with the query [أغاني أفلام ديزني] is prompted to search the English web. We are very excited about CLIR as it truly brings us closer to our mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

I could go on and on showing examples of state-of-the-art technology that we have developed to make our ranking system as good as it is, but the fact is that search is nowhere close to being a solved problem. Many queries still don't get satisfactory results from Google, and each such query is an opportunity to improve our ranking system. I am confident that with numerous techniques under development in our group, we will make large improvements to our ranking algorithms in the near future.
I hope my two posts about Google ranking have made it clear that we live and breathe search, and we are more passionate than ever about it. Our fervor for serving all our users worldwide is unprecedented. We pride ourselves in running a very good ranking system, and are working incredibly hard every day to make it even better.

Students surf their way to success

Early on in my career at Google I was approached by a former professor of mine, Jamie Murphy, who was eager to give his students hands-on exposure to online marketing. Apart from delivering a great learning experience, Jamie wanted to make sure that his students would leave university with skills they could take directly into the workforce.

Together, Jamie and I recruited a panel of professors from all over the globe and came up with the Google Online Marketing Challenge. Student teams had to identify a local business with a website, but no experience of online marketing, and then were given free Google AdWords vouchers worth the equivalent of US$200. The student teams worked with the local business to set up an AdWords account and structure an online marketing campaign which would increase web traffic and sales for the local business. The teams had three weeks to run the campaign and had to submit their campaign report to a panel of international academic judges.

Today we're announcing the winners: an innovative team from the University of Western Australia who worked with an indoor rock-climbing school that scaled the heights and scooped the global prize. The winners will be whisked off to Mountain View, California for a tour of the Googleplex and meet with the creators of AdWords and other executives. To help them in their ongoing studies, each team member will also receive an Apple MacBook Pro.


L to R: Dr. Fang Liu, Glen Linthorne (from the partner business),
Victor Tsen (hanging), Amy Smith, Aaron Balm, and Lauren Bobridge. Absent: Anna Usikov.

There were also three regional winners, including students from Pennsylvania State University, who won in the fierce Americas field, while a team from the Universität Bern in Switzerland beat some impressive competition to win for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Asia Pacific winners came from the Australian Graduate School of Management with a skillful campaign for a small specialty cake business (actually based in California).

These four teams were clearly deserving winners, but the enthusiasm all the students and professors showed for the challenge was inspiring. We initially expected slightly more than 1,000 students to take part, and were thrilled when c. 8,500 students from 47+ countries put their marketing skills to the test.

The success of the challenge and the positive feedback we've had from both professors and students was more than we had hoped for. As Dr. Fang Liu, who taught the winning team, notes:

“The Online Marketing Challenge offers a great opportunity for students to develop their skills and experience in online marketing. Local businesses also benefit as the AdWords campaigns have helped promote their business to a wider community. I feel absolutely thrilled that one of my student teams is the global winner."
We're delighted to have worked with professors to find a fun and innovative way to introduce online marketing into the university curriculum. And we're happy to say the Challenge will carry on next year, and we hope it will go from strength to strength. Here are more details on the Challenge and our winners.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Our Googley advice to students: Major in learning

Management guru Peter Drucker noted that companies attracting the best knowledge workers will "secure the single biggest factor for competitive advantage." We and other forward-looking companies put a lot of effort into hiring such people. What are we looking for?

At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that's what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.

Here's a real-life example, a challenge a team of our engineers once faced: designing a spell-checker for the Google search engine. The routine solution would be to run queries through a dictionary. The non-routine, creative solution is to use the query corrections and refinements that other users have made in the past to offer spelling suggestions for new queries. This approach enables us to correct all the words that aren't in the dictionary, helping many more users in the process.

How do we find these non-routine savants? There are many factors, of course, but we primarily look for ...

... analytical reasoning. Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

... communication skills. Marshalling and understanding the available evidence isn't useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

... a willingness to experiment. Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no formula for success. A well-designed experiment calls for a range of treatments, explicit control groups, and careful post-treatment analysis. Sometimes an experiment kills off a pet theory, so you need a willingness to accept the evidence even if you don't like it.

... team players. Virtually every project at Google is run by a small team. People need to work well together and perform up to the team's expectations.

... passion and leadership. This could be professional or in other life experiences: learning languages or saving forests, for example. The main thing, to paraphrase Mr. Drucker, is to be motivated by a sense of importance about what you do.

These characteristics are not just important in our business, but in every business, as well as in government, philanthropy, and academia. The challenge for the up-and-coming generation is how to acquire them. It's easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. Keep in mind that many required skills will change: developers today code in something called Python, but when I was in school C was all the rage. The need for reasoning, though, remains constant, so we believe in taking the most challenging courses in core disciplines: math, sciences, humanities.

And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn't end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"In their own words": political videos meet Google speech-to-text technology



In this U.S. election year, what information could be more important than the candidates' own words to describe their views, actions and platforms?

Our teams have been working to develop tools to make it easier for people to track election-related information. A few months back, YouTube encouraged everyone to participate in the discussion process through the CNN/YouTube debates, Google Checkout offered an easy and fast way for individuals to make contributions to political candidates, and the Geo team created maps and layers to inform voters during elections.

Today, the Google speech team (part of Google Research) is launching the Google Elections Video Search gadget, our modest contribution to the electoral process. With the help of our speech recognition technologies, videos from YouTube's Politicians channels are automatically transcribed from speech to text and indexed. Using the gadget you can search not only the titles and descriptions of the videos, but also their spoken content. Additionally, since speech recognition tells us exactly when words are spoken in the video, you can jump right to the most relevant parts of the videos you find. Here's a look:


In addition to providing voters with election information, we also hope to find out more about how people use speech technology to search and consume videos, and to learn what works and what doesn't, to help us improve our products.

The gadget only searches videos uploaded to YouTube's Politicians channels, which include videos from Senator Obama's and Senator McCain's campaigns, as well as those from dozens of other candidates and politicians. It usually takes less than a few hours for a video to appear in the index after it has been published on YouTube. Candidates can control the videos that appear in the gadget by managing the content they upload to YouTube. While some of the transcript snippets you see may not be 100% accurate, we hope that you'll find the product useful for most purposes. Speech recognition is a difficult problem that hasn't yet been completely solved, but we're constantly working to refine our algorithms and improve the accuracy and relevance of these transcribed results.

To try it out, just visit our iGoogle gadget page. We welcome your feedback, so please feel free to leave a comment while you're there.

Introducing the Google Webmaster Tools Access Provider Program



Creating content for the web is easy, but getting people to discover it can be a challenge. When we launched Google Webmaster Tools in 2006, the goal was to reach as many webmasters as possible in order to help them create more search engine-friendly sites. We wanted to help webmasters understand how their sites interact with Google, and we've introduced a number of features that help webmasters identify and fix problems with their sites that prevented visitors from reaching them. Google Webmaster Tools offers important data such as when sites were last crawled, who's linking to them, and what the most popular search terms are that drive traffic to their sites.

To further help webmasters create better sites, we're launching the Google Webmaster Tools Access Provider Program, which lets domain hosters from all over use our APIs to get their customers started with Google Webmaster Tools. It's an exciting development for us, and we look forward to helping more webmasters understand search. Read more about the program on our Webmaster Central blog.

No cameras. No lights. Just data.



A few weeks ago we heard about a project Radiohead was working on. The band was making a new video, but they weren't using any cameras, just lasers and data. As you might imagine, we were intrigued.

The song is called “House of Cards,” from Radiohead’s recent “In Rainbows” album. In this new video, there were no cameras on set. Instead, two scanning technologies were used to capture 3D images. Geometric Informatics scanning systems produced structured light to capture 3D images at close proximity, while a Velodyne LIDAR system that uses multiple lasers was used to capture large environments such as landscapes. In the video, 64 lasers rotating and shooting in a 360 degree radius 900 times per minute produced all the exterior scenes.

Whether you're a music fan or a developer (or both), we agreed with the band that it would be great to give you a deeper look into how all of this was done, and even a chance to play with the data yourself, under a license that allows remixing.

You can view the video, watch a short documentary about how it was made, interact with the video in 3D, download some of the data, and download an iGoogle theme and gadget - all at http://code.google.com/radiohead.

Friday, July 11, 2008

YouTubing the conventions



Through unprecedented partnerships with both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, we just debuted a video contest that will send one talented winner from each side of the aisle onto their candidate's campaign trail, and ultimately into their party's national convention in Denver or Minneapolis-St. Paul. The call to action is simple: submit a video explaining why you're a Democrat or Republican in 2008. The five most compelling and creative videos selected by each convention will be voted on by the YouTube community, who will determine the final winner.

Learn more by watching these videos from Republican Chairman Mike Duncan or Democratic Chairman Howard Dean.

These contests are a part of our larger partnership with the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. As the official providers for search and online video community, Google and YouTube are contributing a broad range of technology and services to help delegates, members of the media and interested citizens around the country to access convention events and information. And on YouTube, the two convention staffs have been busy posting videos to build buzz about the exciting events in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul this summer - like speeches from great moments in convention history.

So check out YouTube's Convention Headquarters and submit your video to the contest today. It's your chance to get involved in what promise to be two of the most exciting political events this summer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Google Mobile App: faster, easier search on iPhone & iPod Touch



Our first downloadable iPhone application is here. It's free, and it makes searching faster and easier. It's never as easy to type on a mobile phone as on a full keyboard and the mobile network is rarely as fast as a desktop connection. So Google Mobile App starts working as soon as you type. Smart features mean you'll get what you're looking for in fewer key presses than before. For instance, we've added the power of suggest (type "lost in" and one touch completes "lost in translation") and My Location (type "coffee" and one touch shows cafes right where you are on a map) to help you search.

We've also brought Google search to your iPhone's address book to make it easy to contact the people you call or text most often. To learn more and see a video showing the App in action, check out this post on the Google Mobile Blog.

U.S. users can get Google Mobile App right now. Tap the App Store icon on your iPhone, or open iTunes, and search for 'Google Mobile App'. (You need to have the latest iPhone software update to see it.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Introduction to Google Ranking



In May, Udi Manber introduced our search quality group, the group responsible for the ranking of search results. He introduced various teams within "Quality" (as we like to call the group) including Core Ranking, International Search, User Interfaces, Evaluation, Webspam, and other teams. In this post, I want to tell you more about one of these: the Core Ranking team.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Amit Singhal. I'm a Google Fellow in charge of the ranking team at Google. I've worked in the field of search for the past eighteen years, having been introduced to search in 1990 as a graduate student in computer science. In the academic world, the field of search is known as Information Retrieval (or IR). After spending a decade as an IR researcher, I came to Google in 2000, and have worked on Google ranking ever since.

Google ranking is a collection of algorithms used to find the most relevant documents for a user query. We do this for hundreds of millions of queries a day, from a collection of billions and billions of pages. These algorithms are run for every query entered into most of Google's search services. While our web search is the most used Google search service and the most widely known, the same ranking algorithms are also used - with some modifications - for other Google search services, including Images, News, YouTube, Maps, Product Search, Book Search, and more.

The most common question I get asked about Google's ranking is "how do you do it?" Of course, there is a lot that goes into building a state-of-the-art ranking system like ours, and I will delve deeper into the technology behind it in a later post. Today, I would like to briefly share the philosophies behind Google ranking:
1) Best locally relevant results served globally.
2) Keep it simple.
3) No manual intervention.
The first one is obvious. Given our passion for search, we absolutely want to make sure that every user query gets the most relevant results. We often call this the "no query left behind" principle. Whenever we return less than ideal results for any query in any language in any country - and we do (search is by no means a solved problem) - we use that as an inspiration for future improvements.

The second principle seems obvious. Isn't it the desire of all system architects to keep their systems simple? Well, as search systems go, given the wide variety of user queries we have to respond to in multiple languages, it is easy to go down the path where more and more complexity creeps into the system to serve the next incremental fraction of the queries. We work very hard to keep our system simple without compromising on the quality of results. This is an ongoing effort, and a worthy one. We make about ten ranking changes every week and simplicity is a big consideration in launching every change. Our engineers understand exactly why a page was ranked the way it was for a given query. This simple understandable system has allowed us innovate quickly, and it shows. The "keep it simple" philosophy has served us well.

No discussion of Google's ranking would be complete without asking the common - but misguided! :) - question: "Does Google manually edit its results?" Let me just answer that with our third philosophy: no manual intervention. In our view, the web is built by people. You are the ones creating pages and linking to pages. We are using all this human contribution through our algorithms. The final ordering of the results is decided by our algorithms using the contributions of the greater Internet community, not manually by us. We believe that the subjective judgment of any individual is, well ... subjective, and information distilled by our algorithms from the vast amount of human knowledge encoded in the web pages and their links is better than individual subjectivity.

The second reason we have a principle against manually adjusting our results is that often a broken query is just a symptom of a potential improvement to be made to our ranking algorithm. Improving the underlying algorithm not only improves that one query, it improves an entire class of queries, and often for all languages. I should add, however, that there are clear written policies for websites recommended by Google, and we do take action on sites that are in violation of our policies or for a small number of other reasons (e.g. legal requirements, child porn, viruses/malware, etc).

Stay tuned for my followup post, where I will discuss in detail the technologies behind our ranking and show examples of several state-of-the-art ranking techniques in action. Let me just conclude this post by saying, our passion for search is stronger than ever - and as a search researcher, I have the best job in the world :-).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Be who you want on the web pages you visit



A while ago, I looked around the social web and wished that it could be less static. Sure, you can leave a comment on a blog or write a text blurb on your social networking profile. But what if you want to express yourself in a more fun way, with 3D graphics and real-time avatar interactions? I started asking this question as a 20% project, and I'm excited to announce today's release of Lively by Google - a 3D virtual experience that is the newest addition to Google Labs.

The Lively team wants to help people experience another dimension of the web. We hope you will use the product to express yourself with and without words, and to do this in the places you already visit on the web.

If you enter a Lively room embedded on your favorite blog or website, you can immediately get a sense of the room creator's interests, just by looking at the furniture and environment they chose. You can also express your own personality by customizing your avatar's look, showing people who you are without having to say a word. Of course, you can chat with each other, and you can also interact through animated actions. In our user research, we’ve been amazed at how much more poignant it is to receive an animated hug than seeing the text “[[hug]]”.

Prior to this release, we worked closely with Arizona State University. Based on feedback from ASU students and with help from the Google Desktop team, we added support for playing YouTube videos in virtual TVs and showing photos in virtual picture frames inside our rooms. Better yet, the gadgets you have in your Lively rooms can also run on your desktop.

To learn more about Lively, please visit www.lively.com. We’re eager to hear your feedback. Maybe we'll bump into you in one of our rooms!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Protocol Buffers: Our open source data interchange format



Today we have something special for all you coders: we're releasing one of our most widely-used internal development tools. We call it "Protocol Buffers." It's the way we encode almost any sort of structured information which needs to be passed across the network or stored on disk. We thought Protocol Buffers might be useful to other people, too, so we've decided to release it as open source software. Check out the details on the Google Open Source Blog, or head directly to the project page on Google Code.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Tour the Tour de France with Street View



Today marks the beginning of one of my favorite summer events: the Tour de France. I'm always amazed when I hear about the long, steep climbs through mountains or the blistering speeds of the cyclists as they pass through the French countryside. But since most of us can't head over there to watch it in person, we're giving you the next best thing: Street View of the 2008 Tour de France route. Head to google.com/tourdefrance2008 to experience the route stage by stage, and learn more about the images (and check out some of the most breathtaking sights) over on the Lat Long blog.


View Larger Map

Thursday, July 03, 2008

More tools for citizen participation



Political participation isn't just about casting your vote; everyone should be able to become an informed participant instantly. When Americans want to learn about candidates and issues using Google, we find that they want more than one source, and immediate results. Instead of sitting through entire television broadcasts, voters are going online to get their daily dose of politics - as they did during the primaries, when searches for political queries spiked.

We created a page on 2008 US election trends that highlights search queries on candidates by location to show how, during this election season, voters across the nation are getting politically engaged online. Use the Candidate Search Queries map to see which cities are searching more for Obama or McCain, and the News by Candidate tool on the trends page to see the latest headlines on each of the presidential contenders.

Our political outreach efforts are aimed at providing citizens with useful knowledge on where candidates, office holders and advocacy groups stand. As more Americans go online and take simple steps to participate in politics, we aspire to promote democracy and informed participation in the process by equipping voters with useful information through search.

What comes next in this series? 13, 33, 53, 61, 37, 28...



Late one night in the summer of 2000, I found myself answering user support emails in response to two new features we had just released, Advanced Search and Preferences (at the time catchily called "Language, Display, and Filtering Options" :)). Busy crafting answers about how to set Safesearch or change the number of results offered by default, I worked my way through the email queue. And then I saw it: The next email had just a number ("37") in the subject - and no message text. What a weird form of spam, I thought. Why would anyone be motivated to just send a number? I searched for the user's email address to see what else had been sent. Interesting. Lots of numbers: 33, 53, and then a clue: "61, getting a bit heavy, aren't we?" Furthermore, the date on each of the messages seemed very familiar. Then I realized that's because the dates were all days that I had launched various changes on the homepage. "Getting a bit heavy?" - that one did correspond to one of the wordiest homepage releases we had ever done. Could the sender be counting words? Sure enough, I looked back, counted the words myself, and he was - a manual, human version of a scale for the Google homepage. He was weighing our homepage and letting us know when it was getting too heavy. One of his earliest mails had a note in the body: "What happened to the days of 13?" - referring to the word count on the initial 1999 homepage.

This mystery and its revelation was really interesting because I thought about the homepage, and how to keep it simple, all the time. Yet I hadn't thought to look at it through this very simple lens: just count the words. The fewer, the better. Ever since that night, this has been our discipline, and everyone who works on the homepage and its design knows the current number: 28. (That's the word count for the basic page if you are signed out, there's no promotional line running beneath the search box, you've set Google as your homepage and thus don't get the "Make Google Your Homepage!" link, and you count "©2008 Google" as two words.)

So, today we're making a homepage change by adding a link to our privacy overview and policies. Google values our users' privacy first and foremost. Trust is the basis of everything we do, so we want you to be familiar and comfortable with the integrity and care we give your personal data. We added this link both to our homepage and to our results page to make it easier for you to find information about our privacy principles. The new "Privacy" link goes to our Privacy Center, which was revamped earlier this year to be more straightforward and approachable, with videos and a non-legalese overview to make sure you understand in basic terms what Google does, does not, will, and won't, do in regard to your personal information.

How does privacy relate to homepage word count? Larry and Sergey told me we could only add this to the homepage if we took a word away - keeping the "weight" of the homepage unchanged at 28. Given that the new Privacy link fit best with legal disclaimers on the page, I looked to the copyright line. There, we dropped the word "Google" (realizing it was implied, obviously) and added the new privacy link alongside it.



We think the easy access to our privacy information without any added homepage heft is a clear win for our users and an enhancement to your experience. You can check out the new Privacy Center here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wrapup: Google Developer Days and Google I/O



May and June were exciting months for our developer team. Not only is it the start of summer in the Bay Area, but also the start of Google I/O and Google Developer Days around the world. Many of the team dispersed to various parts of the globe to meet with developers. Here's a quick recap of where we've been, and where we're heading.

San Francisco, May 28-29
We started the summer with Google I/O. This two-day conference was our biggest developer gathering to date. While we'd love for every single software developer to come to these events, we realize that isn't possible. So we've recorded as many of the sessions as we could and made them available online. We've posted videos and presentations more than 70 sessions for you to view.

Yokohama, June 10
Shortly after Google I/O, we kicked off our 2008 Google Developer Days. The first stop was Yokohama, Japan. Andy Rubin and Takuya Oikawa started the day before 1100 developers, highlighting the Android user interface, the Earth API's 3D graphics, and announcing Japan's new Google Developer API Expert program. Videos and sessions are now available.

Beijing, June 12
Two days later, Marissa Mayer and Kai-Fu Lee opened Developer Day in Beijing for more than 2,000 developers, highlighting the effort between Google and local developer communities to collectively make the web better as a platform. Notably, we welcomed several new Chinese networks to the OpenSocial community, including 51.com, 51wan.com, Douban.com, Hainei.com, Tianji.com, Xiaonei.com, and YiQi.com. These networks join a few others that have already launched in China, including MySpace.cn and Tianya.cn, as well as CityIN.com, which has shipped a sandbox for developers. Beijing videos and sessions are here.

Taipei, June 14
Next on the schedule was Taipei's first Google Developer Day, with 900 developers. In the developer showcase, we invited three developers to demonstrate web applications they'd built using Google APIs: Wei-chih Chiang, a student of Yi Shou University and his Photo Note site, Jun-Chieh Huang, founder of ischool, a website that integrates Google services for elementary and high schools in Taiwan, and FunP, a social website integrating OpenSocial features. Here are the Taipei videos and sessions.

Sydney, June 18
Rounding out the Asia-Pacific Developer Days was an intimate group of 450 developers in Sydney right by scenic Darling Harbor. In addition to folks from Google, we were excited to have Daniel Reyes, Head of Engineering from MySpace AU, stop by to share his team's work with Gears. Also of note were six local developers who showcased their app at our speedgeeking contest: contest winners Casey and Dan Russell of CleanCruising, Nick Lothian of Scootle, Ken Hoetmer of Quikmaps, Tom Horn of the Patrick O'Brien Mapping Project, Tak Tran with the Collaborative Autobiography site, and Tim Savage with the SEQ Brisbane Water Levels gadget.

Mexico City, June 23
John Farrell and Alfonso Luna opened our first Developer Day in Mexico City. 500 enthusiastic developers joined us from all over Central and South America, with a crowd of them gathering as early as 6am, well ahead of the 9am start time. Check out sessions.

Sao Paulo, June 27
Alexandre Hohagen and Paulo Golgher welcomed 750 developers to Developer Day in Sao Paulo, the largest event in Google Brazil's history. The crowd was especially excited to hear Eduardo Thuler's announcement of orkut's upcoming support of OpenSocial in Brazil.

Our Developer Days don't stop there, though. After a summer break, look for the team to hit the road again, including a new date in Bangalore.
  • September 16 - London, England
  • September 18 - Paris, France
  • September 23 - Munich, Germany
  • September 25 - Madrid, Spain
  • October 11 - Bangalore, India
  • October 21 - Milan, Italy
  • October 24 - Prague, Czech Republic
  • October 28 - Moscow, Russia
Stay tuned for registration details for these Developer Days.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Google Apps continues to build in Europe



With Google Apps nearing the venerable age of 17 months, we have already seen more than 500,000 organizations adopt Apps as part of their business, with another 3,000 signing up every day. Many of those customers are small- and medium-sized businesses, but more and more large enterprises are also opting for the cost savings and greater flexibility that cloud computing offers.

A good example is Taylor Woodrow, a UK-based construction, facilities management and engineering company that has just moved all its employees onto Google Apps Premier Edition. Their 1,800 users can now collaborate from offices, construction sites, and client premises across the UK and Benelux. Not only has it brought greater mobility and flexibility to everyone, but Taylor Woodrow's director of IT estimates he's saved £1 million in the process. Read more on the Google Enterprise Blog.