Every year right about now we round up our blogging activity across Google. Ready? Here goes.

This is our 368th post of the year on the main Google blog, which is 23% more than in 2007. In addition to more posts, we are thrilled to know that we have many more readers now — 78% more, to be exact. The number of unique visitors jumped from 6,738,830 last year to more than 12 million (12,000,723) in 2008. And readers are coming from all over: the UK, Canada, India, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Japan and beyond. The top non-Google referrers are Yahoo, Digg, Reddit, Lifehacker and Slashdot.

We posted quite a bit about new products (10) and new product features (56), but nothing caused as much excitement as our earlier-than-planned unveiling of Google Chrome. This post alone had 1,735,093 unique visitors and generated 12% of our total-year pageviews on the blog! There was also the much-anticipated announcement of the first Android-powered phone. And people enjoyed reading about our design philosophies. Who knew a little change to a favicon would generate such interest?

But it wasn't all just product news; there was much else to cover in 2008. To mark Google's 10th birthday, we took a moment to reflect on the enormous impact the Internet has had on people's lives since our founding. Some of our in-house experts shared their thoughts on how various technologies will evolve in the next 10 years.

Like many of you, we were on the edge of seats watching all of the U.S. election action. We posted 27 times about political subjects, providing information about voting tools, how the political process works, and what was top of mind on Election Day. It's clear that technology will be playing an even bigger role in politics in years to come.

Of course, we had some fun too: We kept our long-standing April Fools' Day tradition going with the announcement of Project Virgle; we covered new ways to get around the Googleplex and the masterminding of a giant Ferris wheel; and we raised our glass to a couple who got married with Google.

And the Google blog network keeps on growing: 44 new blogs launched this year, for a total of 127 active company blogs. A few highlights: eight new developer blogs (the Open Source blog is shining star, with 370,000 unique visitors since its start in February), and 22 new ads-related blogs, nearly half of which are in languages other than English (there are AdSense blogs in Traditional Chinese and Russian; and AdWords blogs in Danish, German, Turkish, French, Russian, Korean, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Spanish). There's even an Analytics blog in French. And we also welcomed three new regional blogs, for India, Africa, and the Ukraine. Sharing information with people wherever they are in whatever language they speak is a priority for us, and each of these new blogs helps us get a little bit closer to this goal. If the total number of Google blogs makes your head spin, don't worry. We've developed a new blog directory and gadget to help you more easily track news and updates from us.

We're looking forward to another robust year of keeping you informed of all the goings-on at Google. In the meantime, we wish you and yours a very happy New Year.

The holidays are a time for giving, and Googlers across the globe have found some creative ways to give back to their communities this season. From raising money and crafting greeting cards to building gingerbread houses and giving blood, Googlers from east to west have been busy spreading good cheer. We've highlighted just a few of these efforts here, and we're looking forward to many more opportunities to give back in the new year.

The UK engineering recruitment team started to plan its annual Secret Santa gift exchange. But as they began thinking about last year, they realized that hardly anyone on the team could remember what they'd received, let alone given. Instead of spending 10 pounds on gag gifts, they decided to use the money to make a difference. After discovering that a local children's hospital was in desperate need of gifts, they quickly raised enough money to buy a Nintendo Wii gaming console for one of the wards.

Mexico City
In the past, Google has held a "Doodle 4 Google" contest in the US, the UK, and Australia, inviting kids K-12 to submit a homepage doodle inspired by a particular theme. This year Mexico held its first such contest (theme: "the Mexico we want"). For each doodle submitted, Google donated to a non-profit that works to eradicate childhood malnutrition in Mexico. In total, more than 70,000 kilos (154,000 pounds) of food and aid were donated. Winner, Ana Karen Villagómez, was recently recognized in a ceremony in Mexico City; her doodle (pictured below) will appear on the Google homepage on January 6.

Boston and beyond
Boston Googlers delivered gifts to some very grateful students at a local school and spent the morning reading and playing with the children. The Chicago office held its first-ever holiday blood drive, donating 36 units of blood. And the Ann Arbor office held a "CANstruction" competition, creating sculptures out of canned food, personal items and baby items, which were all later donated.

We hope that your holiday season is filled with plenty of time to slow down and reflect on what's important to you, and that you too feel inspired to find ways to give back to your own community in the new year.

When I look back on four years of tracking Old St. Nick on Christmas Eve, I can't help but smile. The Santa tracker has really come a long way. I always thought NORAD's Santa Tracker was a great holiday tradition, but I felt like it could have been even better if people could visualize exactly where Santa was on Christmas Eve. So in 2004, shortly after Keyhole was acquired by Google, we followed Santa in the "Keyhole Earth Viewer" — Google Earth's original name — and we called it the "Keyhole Santa Radar." The audience was relatively small since Keyhole was still a for-pay service at that point, and we hosted everything on a single machine shared with the Keyhole Community BBS server. We probably should have had three separate servers to host the Santa tracker — that first year, we had only a portion of a single machine. That night, about 25,000 people kept tabs on Santa and, needless to say, wreaked some havoc on our servers!

Over the next two years, our Santa-tracking efforts improved dramatically. By December 2005, Keyhole had become Google Earth and our audience had become much, much larger. Our "Santa Radar" team also grew: we used greatly improved icons from Dennis Hwang, the Google Doodler, and set up 20 machines to serve the tracking information. My colleague Michael Ashbridge took over the software and more than 250,000 people tracked Santa on Google Earth that Christmas Eve. In 2006, Google acquired SketchUp, a 3D modeling software that enabled us to include models of Santa's North Pole workshop and sleigh. We also incorporated a tracking feed directly from NORAD's headquarters, and we were now displaying NORAD's information in Google Earth. That year, more than a million people tracked Santa.

In 2007, Google became NORAD's official Santa Tracking technology partner and hosted In addition to tracking Santa in Google Earth, we added a Google Maps tracker and integrated YouTube videos into the journey as well. Now, we had Santa on the map and on "Santa Cam" arriving in several different locations around the world, with commentary in six different languages. The heavy traffic — several millions of users — put Google's infrastructure to the test, but with some heroic work by our system reliability engineers, the Santa Tracker worked continuously.

This year, Googler Bruno Bowden is in charge of the Santa software, and we have further upgraded our server capacity. We're hoping this version of the tracker will be the best yet. In addition to our "Santa Cam" footage, geo-located photos from Panoramio will be viewable in Google Maps for each of Santa's stops that don't include video. We've also included a few new ways to track Santa. With Google Maps for mobile, anyone can keep tabs on him from their mobile phones (just activate GMM and search for "norad santa"). You can also receive updates from "Bitz the Elf" on Twitter by following @noradsanta. And of course, be sure to visit tomorrow morning starting at 6:00 am EST when Santa's journey begins. Enjoy, and see you in 2009!

Many of us use Google Image Search to find imagery of people, clip art for presentations, diagrams for reports, and of course symbols and patterns for artistic inspiration. Unfortunately, searching for the perfect image can be challenging if the search results match the meaning of your query but aren't in a style that's useful to you. So some time ago we launched face search, which lets you limit your search results to only images containing faces (see a search without and with this option). More recently we also rolled out photo search, which limits results to images that contain photographic elements, ignoring many cartoons and drawings which may not be useful to you (see a search without and with this option).

Today we're pleased to extend this capability to clip art and line drawings. To see the effect of these new options, let's take a look at the first few results for "Christmas," one of our most popular queries on Image Search right now.

Photo content

Clip art

Line drawing

All of these options can be selected from the "Any content" drop down in the blue title bar on any search results page, or by selecting one of the "Content types" on the Advanced Image Search page. The good news: no extra typing! In all these examples our query remained exactly the same, we just restricted our results to different visual styles. So whether you're interested holiday wreaths, Celtic patterns, or office clip art, it just became a lot easier to find the images you're looking for.

We believe great ideas can come from anywhere and everyone. And we aspire to be an organization that reflects global diversity, because we know that a world's worth of perspectives, ideas and cultures leads to the creation of better products and services. We have more than a dozen employee-driven resource groups, from Gayglers to GWE (Google Women Engineers), that actively participate around the world in building community and driving policy at Google. This is the next post in our Interface series, which takes a look at valuing people's similarities and differences in the workplace. For more information on how Google fosters an inclusive work environment, visit Life at Google on our Jobs site. – Ed.

It's been a busy few months for the Black Googlers Network (BGN). One of our group's core goals is to build a community that keeps us connected, facilitates the sharing of ideas, and participates in community outreach. We sponsored a variety of events this fall across many of our offices, giving us the opportunity to give back and have some fun while doing it.

To kick things off, a group of us from the Mountain View, New York, Ann Arbor, Chicago and Atlanta offices, to name a few, rolled up our sleeves for our first annual service trip. We headed to New Orleans in September to aid in the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts. Undeterred by Hurricane Gustav, which unexpectedly hit the coast the week before we arrived, we managed to make some adjustments to flights and itineraries and were some of the first volunteers back into the city.

We partnered with the St. Bernard Project, learning everything from how to lay flooring to installing drywall as we worked on three homes. Additionally, we joined a strategy session with The Idea Village, helping them kick off their newest initiative, the 504ward Project. The opportunity to serve the community in such a meaningful way while getting to know BGN members was unique. We each put our minds, bodies, and souls into the city and the experience.

Next, BGN participated in the United Negro College Fund's annual Walk-a-thon in Oakland, CA. Our Google-UNCF partnership also includes an annual scholarship for college students pursing a degree in engineering or computer science, and we're continuing to explore different ways to support and encourage underrepresented students.

This month, we're coming together in many of our offices for the holidays, giving ourselves a chance to catch up and take stock of the work we've done over the past year. Not to be slowed down for too long, though, as we will soon begin the exciting process of planning our new initiatives for 2009.

Back in September we introduced an iGoogle gadget that makes it possible to read recent posts from all of our corporate blogs, right on your dashboard. With the help of developer Ben Lisbakken, we're ready to roll out the next version of the gadget, which translates posts into 34 languages. Using Google Translate, the gadget gives people all over the world access to posts they might otherwise be unable to read. The default setting translates posts into the language in which your browser is set, but you can also choose from any of our supported languages by going into the "Edit" setting (found in the "Menu" arrow in the right-hand corner). If you want to learn more about Google in Latin America or AdWords in Russia, for example, but haven't had the chance to learn Spanish or Russian, give the gadget a spin. While machine translation is not exact, and we're constantly working to improve the quality, hopefully this new feature lets you get the gist of the post.

Here's a list of the supported languages:
Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese

Just choose the category of blogs you would like to read and click the "Translate" button.

The gadget will translate the posts and give you the option to "Revert" back to the original language. And to read the entire blog in translation, just click on the blog title beneath the post.

We hope you have fun exploring the entire Google blogosphere.

This guest post was written by Kathy Kleiman, who discovered the ENIAC Programmers 20 years ago and founded the ENIAC Programmers Project to record their stories and produce the first feature documentary about their work. More at – Ed.

"For many years in the computing industry, the hardware was it, the software was considered an auxiliary thing."
– Jean Bartik

For more than 50 years, the women of Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC) were forgotten, and their role in programming the first all-electronic programmable computer and creating the software industry lost. But this fall, old met young, and a great computer pioneer met today's Internet pioneers. It happened in Silicon Valley and it happened at Google.

A little over a month ago, the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View honored Jean Bartik with its Fellows Award. This lifetime achievement award recognized her work as a programmer of the ENIAC and leader of the team to convert ENIAC to a stored program machine.

The Fellows Award was a rousing celebration of Bartik, Bob Metcalfe and Linus Torvalds. The next night, Bartik returned to CHM to discuss her life story in An Evening with Jean Jennings Bartik, ENIAC Pioneer. More than 400 people attended. They laughed at Bartik's descriptions of the ENIAC Programmers' exploits and enjoyed her stories of “Technical Camelot,” Bartik's description of her days at Eckert and Mauchly Computer Corporation in the 1950s. This video captures the evening:

During the Q&A session, one audience member asked: “If you were working today, where would you want to work?” Without hesitation, Bartik replied “Google!” with a huge smile. Googlers in the audience cheered.

Two days later, Bartik and I went to Google. We were met by our hosts, Ellen Spertus, Robin Jeffries, Peter Toole and Stephanie Williams, and whisked onto the campus past scrolling screens of Google searches and beach volleyball courts.

In the cafeteria, two dozen Google Women Engineers joined us. They pushed their chairs close to Bartik and leaned in to catch every word. Bartik regaled them with stories of computing's pioneers – the genius of John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, co-inventors of the computer, and the ingenuity of Betty Holberton and Kay Mauchly Antonelli, fellow programmers and software creators. She shared the joys and struggles of those who created the computer industry.

After lunch we toured the campus. Bartik enjoyed seeing where Googlers program work and the videoconferencing equipment they use to talk with colleagues around the world.

It is a visit we will never forget, and for me, its own moment in history. Twenty years ago, I discovered the ENIAC Programmers and learned their untold story. I founded the ENIAC Programmers Project to record their histories, seek recognition for them and produce the first feature documentary of their story. Our website provides more information about the documentary, WWII-era pictures and an opportunity to help change history. The stories Bartik shared with Googlers that day belong to the world.

A few months back, we announced some pretty big upgrades to Picasa and Picasa Web Albums for English-speaking users in the U.S. On the PC side, we rolled out a brand-new version of Picasa, with a slew of new tools like effortless web sync, movie editing, and photo-retouching capabilities. On the web, we launched "name tags," a new feature that automatically helps organize your photo collection based on who's in each of your pictures.

Today, just in time for your holiday snapshots, these changes (and more!) are available in all of the 38 languages we currently support. If you've been waiting to try the new photo-collage feature in Picasa, or been curious to see how clustering technology can automatically find similar faces across your photo collection, now's the time to download Picasa 3.1 or opt in to name tags on Picasa Web Albums.

Of course, having a truly global audience sharing and commenting on photos is one of the things that makes Picasa special. The people and places you'll spot on our Explore page attest to this, as do the multilingual comments users receive on their most popular public albums. That's why we just launched automatic comment translation on Picasa Web Albums, which harnesses Google Translate to make sure you know that "美麗的落日" means "Beautiful sunset!"

In fact, if you look closely, you'll see that we've recently rolled out a number of other small but meaningful changes across Picasa Web Albums, in all 38 languages -- ranging from improved sharing to better video playback. Swing by the Google Photos blog to learn more about what's new.

(Or, if you speak British or American English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Brazilian or European Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, Danish , Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Serbian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Tagolog, Thai, Vietnamese, or Ukrainian, just visit Picasa Web Albums and see for yourself!)

(Cross-posted from the Google SketchUp Blog)

Chilly weather, hot chocolate, holiday celebrations... I'm proud to kick off our sweetest SketchUp modeling challenge ever: the first annual Google SketchUp Gingerbread House Design Competition. To make it a little easier to design the gingerbread house of your dreams, I modeled a blank house to get you started. Go ahead and download it from the 3D Warehouse, then follow the instructions in the file.

I also built a selection of decorations (candy canes, gumdrops, wafer roof tiles) that you can use to spiff up your model. Of course, you're welcome to do anything you like; it's your masterpiece. When you're finished, don't forget to label your gingerbread house with the tag "gingerbread2009" and upload it to the 3D Warehouse. The competition deadline is January 4th at midnight, Pacific Standard Time.

This undertaking is all about having fun with SketchUp, so the prizes will be glory based. (What did you expect: a gingerbread flat-screen TV?) We'll award the following prizes, and announce the winners here and on the SketchUpdate about a week after the competition closes on January 4th.
  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd place – for the best overall gingerbread houses in the collection
  • The 'Sprinkles' Prize – for the best additions to the base model (the crazier, the better)
  • The 'Swirl' Prize – for the best use of Dynamic Components in the model
  • The 'Sweet-tooth' Prize – for the most creative use of a single candy ingredient in a model
If you're looking for inspiration, take a gander at what folks did with Santa's sleigh last year. Have fun, and happy holidays.

(Cross-posted from the Google Public Policy Blog)

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog last summer tried to define what we at Google mean when we talk about the concept of net neutrality.

Broadband providers -- the on-ramps to the Internet -- should not be allowed to prioritize traffic based on the source, ownership or destination of the content. As I noted in that post, broadband providers should have the flexibility to employ network upgrades, such as edge caching. However, they shouldn't be able to leverage their unilateral control over consumers' broadband connections to hamper user choice, competition, and innovation. Our commitment to that principle of net neutrality remains as strong as ever.

Some critics have questioned whether improving Web performance through edge caching -- temporary storage of frequently accessed data on servers that are located close to end users -- violates the concept of network neutrality. As I said last summer, this myth -- which unfortunately underlies a confused story in Monday's Wall Street Journal -- is based on a misunderstanding of the way in which the open Internet works.

Edge caching is a common practice used by ISPs and application and content providers in order to improve the end user experience. Companies like Akamai, Limelight, and Amazon's Cloudfront provide local caching services, and broadband providers typically utilize caching as part of what are known as content distribution networks (CDNs). Google and many other Internet companies also deploy servers of their own around the world.

By bringing YouTube videos and other content physically closer to end users, site operators can improve page load times for videos and Web pages. In addition, these solutions help broadband providers by minimizing the need to send traffic outside of their networks and reducing congestion on the Internet's backbones. In fact, caching represents one type of innovative network practice encouraged by the open Internet.

Google has offered to "colocate" caching servers within broadband providers' own facilities; this reduces the provider's bandwidth costs since the same video wouldn't have to be transmitted multiple times. We've always said that broadband providers can engage in activities like colocation and caching, so long as they do so on a non-discriminatory basis.

All of Google's colocation agreements with ISPs -- which we've done through projects called OpenEdge and Google Global Cache -- are non-exclusive, meaning any other entity could employ similar arrangements. Also, none of them require (or encourage) that Google traffic be treated with higher priority than other traffic. In contrast, if broadband providers were to leverage their unilateral control over consumers' connections and offer colocation or caching services in an anti-competitive fashion, that would threaten the open Internet and the innovation it enables.

Despite the hyperbolic tone and confused claims in Monday's Journal story, I want to be perfectly clear about one thing: Google remains strongly committed to the principle of net neutrality, and we will continue to work with policymakers in the years ahead to keep the Internet free and open.

P.S.: The Journal story also quoted me as characterizing President-elect Obama's net neutrality policies as "much less specific than they were before." For what it's worth, I don't recall making such a comment, and it seems especially odd given that President-elect Obama's supportive stance on network neutrality hasn't changed at all.

Update: Larry Lessig, Save the Internet, Public Knowledge, David Isenberg, Wired and others all found fault with today's piece too.

We know many of you enjoy using Twitter to see what people are talking about and to let others know what you've been up to, whether it's sharing a YouTube video or checking in on your friend's tweets. To help you and your Twitter network stay connected no matter where you are on the web, we're excited to announce that Google Friend Connect has integrated with Twitter. This means that when you join a friend connected site, you can choose to use your Twitter profile, discover people you follow on Twitter who are also members of the site, and quickly tweet that you have found a cool website.

To send a tweet about a site you have joined, click the invite link in the members gadget, then click the Twitter icon on the share tab. The next time your followers sign in to Twitter, they'll see your tweet containing a link to the interesting site you've found.

This integration with Twitter is an example of how we want to continue improving Friend Connect, extending the open social web and bringing social features to more places on the web.

Since we first released Google Chrome, the development team has been hard at work improving the stability and overall performance of the browser. In just 100 days, we have reached more than 10 million active users around the world (on all seven continents, no less) and released 14 updates to the product. We're excited to announce that with today's fifteenth release we are taking off the "beta" label!

Google Chrome is a better browser today thanks to the many users who sent their feedback and the many more who enabled automatic crash reports, helping us rapidly diagnose and fix issues. Some of the areas where we've made great progress include:

Better stability and performance of plug-ins (particularly video). Video and audio glitches were among the most common bugs fixed during the beta period. If you had problems watching videos with Google Chrome in the past, you should be pleasantly surprised with the performance now.

Even more speed. Google Chrome starts up fast, loads pages quickly, and just keeps getting faster. Since the first beta, the V8 JavaScript engine runs 1.4 times faster on the SunSpider benchmark and 1.5 times faster on the V8 benchmark — and there is more speed to come.

Bookmark manager and privacy controls. We heard you! Better bookmark features were a top request from our users. It's now easier to switch between another browser and Google Chrome with the bookmark import and export features, and we added a new simple way to manage large numbers of bookmarks, too. We also wanted to make it even easier for you to control your browsing data, so all of the features in Google Chrome which affect user privacy are now grouped in one place with detailed explanations for each one.

We've taken security very seriously from the beginning and we will continue to look for ways to make Google Chrome and all browsers even more secure. Google Chrome's unique sandbox technology creates an additional layer of defense against harmful software, while the Safe Browsing feature provides protection against phishing and malware attacks for many browser users.

We have removed the beta label as our goals for stability and performance have been met but our work is far from done. We are working to add some common browser features such as form autofill and RSS support in the near future. We are also developing an extensions platform along with support for Mac and Linux. If you are already using Google Chrome, the update system ensures that you get the latest bug fixes and security patches, so you will get the newest version automatically in the next few days. If you haven't used Google Chrome for a while, now might be a good time to give it another spin.

Download Google Chrome and try it out. Let us know what you think.

(Cross-posted from the YouTube Blog)

We've always been committed to providing you the tools to have the best possible YouTube experience. Educating parents, teens, and families on how to stay safe on our site is a critical part of that commitment, so we can't think of a more appropriate place to introduce our new Abuse and Safety Center than at the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conference in Washington, D.C., today.

The center features straightforward safety tips and multimedia resources from experts and prominent safety organizations. We are empowering people with the information and tools they need to help them deal with issues like cyberbullying, online harassment, and hateful content.

The new center also makes it easier for you to find our Help and Safety Tool, which lets you report concerns to us and gives you granular control over your channel, like the option of blocking comments from specific users or disabling the video comments feature on specific videos.

The Abuse and Safety Center is easy to find. Just look at the bottom of any YouTube page and click on the link titled "Abuse and Safety Center." From phishing scams to just learning what it means to be a good YouTube citizen, you'll find the information you need.

Finally, check out FOSI's meeting page for more information about our presence at the conference, where Shantal Rands from Google's legal team will receive a FOSI Award for Outstanding Achievement in advancing the goal of a safer Internet. Plus, Andrew McLaughlin, Google's Director of Global Policy & Government Affairs, is speaking about "Protecting Kids and Free Speech Online," and YouTube's Policy Analyst Micah Schaffer will address online safety in social media.

We'll continue to add new information and features to the center, so check back often.

In the spirit of holiday giving, we've partnered with nonprofit organizations to create themes that showcase the change they are helping to create. With iGoogle Themes for Causes, you can show your support for the cause that inspires you most by adding that theme to your iGoogle page.

Our partners in iGoogle Themes for Causes span a variety of areas including the environment, international development, education, health, civil rights, and disaster relief. They include organizations like Heifer International, Oxfam America, Ashoka, Doctors without Borders, Save the Children, charity:water, and Conservation International — just to name a few. We're honored to help these organizations increase their reach by making their themes available to the millions of iGoogle users around the world who care about the great work they're doing.

The intent of these themes is to raise awareness as well as donations. Each theme has a "Donate" link that appears in the upper right-hand corner to make your holiday donations easier. We also encourage you to share your favorite Theme for a Cause with your family and friends.

We hope you find your favorite cause among our new themes and can make it a part of your homepage.

Google's users are intrinsically curious. Why else would you search? And, since we at Google are pretty curious ourselves, we wondered which of our users' queries might be truly global and which may be unique to certain cultures. This is why, for the first time, our annual Year-End Zeitgeist features search data from more than 30 countries.

So, what do we in this global village have in common? Mainly a strong interest in socializing and politics. Social networks comprised four out of the top 10 global fastest-rising queries, while the U.S. election held everyone's interest around the globe. Republican VP candidate, Sarah Palin, may have lost in the election, but she was the #1 fastest-rising query on our global list (Obama was #6).

On the other hand, cultural differences still abound. Russians elected Dmitri Medvedev as their president, but a couple of popular musical acts got more attention from Google searchers. And in Poland, the 5th fastest-rising term was "Jozin z Bazin," an old 1978 Czech song that roughly translates to, "Joe of the Swamp." The song became a sensation on YouTube, and the comedian who originally performed it is touring again!

It's because of our inquisitive users that our annual Zeitgeist list is a true reflection of the times, with the billions of Google searches conducted every year lending us insight into our global society.

With just 22 days left in the year, I can't help but think back to where Street View was at the beginning of 2008. At that time, we had imagery for 23 cities in the United States, and we had just released embeddable panoramas. Although Street View was still in its infancy, we were excited about the user feedback we had gotten and the creative uses we were seeing.

So we started 2008 with a clear, simple goal: bring Street View to more people in more places. Every time we add imagery for a new city or town, we're not just benefiting its citizens, who now can preview their driving route or check for parking meters outside their dentist's office, but anyone traveling to that place or teaching about it or simply curious to see more of the world.

Looking back over the past 12 months, I think it's safe to say that we've had quite a year. We kept up a pretty steady pace adding new U.S. cities, from the beaches of Florida to the snowy peaks in Alaska — and many spots in between. In March, we brought you the first national park in Street View and have since added nearly a dozen others. We've even come across some pretty quirky sights along the way, like a giant rocking chair.

Sounds like a pretty big year, right? Well, of course, that's not all. Today marks our biggest launch of Street View imagery to date: we're doubling our coverage in the United States. Several states — Maine, West Virginia, North Dakota, and South Dakota — will be getting the Street View treatment for the first time. We've also added imagery for Memphis, Charleston (SC), and Birmingham, and we've filled in lots of gaps across the country.



Since there are spectacular things to see all around the world, Street View also headed overseas this year. In July, Street View made its international debut with imagery of the Tour de France route, and kept rolling from there. After starting the year with just one country, we now have seven — France, Japan, Australia, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, and the U.S. — letting you see some of the world's most famous attractions and landmarks, ranging from the Eiffel Tower to Shibuya, Tokyo to the Pantheon.

View Larger Map

This year wasn't only about adding new cities, but also about making Street View more useful and more accessible. In March, Street View imagery was added to the Google Maps API. This has led to an amazing array of uses, ranging from simplifying the real estate search to creating adventure games to showing bike paths. We also integrated Street View into our own driving directions, making it easier for you to explore the real world when you finish your virtual sightseeing. And just two weeks ago, we unveiled a substantial overhaul to the Street View experience, making it much easier to access and explore imagery (and hopefully a little more fun, too).

We've also brought Street View to more platforms — first to Google Earth, allowing you to view ground-level imagery alongside all the rich Google Earth content, and in the past few months, to a wide range of mobile devices so that the imagery is close at hand while you're out on the streets.

One of our other updates this year was developing technology that blurs identifiable faces and license plates. But if you happen to come across something in Street View that you find objectionable, simply click "Report a concern" at the bottom of the image.

Between today's launch and all the other launches this year, 2008 saw a 22-fold increase in the amount of Street View imagery available around the world.

On the Lat Long blog, you'll find a collection of impressive images from today's launch. And keep Street View in mind during the holiday season. Whether you're looking for a good hill to sled on, want to preview hotels for a ski trip, or need some visual cues for your directions to a holiday party, Street View can help!

The word "magazine" is derived from the Arabic word "makhazin," meaning storehouse. Since Daniel Defoe published the world's first English magazine back in 1704, millions of magazines catering to nearly every imaginable taste have been created and consumed, passed from person to person in cafes, barber shops, libraries, and homes around the world. If you're wondering what cars people drove in the eighties or what was in fashion thirty years ago, there's a good chance that you'll find that answer in a magazine. Yet few magazine archives are currently available online.

Today, we're announcing an initiative to help bring more magazine archives and current magazines online, partnering with publishers to begin digitizing millions of articles from titles as diverse as New York Magazine, Popular Mechanics, and Ebony. Are you a baseball history fanatic? Try a search for [hank aaron pursuing babe ruth's record] on Google Book Search. You'll find a link to a 1973 Ebony article about Hank Aaron, written as he closed in on Babe Ruth's original record for career home runs. You can read the article in full color and in its original context, just as you would in the printed magazine. Scroll back a few pages, for example, and you'll find a two-page spread on 1973's fall fashions. If you'd like to read further, you can click on "Browse all issues" to view issues from across the decades.

Explore other publications, like Popular Science, New York Magazine, or (for you physics enthusiasts) the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, to rediscover historical interviews, do-it-yourself articles, and even a piece on canine eyewear. In many cases, these magazines aren't just history as history, but history as perspective — a way of understanding today.

You can search for magazines through Google Book Search. Try queries like [obama keynote convention], [hollywood brat pack] or [world's most challenging crossword] and you'll find magazine articles alongside books results. Magazine articles are tagged with the keyword "Magazine" on the search snippet.

Over time, as we scan more articles, you'll see more and more magazines appear in Google Book Search results. Eventually, we'll also begin blending magazine results into our main search results, so you may begin finding magazines you didn't even know you were looking for. For now you can restrict your search to magazines we've scanned by trying an advanced search.

For years, we've worked to make as much information as possible accessible online, whether that information comes from books, newspapers, or images. We think that bringing more magazines online is one more important step toward our long-standing goal of providing access to all the world's information.

The rivalry has become a social phenomenon, from YouTube videos condemning pirates' accents to movies predicting the outcome of a final showdown, and games that let you decide who's the mightiest. The clash comes to a head twice a year: Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th, and the Day of the Ninja on December 5th.

In September, we announced support for searching in pirate in time for the rum-filled celebrations. But when we sat down to brainstorm how one might search in ninja, we had a challenge. As far as we know, ninjas communicate telepathically -- and sadly, our search algorithm isn't quite there yet.

In fact, due to the stealth behavior inherent to ninja life, we didn't even know how to contact one for a consultation. We started looking for evidence of ninja activity on the web, and what we found confirmed our own inability to locate ninjas. Over the last four years, searches for ninjas have steadily increased:

But does an increase in curiosity indicate an increase in the ninja population? To answer this, we took a peek into our aggregated search terms over 2008. What we found seems to support the notion of a pervasive ninja community. But even that's open to interpretation:

Top Queries of 2008 related to "Ninjas Are..."
  1. ninjas are there
  2. ninjas are everywhere
  3. ninjas are better
  4. ninjas are awesome
  5. ninjas are sexy

Are we witnessing a quiet but steady ninja takeover? Should pirates be taking to the seas? Only time will tell. Or take matters into your own hands by comparing queries and graphs yourself using our Insights for Search tool.

Posted by Kasia Chmielinski, Google Blog Team

We're pleased to share that Google Friend Connect is now available in beta to any webmaster looking to add a "dash of social" to his or her site. This service lets webmasters add social features to their sites by simply copying and pasting a few snippets of code — no advanced coding or technical background required.

We know that people want to be social on the web, and Friend Connect makes it easy for anyone to sign in to a website, share a little bit about themselves through a personal profile, discover other people with similar interests, invite their contacts, and interact with friends. Even better, you don't have to deal with the hassle of creating yet another username and password — Friend Connect lets you log in using an existing account from Google, Yahoo, AOL, or OpenID. Similarly, you can choose to either establish a new profile or use profiles and friend sources from other social networks that have opened up their services, like Plaxo and orkut. To learn more, watch the video tour below:

We launched Friend Connect as a preview release in May, and since then we have been working closely with a handful of website owners, social networks, and application developers to improve its speed and scalability, ease of use, and customization capabilities. We've also expanded the features available to users with richer, more integrated profiles and new ways to discuss and share content, like including YouTube videos in your comments.

Friend Connect's goal is to facilitate an open social web. Using open standards like OpenID and OAuth, Friend Connect makes it simple for people to instantly interact with one another on the sites that they already love to visit. Additionally, websites that use Friend Connect become OpenSocial containers, capable of running applications created by the OpenSocial developer community.

In the coming months, we're excited to see more webmasters add Friend Connect to their sites, helping their visitors engage with each other across the web.

To learn more, please visit

Healthcare professionals have always focused on reducing costs while still increasing the quality of the care they provide to patients — and this kind of efficiency becomes even more important in challenging economic times.

Fortunately, healthcare providers can turn to the web for a growing number of resources that help them achieve these goals. With our health initiatives and solutions for businesses of all kinds, Google is committed to helping bring exactly these kinds of productivity gains and cost reductions to healthcare providers. We're also committed to harnessing the power of the web to help people everywhere effectively manage their healthcare records and information in a private, secure online setting.

To learn about our latest innovations in this area, tune in to our free webinar scheduled for Wednesday, December 10, at 10:00 am PT.

The session will include a current look at Google Health, which empowers patients to securely organize and manage their health information online. For the full lineup of topics that will be covered, check out our post on the Enterprise blog.

We hope to see you there.

The holidays are upon us, and there's much to do: Gifts to be wrapped, lights to be strung, candles to be lit, and a long list of tasks at the home and the office. A little creativity can come in handy at this time of year. You can save time and money with the Google Docs template gallery for documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Whether you're a small business owner or the chief holiday organizer, the gallery includes a few special templates designed to help you spread a little holiday cheer. Here are a few tips to help you get everything done on time:

1. Email friends, colleagues or customers this survey form to update your mailing list...

2. ...and then send them a holiday postcard.

3. Use fun mailing labels to save time when sending packages...

4. ...and these festive gift tags to personalize gifts.

5. If there's no time for snail mail, email a video card to send friends and colleagues warm wishes or to thank customers for their business.

It's easy to get started with any of these tips. In Google Docs, just click File -> New -> From Template to be taken to the main template gallery (it's worth a look!). Click the "Holiday" category to see just the holiday templates, or you can tab through to filter results by product. Pick the design you like and edit it for your needs. And you can always find help at the Google Docs Help Center.

We have more holiday ideas on our Enterprise Blog, along with other hints and tips to keep your workplace humming all through the year.

We hope you enjoy, and season's greetings!

YouTube is offering musicians around the globe the opportunity to join a symphony orchestra via video through the world's first collaborative online orchestra. This is a chance to perform alongside world-renowned conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, learn from composer Tan Dun and many members of the London Symphony Orchestra, and consult with pianist Lang Lang. All video entries will be combined into the first-ever collaborative virtual performance, and people around the world will select their favorites to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall in April 2009.

If you're interested in auditioning, or would like more information about this program, head over to the YouTube Symphony Orchestra channel and the YouTube Blog.

The end of the year is a wonderful time to reflect, celebrate, and look forward to new things to come. This is also a season when things tend to get a bit too hectic. So we wanted to share some tips that we hope will help make the best of your holidays and year-end celebrations.

We'll be counting down to 2009 with one new tip per day to get you through the holidays. We'll cover everything from today's tip on "Gift ideas and holiday savings" to checking out your flight status with Google Search. There will be much more to come throughout December, so check Google's Countdown to 2009 daily and add a countdown gadget to your iGoogle page.

We wish you a wonderful head start to the holiday season.

I remember when I was 8 years old standing in the middle of our living room, gazing at our Christmas tree. I dared not blink, fearing that the twinkling tinsel, gleaming lights, and the pile of festively wrapped gifts would all be gone when I opened my eyes again. Once I finally hopped into bed, still wide-awake and staring at the ceiling, I listened to every gust of wind, every creak of the rafters, wondering if Santa had landed on our roof. “Where is Santa now?” I thought. “When will he be here?” Eventually, sheer mental exhaustion ushered me off to sleep.

The spirit of the season and a wondrous curiosity electrify many people's imaginations during the holidays, especially on Christmas Eve. That’s why Google has teamed up again this year with NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, to bring you the NORAD Santa Tracker.

NORAD provides aerospace warning and control for North America 365 days a year. On Christmas Eve, they turn their attention to Santa, tracking his yearly gift-delivering journey from the North Pole. The Santa Tracker itself goes live at 6am EST on December 24th. In the meantime, you will find the unique history of the Santa Tracker, holiday-themed games (a new one released each day) and updates from the North Pole at, the official NORAD Tracks Santa website.

Check it out, and don’t forget to bookmark the site so you can come back often throughout the month. And, of course, be sure to visit on Christmas Eve to follow Santa as he makes his way toward your area. You can track him in both Google Maps and Google Earth, and can also view videos of his flights over several landmark cities, captured by special "Santa cams." Here are some highlights from last year's Santa Tracker:

(Visit for more information.)

Happy holidays to all, and to Santa... a good flight!

Today is Cyber Monday and we know many of you have holiday shopping on your mind. If you're not sure what to buy for that special someone, or if you're looking for ways to save on your holiday purchases, Google Product Search and Google Checkout can help.

Our Product Search team recently pored over millions of aggregated (and anonymous) search queries to put together some of the most popular products people are searching for. You can see the season's most-wanted gifts in various categories such as toys & games, cold weather apparel, and specialty foods. Someone you know just may have one of these items on their wish list.

With Google Checkout, you can shop quickly and easily with one login for hundreds of stores across the web. And now Checkout buyers can save $5, $10, $20 or more on their holiday shopping at over 600 participating stores, including, the HBO Shop, J&R Electronics, and These exclusive discounts are available through December 17th.

To help you kick off the shopping season with ease, we've created a special site that brings these holiday savings and gift ideas together in one place. Enjoy your seasonal shopping!