When we introduced the Following feature for Blogger last fall, we wanted to help you connect with fans of your own blog and discover communities of people who share your interests. It has been exciting to see Following grow over the past few months, to say the least. With nearly three million communities of followers on Blogger blogs, and with one person following a blog every second, we've been looking for ways to help these communities continue to thrive.

As a first step toward that goal, today we are integrating the Blogger Following feature with Google Friend Connect. Not only does this make it easier for anyone to follow a Blogger blog, but also it gives your blog expanded visibility across the web as your followers join other sites and share their activities with their friends.

Blogger joins an open network of websites already using Friend Connect and visitors can now follow any Blogger blog by signing in with their Google, Yahoo, AOL, or OpenID credentials. The blogs that readers start to follow will appear alongside the other Friend Connect sites they've already joined. Additionally, you can find some new blogs and websites to join by checking out the profiles of other followers.

This video shows you how to follow a blog:

If you have a Blogger blog and you're already using the Followers gadget, you don't need to do anything to get these new features up and running — we've already migrated all of the existing Followers gadgets to the new version with Friend Connect. To learn more, visit our blog post on Blogger Buzz.

Google Translate recently added Turkish, Thai, Hungarian, Estonian, Albanian, Maltese, and Galician to the mix. The rollout of these seven additional languages marks a new milestone: automatic translations between 41 languages (1,640 language pairs!). This means we can now translate between languages read by 98% of Internet users.

In just a few years, the machine translation group within Google Research has taken its initial research system from two languages to 41 languages and is now handling millions of translation requests a day. For several languages, Google Translate is the first freely available machine translation system for these languages. Of course, there's always room for improvement, and we're working hard to improve translation quality. Our statistical models are built from vast quantities of monolingual and translated texts using automated machine learning techniques.

It's exciting and satisfying to work on a product that can help people access content they may otherwise be unable to understand. We've heard stories of people using Google Translate to help them do business internationally, and we've seen many websites (e.g., New York's Metro Transit Authority) and blogs add the Google Translate My Page Gadget to their pages to make their content more accessible to people from all over the world.

Whenever I personally travel, I do lots of research on the web to figure out what to see and do, and where to stay and eat. With Translate, I'm able to use the cross-language search feature to find and access the latest info (e.g., restaurant recommendations, most recent trains/bus schedules, special events, etc.), which is often only available in the local language.

More importantly, Translate provides people who may not otherwise have a lot of web content available in their own language with access to the wealth of content on the truly worldwide web.

The Toolbar Team has always been focused on improving your web experience. We started with the goal of making search more accessible, and a couple of iterations led to improvements like search suggestions, Google Bookmarks, Autofill, and Custom Buttons and gadgets. Now we're bringing the focus back to our core areas of search and navigation.

First of all, in today's Toolbar 6 launch for Internet Explorer we're introducing the Quick Search Box (QSB) feature that provides search functionality outside of the browser. Just click on the Google logo in the taskbar to trigger it (or use the Ctrl+Space shortcut for quicker access). As you type, it will provide search and website suggestions, relevant bookmarks, and even allow you to launch applications directly from the search box. Try typing "solitaire" to see the application launcher in action. And here's the best part: as you use the QSB, it'll customize itself to your usage pattern, so over time you have to type fewer characters to navigate to your favorite sites and applications.

In addition, we're building on our existing suggest functionality in the Toolbar search box by bringing elements from our search results page directly into the toolbar. We're experimenting with displaying high-quality website suggestions and sponsored links as you type your query. Clicking on these will take you directly to the website (try typing "cnn" in the toolbar to see an example). Going forward, we'll continue to explore new ideas and optimize the search box to give you the best experience possible.

Lastly, we wanted to bring the new tab page to our Internet Explorer users (our Firefox Toolbar users have been enjoying it already for the last few weeks). You can quickly access your most viewed sites, recently closed tabs and bookmarked pages — all from this new tab page. Editing your most visited sites is easy, and all this data remains locally in your browser, meaning none of your most viewed sites or recently closed pages are sent back to Google. Those who prefer new tabs to open a blank page or a website can do so in the Internet Explorer or Toolbar settings menus.

So, give the latest toolbar a shot — it's available in 40 languages — and don't forget to let us know what you think.

on 3/24: Google Toolbar 6 is now out of beta.

The Google Search Appliance (aka the GSA) provides universal search for businesses of all sizes. This handy yellow box pulls together documents, images, and other files from web servers, intranets, business applications, and more, making all of this accessible from one search box. Now we're holding a contest to see how "findable" the GSA is in offices from coast to coast in the U.S.

If the GSA has helped your business, we want to hear your story and see your pics with the shiny yellow box. (Don't worry, your photo doesn't have to be star-studded to win.) Two grand-prize winners will receive an all-expense paid trip to the Google IO conference.

The contest deadline is March 31, 2009 and the winners will be announced on April 17. For more information and to find out how to enter, check out the Enterprise Blog.

The Gmail outage that affected many consumers and Google Apps users worldwide is now over. Users should find that they’re able to access their email now without any further problems.

Before you can access your Gmail, you may be asked to fill in what’s called a ‘CAPTCHA’ which asks you to type in a word or some letters before you can proceed. This is perfectly normal when you repeatedly request access to your email account, so please do go through the extra step – it’s just to verify you are who you say you are.

The outage itself lasted approximately two and a half hours from 9.30am GMT. We know that for many of you this disrupted your working day. We’re really sorry about this, and we did do everything to restore access as soon as we could. Our priority was to get you back up and running. Our engineers are still investigating the root cause of the problem.

Obviously we’re never happy when outages occur, but we would like to stress that this is an unusual occurrence. We know how important Gmail is to you, and how much people rely on the service.

Thanks again for bearing with us.

Posted by Acacio Cruz, Gmail Site Reliability Manager

If you’ve tried to access your Gmail account today, you are probably aware by now that we’re having some problems. Shortly after 10 9:30am GMT our monitoring systems alerted us that Gmail consumer and businesses accounts worldwide could not get access to their email.

We’re working very hard to solve the problem and we’re really sorry for the inconvenience. Those users in the US and UK who have enabled Gmail offline through Gmail Labs should be able to access their inbox, although they won’t be able to send or receive emails.

We’re posting updates to the Gmail Help Centre at and Google Apps users can visit the Google Apps help centre at

Thanks for bearing with us while we sort this out. We'll report back as we make progress.

Posted by Acacio Cruz, Gmail Site Reliability Manager

(Cross-posted from the Blog)

When Larry and Sergey laid out their vision for, they hoped that this "experiment in active philanthropy" would one day have an even greater impact on the world than Google itself. They committed resources from Google's profits, equity and substantial employee time to this philanthropic effort, and they created the mission: "to use the power of information and technology to address the global challenges of our age." They structured so that in addition to traditional grant making, it can also invest in for-profit companies, advocate for policies and, most important, tap into Google's strengths: its employees, products and technologies. At first I was skeptical about "going corporate," but I came on board convinced that Google could make real progress on these issues. I think we have made an excellent beginning, but it is just a very few steps on a long path.

Now, three years after was founded, we've been reviewing our progress, and how best to take things forward. It's clear that I am most effective in helping to identify "big ideas" and potential partners, as well as raising awareness about society's biggest challenges. I am therefore very excited to become Google's Chief Philanthropy Evangelist. I think this is the highest contribution that I can make both to and to fighting the urgent threats of our day: from climate change to emerging infectious diseases, to issues of poverty and health care. By focusing my energy outwards I hope to be able to spend more time motivating policy makers, encouraging public and private partnerships, and generally advocating for the changes that we must make as a global society to solve these problems. Long-time Googler Megan Smith will take over day-to-day management of, joining as General Manager to lead us through this transition, in addition to her existing role as Vice President of New Business Development.

One of the first things that Megan will focus on is how can best achieve its mission. During our review it became clear that while we have been able to support some remarkable non-profit organizations over the past three years, our greatest impact has come when we've attacked problems in ways that make the most of Google's strengths in technology and information; examples of this approach include Flu Trends, RechargeIT, Clean Energy 2030, and PowerMeter. By aligning more closely with Google as a whole, Megan will ensure that we're better able to build innovative, scalable technology and information solutions. As a first step, Google has decided to put even more engineers and technical talent to work on these issues and problems, resources which I have found to be extraordinary. In this global economic crisis, the work is doing, together with our many colleagues around the world, to help develop cheap clean energy, find and fight disease outbreaks before they sweep the globe, and build information platforms for underserved people globally, is more important than ever. We stand behind the commitment made in 2004 to devote 1% of Google's equity and profits to philanthropy, and we will continue to iterate on our philanthropic model to make sure our resources have the greatest possible impact for good.

(Cross-posted from the Lat Long Blog)

[Note: Last week we saw some interesting speculation that Atlantis had been found in Google Earth. As much as we'd love for that to be the case, there is a scientific explanation for the odd markings found on the seafloor. We've invited two of the scientists who gathered the data that appears in Google Earth to answer some questions that came up. - Ed.]

Since the launch of Ocean in Google Earth, millions of people have started to explore the ocean, and many have been surprised by their discoveries.

Near Hawaii you can see a new volcanic island in the making called the Loihi Seamount.

You can also clearly see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in the Atlantic Ocean where two tectonic plates are moving away from one another. If you look closely, you can see this ridge connects with others around the globe, forming a nearly continuous mountain range that is over 60,000 kilometers long.

But so far nothing has sparked quite as much interest as this funny looking pattern off the west coast of Africa:

Patterns like this can actually be seen over much of the ocean floor in Google Earth. What is it? Is it real? Why does it look like this?

Some have speculated that these are the plow marks of seafloor farming by aliens. If there really are little green men hiding somewhere, the ocean's not a bad place to do it. Mars, Venus, the moon, and even some asteroids are mapped at far higher resolution than our own oceans (the global map of Mars is about 250 times as accurate as the global map of our own ocean).

One theory that's gained more traction is that these marks might be the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis. If that were the case, some of the city blocks would have to be over eight miles long - that's about fifty times the size of a city block in New York City (if you zoom in and use the measurement tool in Google Earth, you can do this comparison yourself).

So what is it? The scientific explanation is a bit less exotic, but we think it's still pretty interesting: these marks are what we call "ship tracks." You see, it's actually quite hard to measure the depth of the ocean. Sunlight, lasers, and other electromagnetic radiation can travel less than 100 feet below the surface, yet the typical depth in the ocean is more than two and a half miles. Sound waves are more effective. By measuring the time it takes for sound to travel from a ship to the sea floor and back, you can get an idea of how far away the sea floor is. Since this process — known as echosounding — only maps a strip of the sea floor under the ship, the maps it produces often show the path the ship took, hence the "ship tracks." In this case, the soundings produced by a ship are also about 1% deeper than the data we have in surrounding areas — likely an error — making the tracks stand out more. You can see all of the soundings that produced this particular pattern with this KMZ file.

Echosounding with sonar is currently the best method for collecting this kind of data, but it's not perfect. One challenge is that it's quite slow. It has to be done from ships or underwater vehicles, and they can't go very fast or they'll spoil the measurement. As a result, not much of the ocean has been mapped this way, and huge gaps remain all over the ocean. In fact, the typical hole between tracks is about 20,000 square kilometers, or about the size of the state of New Jersey.

Now you're probably wondering where the rest of the depth data comes from if there are such big gaps from echosounding. We do our best to predict what the sea floor looks like based on what we can measure much more easily: the water surface. Above large underwater mountains (seamounts), the surface of the ocean is actually higher than in surrounding areas. These seamounts actually increase gravity in the area, which attracts more water and causes sea level to be slightly higher. The changes in water height are measurable using radar on satellites. This allows us to make a best guess as to what the rest of the sea floor looks like, but still at relatively low resolutions (the model predicts the ocean depth about once every 4000 meters). What you see in Google Earth is a combination of both this satellite-based model and real ship tracks from many research cruises (we first published this technique back in 1997). If you zoom in and take a look around the ocean for yourself, you can see higher resolution patches where ships have studied the sea floor and all the places we've still yet to explore. Here's a good example just north of Hawaii:

So, what if we really wanted to find Atlantis? We probably couldn't do it with satellites — man-made structures simply aren't big enough to be measured that way. But we could map the whole ocean using ships. A published U.S. Navy study found that it would take about 200 ship-years, meaning we'd need one ship for 200 years, or 10 ships for 20 years, or 100 ships for two years. It costs about $25,000 per day to operate a ship with the right mapping capability, so 200 ship-years would cost nearly two billion dollars. That may seem like a lot of money, but it's not that far off from the price tag of, say, a new sports stadium.

For now, keep exploring the ocean in Google Earth, and continue to share what you discover. It's great to have so many sets of eyes looking at the data currently in Google Earth and asking questions about what it represents. We and our fellow oceanographers are constantly improving the resolution of our seafloor maps, so we promise to work with Google to keep the virtual explorers out there busy.

Today we're celebrating Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, or Girls Day, as part of National Engineers Week (E-Week) in the U.S. For the second year in a row, we've partnered with the National Girl Scouts to bring girls to six Google offices around the country, where they'll participate in fun activities designed to educate them about engineering, specifically computer science. Googlers, many of them Google Women Engineers, are hosting the guests of honor and leading workshops covering all kinds of topics, including solar powered energy, image processing and a demo of Google Earth. At the end of the day, all of the participants will receive a limited edition "Introduce a Girl to E-Week" patch that they can add to their Scout sashes.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day participants in 2008.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is just one important part of E-Week, which was founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. By the end of the week, Google offices will have hosted more than 600 students at events designed to expose them to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The students who participate in our E-Week events are from partner organizations that also focus on STEM education for girls, underrepresented minorities, and the economically disadvantaged. Here's hoping each of these students will walk away feeling inspired to pursue studies in these fields.

This is the first post in a series on The Power of Measurement. In this economic climate, these posts are designed to cover ways to make your website as successful as possible. Over the course of the next few weeks, our in-house Analytics guru, Avinash Kaushik, and others will demystify the world of website analytics and offer tips for getting the most out of your metrics. -Ed.

Would you believe me if I said you don't need a Ph.D. to understand your website data? No? Believe it. Free tools like Google Analytics can help simplify website data so that you can better understand what visitors are doing when they arrive on your site.

One of the coolest innovations in understanding your website has been to provide delightful metrics on your web data so that you can make direct changes to your site. In lesson one of our series on The Power of Measurement, we will learn about bounce rate and how understanding it can improve your website.

You may be used to reading about how many “hits” a site or a page has received. But reporting a "hit" meant something back in 1985 when it was essentially a pageview (the number of times your webpage was viewed). Today, you will find that each web page gets many "hits," rendering the metric meaningless. While the number of "hits" a page received used to be the best measure of success, we now have more in-depth and detailed metrics to analyze the performance of our web pages.

Bounce rate is insightful because from the perspective of a website visitor, it measures this phenomenon: "I came; I puked; I left." (OK, technically it also means the number of sessions with just one pageview.) While metrics like visitors show the number of people who came to your site, bounce rate will tell you how many of those people were unimpressed and left your site without taking any action (not even dignifying the site with a single click!).

Bounce rate has these attributes:
1) It is really hard to misunderstand. It measures the number of people who landed on your site and refused to give you even one single click!
2) It is available in most web analytics tools, including our own Google Analytics.
3) It is quick and easy to use. Bounce rate will help you understand where and how to make changes on your website in under an hour.

Now, let's make this real. If you have a Google Analytics account, you'll see this when you log in:

This means that about 77 percent of website visitors came to the site, "puked," and left. Ouch. Based on that, you may need to light a fire somewhere, as things need fixing. Here are two simple and specific ideas:

Tip #1: Find out where your visitors are coming from and which of these sites sends visitors with the highest bounce rate. To do so, all you have to do is go to "Traffic Sources" (in Google Analytics, or whatever tool you are using), click on "Referring Sites," and boom!

In about fifteen seconds you know which sites are your “best friends forever” (BFFs), and where you need to look a tad deeper. By identifying the sites that are sending you visitors with high bounce rates, you can investigate the reasons why (the campaigns, the context in which your link is placed, the ads) and make changes to ensure that visitors find what they are looking for when they come to your site.

However, it may not just be the campaigns that turned your readers away; it could be the specific page that your visitors landed on. That leads to my Tip #2: Go to “Content” (labeled as such in Google Analytics) and click on "Top Landing Pages" report:

You can see different pages of your website on the left and the corresponding bounce rates on the right. Remember, you don't decide the homepage of your website. When people search, the engine finds the most relevant page on your site and that's the homepage. If you have 50,000 pages on your website, you have 50,000 homepages. The report above is showing the top ten pages of your website and which ones might be letting you down by not engaging your visitors enough to get even one click!

In under an hour you can discover which sources are your BFFs and which pages on your site need some sprucing up. This will ensure lower bounce rates, higher engagement with your site, and perhaps even higher revenue. To learn about other ways in which you can use bounce rate effectively, check out this article on my web analytics blog, Occam's Razor.

Good luck!

I originally wrote this email for internal consumption; Presidents' Day here in the US and President Obama's recent inaugural address got me thinking about the future of the Internet, Google, and the challenges that lie ahead. The note borrows from a host of US presidential inaugural addresses to illustrate some of its points (thanks to former President Clinton for the title). Quite a few Googlers suggested I share it externally, so here it is, with just a few minor edits. - Jonathan Rosenberg

Dear Googlers -

Today is Presidents' Day here in the United States, when we honor the birthdays of two of our country's greatest leaders, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. A few weeks ago many of us were lucky to witness, either in person or via TV or the web, a masterful inauguration speech by the newest President, Barack Obama. The speech was rife with poignant points and subtle historical allusions: "We the people" came directly from the US Constitution, while "all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness" echoes both the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. (Many of these nuances were only revealed to me upon reading the transcript.)

As expected, President Obama aptly captured the wary mood of the nation. After all, we are in the midst of what is likely the worst economic situation of our lifetimes. In the US alone, 2.6M people lost their jobs in 2008, followed by nearly 600,000 more last month, and on the Monday following the inauguration companies around the world, including Caterpillar, Pfizer, ING, and Phillips announced job cuts totaling over 75,000. Add to that our dependence on fossil fuels, the resulting (and accelerating) climate change, and national security concerns, and you can feel the gravity of this pivotal moment. Eric Schmidt has called these times 'uncharted waters': none of us has been here before.

President Obama asserted that we will face the moment with what he called new instruments and old values, values that have been "the quiet force of progress throughout history" and which must, once again, define our character. While this reference to the national character of the US was no doubt inspiring for Americans, the mention of "new instruments" was far more relevant to Google. In a way, I felt like he was talking about the Internet, which is the most powerful and comprehensive information system ever invented.

Consider its predecessors. The famed Library at Alexandria (that's Egypt, not Virginia - some of you have GOT to get out more ;) ) was built circa 323 BC for an educated public, which actually meant very few people since the skills of literacy were deliberately withheld from the majority of the population. For several centuries monks were the keepers of the written word, painstakingly transcribing and indexing books as a means of interpreting the word of God. They were prized as much for their ability to write small, which saved on expensive paper, as for their piety.

The first universities came about in the 4th century AD, the first formal encyclopedias didn't appear until the 16th century, the first truly public libraries appeared in the 19th century and proliferated in the 20th. Then suddenly comes the Internet, where, from the most remote villages on the planet, you can reach as much information as is held in thousands of libraries. Access to information has completed its journey from privileged to ubiquitous. At Google we are all so immersed in daily introspective exercises like product reviews, our GPS [Google Product Strategy] meetings, and budget exercises that it's easy to forget this.

We shouldn't. In fact, since the challenges the world faces are, to a large degree, information problems, I believe the Internet is one of the "new instruments" that the President and the world can count on. And how do a great many people use the Internet? What is the first place many of them go when they conduct research, seek answers, do their work and communicate with their friends and family? Google. Ours is much more than a passing role in this next phase of history, rather we have the responsibility and duty to make the Internet as great as it can possibly be. Fortunately, that is pretty much what we all set out to do every day anyway, but now there's just a little extra pressure. Not your average 9-to-5 job.

At Google we are all technology optimists. We intrinsically believe that the wave upon which we surf, the secular shift of information, communications, and commerce to the Internet, is still in its early stages, and that its result will be a preponderance of good.

As we look toward the pivotal year ahead, here are a few observations on the future of the Internet for all of us to assess, consider, and carry as we do our work. (I have occasionally borrowed the inaugural words of previous presidents, sometimes cited, as with Bill Clinton's phrase which I appropriated for my title, and sometimes not.) To paraphrase President Obama, these things will not happen easily or in a short span of time, but know this my colleagues: they will happen.

All the world's information will be accessible from the palm of every person
Today, over 1.4 billion people, nearly a quarter of the world's population, use the Internet, with more than 200 million new people coming online every year. This is the fastest growing communications medium in history. How fast? When the Internet was first made available to the public, in 1983, there were 400 servers. Twenty five years later: well over 600 million.

In many parts of the world people access the Internet via their mobile phones, and the numbers there are even more impressive. More than three billion people have mobile phones, with 1.2 billion new phones expected to be sold this year. More Internet-enabled phones will be sold and activated in 2009 than personal computers. China is a prime example of where these trends are coming together. It has more Internet users than any other country, at nearly 300 million, and more than 600 million mobile users — 600 million! Twenty-five years ago, Apple launched the Mac as "the computer for the rest of us." Today, the computer for the rest of us is a phone.

This means that every fellow citizen of the world will have in his or her pocket the ability to access the world's information. As this happens, search will remain the killer application. For most people, it is the reason they access the Internet: to find answers and solve real problems.

Our ongoing challenge is to create the perfect search engine, and it's a really hard problem. To do a perfect job, you need to understand all the world's information, and the meaning of every query. With all that understanding, you then have to produce the perfect answer instantly. Today, many queries remain very difficult to answer properly. Too often, we force users to correct our mistakes, making them refine their searches, trying new queries until they get what they need. Meanwhile, our understanding of the interplay between high-quality content, search algorithms, and personal information is just beginning.

Why should a user have to ask us a question to get the information she needs? With her permission, why don't we surf the web on her behalf, and present interesting and relevant information to her as we come across it? This is a very hard thing to do well, as anyone who has been presented with a where-the-heck-did-that-come-from recommendation on Amazon or Netflix can attest to, but its potential is huge.

While we're working on improving the quality of search, the web is exploding. Our infrastructure has to keep up with this growth just to maintain our current level of quality, but to actually make search smarter, our index and infrastructure need to grow at a pace FASTER than the web. Only then will we be able to reject the idea that we have to choose between latency, comprehensiveness, and relevancy; we will have the ability to preserve all our ideals.

Solving search is a long-term quest for perfection, but the transition of information from scarce and expensive to ubiquitous and free will conclude far sooner. We will then bear witness to a true democratization of information, a time when almost everyone who wants to be online will be online, able to access virtually every bit of the world's information. This is great for our business, even greater for all the users. In fact, it's difficult to overestimate how important that moment will be. As Harry Truman said, "Democracy of information alone can supply the vitalizing force to stir the peoples of the world into triumphant action." (OK, I added the "of information" part!)

Everyone can publish, and everyone will
One thing that we have learned in our industry is that people have a lot to say. They are using the Internet to publish things at an astonishing pace. 120K blogs are created daily — most of them with an audience of one. Over half of them are created by people under the age of nineteen. In the US, nearly 40 percent of Internet users upload videos, and globally over fifteen hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. The web is very social too: about one of every six minutes that people spend online is spent in a social network of some type.

Publishing used to be constrained by physical limitations. You had to have a printing press and a distribution network, or a transmitter, to publish to any sort of critical mass, so broadcasting was the norm. No more. Today, most publishing is done by users for users, one-to-one or one-to-many (think of Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, and YouTube). Free speech is no longer just a right granted by law, but one imbued by technology.

The era of information being more powerful when hoarded has also passed. As our economist Hal Varian has noted, in the early days of the Web every document had at the bottom, "Copyright 1997. Do not redistribute." Now those same documents have at the bottom, "Copyright 2009. Click here to send to your friends." Sharing, not guarding information, has become the golden standard on the web, so not only can anyone publish, but virtually everyone does. This is both good and bad news. No one argues the value of free speech, but the vast majority of stuff we find on the web is useless. The clamor of junk threatens to drown out voices of quality.

Meanwhile, those voices are struggling. The most obvious example is newspapers, which have historically been the backbone of quality original reporting, a post they have mostly maintained throughout the Internet explosion. But news isn't what it used to be: by the time a paper arrives in the morning it's already stale. As written communication has evolved from long letter to short text message, news has largely shifted from thoughtful to spontaneous. The old-fashioned static news article is now just a starting point, inciting back-and-forth debate that often results in a more balanced and detailed assessment. And the old-fashioned business model of bundled news, where the classifieds basically subsidized a lot of the high-quality reporting on the front page, has been thoroughly disrupted.

This is a problem, but since online journalism is still in its relative infancy it's one that can be solved (we're technology optimists, remember?). The experience of consuming news on the web today fails to take full advantage of the power of technology. It doesn't understand what users want in order to give them what they need. When I go to a site like the New York Times or the San Jose Mercury, it should know what I am interested in and what has changed since my last visit. If I read the story on the US stimulus package only six hours ago, then just show me the updates the reporter has filed since then (and the most interesting responses from readers, bloggers, or other sources). If Thomas Friedman has filed a column since I last checked, tell me that on the front page. Beyond that, present to me a front page rich with interesting content selected by smart editors, customized based on my reading habits (tracked with my permission). Browsing a newspaper is rewarding and serendipitous, and doing it online should be even better. This will not by itself solve the newspapers' business problems, but our heritage suggests that creating a superior user experience is the best place to start.

Of course, the greatest user experience is pretty useless if there's nothing good to read, a truism that applies not just to newspapers but to the web in general. Just like a newspaper needs great reporters, the web needs experts. When it comes to information, not all of it is created equal and the web's future depends on attracting the best of it. There are millions of people in the world who are truly experts in their fields — scientists, scholars, artists, engineers, architects — but a great majority of them are too busy being experts in their fields to become experts in ours. They have a lot to say but no time to say it.

Systems that facilitate high-quality content creation and editing are crucial for the Internet's continued growth, because without them we will all sink in a cesspool of drivel. We need to make it easier for the experts, journalists, and editors that we actually trust to publish their work under an authorship model that is authenticated and extensible, and then to monetize in a meaningful way. We need to make it easier for a user who sees one piece by an expert he likes to search through that expert's entire body of work. Then our users will be able to benefit from the best of both worlds: thoughtful and spontaneous, long form and short, of the ages and in the moment.

We won't (and shouldn't) try to stop the faceless scribes of drivel, but we can move them to the back row of the arena. As Harry Truman said in 1949, "We are aided by all who want relief from the lies of propaganda — who desire truth and sincerity."

When data is abundant, intelligence will win
Putting the power to publish and consume content into the hands of more people in more places enables everyone to start conversations with facts. With facts, negotiations can become less about who yells louder, but about who has the stronger data. They can also be an equalizer that enables better decisions and more civil discourse. Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it at the start of his first term, "Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."

The Internet allows for deeper and more informed participation and representation than has ever been possible. We see this happening frequently, particularly with our Geo products. The Surui tribe in the Amazon rain forest uses Google Earth to mark the boundaries of their land and work with authorities to stop illegal logging. Sokwanele, a civic action group in Zimbabwe, used the Google Maps API on their website to document reported cases of political violence and intimidation after the controversial Presidential election in March 2008. Armed with this map, the group can better convey and defend their argument that elections in Zimbabwe are neither free nor fair. The stakes couldn't be higher for these people. We can give them a fighting chance.

Everyone should be able to defend arguments with data. To let them do so, we need tools like the Sitemaps protocol, which opens up large volumes of data previously trapped behind government firewalls. Most government websites can't be crawled, but with Sitemaps, thousands of pages have been unlocked. In the US, several states have opened up their public records through Sitemaps, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science & Technology Information made 2.3 million research findings available in just twelve hours.

Information transparency helps people decide who is right and who is wrong and to determine who is telling the truth. When then-Senator Clinton incorrectly stated during the 2008 Presidential campaign that she had come under sniper fire during her 1996 trip to Bosnia, the Internet set her straight. This is why President Obama's promise to "do our business in the light of day" is important, because transparency empowers the populace and demands accountability as its immediate offspring.

But as powerful as it can be in politics, data has the potential to be even more transformational in business. Oil fueled the Industrial Revolution, but data will fuel the next generation of growth. One of the largely unheralded by-products of the Internet era is how it has made the power of the most sophisticated analytical tools available to the smallest of businesses. Traditionally, business software packages have treated data reporting as a second class citizen. Here is my cool new feature, they say. Oh, you want to know how many people use it? You want the flexibility to organize and assess this data in ways that work best for you? Well, let us tell you about the analytics module! It's only tens of thousands of dollars more (not counting the 18% annual maintenance fee in perpetuity ... sucker!!)

Fortunately that's not Google, nor can it ever be. All of our products should reflect our bias toward giving our customers, users, and partners as much data as possible - and letting them do with it what they wish. Then they can run their business like we do, by making decisions based on facts, not opinions. Here at Google the words of every colleague, from associates to vice presidents, carry the same weight so long as they are backed by data. (If you don't think we live up to this standard then please feel free to correct me ... but you better have the facts to prove it!!!)

Hal Varian likes to say that the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. After all, who would have guessed that computer engineers would be the cool job of the 90s? When every business has free and ubiquitous data, the ability to understand it and extract value from it becomes the complimentary scarce factor. It leads to intelligence, and the intelligent business is the successful business, regardless of its size. Data is the sword of the 21st century, those who wield it well, the Samurai.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson stated, "... and yet, it will be no cool process of mere science ... with which we face this new age of right and opportunity." Perhaps, but from our perspective the cool process of mere science, fueled by ubiquitous data and intelligence, will be quite sufficient to power new generations to success.

The vast majority of computing will occur in the cloud
Within the next decade, people will use their computers completely differently than how they do today. All of their files, correspondence, contacts, pictures, and videos will be stored or backed-up in the network cloud and they will access them from wherever they happen to be on whatever device they happen to hold. Access to data, applications, and content will be seamless and device-agnostic. Convergence isn't something that occurs at the device level, which was the vision we all had in the 90s as we struggled to invent that perfect gadget that did it all (witness my own unfortunate progeny, the Apple Newton, which ended tragically). Rather, devices will proliferate in many directions, but all of them will converge on the cloud. That's where our stuff, not to mention civilization's knowledge, will live.

This doesn't mean that the access device simply becomes a juiced up version of an old 3270 terminal. To the contrary, smart programmers will figure out ways to use all that power in your hands to create great applications, and to let you run them whether or not you are connected. But it shouldn't take three minutes for the device to boot, and losing it shouldn't be a catastrophe. You'll just get a new one and it will sync instantly; all your contacts, pictures, music, files, and other stuff will automagically just be there, ready for you to log in and say "be mine".

Still, these examples simplify and understate the true impact of what is going on with the transition to cloud computing. As Hal has noted, we are in a period of "combinatorial innovation", when there is a great availability of different component parts that innovators can combine or recombine to create new inventions. In the 1800s, it was interchangeable parts. In the 1920s, it was electronics. In the 1970s, it was integrated circuits. Today, the components of innovation are found in cloud computing, with abundant APIs, open source software, and low-cost, pay-as-you-go application services like our own App Engine and Amazon's EC2. The components are abundant and available to anyone who can get online.

The power of innovation and the cloud are driving two trends. First, because the tools of innovation are so easy and inexpensive to access, and consumers are so numerous and easy to reach, the consumer market now gets the greatest innovations first. It's easy to forget that just twenty years ago the best technology was found in the workplace: computers, software, phone systems, etc. Thirty years ago all you software geniuses working on Search, Ads, and Apps would have been programmers at IBM; forty years ago, at NASA. Now, the best technology starts with consumers, where a Darwinian market drives innovation that far surpasses traditional enterprise tools, and migrates to the workplace only after thriving with consumers. Think of Google Video for Business, which started out as YouTube and then evolved to the enterprise. How many businesses out there have even conceived of how useful this can be to them? Not many, perhaps because only a year ago the costs of having such an internal service were prohibitive. No longer.

Second, it used to be that every growing business would at some point have to make a big investment in computers and software for accounting systems, customer management systems, email servers, maybe even phone or video conferencing systems. Today, all of those services are available via the network cloud, and you pay for it only as you use it. So small businesses can scale up without making those huge capital investments, which is especially important in a recession. Access to sophisticated computer systems, and all the value they can deliver, was previously the realm of larger companies. Cloud computing levels that playing field so that the small business has access to the same systems that large businesses do. Given that small businesses generate most of the jobs in the economy, this is no small trend.

We still have a long way to go in making web-based applications robust enough for businesses. Things like latency, data reliability, and security all have to be equal to or better than the currently available alternatives. The user experience needs to be fast, easy, and rich — "like reading a magazine," Larry has said. This is why we are building Chrome, Gears, V8 and more. Users now expect these apps to work perfectly for them all the time, and we need to meet that expectation.

The real potential of cloud computing lies not in taking stuff that used to live on PCs and putting it online, but in doing things online that were previously simply impossible. Combining open standards with cloud computing will enable businesses to conduct commerce in brand new ways. For example, there is a great opportunity to take advantage of (to quote Hal again) "computer-mediated transactions". Computers now mediate virtually every commercial transaction, recording it, collecting data, and monitoring it, which means that we can now write and enforce contracts that were previously impossible. When you rent a car, you could be offered a thirty percent discount for agreeing not to exceed the speed limit, a deal that they could actually enforce with GPS reporting! Would you take it?

Another example is machine language translation. As more people do more things online computer systems will have the opportunity to learn from the collective behavior of billions of humans. Translation will get a tiny bit smarter with each iteration. There are over 400,000 books in the modern version of the aforementioned Library of Alexandria, nearly half of them in Arabic. The culture and history that's in those books is not available to you unless you read Arabic, which of course most people don't. But soon, with the power of the cloud, they'll be able to read them anyway. This is why translation is important, because it gives us the ability, to quote John Adams from 1797, to "encourage schools, colleges, universities, academies, and every institution [to propagate] knowledge, virtue, and religion among all classes of the people."

Lit by lightning
Virtually every American president since George Washington has used his Inaugural Address to speak not just of the coming four years, but also of his vision for future generations. Similarly, we manage Google with a long-term focus. We live and run our business in these uncertain times, but our eyes are always on the future, on the better tomorrow that the Internet and all of its promise shall help bring to fruition. I hope that the four predictions that I have presented here will elicit your curiosity and illuminate the significance of the changes that lay ahead. They may inevitably come to pass, but their impact on us, our neighbors, our countries, and our world is not inevitably good. Hence, our challenge.

We are standing at a unique moment in history which will help define not just the Internet for the next few years, but the Internet that individuals and societies around the world will traverse for decades. As Googlers our responsibility is nothing less than to help support the future of information, the global transition in how it is created, shared, consumed, and used to solve big problems. Our challenge is to steer incessantly toward greatness, to never think small when we can think big, to strive on with the work Larry and Sergey began over ten years ago, and from this task we will not be moved. In a world that feels like it is lit by lightning, speed wins, and we have a responsibility to our users to not retreat, to not be content to stand still, to not be complacent or near-sighted. The Internet has had a profound and remarkable impact in the past decade. Now, from the height of this place, let's appreciate its implications and pursue its promise.

It seems only fitting to conclude this Presidents' Day treatise, which began by quoting our 44th president, with a statement from our first. And so, having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave.

Flowers, chocolates and cards are all typically associated with Valentine's Day. But as someone with a bit of a crush on cartography, I wanted to find a way for people to express their love using maps. I rallied a few other hopeless romantics around here and, together, we created a My Map where you can mark the romantic places in your life. Whether it's the waterfall where you proposed, the Chinese restaurant where you had your first date with your sweetheart, the secluded beach where you got married, or simply the most romantic spot that comes to mind, we'd love to hear from you. You can even add photos and videos to illustrate your love story. (But make sure your story doesn't make Cupid blush, as this map is intended for all audiences.)

View Larger Map

And if you're still scrambling for a last-minute gift for your valentine this year, we hope this map will provide some inspiration. You can use My Maps or the new Touring feature in Google Earth to make a special map just for your loved one, showing all the important places throughout your relationship. Of course, some flowers probably wouldn't hurt either. :-)

Today I'm pleased to announce the new My Tracks application for Android-powered phones such as the T-Mobile G1. My Tracks records tracks of outdoor activities using the phone's built-in GPS. It shows these tracks on a map and presents live statistics, including an elevation profile. And here's the best part: it lets you easily share your activities with friends and the world using Google Maps, as well as archive your training history with Google Docs.

Check out a ride from one of the My Tracks engineers (click to view larger):

Many GPS receivers require you to plug a separate device into a computer, install software, transfer, convert and upload your track to the web. With My Tracks, this has become a whole lot simpler. I no longer need to carry multiple devices when I go out for a ride, and I can easily share my rides on the spot with anyone I'd like by recording and uploading my track right from my phone and then sharing it out via email or even Twitter.

Here's a look at some of the things you can do with My Tracks:
  • Record and visualize GPS tracks while running, hiking, biking, skiing — or any other outdoor activity
  • Get live statistics, such as total/moving time, (average) speed, distance, and elevation profile
  • Send performance statistics to Google Docs to build a training history
  • Mark places and describe activities for others to discover via Google Maps
It's simple to get started. Just go to Android Market on your Android-powered phone and search for "My Tracks." Install the application and hit "Start recording" from the menu. This video shows you how it's done:

My Tracks was developed as a 20% project. On behalf of the entire team, we hope you enjoy using this application as much as we had fun developing it. And we're looking forward to seeing all of the creative ways people use it.

Since we launched iGoogle two years ago, we've received some fascinating stories from users telling us about interesting ways they're using their personalized Google homepage. Some have mentioned a particular gadget that they could not live without; others have said how much they enjoy artist themes. Some people have let us know how they've used our tools to create their own gadgets and themes. We've also heard personal stories about how people have tailored their page to keep their relationship alive, their news filtered, and their life organized.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, we're asking all iGoogle fans to share the love by submitting a written story or video describing what's special about their homepage. Your story can mention anything you want about your page — from something practical to something heartwarming. If you aren't a video whiz, don't worry. You can just tell it like it is. But we do encourage you to spice up your submission however you'd like — the best ones will be showcased for all to see.

For each entry received, we will 'share the love' back by sending you a free set of iGoogle artist theme laptop stickers.* You can choose from six popular themes, by Radiohead, Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Ecko, kate spade and Paul Frank.

Visit to find out how to submit your story and receive your stickers. We're looking forward to reading (and watching) your love stories. To help you get inspired, we've put together this short video that shows some of our favorite ways to use iGoogle.

*One sheet per person. We regret we can only mail to U.S. addresses and only while supplies last.

(Cross-posted from the Google Australia Blog. Here's the earlier post on mapping the fires.)

To follow up our post on Sunday, and with the tragedy in Victoria continuing, we've updated our map of the Victorian fires to incorporate the latest available satellite imagery from the Modis Rapid Response project at NASA/GSFC. You can toggle the button "Show Imagery" to see their most recent satellite imagery of some affected parts of Victoria. The small red polygons indicate that a fire is still burning (as at the time indicated beneath the map — 20 hours ago at the time of posting this).

We're continuing to try source the most hi-res imagery and fire data available and will update the map as soon as we get it (much of the satellite imagery is covered by smoke). We'll provide updates on the Google Australia Blog.

This map takes a constantly updating RSS feed from the Country Fire Authority of current fire incidents. To embed this map on your website, click here and then click "Get the Code."

We've set up a dedicated page (which we are linking to from the front page of that contains the Victorian fires map with imagery and a Google News feed. It also provides a link to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfires Appeal, to which so many Australians are contributing.

Our thoughts are with the victims and their families and, like all Australians, we're in awe of the efforts of everyone involved in the rescue and relief operations.

Imagine how hard it would be to stick to a budget in a store with no prices. Well, that's pretty much how we buy electricity today. Your utility company sends you a bill at the end of the month with very few details. Most people don't know how much electricity their appliances use, where in the house they are wasting electricity, or how much the bill might go up during different seasons. But in a world where everyone had a detailed understanding of their home energy use, we could find all sorts of ways to save energy and lower electricity bills. In fact, studies show that access to home energy information results in savings between 5-15% on monthly electricity bills. It may not sound like much, but if half of America's households cut their energy demand by 10 percent, it would be the equivalent of taking eight million cars off the road.

Google’s mission is to "organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful," and we believe consumers have a right to detailed information about their home electricity use. We're tackling the challenge on several fronts, from policy advocacy to developing consumer tools, and even investing in smart grid companies. We've been participating in the dialogue in Washington, DC and with public agencies in the U.S. and other parts of the world to advocate for investment in the building of a "smart grid," to bring our 1950s-era electricity grid into the digital age. Specifically, to provide both consumers and utilities with real-time energy information, homes must be equipped with advanced energy meters called "smart meters." There are currently about 40 million smart meters in use worldwide, with plans to add another 100 million in the next few years.

But deploying smart meters alone isn't enough. This needs to be coupled with a strategy to provide customers with easy access to energy information. That's why we believe that open protocols and standards should serve as the cornerstone of smart grid projects, to spur innovation, drive competition, and bring more information to consumers as the smart grid evolves. We believe that detailed data on your personal energy use belongs to you, and should be available in an open standard, non-proprietary format. You should control who gets to see your data, and you should be free to choose from a wide range of services to help you understand it and benefit from it. For more details on our policy suggestions, check out the comments we filed yesterday with the California Public Utility Commission.

In addition to policy advocacy, we're building consumer tools, too. Over the last several months, our engineers have developed a software tool called Google PowerMeter, which will show consumers their home energy information almost in real time, right on their computer. Google PowerMeter is not yet available to the public since we're testing it out with Googlers first. But we're building partnerships with utilities and independent device manufacturers to gradually roll this out in pilot programs. Once we've had a chance to kick the tires, we'll make the tool more widely available.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to providing consumers with detailed energy information. And it will take the combined efforts of federal and state governments, utilities, device manufacturers, and software engineers to empower consumers to use electricity more wisely by giving them access to energy information.

Late last month a young man named Oliver (Olly) Hicks climbed into his boat, the Flying Carrot, and set out from Recherche Bay in Tasmania, Australia on the Virgin Global Row, his attempt to become the first person to row solo around the entire globe. We jumped at the chance to offer our products to help Olly, both because we think this inspiring quest is eminently worth supporting and because we can't imagine how anyone else could more aptly illustrate the power of the web.

You see, although he'll be alone throughout his two-year adventure, Olly's water-resistant laptop and satellite uplink will keep him perpetually connected to the "cloud." So the Carrot, though just 24 feet long, will fit countless millions of books, videos, photographs, songs and websites -- not to mention many of the world's web users. You and I, from the comfort of our own computers, will be able to map Olly's progress, read the blog items he writes, enjoy the pictures and videos he uploads, ask him questions and vote on which ones he should answer, and follow along in the newest version of Google Earth, where his trip is part of an expedition layer focused on the world's oceans.

And Olly, in turn, can rest assured that everything he does on the web will be safely stored there forever, even if his laptop happens to take a swim. The cloud will be there for him, as it is for everybody who lives, works and plays online.

So, bon voyage, Olly. We're rooting for you, and we hope the rest of the world does, too.

You might remember reading about our trip "App to School," when we hit the road in our retro biofuel bus to visit ten universities across the U.S. One of our main goals of this trip was to hear from the technology experts themselves -- the students -- about how they are using tools like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Sites, and Google Talk in interesting ways to be more effective on and off campus.

Luckily we had a video camera along for the ride, and we filmed a bunch of students telling their stories. We'll share one of these videos a week for the next few months on the Google Students blog, so you can hear from the students themselves and hopefully learn a few new ways to use these products.

Here's one student who uses Calendar to manage lab studies with his classmates:

If you want to make sure you catch all the latest videos and stay up to date about other news and tips for students, you can subscribe to the Student blog. Can't wait another week to see more videos? Check out our playlist. And if you have your own story to share, we encourage you to upload it as a response.

One advantage of storing information online is being able to access it from anywhere, on any device. Last year we released a tool for Blackberry devices to sync Google Calendar and Gmail contacts with the pre-installed calendar and contacts applications. Today, we're offering more people easy access to their information on the go with two-way calendar and contacts sync for iPhones and Windows Mobile devices, and two-way contacts sync for mobile devices that support SyncML. This will be a particularly handy improvement for people who regularly use Google tools, like corporate employees, university students, and busy families.

For iPhone and Windows Mobile devices, Google Sync allows you to get your Gmail contacts and Google Calendar events onto your phone. Sync uses push technology, which means that any changes you make to your calendar or contacts from the browser or phone will be reflected on your device within minutes. For phones that support SyncML, the tool will allow you to get your Gmail contacts onto your phone. For all of these devices, synchronization happens automatically over the air, without having to manually sync your phone. The connection is always on, which means your information is always up-to-date, no matter where you are or what you're doing.

Getting started is easy. You can configure Google Sync directly from your device. The instructions and capabilities vary for different phones, so check out our Help Center for device-specific information. If you're a Google Apps user, Google Sync must be enabled for your domain by your administrator.

Following our credo to launch early and iterate, we're introducing Google Sync in beta. Before you begin, we encourage you to review a few known issues for the iPhone and Windows Mobile devices. Also, please keep in mind that Google Sync will replace all existing contacts and calendar information on your phone, so make sure to back up any important data before you get started. You can find out more information on backing up your data in the Help Center.

To try Sync, visit, and check out our video tour below.

Imagine that you need a refresher on how to tie a tie. So, you decide to type [how to tie a tie] into the Google search box. Which of these results would you choose?

Where did your eyes go first when you saw the results page? Did they go directly to the title of the first result? Did you first check the terms in boldface to see if the results really talk about tying a tie? Or maybe the images captured your attention and drew your eyes to them?

You might find it difficult to answer these questions. You probably did not pay attention to where you were looking on the page and you most likely only used a few seconds to visually scan the results. Our User Experience Research team has found that people evaluate the search results page so quickly that they make most of their decisions unconsciously. To help us get some insight into this split-second decision-making process, we use eye-tracking equipment in our usability labs. This lets us see how our study participants scan the search results page, and is the next best thing to actually being able to read their minds. Of course, eye-tracking does not really tell us what they are thinking, but it gives us a good idea of which parts of the page they are thinking about.

To see what the eye-tracking data we collect looks like, let's go back to the results page we got for the query [how to tie a tie]. The following video clip shows in real time how a participant in our study scanned the page. And yes, seriously — the video is in real time! That's how fast the eyes move when scanning a page. The larger the dot gets, the longer the users' eye pauses looking at that specific location.

Based on eye-tracking studies, we know that people tend to scan the search results in order. They start from the first result and continue down the list until they find a result they consider helpful and click it — or until they decide to refine their query. The heatmap below shows the activity of 34 usability study participants scanning a typical Google results page. The darker the pattern, the more time they spent looking at that part of the page. This pattern suggests that the order in which Google returned the results was successful; most users found what they were looking for among the first two results and they never needed to go further down the page.

When designing the user interface for Universal Search, the team wanted to incorporate thumbnail images to better represent certain kinds of results. For example, in the [how to tie a tie] example above, we have added thumbnails for Image and Video results. However, we were concerned that the thumbnail images might be distracting and disrupt the well-established order of result evaluation.

We ran a series of eye-tracking studies where we compared how users scan the search results pages with and without thumbnail images. Our studies showed that the thumbnails did not strongly affect the order of scanning the results and seemed to make it easier for the participants to find the result they wanted.

The thumbnail image seemed to make results with thumbnails easy to notice when the users wanted them (see screenshots below — page with the thumbnail image on the right)...

Click the images to  view them larger.

...and the thumbnails also seemed to make it easy for people to skip over the results with thumbnails when those results were not relevant to their search (page with the thumbnail on the right).

For the Universal Search team, this was a successful outcome. It showed that we had managed to design a subtle user interface that gives people helpful information without getting in the way of their primary task: finding relevant information.

In addition to search research, we also use eye-tracking to study the usability of other products, such as Google News and Image Search. For these products, eye-tracking helps us answer questions, such as "Is the 'Top Stories' link discoverable on the left of the Google News page?" or "How do the users typically scan the image results — in rows, in columns or in some other way?"

Eye-tracking gives us valuable information about our users' focus of attention — information that would be very hard to come by any other way and that we can use to improve the design of our products. However, in our ongoing quest to make our products more useful, usable, and enjoyable, we always complement our eye-tracking studies with other methods, such as interviews, field studies and live experiments.

How often do you find yourself wondering where your friends are and what they're up to? It's a pretty central question to our daily social lives, and it's precisely the question you can now answer using Google Latitude.

Latitude is a new feature for Google Maps on your mobile device. It's also an iGoogle gadget on your computer. Once you've opted in to Latitude, you can see the approximate location of your friends and loved ones who have decided to share their location with you. So now you can do things like see if your spouse is stuck in traffic on the way home from work, notice that a buddy is in town for the weekend, or take comfort in knowing that a loved one's flight landed safely, despite bad weather.

And with Latitude, not only can you see your friends' locations on a map, but you can also be in touch directly via SMS, Google Talk, Gmail, or by updating your status message; you can even upload a new profile photo on the fly. It's a fun way to feel close to the people you care about.

Fun aside, we recognize the sensitivity of location data, so we've built fine-grained privacy controls right into the application. Everything about Latitude is opt-in. You not only control exactly who gets to see your location, but you also decide the location that they see. For instance, let's say you are in Rome. Instead of having your approximate location detected and shared automatically, you can manually set your location for elsewhere — perhaps a visit to Niagara Falls . Since you may not want to share the same information with everyone, Latitude lets you change the settings on a friend-by-friend basis. So for each person, you can choose to share your best available location or your city-level location, or you can hide. Everything is under your control and, of course, you can sign out of Latitude at any time. Check out this video to learn more about the privacy features.

Finally, since we'd like you to be able to use Latitude with any of your friends, we've been working hard to make it available to as many people as possible. Today, Latitude is available in 27 countries, and we hope to add more soon.

Ready to share your location? If you have a mobile smartphone, visit on your phone's web browser to download the latest version of Google Maps for mobile with Latitude. Latitude is available on Blackberry, S60, and Windows Mobile, and will be available on Android in the next few days. We expect it will be coming to the iPhone, through Google Mobile App, very soon.

No smartphone? No worries. Visit on your desktop or laptop to install the Latitude iGoogle gadget and share your location right from your computer. If you have Google Gears installed in your browser (you do by default if you use Google Chrome), you can automatically share your location; otherwise, manually set your location to let your friends know where you are.

Visit the Google Mobile blog for more details, and check out the video below to see Latitude in action.

The world is a quickly changing place and it's getting harder and harder to stay on top of the news. With this in mind, we've just released a Google News–based element for webmasters and developers. This makes it easy to integrate headlines and previews from Google News into any webpage, and for newspapers to reach new audiences across the web. Whether your visitors are interested in business, entertainment or fashion, you control the types of stories in your personal news show. You can input keywords like "Obama " or "Superbowl" or broad topics like "world news" or "politics."

For more information, check out our post on the AJAX Search API Blog or get started with our wizard to automatically generate the code for you.

Today, we launched the Internet Bus Project, an initiative designed to showcase the benefits of the Internet to the people across the cities of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Over the last few years, we've been witnessing a steady growth in Internet adoption, but we wanted to do more to directly engage the offline population of India. So we're hitting the road over the next month and a half to demonstrate how the Internet can make everyday tasks simple with tools like Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps and more.

To learn more about the project and get updates from the road, visit the Google India Blog or the Internet Bus Project website.

Today, we're announcing our second annual Doodle 4 Google contest in the U.S. Google doodles are the special "dressed-up" logos we run on our homepage for holidays and other events, and Doodle 4 Google is an opportunity for one child to have his/her artwork displayed on our homepage as a doodle for hundreds of millions of people to see. This year's theme is "What I Wish for the World," as we really want to tap into not only children's creativity but also what they want their future to look like.

We're very excited this year to be partnering with the Smithsonian's, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Since Cooper-Hewitt is focused on design and education and fostering the brightest design minds of tomorrow, they were a natural partner for Doodle 4 Google. Their partnership also means that this year's prizes not only include having your artwork on the Google homepage for a day, a college scholarship, and a technology grant for your school, but also having your work (and that of all 40 finalists) exhibited at a Smithsonian museum!

Most of this year's contest remains the same as last year's. (For inspiration, you can see Grace Moon's beautiful winning doodle "Up In the Clouds" in our Doodle Gallery). However, there are a few changes. First, we've increased the college scholarship prize for the national winner to $15,000. We've also added a $10,000 prize for the school district that submits the most high-quality entries. Finally, in partnership with Cooper-Hewitt, we'll be celebrating the 40 finalists and announcing the national winner in New York City, to coincide with the opening of the exhibit. Please visit the official competition website for a full listing of all contest rules and requirements.

Only students from registered schools can enter, so teachers, if you want to participate please register your school by March 17, 2009. All doodles must be submitted by March 31, 2009.

Posted by Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products & User Experience