Friday, December 31, 2010

Google blogging in 2010

On the last day of 2010, it’s time for us to reflect on the past year of Google blogging. This year, we published 454 posts (including this one) on the Official Google Blog—7 percent more than 2009. Those posts had an astonishing number of readers: 24,768,052 unique visitors stopped by this year, more than 70 percent more than last year. (The huge increase is mostly due to this year’s April Fools' post, which benefited from a link in a prominent location; more on that below.) People come to the blog from all around the world; the top countries sending visitors in 2010 were the U.S., U.K., Canada, India and Germany, but readers came from dozens of other places as well.

The top posts this year run the gamut from policy changes to product arrivals:
  1. A different kind of company name - 10,604,183 unique pageviews, more than 30 percent of the year’s total. Our April Fools' Day post about changing our company name to “Topeka” had a crazy-high number of pageviews, in large part because there was a link to our humble blog on Google’s homepage that day. That’s a lot of eyes!
  2. A new approach to China - 924,335. We post about our new approach to business in China; we will no longer censor search results on Google.cn.
  3. Introducing Google Chrome OS - 653,803. This post introducing our open source operating system was published in July 2009 (and was the top post of 2009), but continued to draw readers this year. (This month, we launched a pilot program for Chrome OS notebooks.)
  4. Think big with a gig: our experimental fiber network - 483,399. We announce our plan to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States.
  5. Update on Google Wave - 469,164. We share the news that we don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product.
  6. Introducing Google Places - 341,136. The Local Business Center (the tool that enables business owners to manage their presence on Google) becomes Google Places.
  7. Announcing Google TV: TV meets web. Web meets TV - 314,991. At Google I/O, we unveil a new experience for television that combines your familiar TV with the freedom and power of the Internet.
  8. Our new search index: Caffeine - 271,393. Our new indexing system provides 50 percent fresher results for web searches than our last index, and is the largest collection of web content we‘ve offered.
  9. A new approach to China: an update - 228,591. In March, we stop censoring our search services on Google.cn, redirecting users from there to Google.com.hk for uncensored search in simplified Chinese. (Later, we introduce a landing page for Chinese users that links to Google.com.hk.)
  10. Introducing Nexus S, with Gingerbread - 220,482. We introduce Gingerbread, the latest version of the Android platform, and Nexus S, the next Android device from the Nexus line of mobile products.
Other popular posts included Google’s new look, the ability to change the background image on your Google homepage, Google Instant, a playable PAC-MAN doodle, the ability to call phones from Gmail and—oh, that—cars that drive themselves.

In 2010, we kept up with our search and apps series, and introduced a few new ones: about small businesses using Google’s products, updates from YouTube, great Google stories from users and a bunch of new “Search On” videos. We also shared our thoughts on the future of display advertising. We had fun with giant photo collages and other wall art, got into the spirit of the World Cup and shared a new kind of musical experience built for the modern browser. We shared imagery of Haiti after the January earthquake and the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill. We also talked about how Google Earth played a role in the discovery of a rare hominid ancestor in South Africa, celebrated quite a few milestones, and gave you a glimpse of the bzzz-iest Googlers on campus at the Hiveplex.

In December, we revamped our blog directory so you can more easily find the exact place to get the news you’re looking for; you can sort by category, language or region. We revamped our Twitter directory too, and added new directories for our Facebook pages and YouTube channels.

Speaking of Twitter, this was our second year of tweeting officially on @google. We crossed the 2,000-tweet mark earlier this month and now have more than 2.6 million followers. Our Twitter family grew by leaps and bounds as well—you can now follow Google on more than 100 Twitter accounts posting news of all kinds, from API updates for developers to product news in countries around the world. Twitter was also our biggest referrer to this blog in 2010 (excluding Google search, Google properties such as google.com/places and Feedburner)—followed closely by Facebook.

As always, we’re grateful to all of our readers for keeping up with us over the year, and we’re looking forward to bringing you more news in 2011!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Battle of the Demos: Musical Holiday Edition

Nothing brings out holiday spirit like caroling around town or sharing a good time with friends. But when you combine both of those fun activities with Google technology, Weezer, Greyson Chance, and Demo Slam, you get Battle of the Demos: Musical Holiday Edition.

This winter season, Weezer and Greyson Chance stepped to into the Demo Slam arena to show the world their most creative tech demos. We know they can both sing, but who will win in a battle of technology?

Spending his Christmas home in Oklahoma City, Greyson Chance figured he could combine Google Local Search and caroling to spread some musical cheer around town:



Weezer is known for their adoring fans (well, at least one adoring fan authoring this post). Check out this slam that gets the whole crowd involved:



Head over to demoslam.com to vote and help decide whether a voice search performed by 3,000 people or crooning through the streets of Oklahoma City will reign supreme.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dashing through the snow... with NORAD and Google

(Cross-posted from the Lat Long Blog)

Every Christmas Eve, children all over the world ask themselves—and their parents—questions about Santa’s magical journey. How does Santa visit so many children in one night? Will he eat the cookies I left out? How does he fit all those presents into his sleigh? These childhood mysteries are part of what makes the Santa tradition so special.

There’s one timeless question that we’re proud to say we can help answer: Where in the world is Santa at this very moment? Thanks in part to recent advances in warp-speed GPS technology and some very clever elves (elveneering?) NORAD Tracks Santa is once again prepped and ready to go.

Starting tomorrow, December 24 at 2:00am EST, visit www.noradsanta.org to follow Santa as he journeys around the world delivering presents to children in more than 200 countries and territories. There are a few different ways to find the jolly old man in his unmistakable red suit over the course of the day, so feel free to track him using any of the following methods:
  • See Santa on a Google Map: On your home computer or laptop, visit www.noradsanta.org and choose your preferred language. You’ll see a large Google Map on the page displaying Santa’s current location and his next stop. Click the video icons to watch “Santa Cam” videos, and click the gift icons to learn more about each city.

  • Watch Santa fly with the Google Earth Plug-in: From www.noradsanta.org, click on the link Track Santa in Google Earth. You'll see Santa steering his sleigh right on the webpage. If you don't have the Google Earth plug-in, you can get ready by downloading it ahead of time.

  • Follow Santa on your phone: Track Santa from your mobile phone by opening Google Maps for mobile and searching for [santa]. Or, visit m.noradsanta.org on your phone’s browser.

  • Subscribe to his YouTube channel: Santa’s home on YouTube is at http://www.youtube.com/noradtrackssanta. That’s where you can find videos from his journey throughout the night.

  • Get real-time information about Santa’s location: Use Google’s Realtime Search to get updates from social networks, news and micro-blogs like Twitter at @noradsanta, and keep up with news about his journey on this Facebook page.
For any techie questions you might have, we’ve also put together some helpful tips and tricks about all the cool ways you can experience Santa’s journey. Now that you know how to follow Saint Nick on Christmas Eve, it’s our tradition to tell the story of how this all started...

NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) first began to track Santa in 1955 when a misprinted advertisement in a Sears & Roebuck catalogue mistakenly led callers expecting a Santa-hotline to the NORAD commander-in-chief's telephone. Embracing the spirit of the season, NORAD used its satellite and radar capabilities to offer callers sleigh-location updates, and has tracked Santa's whereabouts on Christmas Eve ever since. Then in 2004, Google started tracking Santa on Google Earth as a 20% project, which in 2007 grew into a partnership with NORAD, adding the mapping technology of Google Maps and Google Earth to the NORAD experience. Over the years, other Google teams have also joined in the holiday fun (YouTube, Google Voice’s www.SendACallFromSanta.com and Google SketchUp).

As we approach this year’s Christmas Eve adventure, Santa was able to take a break from the preparations to visit the New York Stock Exchange this past Monday. His helpful elves kept everything at the North Pole on schedule while folks from Google and NORAD attended the Closing Bell ceremony, and stood alongside Santa from Macy’s going over last minute details about tomorrow’s big ride.

Santa with NORAD, Google and members of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation (that’s me, the tall guy in the back row clapping)

So don’t forget to visit www.noradsanta.org tomorrow morning starting at 2:00am EST when Santa embarks on his flight. From all of us here at Google, happy holidays and here’s to a very happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Investing in New York

Google New York started in a Starbucks on 86th Street with one person in 2000—a scrappy, highly-caffeinated sales “team.” After moving to a larger office in Times Square, in 2006 we relocated to our current home in Chelsea, at 111 Eighth Avenue—a former Port Authority building. In June of 2008, we took additional space in the Chelsea Market building at 75 Ninth Avenue. Now we have more than 2,000 Googlers working on a variety of projects in both sales and engineering—and we’re hiring across the board.

Today, we’re pleased to announce that we’ve closed a deal with the partnership of Taconic Investment Partners, Jamestown Properties and the New York State Common Retirement Fund to purchase 111 Eighth Avenue (also known as 76 Ninth Avenue). As part of the deal, we’ve retained Taconic Management Company to continue the leasing oversight services and management of the building on our behalf, providing the same level of customer service the building’s tenants have come to expect. We believe that this is a great real estate investment in a thriving neighborhood and a fantastic city.

Like the city, our New York office is a melting pot of cultures and ideas—it’s home to Googlers from more than 35 countries who speak more than 40 languages. They live in the five boroughs and spread across the tri-state area. We’re excited to continue to build our presence there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trip report: Google and YouTube in Pakistan 2010

Earlier this month, a team from Google and YouTube went to Pakistan to explore business and content opportunities, following up on Google’s Clinton Global Initiative commitment to Pakistan and to sponsor and participate in Pakistan’s first International Youth Conference and Festival. It’s hard to imagine a country more at the nexus of geo-politics today than Pakistan, and our team learned a lot about the state of the Pakistani technology, media and non-profit sectors.



Internet connectivity in Pakistan is quite low—estimates put penetration at around 10%—but opportunities for growth are evident. For one thing, broadband costs are quite cheap compared to other parts of the world—around $13/month. Smartphone usage is also on the rise, and there are a growing number of Pakistani developers who are creating mobile applications for sale both in Pakistan and abroad. Around 60% of Pakistanis have a mobile phone, and their average bill is around $3/month. Not surprisingly, SMS is one of the primary means of communication in Pakistan.

One of the keys to bringing more Pakistanis online is the amount of local Pakistani content available on the Internet. There are some great examples so far: for instance, Coke Studio, a “fusion” music project sponsored by Coke that features popular Pakistani musicians, grew so popular on YouTube last summer that it was the 11th-most viewed channel on the site. Dozens of news organizations have begun to use YouTube as a global distribution platform as well, reaching not only Pakistanis online but the diaspora abroad. The Pakistani media is young and voracious—it was just eight years ago that the government opened up the airwaves to allow non-state media channels to exist, and in that short time the media has grown to become an important player in the public discourse in Pakistan, despite occasional crackdowns from authorities. Citizen media has also played an increasingly big role in Pakistan: for example many Pakistanis used cellphone cameras to document the devastation wrought by the floods in Pakistan last summer.

Google.org granted $1 million to Pakistani flood relief in September, localized crisis response tools, and launched a flood relief landing page. On our trip we met with several non-profits who are doing incredible work to help the affected citizens get back on their feet. Our products, in particular Google MapMaker, proved to be of use to flood relief agencies for tracking development in the wake of the tragedy. Over countless cups of hot chai and mixed grilled barbecues, we heard stories of ordinary Pakistanis using Google technology to document the flood and connect with one another during the crisis.

Pakistan’s future no doubt lies with its youth—an incredible 62% of Pakistanis are under the age of 25. Perhaps the highlight of our trip was the International Youth Conference we participated in, which was run by an organization called Khudi. Khudi was founded by the dynamic Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist who changed his views towards moderate Islam and has since devoted his life to educating young people on freedom of expression and anti-extremism (Nawaz also spoke at Google Zeitgeist this year). It was inspiring to meet leaders like Nawaz who are committed to emboldening Pakistan’s younger generations to use the web to bring Pakistan to the rest of the world, and to give the rest of the world a more complete picture of Pakistan. In this way we saw an opportunity for technology to not only foster economic development, but also to break down borders in the region. We asked a few of the Pakistani leaders we met with to talk about Pakistan’s future, and here’s what they had to say.



This was the largest delegation of Googlers ever to visit Pakistan, and we’re looking forward to continued engagement in the region.

Some cool Android tips and tricks

Last week, I sent a note to my team with some of my favorite tips and apps for Nexus S, which features Android 2.3, Gingerbread. A lot of Googlers liked it, so we thought some of you might enjoy it as well. (Note: Many of the tips are specific to Android 2.3.)

Tips
  • Visual cue for scrolling: When you are in a scrollable list (like your Gmail inbox) and you reach the end of the list it shows an orange hue—a visual cue that you can’t scroll anymore.
  • Notification bar icons (Wi-Fi, network coverage bars, etc.): Turn green when you have an uninhibited connection to Google, white when you don't. Hint: if you're in a hotel or airport using Wi-Fi, the bars won't turn green until you launch the browser and get past the captive portal.
  • Voice actions: Tell your phone what to do by pressing the microphone icon next to the search box on the home screen, or long press the magnifying glass. You can tell it to send an email or text message (“send text to mom, see you for pizza at 7”), call someone ("call mom"), navigate somewhere (“navigate to pizza”), or listen to music ("listen to Mamma Mia").
  • Find things you’ve downloaded from your browser: Your downloads are now neatly collected in a Downloads manager, which you can find in the apps drawer.
  • Turn a Gallery stack into a slideshow: In Gallery, when you are looking at a stack of photos, put two fingers on the stack and spread them. The stack spreads out and the pictures flow from one finger to the other, a moving slideshow that lets you see all of the photos.
  • Walk, don’t drive: Once you’ve gotten directions within Google Maps, click on the walking person icon to get walking directions.
  • Easy text copy/paste from a webpage: To copy/paste from a webpage, long press some text, drag the handles around to select the text you want to copy, and press somewhere in the highlighted region. To paste, simply long press a text entry box and select paste. Gmail is a bit different: you need to go to Menu > More > Select Text.
  • Turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot: Go to Settings > Wireless & Networks > Tethering & Portable Hotspot. (You may have to pay extra for this feature.)
  • Look at Maps in 3D: With the latest release of Google Maps, you can now look at 3D maps. Tilt the map by sliding two fingers vertically up/down the screen, and rotate it by placing two fingers on the map and sliding in a circular motion, e.g., from 12 and 6 o’clock to 3 and 9.
  • Cool shutdown effect: When you put the phone to sleep, you’ll see an animation that resembles an old cathode tube TV turning off.
Keyboard tricks
  • Shift+Key to capitalize a word: In Gingerbread (and supported hardware), you can Shift+Key to capitalize a letter instead of going to a separate all caps keyboard.
  • Auto-complete: The space bar lights up when auto-complete can finish a word.
  • Quick replace: Tap on any previously typed word, then tap on a suggestion to automatically replace it with the suggested word.
  • Easy access to special characters (like numbers, punctuation): Press and hold any key to go to the special character keyboard. You can also press and hold the "," key for an extensive punctuation keyboard.
Applications
  • Angry Birds: Popular game that lets you knock down blocks by slingshotting birds.
  • Astro: Awesome file explorer app. Browse and access the directories on your phone, and take full advantage of its capabilities. Great if you’re a power user.
  • Chrome to Phone: This one is really useful for Chrome users. You can send anything you browse on your computer to your phone. So if you are heading out to a restaurant or party and look up directions on your computer, just click the “send to phone” button (requires Chrome to Phone extension) and that exact page will open on your phone. Same with virtually any webpage.
  • Flash: Install from Android Market to watch Flash videos embedded throughout the web. Runs even better on Gingerbread.
  • Fruit Ninja: A juicy action game that tests your ability to smash flying fruit. A fun time-killer on the bus or train.
  • FXCamera: Popular photo sharing app with slick effects and filters.
  • Google Maps: Use your device as a GPS navigation system with free turn-by-turn voice guidance, and take advantage of other Google Maps features like Street View, Latitude and Places.
  • Instant Heart Rate: Measure your heart rate using your camera.
  • Phoneanlyzr: Track your phone usage: who you text most, call most, average call length distribution, etc.
  • RemoteDroid: Control your computer from your phone. Gives you a mobile wireless mouse and keyboard. Great if you’re using your computer for music or movies.
  • Shazam: Identifies virtually any song you are listening to.
  • SoundHound: Record a snippet of a song and get it identified instantly. You can even hum (if you can carry a tune!).
  • Tango: A free, high-quality video call app that works on both 3G and Wi-Fi. If your device has a front facing camera (e.g., Nexus S), you will love this app.
  • YouTube: New UI. Plus, portrait-mode player, and view comments and drop-down box video information

Latest from the Lab

Over the last couple of weeks, lots of apps have debuted on Google Labs, a laboratory where our more adventurous users can try our experimental products and offer feedback directly to the engineers who developed them. Teams at Google are gearing up to deliver more and more cool innovations to users, and this month alone, we’ve launched six new products on Google Labs. Here are the highlights of our recent releases.

App Inventor for Android
App Inventor for Android makes it easier for people to access the capabilities of their Android phones and create apps for their personal use. Until now, it was only available to a group of people who requested and received invitations. Last week, we announced that App Inventor (beta) is now available to anyone with a Google account. Visit the App Inventor homepage to get set up and start building your own Android app—and be sure to share your App Inventor story on the App Inventor user forum!



Body Browser
Body Browser is a demo app that allows you to visualize complex 3D graphics of the human body. It works in the latest beta version of Google Chrome and uses WebGL, a new standard that enables 3D experiences in the web browser without any plug-ins. Using Body Browser, you can explore different layers of human anatomy by moving the slider to rotate and zoom in on parts you are interested in. Not sure where something is? Try the search box. You can also share the exact scene you’re viewing by copying and pasting the corresponding URL.


DataWiki
DataWiki is a wiki for structured data, extending the idea of a normal wiki to make it easy to create, edit, share and visualize structured data, and to interlink data formats to make them more understandable and useful. The project is inspired by the need to create customized data formats for crisis response, for example to quickly create a person-finder application after an earthquake, or share Internet and cellular phone connectivity maps from an affected area. DataWiki operates as a RESTful web-service, is built on AppEngine and is completely open source.


Google Books Ngram Viewer
Google Books Ngram Viewer graphs and compares the historical usage of phrases based on the datasets comprised of more than 500 billion words and their associated volumes over time in about 5.2 million books. Last week, we released this visualization tool along with freely-downloadable phrase frequency datasets to help humanities research. You can find interesting example queries (e.g., “tofu” vs. “hot dog”) and more information about the effort in our blog post.


Google Earth Engine
Google Earth Engine, which we announced at the U.N. Climate Change Conference Cancun earlier this month, is a technology platform that enables scientists to do global-scale observation and measurement of changes in the earth's environment. It provides an unprecedented amount of satellite imagery and data online for the first time, as well as our extensive computing infrastructure—the Google “cloud”—to analyze the imagery. We’re excited about the initial use of Google Earth Engine to support efforts to stop global deforestation, but the platform can be used for a wide range of applications, from mapping water resources to ecosystem services. It’s part of our broader effort at Google to build a more sustainable future.



Google Shared Spaces
Google Shared Spaces is an easy way for you to share mini-collaborative applications, like scheduling tools or games, with your friends or colleagues. By creating a Shared Space, you can share a gadget with whomever you want by simply sending the URL. Once your friends join the Shared Space, you can collaborate with them in real-time on the gadget, and you can chat with them, too. This product is built on some of the technology used in Google Wave.


Those experimental products have been developed by many teams across Google. Some products were born in 20% time, and some were built by start-up-like teams inside the company. But all of these products were created by passionate, small teams just because they cared about them so much.

You can find more Labs products on googlelabs.com. Please play with them and give us feedback. And stay tuned for experiments coming in the future.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Going green at Google in 2010

(Cross-posted on the Google.org blog)

At Google, we’re committed to building a clean energy future because we we want to be good environmental stewards, and because we think it makes business sense. We’ve had a busy year with our clean energy initiatives. Take look at our redesigned green website and this new video from the Google green team to learn more about the priorities we’re pursuing:



As we look back on 2010, we wanted to highlight what we’ve been working on this year to help build a more sustainable future—for Google, and the world.
  • Greening our operations. We already have the most energy efficient data centers in the world, and use renewable energy whenever possible. This year we created a subsidiary, Google Energy LLC, to enable us to purchase renewable energy on the wholesale power markets and to help spur development in the sector.

    • Flexibility in buying renewable energy. In February, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted Google Energy LLC the authority to buy and sell energy on the wholesale market, giving us the flexibility to procure renewable energy at competitive prices.

    • 20-year green power purchase. Our FERC authority enabled Google Energy LLC to enter a 20-year green Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in July to buy clean energy from 114 megawatts (MW) of wind generation at NextEra’s Story County II facility in Iowa (read more about how the deal is structured). By purchasing so much energy for so long, we’re giving the developer financial certainty to build additional clean energy projects.

  • Developing green products and tools. Just a few weeks ago, during the the U.N. Climate Change Conference in sunny Cancun, Mexico, we launched Google Earth Engine, a new Google Labs product. Google Earth Engine is a technology platform that makes an unprecedented catalog of imagery and data available online in one place for the first time. It enables global-scale monitoring and measurement of changes in the earth’s environment. We’re particularly excited about the initial use of Google Earth Engine to support efforts to stop global deforestation. We’ve also been busy this year incorporating green features into our products—like Google Maps biking directions and adding Carbon Disclosure Project ratings into Google Finance.

  • Investing in a clean energy future. To date, Google has invested over $100 million in clean energy. Google.org has already invested in several clean technology companies. We’ve also continued our internal R&D on renewable energy technologies (RE<C), substantially growing our engineering team. And this year, Google began making project investments that offer a solid financial return, and could have a transformational impact on the renewable energy sector.

    • North Dakota wind farms. In May, we invested $38.8 million in two North Dakota wind farms that generate 169.5MW, enough to power 55,000 homes. It was our first project investment, and uses some of the latest wind turbine technology and control systems to provide one of the lowest-cost sources of renewable energy to the local grid.

    • Offshore wind transmission. In October, we made a development stage investment in a project to build a backbone transmission line off the Mid-Atlantic coast. The project will put in place strong, secure transmission, removing a major barrier to scaling up offshore wind. When finished, the 350-mile line will connect up to 6,000MW of offshore wind energy—enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households!
It’s been a busy year at Google, and we believe the world needs better options in the future. As we head into the new year, we look forward to continuing our work to find and support innovative clean energy solutions.

Oh Ship! Final Shipping Day is here

‘Twas the last week of shopping, and all through the land
All the shoppers were shopping, on foot and by hand;
Their lists were made, as usual, with care,
In hopes that great gift-giving soon would be there.

Oh Ship! To family! To friends and to beaus!
On overnight, two-day, for electronics or clothes!
To the local store, online or the mall!
Now shop away! Ship away! Give gifts to all!


If you’re anything like us—and based on research data from a Google/OTX study which notes that the average shopper still has to complete 50% of their holiday purchases, we suspect you are—you may be asking Santa for a bit more time to finish all your holiday shopping before December 25.

But if you’re traveling for the holidays or buying gifts for far away friends and family, you may be doing something a bit stronger than wishing for more time; you may be shouting, “oh, ship!” today, the last shipping day on which the USPS recommends sending packages for delivery before Christmas via First Class Mail, and the last day on which many online retailers guarantee delivery by Christmas via Standard Delivery.

As we enter this final and cheerfully panicked sprint toward Christmas, we took a look at some U.S. search trends related to two of the most important shopping days for procrastinators—today, which we fondly refer to as Oh Ship! Day (otherwise known as Last Shipping Day) and last Friday’s Free Shipping Day (a day in December on which numerous retailers offer free shipping and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve).

Planned procrastination is in the air
While some of us can’t resist putting off our holiday shopping until the last minute, we seem to have become better at planning for procrastination.

A number of searches related to guaranteed Christmas delivery, along with specifics like [free shipping day], [last shipping day] and [free overnight shipping] have risen rapidly, indicating that we’re interested in hunting for deals and making sure our gifts arrive on time.


Some other top shopping-related searches this month include:


Last-minute local
For shoppers determined to shop at the last possible second, local stores will likely be a lifesaver. Fortunately, many of these super-procrastinators seem to be super-shoppers; [store locator] searches peak in late December each year, generally on December 24, and have continued to grow in volume through the years.

Other searches such as [open christmas day], [christmas eve hours] and [holiday hours] further point to the last-minute local shopper phenomenon, while the continued rise in searches for [printable coupons] indicates these in-store shoppers are deal-hungry, whether they’re making purchases early or at the final hour.


Whether you’re done with your shopping or still sprinting toward the holiday shopping finish line, the Google Retail Industry team would like to wish you a happy holiday season and a wonderful Oh Ship! Day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This week in search 12/17/10

This is part of a regular series of posts on search experience updates that runs on Fridays. Look for the label "This week in search" and subscribe to the series. - Ed.

One of the things we think about often are new and better ways to interact with the search engine—whether it’s refining results on the fly, speaking your search terms, or typing your search into the address bar. This week, we’ve improved several ways in which you interact with Google, including a more precise way to zoom back in time in Realtime, Instant search results (and webpages) in Chrome, new warning labels to catch your eye on the results page and information delivered to you in audio format in Translate.

Instant on Chrome
Google Instant continues to expand to new languages, domains and devices. This week, you can use Google Instant right in your Chrome Omnibox with our latest beta release. Instant on Chrome takes the power of Instant to the next level, letting you get not only instant search results, but also instant web pages. If Google is your default search engine and Instant is enabled on Chrome, your browser will immediately begin loading either a webpage or search results as you type. Now that’s fast.

“Top updates” and other improvements to Realtime
Just over a year ago we introduced Realtime Search, which for the first time brought the search results page to life with a dynamic stream of real-time content. Realtime Search has been steadily improving, and this week we added a new “Top updates” section on the right-hand side of the Realtime results page, making it easy to see some of the most interesting tweets related for your search. We’ve also updated the user interface for the replay feature, making it easier to go back in time with very precise time intervals that appear as you hover your cursor over the timeline. Finally, for those who are watching closely, we’ve also renamed the “Updates” mode in the left-hand panel on our main search results page to “Realtime” to make our feature names more consistent.

Top updates now appear on the right-hand side of the Realtime results page

Hacked sites notifications
We've added new notifications to the results page to warn you when sites may have been compromised, spammed or defaced. We use a variety of automated tools to detect common signs of hacking as quickly as possible, and if we detect any of these we add a new notice right beneath the result title line, “This site may be compromised.” In addition to protecting users, these notices will also help webmasters more quickly discover when someone is abusing their sites. You can learn more in our Help Center article and our webmaster blog post. Here’s what it looks like:

No, Matt’s site hasn’t been hacked—for illustrative purposes only!

Improvements to Google Translate
We develop automatic translation tools because we want to help people find information, no matter what language they speak. This week we made three distinct improvements to Translate. First, we added the ability to see alternative translations, which can help you understand the true intended meaning of the phrase, and provide another kind of feedback for us to improve our translation systems. We also added virtual keyboards, because it can be extremely difficult to type some of the 57 languages supported by Google Translate on a standard QWERTY keyboard. Finally, we added speech synthesis for three more languages and dramatically improved another 17, so you can not only see text translations, but actually hear them spoken aloud.

With alternative translations, you can click to see different possible translations for the same word.

This week in searches
After our special edition of the Google Beat last week for our annual Zeitgeist, we’re back with the final Google Beat of the year. Check out the video to find out which celebrities, football stadiums and Senate bills were popular this week.

During the next couple weeks many of us on the search team will be taking a much needed break after a very busy year. While we’ll certainly spend some of our time off daydreaming about how we can make search more interactive in 2011, we plan to enjoy our time interacting with friends and family around the dinner table, the fireplace, the ski slope—or wherever the holiday season takes us.

Until next year, happy holidays!

Browse the web for a good cause

How many tabs have you opened in your browser today? We know many of you probably open tens or even hundreds of tabs in a day—now, you can put all those tabs toward serving a good cause.

Earlier this week, we invited the Chrome user community to participate in the Chrome for a Cause project this December 15-19. Already tens of thousands of web denizens have “donated” the tabs that they opened in Google Chrome to help drive a charitable gift that Google will make on their behalf, up to $1 million.


Just halfway through the project, the global Chrome community can already be proud of the impact they will enable through our five partner charities. The millions of tabs contributed so far will go towards:
  • administering vaccinations, via Doctors Without Borders
  • planting trees, via The Nature Conservancy
  • providing clean water, via charity: water
  • publishing and donating books, via Room to Read
  • building shelter, via Un Techo para mi País
There’s still time to participate—here’s how to join us:
  • Get the Chrome for a Cause extension
  • Browse the web with Chrome between now and Sunday, December 19
  • At the end of each day, you’ll be prompted to click on the extension to submit your tabs
  • Choose which charity you’d like to support with that day’s tabs—you can support the same charity every time, or pick a different one each day
To find out more about this effort and the organizations we're partnering with, visit google.com/chrome/intl/en/p/cause/.

Under the hood of Google Maps 5.0 for Android

Yesterday we introduced Google Maps 5.0 for Android with two significant new features: 3D interaction and offline reliability. In order to create these features, we rebuilt Maps using vector graphics to dynamically draw the map as you use it. Building a vector graphics engine capable of achieving the visual quality and performance level you expect from Google Maps was a major technical challenge and enables all sorts of future possibilities. So we wanted to give you a closer look under the hood at the technology driving the next generation of mobile maps.

Vector graphics
Before diving into how Maps uses vector graphics, it may be helpful to understand how maps were created before. Previously, Google Maps downloaded the map as sets of individual 256x256 pixel “image tiles.” Each pre-rendered image tile was downloaded with its own section of map imagery, roads, labels and other features baked right in. Google Maps would download each tile as you needed it and then stitch sets together to form the map you see. It takes more than 360 billion tiles to cover the whole world at 20 zoom levels!

Now, we use vector graphics to dynamically draw the map. Maps will download “vector tiles” that describe the underlying geometry of the map. You can think of them as the blueprints needed to draw a map, instead of static map images. Because you only need to download the blueprints, the amount of data needed to draw maps from vector tiles is drastically less than when downloading pre-rendered image tiles. Google Maps isn’t the first mobile app to use vector graphics—in fact, Google Earth and our Navigation (Beta) feature do already. But a combination of modern device hardware and innovative engineering allow us to stream vector tiles efficiently and render them smoothly, while maintaining the speed and readability we require in Google Maps. Just try it out and see for yourself!

See the difference between image tiles (left) and vector tiles (right) tilted to show 3D buildings.

One map, many perspectives
Using vector tiles instead of image tiles gives Maps the flexibility to re-draw the same map from different perspectives using the same set of data. Zooming is one example of this at work. If you magnify an map image tile by 2x, lines such as roads and text would get twice as wide and appear blurry. As a result, we had to constrain Maps to 20 fixed “zoom levels,” each one twice as close as the last. Every time you zoomed in further, you’d need to download a completely new set of image tiles. It took time to load new data over a mobile data connection, and would fail when you lost your connection in a subway or large building.

Compared to image tiles (left), vector tiles (right) keep lines and labels crisp as you zoom.

With vector graphics, you no longer need to “round” to the nearest zoom level and then download all the tiles for that level. One vector tile has the underlying vector data (or blueprints) to draw the map at many different levels of scale. So when you zoom, the map stops when your fingers stop, and roads and labels always stay crisp. This same technique powers the new 3D map interactions: tilt, rotate and compass mode. Just like with zooming, Maps uses the same vector data to draw the map from any angle or direction as you tilt or rotate.

We can also display entirely new levels of detail that weren’t possible with flat image tiles. For example, in the 100+ cities where we have 3D building data, each building is drawn in 3D using a polygonal building footprint and heights for different parts of the building. And with tilt and rotate, you can see them from a variety of different angles.

Reading the map
Just like other map features, labels are dynamically drawn so they continue to face you and stay legible if you rotate the rest of the map or use compass mode. Maps also “chooses” the best labels to show you based on several factors. You’ll notice labels fade in and out as you interact with the map so that the most useful ones appear and the map never gets too cluttered.

See the difference between rotating maps with static labels (left) and dynamic labels (right).

Vector graphics also allow us to draw additional data on the map more clearly. For example, traffic or transit lines no longer block the labels beneath them. We can also draw the same map in different styles—like “satellite view” where the roads are translucent over aerial imagery, or Navigation’s “night mode” where a darker palette helps your eyes adjust quickly in the lower light.

Previously, map features like labels and traffic could conflict (left) instead of blend seamlessly (right).

Offline reliability
Vector graphics also enable another significant new feature: the ability to continue viewing maps even when you have poor—or no—network connections. Because each vector tile works across multiple zoom levels, it requires more than 100 times less data to view maps across all zoom levels than before, allowing Maps to cache much larger areas of the map on your device.

With this first version, Maps proactively caches map data for the places you use Maps the most—where you’re actively using it as well as places for which you search or get directions. Then when you’re plugged in and connected over WiFi, caching happens automatically. Near your frequent places, you’ll get detailed vector tiles for city-sized regions so you can see every road labeled. Further away, you’ll have less detail but will typically have towns and highways labeled for miles. We’re continuing to work on these algorithms, so you’ll see improvements over time.

Offline rerouting
With Google Maps Navigation (Beta), you’ll also see the benefits of additional caching with offline rerouting. This feature is only possible because Navigation caches not only map data but also data like turn restrictions for the areas surrounding your route. You’ll still need to be connected when you first start a trip to download and cache your route. But this way, even if you take a wrong turn after losing your connection, Navigation can use the cached data to get you back on your way. We will be rolling this feature out gradually over the next few weeks.

This is just the start, and we’re really excited about all the possible ways to use vector graphics technology for the next generation of Google Maps. So please stay tuned!

Update 12:43 PM: Tweaked the description of the difference between image maps zoom levels.

Spreading holiday cheer with charitable donations

The past couple of years have been a challenging stretch for charitable organizations as giving tends to decline during economic downturns when the need is highest. Charitable giving was down 3.6% in 2009, only the second year there’s been a drop since Giving USA began their reports in 1956. We continue to be inspired, however, by organizations that have stepped up with creative and effective programs to address today’s challenges. We’re grateful for the millions of Google users who helped continue our success in 2010, and we want to do our part to help charitable organizations that are working tirelessly to meet increased need with decreased funding.

In this spirit, our global sales team led by Nikesh Arora is giving a $20 million holiday gift that will provide:
  • Schooling for 15,000 kids in poor communities in India through Bharti Foundation.
  • Access to vital medication and health services, especially for women and girls, in post-conflict areas in Africa through Global Strategies for HIV Prevention.
  • Vaccines to protect 50 million children from polio through UNICEF.
  • Strategic support and online tools for 1.5 million social entrepreneurs through partners including Ashoka, NTEN, APC and LASA.
  • Environmental education in the National Parks for 40,000 students through NatureBridge.
We will exceed our 2010 target this year with charitable giving, with more than $145 million going to non-profits and academic institutions, and more than $184 million in total giving when including Google Grants, Google.org technology projects and product support for non-profits. Some of our major initiatives include:
To keep up with Googlers’ generosity in their personal giving, we also increased our charitable matching to $12,000 per employee. We thank our partners and all those who use Google for their continued business and wish everyone a happy, healthy holiday season.

Governments shouldn’t have a monopoly on Internet governance

The beauty of the Internet is that it’s not controlled by any one group. Its governance is bottoms-up—with academics, non-profits, companies and governments all working to improve this technological wonder of the modern world. This model has not only made the Internet very open—a testbed for innovation by anyone, anywhere—it's also prevented vested interests from taking control.

But last week the UN Committee on Science and Technology announced that only governments would be able to sit on a working group set up to examine improvements to the IGF—one of the Internet’s most important discussion forums. This move has been condemned by the Internet Governance Caucus, the Internet Society (ISOC), the International Chamber of Commerce and numerous other organizations—who have published a joint letter (PDF) and launched an online petition to mobilize opposition. Today, I have signed that petition on Google’s behalf because we don’t believe governments should be allowed to grant themselves a monopoly on Internet governance. The current bottoms-up, open approach works—protecting users from vested interests and enabling rapid innovation. Let’s fight to keep it that way.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

YouTube Highlights 12/16/2010

This is the latest in our series of YouTube highlights. Every couple of weeks, we bring you an update on new product features, interesting programs to watch, and tips you can use to grow your audience on YouTube. Just look for the label “YouTube Highlights” and subscribe to the series. – Ed.


Since our last update, we’ve taken a look at the year on YouTube, asked for your ideas on how to make the world a better place, launched a series of contests and announced a wave of new features. We have a lot to cover!

The year on YouTube
From videos that blew our minds to ones that made dreams come true, the Top 10 YouTube videos show what video stars captured the world’s attention this year. In the past year, viewers watched more than 700 billion YouTube videos, and uploaded more than 13 million hours of video. See what people watched in 2010:



We are also counting down YouTube highlights for the year with the New Year’s Countdown.

Your ticket to Davos, Switzerland
Do you have an idea about how to close the poverty gap? If so, submit it to the Davos Debates program for a chance to win an all-access pass to the World Economic Forum in Davos. To enter, submit a one-minute video sharing your ideas about the importance of inclusive growth—economic growth that benefits everyone—a key theme of this year’s event. The deadline to submit your ideas is January 14, so visit the Davos channel today.

Your vote counts on YouTube
Your opinion can help determine bragging rights for artists of all stripes. Get the chance to weigh in on your favorite music star, auditions for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra—and find out who won another recent competition.
  • Rihanna or Justin Bieber? Show these artists how devoted you are with the MyYouTube contest. Artists score points if you subscribe to their channels and share with your friends. You, in turn, get their latest videos delivered to your YouTube homepage and get to win some great prizes.
  • We’re down to 336 finalists from 46 countries for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, and voting ends on December 17. The winners will perform for a global audience at the Sydney Opera House in March 2011.
  • The winner of this month’s “On the Rise” competition is the irresistible Jack Russell terrier, Jesse. Check out some of his fun antics.



Creating an efficient, healthy home
Ask any working parent and they’ll tell you they have two jobs: the day job, and the one that takes up all the other hours of the day—that of “Chief Household Officer” (CHO). A new YouTube series from HP takes you inside the lives of women who meet the demands of work and family using new media know-how.

Eating right can also be a challenge for busy families. Sesame Street and Chef Art Smith have teamed up to raise awareness about how families can eat healthy food on a budget. See what Elmo and Chef Art have to say.

New features for YouTube
We’ve made a handful of updates over the last two weeks to make your viewing experience and more robust:
And we announced the three-year anniversary of Content ID, a technology that lets rights holders control their content online.

Google Apps for YouTube
Businesses and organizations using Google Apps can now use YouTube. YouTube can help Google Apps customers in lots of ways—whether archiving company videos, marketing their company through branded video channels, or assisting with private, internal communications.

We’ll update you again in a few weeks. Till then, for more information on what we’re up to, head on over to our YouTube Blog. Happy holidays and see you in 2011!

Celebrating 10 years in Chicago

These days, you probably know the city of Chicago as the home of great comedy, amazing parks, soaring skyscrapers, championship hockey and—no matter what our colleagues at Google NYC say—the greatest pizza in the world. But you might not know that Chicago is also home to one of Google’s oldest U.S. offices: this week Google Chicago celebrated its 10th anniversary. To mark the event, we celebrated with a party, a giant anniversary cake (18 lbs of butter, 100+ eggs and 60 lbs fondant) and most importantly, 10 community grants to 10 organizations in Chicago.


Over the past 10 years, Google Chicago has grown in terms of both size and responsibilities—we started with just two members of our nascent sales team, but today we have more than 400 employees in our office across engineering, sales and operations. Chicago too has certainly come a long way from Carl Sandburg’s days and we’re proud to be playing a small part in making the city a center for technological innovation.

Along the way, we’ve been fortunate to work with folks from around the region to make things better for users. Our Apps team has helped bring our email and app solutions to students at both Notre Dame University and Northwestern University, we’ve built a project with the Chicago Transit Authority and last year, we announced, alongside Mayor Daley, Google’s $3.2 billion economic impact on Illinois.

We’re also particularly proud of our contributions to Google. Our Chicago-based engineering team launched the Data Liberation Front, which allows users to export their data from our products, from the ground up. With those efforts, the team has begun to change the way consumers think about web services and data portability. In 2007, we acquired Chicago-based FeedBurner, and today the product has been fully integrated into Google’s ad platform. And Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick included what is now the Chicago-based Google Affiliate Network, whose deals have helped consumers across the globe.

Google Chicago couldn’t have come this far without a talented group of employees. We’ve been very fortunate to find top-notch talent in the Midwest to build out our sales and engineering teams, and we don’t expect that to stop anytime soon. Come join and help us build the next 10 years in Chicago!

Oh, and one last thought: please ... when you visit us in Chicago, NEVER put ketchup on your hot dog. (In Chicago, we know a thing or two about our hot dogs!)

Find out what’s in a word, or five, with the Google Books Ngram Viewer

Scholars interested in topics such as philosophy, religion, politics, art and language have employed qualitative approaches such as literary and critical analysis with great success. As more of the world’s literature becomes available online, it’s increasingly possible to apply quantitative methods to complement that research. So today Will Brockman and I are happy to announce a new visualization tool called the Google Books Ngram Viewer, available on Google Labs. We’re also making the datasets backing the Ngram Viewer, produced by Matthew Gray and intern Yuan K. Shen, freely downloadable so that scholars will be able to create replicable experiments in the style of traditional scientific discovery.

Comparing instances of [flute], [guitar], [drum] and [trumpet] (
blue, red, yellow and green respectively)
in English literature from 1750 to 2008

Since 2004, Google has digitized more than 15 million books worldwide. The datasets we’re making available today to further humanities research are based on a subset of that corpus, weighing in at 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. The datasets contain phrases of up to five words with counts of how often they occurred in each year.

These datasets were the basis of a research project led by Harvard University's Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden published today in Science and coauthored by several Googlers. Their work provides several examples of how quantitative methods can provide insights into topics as diverse as the spread of innovations, the effects of youth and profession on fame, and trends in censorship.

The Ngram Viewer lets you graph and compare phrases from these datasets over time, showing how their usage has waxed and waned over the years. One of the advantages of having data online is that it lowers the barrier to serendipity: you can stumble across something in these 500 billion words and be the first person ever to make that discovery. Below I’ve listed a few interesting queries to pique your interest:

World War I, Great War
child care, nursery school, kindergarten
fax, phone, email
look before you leap, he who hesitates is lost
virus, bacteria
tofu, hot dog
burnt, burned
flute, guitar, trumpet, drum
Paris, London, New York, Boston, Rome
laptop, mainframe, microcomputer, minicomputer
fry, bake, grill, roast
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln
supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

We know nothing can replace the balance of art and science that is the qualitative cornerstone of research in the humanities. But we hope the Google Books Ngram Viewer will spark some new hypotheses ripe for in-depth investigation, and invite casual exploration at the same time. We’ve started working with some researchers already via our Digital Humanities Research Awards, and look forward to additional collaboration with like-minded researchers in the future.

Send a message of holiday cheer with Google Maps

(Cross-posted on the Lat Long Blog)

For me, celebrating the holidays is about spending time with family and friends. Along with sharing delicious meals and building snowmen in the backyard, getting into the season often means traveling to places both familiar and new, whether going to visit family or walking down the Champs-Élysées to see the holiday lights.

We’re sure many of you have holiday plans in the works, so we’ve designed greeting cards you can email to friends and family—to share those fun adventures or just to say hello from wherever you are around the world. In addition to choosing from 10 holiday covers and adding a personal message, you can include specific directions, a Street View image or a favorite place on the inside of the card.

Since I grew up in New England, the holidays always make me think of skiing. So I’ll send some of my friends cards with inspiring ski scenes in Street View, or directions to Squaw Valley for an upcoming ski trip.


Around this time of year, I also get nostalgic about specific places where great holiday memories were made, so the card I’ll send to my family will remind them of the amazing breakfasts we had at Lou’s during past holiday seasons. And the card to my friends in New York will suggest a restaurant we should try when I visit them in a couple of weeks.

Thanks to Christoph Niemann for inspiration

And of course, to share some winter weather with my friends in California, I’ll send a card with some wintry scenes of Antarctica and Whistler, and snowy greetings on the cover.


We hope these online cards help you stay connected and share holiday cheer with your loved ones, whether you send directions to a holiday party, winter imagery from Street View or the various places that signify the spirit of the season to you. Start sending at googlemapsholidays.appspot.com. Happy holidays!