Posted:
With just a few hours of 2011 remaining in Mountain View, Calif., we’re taking our traditional look at the past year on the Official Google Blog, as well as Google’s presence on Google+ and Twitter.

On the blog this year, we published 471 posts (including this one)—17 more than 2010. Those posts were read by nearly 20 million people; we had 19,905,679 unique visitors between January 1 and December 31. We find a few themes in the most popular posts: Google+ was a favorite topic, as well as greater focus and simplicity across Google, and search quality. The top 10 posts are:
Other popular posts included the announcement that Larry Page was becoming CEO, a project to help Egyptians communicate during the January protests, Google+ updates and +1 news, a keeping your information safe from phishing campaigns, patents and Androidpractical steps toward greener computing, more search news and the debut of Google Wallet. We shared special doodles (from Lucy to Les Paul to the lunar eclipse, and Jules Verne to Jim Henson) and stories from unique Google users. We brought music to the cloud, Ice Cream Sandwich to your pocket, and great works of art and pieces of history to your computer screens. We worked to help those affected by disasters in Japan and elsewhere, told some history tales, and, as always, had some fun along the way.

Like many of you, we were excited to start using Google+ Pages when they launched in November. We’re now running 22 pages for Google products and teams; nearly 100,000 of you have the flagship page, +Google, in your circles. Popular posts there include photos of our L.A. office, holiday, New Year and Marie Curie doodles, the year-end Zeitgeist, Google Photography Prize and Sebastian Thrun on self-driving cars.

We’ll soon celebrate @google’s third anniversary on Twitter, and we hit the 4 million follower mark this month. Popular tweets include the Les Paul doodle, patents and Android, Motorola, Larry and Sergey remembering Steve Jobs, Google Wallet, Google+ and Wael Ghonim.

As the clock ticks toward the close of 2011, we thank our readers for following along—by feed reader, phone app or however you please—and hope you join us for the next year of Google news. Happy 2012!

Posted:
In many parts of the world, today is Christmas—but in Russia and Eastern Europe, which use the Orthodox calendar, December 25 is just an ordinary day. Little known to most, however, it’s also a day that marks the anniversary of a key development in European computer history.

Sixty years ago today, in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the Soviet Academy of Sciences finally granted formal recognition to Sergey Lebedev’s pioneering MESM project. MESM, a Russian abbreviation for “Small Electronic Calculating Machine,” is regarded as the earliest, fully operational electronic computer in the Soviet Union—and indeed continental Europe.

Recently we were privileged to get a first-hand account of Lebedev’s achievements from Boris Malinovsky, who worked on MESM and is now a leading expert on Soviet-era computing.


Turn on captions for the English translation.

Described by some as the “Soviet Alan Turing,” Sergey Lebedev had been thinking about computing as far back as the 1930’s, until interrupted by war. In 1946 he was made director of Kyiv’s Institute of Electrical Engineering. Soon after, stories of “electronic brains” in the West began to circulate and his interest in computing revived.

Sergey Lebedev*

Initially, Lebedev’s superiors were skeptical, and some in his team felt working on a “calculator”—how they thought of a computer—was a step backward compared to electrical and space systems research. Lebedev pressed on regardless, eventually finding funding from the Rocketry department and space to work in a derelict former monastery in Feofania, on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Work on MESM got going properly at the end of 1948 and, considering the challenges, the rate of progress was remarkable. Ukraine was still struggling to recover from the devastation of its occupation during WWII, and many of Kyiv’s buildings lay in ruins. The monastery in Feofania was among the buildings destroyed during the war, so the MESM team had to build their working quarters from scratch—the laboratory, metalworking shop, even the power station that would provide electricity. Although small—just 20 people—the team was extraordinarily committed. They worked in shifts 24 hours a day, and many lived in rooms above the laboratory. (You can listen to a lively account of this time in programme 3 of the BBC’s ”Electronic brains” series.)

MESM and team members in 1951. From left to right: Lev Dashevsky, Zoya Zorina-Rapota, Lidiya Abalyshnikova, Tamara Petsukh, Evgeniy Dedeshko

MESM ran its first program on November 6, 1950, and went into full-time operation in 1951. In 1952, MESM was used for top-secret calculations relating to rocketry and nuclear bombs, and continued to aid the Institute’s research right up to 1957. By then, Lebedev had moved to Moscow to lead the construction of the next generation of Soviet supercomputers, cementing his place as a giant of European computing. As for MESM, it met a more prosaic fate—broken into parts and studied by engineering students in the labs at Kyiv’s Polytechnic Institute.

*All photos thanks to ukrainiancomputing.org.

Posted:
It’s that time of year again! The stockings are hung by the chimney with care and Google and NORAD are ready to answer the question of “where?”

NORAD’s tradition of tracking Santa on Christmas Eve started in 1955, when a Sears and Roebuck ad promoting the Talk-to-Santa hotline inadvertently sent callers to CONAD (NORAD’s predecessor) commander-in-chief’s operations hotline. After recovering from the surprise that the call was not from the Pentagon or the White House but instead a little boy inquiring if the commander was Santa Claus, Colonel Harry Shoup asked his team to check their radar for signs of Santa’s sleigh and a tradition was born.

The Santa tracking tradition has grown over the years and today it’s also possible to track Santa using Google Earth and Google Maps on the NORAD Santa site, and on your mobile phone as well. Starting tomorrow (Saturday, December 24) at 2:00 a.m. EST, visit www.noradsanta.org to follow Santa’s journey from the North Pole to homes all over the globe. This year there are many ways to keep tabs on Santa’s sleigh, no matter how quickly it moves:
  • Follow Santa on Google Maps: Visit www.noradsanta.org to see where Santa is currently flying and where he’s headed next on Google Maps. Click on the video icons to watch “Santa cam” videos from all over the world, and the gift icons will display information about each city along the route.
  • Watch Santa fly in 3D with the Google Earth plug-in: If you have the Google Earth plug-in installed on your computer, you can track Santa’s location in 3D and see him deliver presents everywhere from the mountain villages of the Swiss Alps to the white sand beaches of Hawaii.
  • Track Santa from your mobile phone: Follow Santa on the go by searching for [santa] on the Google Maps for mobile app.
  • Get updates via social media: The NORAD team will be posting updates about Santa’s flight throughout the day on December 24. Follow them on Google+, Twitter or Facebook for live updates.
  • Subscribe to the NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube channel: All “Santa cam” videos will be posted on the NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube channel as they’re captured. You can also watch a recap of Santa’s 2010 trip. Check back often for updates!
Santa flying over London in Google Earth

NORAD Tracks Santa is a special project near and dear to all of us involved. I started working on the program seven years ago and it’s been a thrill to watch it grow over the years. Recently, I was given the opportunity to speak at TEDActive about the origins of NORAD Tracks Santa and how Google has brought this to life in Google Earth.



I’d like to thank all of Santa’s “elves” that helped out across Google and NORAD far and wide. Happy Holidays!



(Cross-posted on the Lat Long blog)

Posted:
Professor registration for the 2012 Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC) is now open.
GOMC is a global online marketing competition open to professors and their students in any higher education institution. Professors sign up for the contest and then serve as guides and mentors to their student participants throughout the competition. Over the course of three weeks, student teams are tasked with developing and running a successful online advertising campaign for real businesses or nonprofit organizations using Google AdWords. In the process, they sharpen their advertising, consulting and data analysis skills. (Note: student registration will open on January 31, 2012 and students can only enter if their professors have signed up already and must sign up under their own professors).

After running their online advertising campaign for three weeks, students summarize their experiences in campaign reports, which they submit online. Based on the performance of the campaigns and the quality of the reports, Googlers on the GOMC team and a panel of independent academics select the winning teams.

The global winners and their professor will receive a trip to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The regional winners (and their professor) will win a trip to local Google offices, and the social impact award winners will be able to make donations to nonprofit organizations that were part of the GOMC competition.

Last year’s challenge had 50,000 participants representing 100 countries, and this year we expect even more. For more information, visit www.google.com/onlinechallenge. Professors, here is a chance to help your students sharpen their marketing skills and make a global impact!

Posted:
Our main goal at Google Search is to bring you the most relevant and useful results as quickly as possible. But, we are aware that often that is only part of your task or journey. Sometimes, you need more than simple results. You might want to learn, to discover, to be entertained or get insights.

Insights can happen when you least expect them. To improve their chances, it's good to try other things, or do things differently once in awhile. As a lifelong fan and connoisseur of New Yorker style cartoons, I always believed in the power of humor not just to entertain but to enlighten. I have tried to connect humor to everything I do (although, I have to admit, not always successfully). The best cartoonists possess great insights, which they illustrate in a clever package that we can consume in seconds and yet remember for years.

With all of this in mind, today we’re connecting Google search and cartoons through a search caption challenge. Cartoon caption contests have a long history dating back at least to the 1930s, as can be seen in this example I found from Ballyhoo magazine. For our modern version, we worked with artists like Matthew Diffee, Emily Flake, Christoph Niemann, Danny Shanahan and Jim Woodring, who created cartoons that place characters in unusual, interesting and funny situations—all with a common twist. In each cartoon, one of the characters is doing a Google search. We've left it to you to imagine what they'd be searching for at that moment, and left the caption blank for you to fill in with your answer.


To participate, go to Inside Search and submit your idea. Your caption will appear on the site, and you can share it with friends via a unique link. You can also vote on your favorite submissions and the most popular will rise to the top.

We hope this game helps you think in a way you wouldn't otherwise, and maybe get some insights. Or just have fun.



(Cross-posted on the Inside Search blog)

Posted:
Last Friday Santa opened up the Ho Ho Hotline and teamed up with Gmail to send personalized holiday phone calls to anyone you know who has been nice (or naughty, for that matter) in the U.S. or Canada. In just a few days Santa has made hundreds of thousands of calls to your friends, family and loved ones, and received many a message from you at his Google Voice number (855-34-SANTA).

Santa has one more surprise in store. Starting today, anyone in the world can create and send a personalized cartoon video message (in English only) from Santa to anyone you know, anywhere in the world, and share them through email and Google+. Watch our sample video below and create your own at SendaCallFromSanta.com.



The Gmail team wishes you a happy holiday!



(Cross-posted from the Gmail blog)

Posted:
One hundred years into the future, when our great-grandkids look back to what was capturing the world’s imagination on YouTube in 2011, what will they make of us? Will they still be delighted by babbling babies? Will they still be “so excited” about the weekend? And will they be any closer to understanding the mystery of the space-traveling toaster pastry cat?


Check out YouTube.com/Rewind for a timeline of this year's most popular videos and events and to see what the world watched in 2011.

Today, we rewind through the videos and channels that absorbed our collective global attention this year. To compile these lists, we looked at global view counts of popular videos uploaded throughout this year, and, in some instances, we aggregated views across multiple versions of the same video. 2011 was a year of amazing new channels and new stars being discovered, awesome creativity, and of course, Rebecca Black. It was also a year of powerful news stories playing out on YouTube, as people witnessed and documented uprisings and natural disasters, touching personal moments and moments of protest.

In total, there were more than 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) playbacks on YouTube this year (yep, count ‘em, 12 zeroes). That’s about 140 views for every person on the earth. More than twice as many stars as in the Milky Way. And if I had a penny for every … OK, you get my drift, it’s a big number.

So to all of you who picked up a guitar and sang a love song, held your camera phone high above a protesting crowd, danced along to “Friday” or just forgot the webcam was on, thank you. You make YouTube what it is, and we can’t wait to hear your stories next year.

Without further ado, your most-viewed videos of 2011.

Most-viewed YouTube videos globally (excluding videos from major music labels)
(playlist)
  1. Rebecca Black - Friday (OFFICIAL VIDEO)
  2. Ultimate Dog Tease
  3. Jack Sparrow (feat. Michael Bolton)
  4. Talking Twin Babies - PART 2 - OFFICIAL VIDEO
  5. Nyan Cat [original]
  6. Look At Me Now - Chris Brown ft. Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes (Cover by @KarminMusic)
  7. The Creep (feat. Nicki Minaj & John Waters)
  8. Maria Aragon - Born This Way (Cover) by Lady Gaga
  9. The Force: Volkswagen Commercial
  10. Cat mom hugs baby kitten
Most-viewed YouTube channels globally (excluding channels from major music labels)
  1. machinima
  2. IGNentertainment
  3. RayWilliamJohnson
  4. expertvillage
  5. BlueXephos
  6. smosh
  7. realannoyingorange
  8. roosterteeth
  9. thelonelyisland
  10. barelypolitical
Most-watched videos from major music labels globally (playlist)
  1. Jennifer Lopez - On The Floor ft. Pitbull
  2. LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem ft. Lauren Bennett, GoonRock
  3. Bruno Mars - The Lazy Song [Official Video]
  4. Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
  5. Pitbull - Give Me Everything ft. Ne-Yo, Afrojack, Nayer
  6. Pitbull - Rain Over Me ft. Marc Anthony
  7. Jessie J - Price Tag ft. B.o.B.
  8. LMFAO - Sexy and I Know It
  9. Katy Perry - E.T. ft. Kanye West
  10. Katy Perry - Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
Some highlights from other categories
You can also check out the most-viewed videos of the year in fashion, beauty, sports, gaming, travel, fitness, food, science, tech reviews, family, pets and wedding proposals.



(Cross-posted from the YouTube Blog)

Posted:
We’ve made a new $94 million investment in a portfolio of four solar photovoltaic (PV) projects being built by Recurrent Energy near Sacramento, California. This brings our portfolio of clean energy investments to more than $915 million. We’ve already committed to providing funding this year to help more than 10,000 homeowners install solar PV panels on their rooftops. But this investment represents our first investment in the U.S. in larger scale solar PV power plants that generate energy for the grid—instead of on individual rooftops. These projects have a total capacity of 88 MW, equivalent to the electricity consumed by more than 13,000 homes.

We’re investing alongside global investment firm KKR and Recurrent Energy, a leading solar developer. Google will provide a $94 million equity investment and SunTap Energy, a new venture formed today by KKR to invest in solar projects in the U.S., will provide the remaining equity.

We’re joining KKR on their first renewable energy investment in the U.S. We believe investing in the renewable energy sector makes business sense and hope clean energy projects continue to attract new sources of capital to help the world move towards a more sustainable energy future.

Solar panels at one of the Recurrent projects

The energy produced by these projects is already contracted for 20 years with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). SMUD recently created a feed-in tariff program (FIT) to help green the grid for Sacramento-area residents. We’re excited that these projects are the first to be built under the program.

We’ve had a busy year at Google. Since January, we’ve invested more than $880 million in clean energy projects. We believe the world needs a wide range of solutions—from wind, to transmission, to solar PV and concentrated solar—and we look forward to new opportunities next year to further expand our portfolio of clean energy investments.

Posted:
Last week we unveiled this year’s Zeitgeist, including the fastest rising searches in 2011. Those of us on the Google Green team were pleased that the search trends include several popular searches related to the environment (as you can see from the highlights video). So we created the Green Scrapbook to help you explore these green trends, choose your favorites, and reveal videos and surprising facts about them. As you click around, you create your very own collection of what green meant to you this year, which you can personalize with your name and share with your friends.

People have already started creating and sharing their Green Scrapbook. For example, Adam created one showcasing a video of a tapir (Belize’s endangered “mountain cow”) and highlighting what an LED light is. I created my scrapbook, too, where I could tell people about the microorganisms that light up Puerto Rico’s famous “bioluminescent bay.” I also let people know that if I could win an eco-friendly car, I’d choose a Tesla (there’s still time to get me one for Christmas!).


Once you complete your own scrapbook, you can share it on Google+ or anywhere you’d like by grabbing the unique URL to your scrapbook with the “get URL” link at the top right.

We’re working hard to create a better web that’s also better for the environment. We hope the Green Scrapbook sparks conversation and gets people thinking about all the ways they can make greener choices in their lives—whether it’s about the merits of rooftop [solar energy], or prompting people to think about [garbage islands] and then reach for a [reusable water bottle].

Posted:
Today we’re pleased to announce a goodie basket full of Google+ features and functionality for you to unpack and enjoy over the holidays. Some of these were on nearly everyone’s wishlist... and some we hope will be welcome surprises. These features will be rolling out over the next couple of days, and we hope you’ll find them useful this holiday season and beyond.

Pump up (or down) the volume!
Sometimes important posts you wouldn’t want to miss from close friends or family can get lost amongst posts from others who post dozens of times a day. We’re adding fine-grained controls that will enable you to “graphic-equalize” and fine-tune your stream. When viewing the stream for a particular circle, you’ll now see a slider at the top that lets you adjust how posts from that circle should be blended into the main stream. That way you’ll never miss a post from that special someone, and you can tweak these settings to form your own “perfect stream.”



More useful and attractive notifications
One of the most useful and valuable features of the redesigned Google bar is the red notifications indicator. (You could even say it glows!) You know when you have tasty social content to consume, but the notifications themselves have been a little cryptic, often requiring you to navigate to the content itself to understand what happened. We now have easy-to-read “sneak previews” that immediately present what’s new and why you might care. We’ve polished these notifications up and made a few other meaningful improvements too, including the ability to see the +1’s and shares your posts have received since you last checked.

Google+ Notifications

Improvements to Google+ Pages
Google+ Pages have already provided brands and businesses a new means of connecting to and deeply engaging with consumers. In the weeks since launching pages, we’ve been listening to your feedback and we’re pleased to make some of the most oft-requested features available.
  • You can now delegate up to 50 named managers as administrators for a page.
  • A new notification flow will ensure that these managers stay in the loop on all the activity that takes place on a page, giving managers the ability to stay involved in page conversations.
  • We’ll now show an aggregated count of users that have engaged with your page, either by +1’ing it or by adding it to a circle. This way, both you and your page’s visitors can get an at-a-glance summary of who is interacting with your page.



A more beautiful and usable photos experience
Finally, we’re making a bevy of improvements to the Google+ Photos experience, just in time for the holiday photo-sharing season. Viewing a photo in Lightbox has been completely redesigned with improved navigation, enhanced comment legibility and better overall utility. This design makes the photo the hero, letting the content itself shine through. And we’re introducing a completely new photo-tagging experience that’s both fun and fluid, and lets you quickly focus on the people in your photos.



We hope that you enjoy these improvements and continue to provide us feedback. It’s been an incredible year for us on the Google+ team. While this indeed has been a #seasonforshipping, Google+ users know that we believe that shipping is always in season! We’ve been busy making some resolutions for 2012, and we think you’re going to love them.

Posted:
Last year, Santa got his very own Google Voice number, and people around the U.S. received a special personalized holiday phone call from Santa Claus.

This year, Santa wants you to reach out to him (after all, reindeer are only so-so conversationalists). If you or your family members have a special request for Santa, you can call him right from Gmail* and leave him a message at his Google Voice number: 855-34-SANTA. Santa won't be able to return messages himself—it’s a busy time of year for him—but he's promised to keep us up to date on happenings in the North Pole day by day.

You also can create and send a unique, customized phone call from Santa to anyone you know, from your nieces and nephews to old college friends, over the phone (to U.S. numbers only). Listen to a sample phone call, and send a message of your own from SendaCallFromSanta.com.

Of course, Santa is never one to fall behind the technological times (word on the street is that Rudolph’s nose was recently upgraded to an energy-efficient LED). So while the red suit may never go out of style, this year Santa has come up with an extra special way to spread the holiday cheer. But you’ll have to wait until it’s closer to Christmas to find out what it is. So no peeking—but keep checking the site!

Happy Holidays from your friends at Gmail.

*Calls from Gmail are free for U.S. and Canadian users, but will cost people outside those areas $.01/minute (plus any applicable VATs).

Posted:
This is part of a regular series of Google Apps updates that we post every couple of weeks. Look for the label “Google Apps highlights" and subscribe to the series. - Ed.

The elves got an early jump on the holidays this year by leaving us some surprises in Google Apps over the last few weeks. Sharing from Gmail got a whole lot easier, and Google Calendar can make better use of precious screen space. We also have 10 new Google Apps customer stories to share from the tens of thousands that have gone Google in recent weeks.

Gmail gets more social
Last week we sprinkled a touch of Google+ into Gmail, making it easier to connect and share with people from your inbox. You can add people to circles right from an email thread through Gmail’s people widget, share photo attachments with friends and family on Google+ without leaving Gmail, and view a filtered version of your inbox only showing messages from people in your circles. We also improved Gmail’s address book by incorporating contact information shared by your friends, family and colleagues in their Google+ profiles.


New features in the Gmail iOS app
Just yesterday we added several new improvements to the Gmail app for iOS 4+. Now you can set up a custom email signature for mobile messages, manage your vacation responder, and view nested labels from your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. We also added scribbles, a fun way to spice up messages by adding a quick hand-drawn sketch. You can create scribbles using a range of colors, brush sizes, lines, erasers and spray paints from your touchscreen device.


More free calls right from Gmail
Last year we introduced free domestic calling in Gmail within the U.S. and Canada, and we’re extending this free service for the whole year of 2012. We’re happy to help you keep in touch with those special people in your life, for free.

Hide morning and night hours in Calendar
If you don’t often have appointments early in the morning or late at night, a new trick in Google Calendar might be useful. Now you can hide morning and night hours, leaving more screen real estate for the times of day when most of your events take place. Give it a try in Calendar Labs.


Who’s gone Google?
Businesses and schools are switching to Google Apps in droves these days. From tiny startups to large enterprises and nonprofits to college campuses, we love hearing the inspiring stories that our customers share. Here’s a new batch of stories for your reading pleasure: TripIt, IPSEN, Ebby Halliday, Ticket River, VigLink, HeyZap, The Great Books Foundation, Utah K-12 schools, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and UC Santa Cruz. Welcome one and all!

For more details and the latest news, check out the Google Apps Blog, and keep an eye out for this series here after the holidays. We launched more than 150 improvements to Google Apps in 2011, and we have a ton more in store for 2012!

Posted:
Yesterday, my colleague, Amit Singhal, posted about the global trends revealed in our 2011 year-end Zeitgeist. In addition to looking broadly at topics from more than 40 countries around the world, the site included the most popular local terms from more than 30 major cities in the United States. Looking at these lists, I was surprised to see that, from city to city, almost all the terms across all the lists were related to local news, education, civic services or entertainment and activities. I wanted to take a minute to take a deeper dive into these specific local trends that you won’t see published in Zeitgeist.

In nearly every single U.S. city we looked at, the top ten local terms showed that people were using Google to find local news stations and learn more about educational organizations. Searches for school districts, universities and local libraries made the list in ten states, from the Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis, MN to the Chicago Public Library in Illinois. Pittsburgh, PA was the most media-hungry city in Zeitgeist this year, with all of their top 5 terms related to local news stations, while in New York City and Houston, TX, no news sources made the top ten lists.

The data also showed some interesting regional differences within single states as well. Orlando, FL was a leading city in terms of education, with related terms making up 40% of the list. But in Miami, less than 250 miles away, no education-related terms made the list. While local TV station WRAL came in at the top of the list in Raleigh, NC, people three hours away in Charlotte bumped the station to their #3 spot, behind the local Charlotte Observer, which came in at #1.

People in many U.S. cities were also using Google to connect with civic services, from the Maricopa County Assessor in Phoenix, AZ to the Cuyahoga County Auditor in Columbus, OH. We also saw many terms related to public transit and traffic, which was of particular interest to residents of Los Angeles, who put SigAlert, the California Highway Patrol’s traffic report site, as the #1 most popular local term. The city most concerned with getting out and about, though, was New York, where the top four search terms were all related to transportation, be it by subway, train or car.

With national unemployment in the United States above 9% for most of the year, there was a strong interest in unemployment and finding jobs locally. The term unemployment came up on lists in Kansas City, Philadelphia and Portland, OR, and in total more than ten of the 31 cities we looked at had a term related to unemployment or job-seeking on their list. In Detroit, MI and Houston, TX, the only two cities where two unemployment-related terms made the top ten, Google searchers were also taking initiative, looking at job posting sites like the Michigan Talent Bank or classifieds like Greensheets to try and find their next job online.

The local lists didn’t just reflect hard times. Nearly every city had a mall, fair, amusement park, sports team or other fun activity or destination in the top ten (the only holdout was Washington D.C.). Indianapolis, IN and Phoenix both had their respective lotteries in the number three spot—looks like lots of people there were feeling lucky! Across the country, Americans also looked for ways to relax, from restaurant week in Boston to the Lenox mall in Atlanta and Summerfest in Madison, WI.

The searches people make are a fantastic pulse on what is happening around the world and close to home. We pay attention to what you’re looking for so we can come up with new and better ways to help you find it, no matter where you’re searching from.

Posted:
Have you ever seen a doodle you loved, but when you went to see it again it was gone? Ever curious about what doodles in Italy look like, or how your favorite holiday has been celebrated each year? Or wanted to get a behind-the-scenes scoop on the recent Les Paul doodle, and maybe share it with your friends on Google+? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then take a look at our revamped Doodle site.


Since our very first one in 1998, doodles have been our way to share with you the things we love or are excited about. In the past few years we’ve started to create doodles that people can not only look at but also play with. Our first interactive one featured a clickable slideshow of Halloween candy in 2009 and since then we’ve invited people to insert a coin to play an arcade classic, watch a film, and even compose an epic guitar solo, all on the Google homepage.

We’ve always thought it was a little sad that doodles are only available on the homepage for a day. Since we’re firm believers in having too much of a good thing, we set up a gallery of all our previous doodles a while ago. Now on the new site, you can browse, watch or play with over 1000 doodles. Enjoy front-row tickets to a Martha Graham dance, send the first man to space or learn more about why one doodler decided to “cartoonize” Mary Blair.

You can even start wearing doodles, or hanging them on your wall, since the new site includes a link to our new Doodle store featuring all kinds of doodle swag. Happy doodlin’!

Posted:
This year marks our 11th annual look back at the searches that compose the year’s Zeitgeist—the spirit of the time. With Zeitgeist, we look at the most popular and the fastest rising terms—the terms with the highest growth in 2011—in many categories across many countries around the world. For our 2011 Zeitgeist site, we’ve improved the visualizations to make it easy to compare terms across categories, added detailed infographics for an immersive dive into the data and created a video overview of the search terms that captivated the world this year.



What were they? As it turns out, all around the world, we were excited for the weekend. Web celeb Rebecca Black was the #1 fastest rising query globally, as fans searched for information about the “Friday” singer. She wasn’t the only songstress to capture international attention this year: Adele made the fastest rising lists in over 15 countries spread across five continents, in addition to claiming a spot on our global list. Reality star Ryan Dunn, defendant Casey Anthony and tech luminary Steve Jobs also made our list, as people of interest took five of the top 10 spots.

When looking at the data, it is fascinating to see the cultural fads and trends that took over the globe, from cupcakes (making top food lists in over a dozen countries) to the Dukan diet and high-profile weddings, but Google was used for much more than staying up to date on the sisters Middleton and Kardashian. From local celebrities in Finland to Singaporeans looking for news on the revolutions in Egypt and Libya half a world away, people turned to Google to learn more about what was happening on the world stage. It wasn’t just the man-made moments that topped the charts this year, but also the natural disasters that literally shook the world, from Hurricane Irene in the U.S. to the earthquakes in Christchurch and Japan.

Terms related to the Japanese earthquake showed up on lists from almost half of the countries included in the 2011 Zeitgeist, including Japan, where 地震 (earthquake) topped the country’s fastest rising list, and our global list, where 東京 電力(TEPCO, owners of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant), became the first non-Latin term to ever make our global fastest-rising list. In addition to news about what had happened, people around the world also looked for ways to give: In the U.S., the top three searches related to charitable giving were about helping Japan.

I love search, and to me, it’s exciting to learn more about people in other countries by looking at what they search for—from the most searched for Swiss mountain peaks in Switzerland to soccer terms in Argentina and the stuff of Italian dreams. As the proud owner of a Miniature Schnauzer, I was pleased to see that dogs always beat cats on lists of popular pets, but was surprised to learn that in Russian the most searched for pet was pygmy giraffes (which don’t really exist but are very cute) and in the U.S., sugar gliders made the list.

We hope you enjoy learning more about what people around the world and in your country were searching for in 2011.

Posted:
Last April, we announced our plans for Google Cloud Print (GCP), the service that powers printing on Chromebooks as well as a new generation of connected apps and devices. The goal of GCP is to enable simple, secure printing from any app on any device to any printer—and with the latest cloud-ready printers, you can also print without using drivers or cables.

Since launching earlier this year, we’ve seen a surge of enthusiasm from users and developers. More than 6 million printers have already been connected to GCP using Google Chrome; dozens of cloud-ready printers have been released or announced by manufacturers like Epson, HP and Kodak; and the developer community has released a flurry of apps and extensions to enable cloud printing from both Android and iOS.

While developers and printer manufacturers have embraced GCP, we've also released a variety of improvements to the service. You can now share and control access to your printers so your friends and family can use them too. With “Save to Google Docs,” it’s easy to save your online receipts and confirmation pages to an archive in the cloud. The management page has a new tablet-friendly design and a “Print” button so you can upload and print files to your cloud printers from anywhere.


Finally, webmasters can add the print button element to their site to enable printing functionality for tablets and mobile phones.

People with Chromebooks have always had access to the latest and greatest Google Cloud Print features, but today, we’ve reached a new milestone: starting with the latest release of Chrome, anyone using the browser on Windows, Mac and Linux will be able to print any webpage to Google Cloud Print. We’ve also turned on print preview for Chromebooks, so you’ll get the same familiar experience wherever you use Chrome.

In the coming months, we’ll enable GCP from more Google products and work with partners to add more printers and printing services. Happy printing!

Posted:
All too often, physical distance and frantic schedules get in the way of spending time together, especially during the holidays. But you know what? They don't have to.

With Google+ Hangouts, you can go beyond “status updates,” and connect with the people you care about using multi-person video. For free. And today we're rolling out a number of improvements that make it even easier to say hello to your loved ones, face-to-face-to-face.

Upgrade any conversation from long-form to live
Certain posts act as kindling for face-to-face interaction. Suppose your sister gets engaged, or your roommate lands a job, or your favorite singer shares their concert schedule. You can obviously write comments back and forth, but it's moments like these when you really want to connect in person. That's why we're making it easy to start a hangout from any post on Google+.

Just click "Hangout" underneath a post that you’re passionate about, and we’ll add your invitation to the comments. If others are hanging out already, you'll see their invitation in the comments as well.

Starting a hangout on a post (left); Joining a hangout already in progress (right)

The desire to “go live” isn’t limited to your desktop computer, of course, so we’re also bringing hangouts to Google+ Messenger on mobile devices. Simply tap the new hangout icon when the time is right, and you'll flip from text and photos to smiles and laughter.

Google+ Messenger: tap once to start a hangout (left); tap again to continue typing (right)

The new Google+ app will be available in Android Market within a few days, and it’s coming soon to the App Store.

Broadcast and record what matters most
The Black Eyed Peas, the Dalai Lama and even the Muppets have all used Hangouts On Air to share their performances and peace talks with the world. On Air is still under active development, but today we’re doing three things to get us closer to general availability:
  • We’re turning it on for hundreds more public figures, celebrities and other Google+ users with large followings
  • We’re making Hangouts On Air completely self-service, so you can broadcast whenever you’re in the mood
  • We’re integrating it with YouTube, so once you’re off the air, we’ll upload a full-length (and private) recording to your account
Starting an On Air hangout (left); Watching an On Air hangout in the stream (right)

To get started, just look for the new “broadcast and record” option after starting a hangout. If you don’t see it yet, then don’t worry: we’re working hard to give everyone the chance to go On Air.

In the meantime, you can still watch or join On Air broadcasts directly from the stream. Just look for the red banner while reading your posts or checking your hair, and you'll know you're in the right place.

Dial-in friends and family, from all over the world
Not everyone has a webcam or a front-facing mobile camera, but that shouldn’t stop them from spending time with the people they’re close to. Fortunately, nearly everyone has a telephone, and today we’re making it possible to dial-in anyone, from almost any country, directly into your hangout. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are free, and international calling rates are super, super low.

Dial-in hangout participants from almost anywhere

Never miss a chance to connect
When friends and family invite you to hang out on Google+, we want to make sure the opportunity doesn’t pass you by. So we’re making active hangouts more accessible in two important ways:
  • On the right-hand side of the stream, you’ll see up to three live hangouts that you can join
  • Whether you’re at your desk or on the go, we'll ring your device and notify you when you’re invited to a hangout
From left to right: live hangouts you can join; desktop notification in chat; mobile notification

Whether it’s sharing baby news, or your niece’s new dance moves, Google+ users continue to use hangouts to build intimate onscreen experiences. We hope these two improvements help you discover more of them, more often.

Have some fun, add some antlers
Back in NMovember, we helped the Google+ community add millions of virtual moustaches to their faces. Now that it’s December we’re introducing a pair of antlers, so by all means, unleash your inner reindeer! Looking ahead, developers will be able to create their own effects using the updated Hangouts API, so stay tuned for lots more fun.

Moustaches in Movember (left); Antlers in December (right)

By bringing people together, face-to-face-to-face, we're hoping to make the world a bit cozier, and lift people's spirits a bit higher. So give hangouts a try this holiday season, and let us know what you think.

Posted:
As the holiday season approaches we thought it was a good moment to update you on some grants we're making to support education, technology and the fight against modern day slavery.

STEM and girls’ education
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) open up great opportunities for young people so we've decided to fund 16 great programs in this area. These include Boston-based Citizen Schools and Generating Genius in the U.K., both of which work to help to expand the horizons of underprivileged youngsters. In total, our grants will provide enhanced STEM education for more than 3 million students.

In addition, we're supporting girls’ education in the developing world. By giving a girl an education, you not only improve her opportunities, but those of her whole family. The African Leadership Academy provides merit scholarships to promising young women across the continent, and the Afghan Institute of Learning offers literacy classes to women and girls in rural Afghanistan. Groups like these will use our funds to educate more than 10,000 girls in developing countries.

Empowerment through technology
We've all been wowed by the entrepreneurial spirit behind the 15 awards in this category, all of whom are using the web, open source programming and other technology platforms to connect communities and improve access to information. Vittana, for instance, helps lenders offer loans to students in the developing world who have have a 99 percent repayment rate—potentially doubling or tripling a recipient's earning power. Code for America enables the web industry to share its skills with the public sector by developing projects that improve transparency and encourage civic engagement on a mass scale. And Switchboard is working with local mobile providers to help African health care workers create networks and communicate for free.

Fighting slavery and human trafficking
Modern day slavery is a multi-billion dollar industry that ruins the lives of around 27 million people. So we're funding a number of groups that are working to tackle the problem. For instance, in India, International Justice Mission (IJM), along with The BBC World Service Trust, Action Aid and Aide et Action, are forming a new coalition. It will work on the ground with governments to stop slave labor by identifying the ring masters, documenting abuse, freeing individuals and providing them with therapy as well as job training. Our support will also help expand the reach of tools like the powerful Slavery Footprint calculator and Polaris Project’s National Trafficking Hotline.

To learn more about these organizations and how you can get involved, visit our Google Gives Back 2011 site and take a look at this video:



These grants, which total $40 million, are only part of our annual philanthropic efforts. Over the course of the year, Google provided more than $115 million in funding to various nonprofit organizations and academic institutions around the world; our in-kind support (programs like Google Grants and Google Apps for Education that offer free products and services to eligible organizations) came to more than $1 billion, and our annual company-wide GoogleServe event and related programs enabled individual Googlers to donate more than 40,000 hours of their own volunteer time.

As 2011 draws to a close, I’m inspired by this year’s grantees and look forward to seeing their world-changing work in 2012.

Posted:
Back in July, we announced our initiative to digitally archive the areas of Northeastern Japan affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Today, we’re making good on that promise—after driving more than 44,000 kilometers through the affected regions, 360-degree panoramic imagery of those areas is now available through the Street View feature in Google Maps. The images can also be viewed via a special website called “Memories for the Future,” where you can easily compare before and after shots of the towns changed by these events.

A virtual tour via Street View profoundly illustrates how much these natural disasters have transformed these communities. If you start inland and venture out toward the coast, you’ll see the idyllic countryside change dramatically, becoming cluttered with mountains of rubble and debris as you get closer to the ocean. In the cities, buildings that once stood proud are now empty spaces.



In the bottom left corner of each image you’ll also see a month and year that tells you when a particular photograph was taken. When looking at images of the magnificent cities side-by-side with images of the ruins left in their place, this additional context demonstrates how truly life-changing this tragedy has been for those who live there and witnessed the destruction of their homes, neighborhoods and even entire districts. This timestamp feature has been the most requested Street View feature for the last few years, and it is now available on Street View imagery worldwide. Professionals such as historians, architects, city planners and tourism boards—as well as regular users including travelers and home-buyers—can now get a sense of how fresh the online photos are for a locations that interests them.

In the case of the post-tsunami imagery of Japan, we hope this particular digital archiving project will be useful to researchers and scientists who study the effects of natural disasters. We also believe that the imagery is a useful tool for anyone around the world who wants to better understand the extent of the damage. Seeing the street-level imagery of the affected areas puts the plight of these communities into perspective and ensures that the memories of the disaster remain relevant and tangible for future generations.



(Cross-posted on the Lat Long blog)

Posted:
Google has long worked hard to raise the issue of Internet freedom in Europe. So when the Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal took the initiative to host a meeting bringing together foreign ministers from more than 16 countries in the Netherlands, we wondered what could we do to support it.



Our answer was to hook up with the Dutch NGO Free Press Unlimited and host one of our Big Tent events, which aim to bring together corporations, civil society and politicians. We were delighted when both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Minister Rosenthal agreed to take part. Our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt welcomed them to the Fokker Terminal in The Hague. “We are joined in a spirit to fight people who want to shut down free speech," he said. "It makes easy sense for a government to say: 'We don't like that...we're going to censor it'.” The conference, he said, was organized "to make the point that this is not right."

Secretary of State Clinton called on companies to protect Internet freedoms and stop selling technology that allows repressive governments to censor the net or spy on Internet users. She urged corporations to join Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others in the Global Network Initiative to resist government efforts to impose filtering or censoring requirements. She also called on governments to fight attempts to impose national controls on the net. Any such attempt would contain people in a “series of digital bubbles rather than connecting them,” she said. "It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of Internet content or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another.”

Minister Uri Rosenthal called for legislation against exports of Internet surveillance material and promised 6 million euros to help Internet activists in repressive regimes. High-powered contributions came from the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and European parliamentarian Marietje Schaake.

A panel brought together business leaders and prominent human rights activists, including the Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, better known as Jiew, who faces trial over comments posted on her site that were deemed insulting to the monarchy.

The Hague is our third Big Tent (see highlights here), a place where we bring together various viewpoints to discuss essential topics to the future of the Internet. The format seems to be a hit, and we plan to hold more around the world in the coming months.



(Cross-posted on the European Public Policy blog and the Public Policy blog)

Posted:
We want to bring you a great experience across all Google products which, for Gmail and Contacts, means understanding what you care about and delivering it instantly. With that in mind, we’re introducing some new integrations with Google+ that we think will make Gmail and Contacts even better. If you use Google+, you can now grow your circles, filter emails and contacts by circles, keep all your contact information up-to-date automatically and share photos to Google+, all right from Gmail and Contacts.

Grow your circles from your email
Now when you open an email from someone on Google+, you can see the most recent post they’ve shared with you on the right-hand side of the conversation. If they’re not in your circles yet, it’s easy to add them straight from Gmail.


Find information from the people you care about most
Looking for the info on an upcoming family holiday gathering but can't remember who sent it? If you've spent time building your Google+ circles, you can now quickly use them to filter your mail, saving yourself from having to sift through that pile of daily deal emails and newsletters. You can see messages from all of your circles at once or from each individual circle. And if you want, you can show circle names on emails in your inbox. Contacts can also be filtered by circles, making it easier to view your social connections.


Keep your contact information up-to-date automatically
Manually entering contact information can be a huge time drain—so let your circles do it for you. If your contacts have a Google profile, their contact entry in Gmail will be updated with the profile information they’ve shared with you, including phone numbers, email addresses and more. If they change it in the future, you’ll get those updates automatically. You can also make sure the people you care about have your most up-to-date contact information by updating your own Google profile and sharing it.


Share effortlessly without leaving your inbox
Lots of great images are sent through email, but sharing those photos with friends on Google+ used to require downloading the image from Gmail and re-uploading to your profile. Not anymore: Now you can share photo attachments with one quick click. The image(s) will be uploaded to your Google+ photos and be viewable only to the circles that you choose to share with.


We’ll be rolling out all of these changes out over the next few days to Gmail, Gmail Contacts and the “standalone” version of Google Contacts at contacts.google.com. Please note that Google Apps users won’t see the Contacts updates quite yet, but we’re actively working to make them available.

All of these features (and the more to come) are the result of the great discussion that we had on Google+ with users in July. If you want to join in discussions like these, add the Gmail Google+ page to your circles. And if you haven't signed up for Google+ and would like to try these new features, visit this page to get started.

Posted:
It gives me great pleasure to share that the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has announced that three Googlers have been elected ACM Fellows in 2011. The ACM is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, and the Fellows Program celebrates the exceptional contributions of leaders in the computing field. This year the society has selected Amit Singhal, Peter S. Magnusson and Amin Vahdat for their outstanding work, which has provided fundamental knowledge to the field.

The recently-named Fellows join 14 prior Googler ACM Fellows and other professional society honorees in exemplifying our extraordinarily talented people. On behalf of Google, I congratulate our colleagues. They embody Google’s commitment to innovation with impact, and I hope that they’ll serve as inspiration to students as well as the broader community of computer scientists.

You can read more detailed summaries of their achievements below, including the official citations from the ACM.

Dr. Amit Singhal, Google Fellow
For contributions to search and information retrieval

Since 2000, Dr. Amit Singhal has been pioneering search as the technical lead for Google's core search algorithms. He is credited with most of the information retrieval design decisions in Google Search – a massive system that has responded to hundreds of billions of queries. More than anyone, Amit has a deep understanding of Google’s entire algorithmic system. He is responsible for prioritization and has overseen the development of numerous algorithmic signals and their progression over time. He is the clear thought and managerial leader who has led critically important initiatives at the company. Among many other things, Amit catalyzed Universal Search, which returns multi-modal results from all available corpora; he was the force behind Realtime Search, which returns results from dynamic corpora with low latency; and he championed Google Instant, which returns search results as the user types.

Prior to joining Google, Amit boasted a prolific publication record averaging 5 publications/year from 1996-9 while at AT&T Labs. Since that time, you could say Google Search has been one long, sustained publication demonstrating a constant advancement in the state of the art of information retrieval.

Peter S. Magnusson, Engineering Director
For contributions to full-system simulation

Peter has made a tremendous impact by driving full-system simulation. His approach was so advanced, it can be used in real world production of commercial CPUs and prototyping of system software. Starting in 1991, Peter began to challenge the notion that simulators could not be made fast enough to run large workloads, nor accurate enough to run commercial operating systems. His innovations in simulator design culminated in Simics, the first academic simulator that could boot and run commercial multiprocessor workloads. Simics saw huge academic success and has been used to run simulations for research presented in several hundred subsequent publications.

Peter founded Virtutech in 1998 to commercially develop Simics, and he ultimately forged and became the leader in a new market segment for software tools. With Peter at the helm, Virtutech pushed Simics beyond several performance barriers to make it the first simulator to exceed 1 billion instructions per second and the first simulator to model over 1,000 processors. Peter joined Google in 2010 to work with cloud computing.

Dr. Amin Vahdat, Principal Engineer
For contributions to data center scalability and management

Amin’s work made an impact at Google long before he arrived here. Amin is known for conducting research through bold, visionary projects that combine creativity with careful consideration of the engineering constraints needed to make them applicable in real world applications. Amin’s infrastructure ideas have underpinned the shift in the computing field from the pure client-server paradigm to a landscape in which major web services are hosted “in the cloud” across multiple data centers. In addition to pioneering “third-party cloud computing” through his work on WebOS and Rent-A-Server in the mid-90s, Amin has made important advancements in managing wide-area consistency between data centers, scalable modeling of data center applications, and building scalable data center networks.

Amin’s innovations have penetrated and broadly influenced the networking community within academia and industry, including Google, and his research has been recapitulated and expanded upon in a number of publications. Conferences that formerly did not even cover data centers now have multiple sessions covering variants of what Amin and his team have proposed. At Google, Amin continues to drive next-generation data center infrastructure focusing on Software Defined Networking and new opportunities from optical technologies. This is emblematic of Amin’s ability to build real systems, and perhaps more significantly, convince people of their value.