Insights from Googlers into our products, technology, and the Google culture
What are you going to be for Halloween?
October 31, 2008
In 2006 it was a pirate. Halloween party-goers donned eye patches,
, and the
, inspired by favorite seafarer
Captain Jack Sparrow
. And last year the search was on for a lot of blond wigs and microphones à la teen pop idol
Halloween being one of our favorite holidays, we couldn't wait to see what the hot getups of 2008 would be. Using
Insight for Search
we tracked the fastest
related to Halloween costumes for this year's ghoulish festivities.
Here are some of the "costume"-related queries (in the U.S.) that have seen the most growth for 2008 — don't be surprised when you run into some of these outfits roaming the streets on All Hallows' Eve.
If you're like me, you found your inspiration in the past 24 hours. However, it looks like others are more serious — according to this
graph, searches for costumes have been increasing since July.
Around Google, we've been planning our outfits for months as well. Not even rain could stop us from showing off our fiendish finery at this year's Googleween in Mountain View. And have a scary-happy Googleween yourself!
Posted by Jordan Newman, Google Blog Team
googlers and culture
Feed me! Google Alerts not just for email anymore
October 31, 2008
This week, our Trondheim-based
team launched support for feeds, a highly requested feature you can use to receive alerts via the feed reader of your choice. (Of course,
think the best places to view your updates are
.) Until now, alerts have been delivered via email only, but those days are over. Now your News, Web, Blog, Video, and Groups alerts are more easily accessible than ever.
Once you sign in to Google Alerts and create an alert, you can opt for feed delivery by clicking 'Edit' next to your alert on the
'Manage Your Alerts' page
and changing your 'Deliver to' selection from 'Email' to 'Feed' (click on the image to see larger).
Two other notable improvements to Google Alerts are that we've made them faster (especially News alerts) and are now including — where possible — images in News alerts. It's a busy time in Trondheim these days, so stay tuned for more changes to Google Alerts in the coming months.
Have feedback or a feature request?
Send your thoughts our way
Posted by Jaime Forman-Lau, Online Operations
A picture of a thousand words?
October 30, 2008
(Note: Click on the first result in each of the search results pages linked to throughout the post to see this feature in action.)
A scanner is a wonderful tool. Every day, people all over the world post scanned documents online -- everything from official
. These files usually contain images of text, rather than the text themselves.But all of these documents have one thing in common: someone somewhere thought they were they were valuable enough to share with the world.
In the past, scanned documents were rarely included in search results as we couldn't be sure of their content. We had occasional clues from references to the document-- so you might get a search result with a title but no snippet highlighting your query. Today, that changes. We are now able to perform OCR on any scanned documents that we find stored in Adobe's PDF format. This Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology lets us convert a picture (of a thousand words)
a thousand words -- words that can be searched and indexed, so that these valuable documents are more easily found. This is a small but important step forward in our mission of making all the world's information accessible and useful.
While we've indexed documents saved as PDFs for some time now, scanned documents are a lot more difficult for a computer to read. Scanning is the reverse of printing. Printing turns digital words into text on paper, while scanning makes a digital picture of the physical paper (and text) so you can store and view it on a computer. The scanned picture of the text is not quite the same as the original digital words, however -- it is a
of the printed words. Often you can see telltale signs: the ring of a coffee cup, ink smudges, or even fold creases in the pages.
To people reading these documents, the distinction between words and
of words makes little difference, but for a computer the picture is almost unintelligible. Consider a circle. Should it be read it as a zero, the letter 'O', just a circle, or the ring from my coffee cup? People learn to answer this kind of question very quickly, but for the computer it is a painstaking and error-prone process.
To see our new system at work, click on these search queries. Note the document excerpt in the search results, along with the full text presented after the 'View as HTML' link:
repairing aluminum wiring
spin lock performance
Mumps and Severe Neutropenia
Steady success in a volatile world
Posted by Evin Levey, Product Manager
What we learned from 1 million businesses in the cloud
October 30, 2008
The reliability of cloud computing has been a hot topic recently, partly because glitches in the cloud don't happen behind closed doors as with traditional on-premises solutions for businesses. Instead, when a small number of cloud computing users have problems, it makes headlines. As with most things at Google, we are fanatical about measuring the availability of Gmail, and we thought it best to simply share our reliability metrics, which we measure as average uptime per user based on server-side error rates. We think this reliability metric lets you do a true side-by-side comparison with other solutions.
We measure every server request for every user, every moment of every day. Any millisecond delay is logged. Over the last year, Gmail has been available more than 99.9 percent of the time — for everyone, both consumers and business users. The vast majority of people using Gmail have seen few issues, experienced no downtime, and have continued to have a great Gmail experience, with exception of an
outage in August 2008
. If you average all these data together, including the August outage, across the entire Gmail service, there has been an aggregate 10-15 minutes of downtime per month over the last year of providing the service. That 10-15 minutes per month average represents small delays of a couple of seconds here and there. A very small number of people have unfortunately been subject to some disruption of service that affected them for a few minutes or a few hours. For those users, we are very sorry. And for Google Apps Premier Edition customers, we have extended service level agreement credits to them.
So how does greater than 99.9 percent reliability compare to more conventional approaches for business email? We asked some experts. Naturally, the normal caveats apply for on-premises solutions, since each individual business environment will vary, depending on server reliability, staff response time, and actual maintenance schedules for each application.
According to the research firm Radicati Group, companies with on-premises email solutions averaged from 30 to 60 minutes of unscheduled downtime and an additional 36 to 90 minutes of planned downtime per month.
Looking just at the unplanned outages that catch IT staffs by surprise, these results suggest Gmail is twice as reliable as a Novell GroupWise solution, and four times more reliable than a Microsoft Exchange-based solution that companies must maintain themselves. And higher reliability translates to higher employee productivity. Gmail's reliability jumps to more than four times as reliable as a GroupWise solution and 10 times more reliable than an Exchange-based solution if you factor in the planned outages inherent in on-premises messaging platforms. But this isn't the only way Google Apps helps businesses do more with their resources. Compared to the costs of Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus or Novell GroupWise — including software licensing, server expenses and the labor associated with deploying, maintaining and upgrading them on a regular basis — Google Apps leaves companies with much more time and money to focus on their real business.
We are now extending what we've learned from Gmail to the other applications in Google Apps.
Today, we're announcing that we will extend the
99.9 percent service level agreement
we offer Premier Edition customers on Gmail to Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites, and Google Talk. We have been delivering high levels of reliability across all these products, so it makes sense to extend our guarantees to them.
More than 1 million businesses have selected Google Apps to run their business, and tens of millions of people use Gmail every day. With this type of adoption, a disruption of any size — even a minor one affecting fewer than 0.003% of Google Apps Premier Edition users, like the one a few weeks ago — attracts a disproportional amount of attention. We've made a series of commitments to improve our communications with customers during any outages, and we have an unwavering commitment to make all issues visible and transparent through our
open user groups
Google is one of the 1 million businesses that run on Google Apps, and any service interruption affects our users and our business; our engineers are also some of our most demanding customers. We understand the importance of delivering on the cloud's promise of greater security, reliability and capability at lower cost. We are hugely thankful to our customers who drive us to become better every day.
1. The Radicati Group, 2008. "Corporate IT Survey – Messaging & Collaboration, 2008-2009"
Posted by Matthew Glotzbach, Product Management Director, Google Enterprise
google for work
The latest on Google Apps for Education
October 30, 2008
It was exactly two years ago at the
that we first announced our free
offering for educational institutions. We've kept pretty busy in that time, working closely with thousands of schools to reach 2.5 million students, staff, and faculty actively using Google Apps on campuses across the globe. As part of this mission, we also recently drove our
(think bio-fuel and solar panels) to universities across the country to hear directly from people using Google Apps. Here's what some of them had to say:
One thing hasn't changed in the last two years: Google Apps still offers academic institutions, from neighborhood schools to international universities, free integrated solutions for email, calendaring, and online document and site sharing. We're glad to be back at EDUCAUSE this week in Orlando to reminisce about how far technology in education has come since 2006, and to look forward toward even more possibilities for innovation.
If you're involved in education, check out
to see if it can help make your school a more effective learning community. And if you're a student, visit the newly launched
Google for Students Blog
to find Google-related information relevant to you.
Posted by Miriam Schneider, Associate Product Marketing Manager
education and research
Voting tools for volunteers on the go
October 29, 2008
(Cross-posted from the
Google Mobile Blog
With the U.S. elections less than a week away, voting drives are ramping up. Political parties and non-partisan groups alike are sending out volunteers to encourage citizens to vote on November 4. To make sure these volunteers have the same
voter info tools
available to them on their phone as on their computer, we've now launched a mobile voting locator tool on
to send this to your phone.)
Now, volunteers can type in the home address of any registered voter and find his or her voting location, whether they're in an office making phone calls, working from a booth set up outdoors, or going door to door. While on the go, they can use
Google Maps for mobile
to find their next address or display directions to voting locations.
Of course, between talking to potential voters, volunteers can check out the Elections section in Google News for mobile for the latest updates (go
on your phone), or just search for a nearby coffee shop to stay warm.
Posted by Steve Kanefsky and Jerry Morrison, Google Mobile engineers
Video your vote on Election Day
October 29, 2008
If you've been paying even passing attention to the 2008 election, you know that without a doubt this is the most documented election in history. On YouTube, average citizens have posted millions of videos chronicling their experiences and opinions about the 2008 election. Never before has the campaign trail been sliced, diced, clipped, mashed-up, and exposed in so many ways — and never before have voters been the ones in control of the content.
The YouTube team is shining a spotlight on election documentation with the
Video Your Vote
program. In partnership with PBS, we're asking you to submit videos of your voting experiences to the Video Your Vote channel. The idea is simple: we want this to be the most transparent election day in history, so that the world can see — through the eyes of voters — just how the election transpired.
This is important because not only will there be more people voting in this election than ever before, but there undoubtedly will be bumps along the way: long lines, broken machines, confusion over the registration process, and even voter intimidation and fraud are all unfortunate election realities. Video can help document where problems occur in a more compelling and concrete way than other media. By documenting your voting experience, you can help make this a more transparent election.
On the Video Your Vote channel, PBS's program
The News Hour with Jim Lehrer
is providing educational information about voting in America, with a particular nod to election reform issues. You can also learn what the laws of your state say (or don't say) about
bringing a video camera
to the polls (in most states, it's okay to document your own experience respectfully). Learn more in this call-out video that correspondent Judy Woodruff made (it's on the YouTube homepage):
With hundreds of thousands of voters casting their ballots before Election Day, we're already seeing videos coming in. From excitement
from first-time voters
to videos of
at the polling places or
in the field, voters are already documenting their experiences. Join them to video your vote!
Posted by Steve Grove, YouTube News & Politics Team
Eight candles for Google Toolbar
October 29, 2008
Google recently celebrated its
. As we participated in the festivities, we realized that we are coming upon another birthday: In just a few weeks, our very own Google Toolbar will be turning 8 years old. To celebrate, we wanted to take a few moments to reflect on its evolution over the past few years and how we've tried to make the web a better place for the hundreds of millions of people who use Toolbar.
Back in 1999, the Internet was a very different place. At that time, you had to fight annoying pop-up ads that would randomly appear as you navigated from one page to another. You had to fill in endless forms with your personal information in order to create accounts for websites you wanted to use. And when you wanted to find information on your airline's luggage policy, you spent more time finding the right search terms to get you there than actually packing for your trip. The Toolbar team was formed to develop tools to make your web experience better, so we created features like pop-up blocker and AutoFill. We also built a dynamic search box that automatically guesses what you're typing and offers search suggestions in real time (click on the image to see larger).
Over the years, we've been proud to see several of the features we've pioneered integrated into web browsers as well as other websites. We're encouraged by this progress, but this doesn't mean that our mission is complete. We're still working hard to make the time you spend on the web more enjoyable and productive. On that note, we'd like to announce our latest release of
Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer
, now launching out of beta and available in 40 languages.
Here are just a few things you can do with this latest version:
- Add gadgets to your Toolbar to bring content from your favorite websites closer to you
- Synchronize your settings online to access your Toolbar from wherever you are
- Create multiple profiles in AutoFill to keep your business and personal information separate
To learn more about the different features, visit us at
. We'd also love to hear your feature ideas and other Toolbar feedback, so send us a
with your thoughts.
Posted by Albert Bodenhamer and Jenny Zhang, Software Engineers, Google Toolbar
New steps to protect free expression and privacy around the world
October 28, 2008
In a world where governments all too often censor what their citizens can see and do on the Internet, Google has from the start promoted global free expression and taken the lead in being transparent with our users. We've pressed governments around the world to stop limiting free speech and made it possible for dissidents, bloggers and others to have their voices heard.
As part of those ongoing efforts to promote free expression and protect our users' privacy, today we're announcing Google's participation as a founding company member of a new program called the
Global Network Initiative
This initiative is the result of two years of discussions with other leading technology companies, human rights organizations, socially responsible investors and academic institutions. Thanks to hard work and cooperation from all parties, the Initiative sets the kinds of standards and practices that all companies and groups should use when governments threaten internationally recognized rights to free expression and privacy.
The Global Network Initiative also offers an important commitment from all parties to take action together to promote free expression and protect privacy in the use of all information and communication technologies. We know that common action by these diverse groups is more likely to bring about change in government policies than the efforts of any one company or group acting alone.
Companies that join the Initiative commit to putting into effect procedures that will protect their users by:
Evaluating against international standards government requests to censor content or access user information
Providing greater transparency
Assessing human rights risks when entering new markets or introducing new products
Instituting employee training and oversight programs
These are things that Google does now, but joining the Initiative will help us refine our methods and maintain our leadership position. Down the road companies will be assessed on how they're doing in implementing the principles and the Initiative will report those results.
This Initiative is by no means a silver bullet or the last word, but it does represent a concrete step toward promoting freedom of expression and protecting users' privacy in the 60th anniversary year of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
. Now we're actively recruiting more companies and groups to join the Initiative and advance these critical human rights around the world.
Posted by Andrew McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs
policy and issues
Take a Vote Hour
October 28, 2008
In less than two weeks, every vote will count as Americans decide who will become the next U.S. president. During the last national election in 2004, 20 percent of registered voters who didn't make it to the polls said that they were "too busy" or had conflicting work schedules (
2004 U.S. Census
is an independent, bipartisan effort among CEOs across America to publicly announce their support for employees to step away from their desks and take an hour to cast a ballot. Just a few of those leaders appear in the video below, encouraging their employees to take a Vote Hour on November 4th.
We hope more business leaders across the country will
join the movement
, add their names and their encouragement to the effort. Employees can send
to their bosses to encourage them to participate as well.
So spread the word to your friends, families and colleagues to take a Vote Hour. And most importantly, don't forget to vote yourself. It's the most important job you have on Election Day.
Posted by Andy Berndt, Managing Director, Google Creative Lab, and Katie Jacobs Stanton, Elections Team
New chapter for Google Book Search
October 28, 2008
Google was built on the principle of making the world's information more accessible and useful. Before the company was even founded, Larry and Sergey imagined a way to make it easier for anyone, anywhere, to access the information held within the world's books. Search simply isn't complete without that content, and providing more access to more books is a vision Google has never lost sight of.
Four years ago,
almost to the date
, we first announced
Google Book Search
. Since we launched the service, we've heard countless
about Book Search helping readers all over the world find books in over 100 languages on topics as diverse as
The Physics of Star Trek
and the history of
Wood Carvings in English Churches
. We've seen millions of people click to buy books or find them in a library, and more than 20,000 publishers have joined our Partner Program to allow readers to preview the books they find before buying them.
While we've made tremendous progress with Book Search, today
we've announced an agreement
with a broad class of authors and publishers and with our library partners that advances Larry's and Sergey's original dream in ways Google never could have done
This agreement is truly groundbreaking in three ways. First, it will give readers digital access to millions of in-copyright books; second, it will create a new market for authors and publishers to sell their works; and third, it will further the efforts of our library partners to preserve and maintain their collections while making books more accessible to students, readers and academic researchers.
The agreement also resolves lawsuits that were brought against Google in 2005 by a group of authors and publishers, along with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers (AAP). While Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP have
on copyright law, we have always agreed about the importance of creating new ways for users to find books and for authors and publishers to get paid for their works.
To date, Google has worked with libraries all over the world to make more than 7 million books searchable through Google Book Search, and we're just getting started. We believe that ultimately we'll provide access to many times that number, and if approved, this agreement will unlock access to millions of these texts and make the Google search experience even more comprehensive.
With this agreement, in-copyright, out-of-print books will now be available for readers in the U.S. to search, preview and buy online -- something that was simply unavailable to date. Most of these books are difficult, if not impossible, to find. They are not sold through bookstores or held on most library shelves, yet they make up the vast majority of books in existence. Today, Google only shows snippets of text from the books where we don't have copyright holder permission. This agreement enables people to preview up to 20% of the book.
What makes this settlement so powerful is that in addition to being able to find and preview books more easily, users will also be able to read them. And when people read them, authors and publishers of in-copyright works will be compensated. If a reader in the U.S. finds an in-copyright book through Google Book Search, he or she will be able to pay to see the entire book online. Also, academic, library, corporate and government organizations will be able to purchase institutional subscriptions to make these books available to their members. For out-of-print books that in most cases do not have a commercial market, this opens a new revenue opportunity that didn't exist before.
It's important to note this agreement doesn't change our Partner Program, which currently includes more than 20,000 publishers around the world, but it does add a new way for those publishers to sell access to their works. For in-print books not in our Partner Program, we'll continue to scan these books through our Library Project and make them full-text searchable, but we won't show any portion of the book. As for books in the public domain, this agreement doesn't change how we display them: We'll make out-of-copyright works freely available on Google Book Search for people to read and download.
As part of the agreement, Google is also funding the establishment of a Book Rights Registry, managed by authors and publishers, that will work to locate and represent copyright holders. We think the Registry will help address
the "orphan" works problem
for books in the U.S., making it easier for people who want to use older books. Since the Book Rights Registry will also be responsible for distributing the money Google collects to authors and publishers, there will be a strong incentive for rightsholders to come forward and claim their works.
In addition to expanding the commercial market for these books, Google, the authors and the publishers have worked hard with our library partners at Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of California and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to ensure this agreement advances libraries' efforts to preserve, maintain and provide access to books for students, researchers and readers. The agreement gives public and university libraries across the U.S. free, full-text viewing of books at a designated computer in each of their facilities. That means local libraries across the U.S. will be able to offer their patrons access to the incredible collections of our library partners -- a huge benefit to the public.
The agreement also authorizes Google and the libraries to create new services that will help people with disabilities such as visual impairment better experience these books. We are grateful to our library partners for investing so much painstaking effort over so many years to maintain their book collections, and we are excited at the prospect of their participation in this landmark project.
Because the agreement is the result of a U.S. lawsuit, all of these services will be available to readers who access Google Book Search in the United States. Outside the U.S., the user experience with Google Book Search will be the same as it is today. In other words, people will be able to search the full text of books and may see snippets of in-copyright works, but they will not be able to preview or purchase access to books online, unless these services are authorized by the rightsholder of a book. It is important to note that the agreement does not affect users outside the U.S., but it will affect copyright holders worldwide because they can register their works and receive compensation for them. While this agreement only concerns books scanned in the U.S., Google is committed to working with rightsholders, governments, and relevant institutions to bring the same opportunities to users, authors, and publishers in other countries.
As you can imagine, we're all ready to get moving, but this project will take some time. First and foremost, the settlement administrator will be reaching out to educate authors and publishers worldwide about the agreement and their rights under it. The agreement also must be approved by the court. Once it's approved, we'll be ready to begin delivering these services. In the meantime, if you own or think you may own a U.S. copyright interest, there is more information about the agreement at
. And Google Book Search users can
find more information here
@ 7:55 AM:
Updated the press release link in the 3rd paragraph.
Posted by David Drummond, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development, and Chief Legal Officer
books + book search
Traveling by zip-line
October 27, 2008
It's no secret that we have fun finding innovative solutions to big problems. Recently, some fellow software engineers and I applied this to a couple of extracurricular activities.
In mid-August, Google moved into a new building in Mountain View, just west of our main campus in Mountain View, CA. Unfortunately, dinner was only available
main campus, just beyond Permanente Creek. Here's a
to help you visualize.
A few people joked about building a zip-line as a shortcut to cross the creek. One Friday afternoon our friend Doug said, "Hey, I just bought a cable to make a zip-line. Want to help?" By Saturday, we had one up and running.
In true Google fashion, we followed the "launch early and iterate" philosophy. The zip-line started with a single pulley traveling across the cable. We knew two pulleys would be faster, so Seth built a custom bracket to hold them together. Eventually, we upgraded to a professional trolley with harder wheels and ball bearings. After someone fell off the zip-line into the rather foul creek (don't worry, he's fine), we added grippy tape to the handlebar.
As we got better at running the zip-line, it became the normal way to cross the creek. Some of our friends still hadn't worked up the nerve to try it, though, and they insisted upon walking along Charleston Road instead. So Doug and I decided to build a bridge so that everyone could stay together. Here's the blueprint we came up with (alligator and piranhas not to scale):
The goal was to give people an easier way to cross — but not be so easy that they would stop using the zip-line altogether. Sure enough, those who worked up the nerve to try the bridge were met with a narrow, wobbly bucking beast. Like the zip-line, we improved the bridge incrementally. A week later, it had been tamed, and we were excited to show everyone.
But when we got in on Monday, we found that the bridge and zip-line were both gone: the city of Mountain View asked that it be taken down. Well, it was fun while it lasted, and for a few weeks Googlers had a faster and more exciting way to cross Permanente Creek. More importantly, it's great to know that we work at a company that lets us live out our rascally dreams.
Here are more pictures featuring the work of the entire G-Zip team (Seth LaForge, James Lyons, Vincent Mo, Doug Ricket, Michael Schultz):
Posted by Vincent Mo, Software Engineer, Google Maps
googlers and culture
Introducing Google Earth for iPhone
October 27, 2008
Even before we introduced Google Earth back in
, the team had long dreamed of being able to carry the Earth around in your pocket. Well, today that dream becomes a reality as we introduce Google Earth for iPhone and iPod touch. With just a swipe of your finger you can fly from Peoria to Paris to Papua New Guinea, or anywhere in between. It may be small, but it brings all the power of Google Earth to the palm of your hand, including all of the same global imagery and 3D terrain. You can even browse any of our 8 million Panoramio photos or read Wikipedia articles.
With Google Earth for iPhone, you can:
• Tilt your iPhone to adjust your view to see mountainous terrain
• View the Panoramio layer and browse the millions of geo-located photos from around the world
• View geo-located Wikipedia articles
• Use the 'Location' feature to fly to your current location
• Search for cities, places and business around the globe with Google Local Search
It's available today in 18 languages and 22 countries in the
iTunes App Store
. To learn more, check out this video tour and read the
on the Lat Long Blog.
Posted by Peter Birch, Product Manager
maps and earth
Five years of quotes in Google News
October 24, 2008
quote extraction in Google News in April, offering you a way to browse quotations extracted from the past 30 days of news. While a great tool to see what people are saying on important topics and how they compare, it was missing something.
Today we are pleased to announce the launch of a 5-year quotes index. This expanded coverage lets you explore what Governor Palin said
before she was a VP nominee
, or Senator Obama
before he was a presidential candidate
lab page is also much improved and now provides comparisons over time on issues like the
war in Iraq
Not interested in politics? Try the
to select the people and topics of your choice. Baseball fans, for example, might enjoy
Joe Maddon vs Charlie Manuel
Posted by Jack Hebert and Natasha Mohanty, Software Engineers
Introducing Gmail for mobile 2.0
October 23, 2008
Whether you've lost signal on the subway or turned your phone's wireless connection off on an airplane, you no longer have to wait to read and compose your Gmail or Google Apps email on your phone. Today, we're happy to introduce Gmail for mobile 2.0, designed to be faster and more reliable in low signal areas and to even support basic offline access on phones like the Nokia N95, Sony Ericsson W910i, and BlackBerry Curve. Our latest version of Gmail for mobile also allows you to access multiple Gmail or Google Apps email accounts from the same application.
To find out more about Gmail for mobile 2.0,
check out this post
on the Google Mobile blog and watch this demo video:
Posted by Lawrence Chang, Product Marketing Manager, Google Mobile Team
Down to the wire on white spaces
October 23, 2008
There's more than one important vote going on this Election Day. On November 4, as Americans cast their ballots for President of the United States,
the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to be voting
on rules governing "white spaces" -- the unused airwaves between broadcast TV channels.
Just as Wi-Fi sparked a revolution in the way we connect to the web, freeing the "white space" airwaves could help unleash a new wave of technological innovation, create jobs, and boost our economy. But it can happen only if the FCC moves forward with rules that make the best possible use of this spectrum.
Last week, after many months of thorough testing, the Commission's engineers announced their conclusion that white spaces devices could operate without interfering with TV broadcasts or wireless microphone signals. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin
pledged his support
for opening "white space" spectrum, and announced that the Commission would vote on the issue on November 4.
Unfortunately, last Friday the broadcasting lobby filed an emergency request to stop the vote from happening. This comes despite more than four years of study, months of extensive lab and field testing by the FCC, and tens of thousands of pages of formal record material -- during which the broadcasters' concerns were fully considered. As we understand it, the draft order carefully and appropriately addresses all legitimate concerns about interference, and the resulting draft rules are, if anything, overly conservative. Nonetheless, the proposed framework overall appears to be sound, and we strongly support it.
While the science should speak for itself, that won't stop the broadcasting lobby from trying to use stalling tactics to derail the technology before the rules of the road are even written. These are the same folks who
over the years
have sought to block one innovative technology after another, from cable TV to VCRs to satellite TV and radio to low power FM to TiVOs.
The enormous promise of white spaces is simply too great to get bogged down now in politics. We're less than two weeks away from a vote that could transform the way we connect to the Internet.
The time for study and talk is over. The time for action has arrived. But we need your help -- before November 4th.
Two months ago we launched "Free the Airwaves" with a simple message: Americans want better access to broadband, and they see the potential of white spaces to make it happen. If you care about the future of technological innovation, please sign our petition to the FCC at
, and ask your friends to do the same.
Posted by Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel
Google Sites now in 38 languages
October 22, 2008
In May we
opened up Google Sites
, and while the service itself was only in English, it has always supported the ability to add website content in any language. It's been really exciting to see more than one million sites created in a wide range of countries and languages, for everything from an
Italian improv theater group
Spanish guide to Huitzuco
Japanese computer store
. With the addition of 37 more languages, it is now even easier for people and businesses around the world to build and host their own website on Google Sites.
The latest release includes full localized versions of the Google Sites service and interface, enabling website creators and collaborators to interact more naturally with the product in their native languages. Browser settings are used to automatically detect and display the preferred language among those supported. You can also override the browser language and set your language preference directly in Google Sites.
Here are the 38 languages we are supporting with this release: Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, English (UK), Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.
Read more on the
Google Sites blog
Posted by Tim Mansfield, Software Engineer
What do students want to tell the next president?
October 22, 2008
Two weeks ago, I spent a day with Dr. Ellen Shelton and her 11th grade Advanced Placement English students at Tupelo High School in Tupelo, Mississippi. Ellen's students are participating in
Letters to the Next President: Writing Our Future
, an online writing and publishing project sponsored by Google and the
National Writing Project
During the U.S. presidential campaign season, thousands of middle and high school students (ages 13-18) are writing persuasive letters and essays to the presidential candidates about the issues and concerns that they'd like the next president to address. Teachers are using Google Docs to incorporate online editing, peer review, and revisions, and students are publishing their letters online for their peers, parents, and the public to read.
At Tupelo High, Ellen's students told me that they were writing about issues such as
the price of gas
. I was impressed not only by the variety of issues they were covering, but also by how they were able to describe how these issues affect their lives as well as their family and friends. Although most of Ellen's students will be too young to vote on Nov. 4, it is heartening to know that they were making a difference by voicing their thoughts through their writing.
So far, 962 students from 46 schools have published letters on our
, and during the next few weeks, there will be thousands more. You can also find out what issues matter to
and students from other parts of the U.S.
Photo credit: Will White, Tupelo Hi-Times
Posted by Andrew Chang, Google Docs Marketing Manager
Greater access to voting information
October 22, 2008
At Google, we pride ourselves on helping people find things on the Internet. And every four years in America,
shows that people are searching to find voting information, like how to register and where to vote.
It's hard to believe that in 2008, information so important to U.S. citizens and the democratic process isn't well organized on the web. To solve this problem, we've released our
US Voter Info site
, an effort to simplify and centralize voting locations and registration information.
We developed the site in the hope that it will increase voter participation. We were helped by a number of partners, including many state and local election officials, the
League of Women Voters
Pew Charitable Trusts
, and others involved in the
Voting Information Project
Are you registered to vote? What's the best way to obtain an absentee ballot? When people visit the site, answers to these questions appear. And anyone with a website can provide the same information. The
US Voter Info gadget
places a simple search box that expands to show a full set of voter information when someone enters an address.
We are also offering a simpler way to find out
where to vote
. By entering a home address, citizens across the country will be able to find their polling place for election day.
To encourage political participation, we've opened up this data to third-party sites and developers through an API developed by Dan Berlin, one of our open-source engineers. We're excited to share this data, and hope that others will find it useful in encouraging citizens to vote.
Organizing information is our mission. We do that every day with web content, and we want to do the same thing with information to inform and empower voters and to help them get to the polls this election season.
Posted by JL Needham, Public Sector Content Partnerships, and Abe Murray, Product Manager
Google Treasure Hunt winners abound
October 21, 2008
The time has come to announce the conclusion of the
2008 Google Treasure Hunt
competition. More than 100,000 people worldwide tackled the puzzles we designed, and we received correct answers from more than 30 countries and five different continents.
Congratulations to our grand prize winner, Sophia Dichomides, whose speed and skill won her a MacBook Air. And we'd also like to extend a hearty congratulations to all of the other master treasure hunters who braved the high seas and shifting time zones to solve all four puzzles the fastest, as well as to the hundreds of winners who received Google Treasure Hunt T-shirts. Thanks to everyone who participated. Be sure to keep your spyglass on the horizon for future contests.
Grand Prize (MacBook Air winner)
Sophia Dichomides (Australia)
First Mates (iPod Touch winners)
Alok Ladsariya (India)
David Bidorff (France)
Vincent Zanotti (France)
Second Mates (iPod Nano winners)
Alex North (Australia)
Alicja Krajnik (Poland)
Artur Makutunowicz (Poland)
Benoit Boissinot (France)
David Poblador (Spain)
Dmitry Kim (Russia)
Graham Dennis (Australia)
Gregorio Guidi (Italy)
Jared Brothers (USA)
Jérémy Selier (France)
Kartikaya Gupta (Canada)
Lucas Bergman (USA)
Manuel Freire (Spain)
Mariano Faraco (Argentina)
Matthew Imhoff (Australia)
Nathan Kitchen (USA)
Nelson Castillo (Colombia)
Paul Cowan (Australia)
Perry Lorier (New Zealand)
Qiang Fu (Australia)
Tanaeem Moosa (Bangladesh)
Xuân Baldauf (Germany)
Posted by Phillip Grasso, Manager, Engineering/Operations
Is your house haunted by high energy prices?
October 21, 2008
Halloween is nearly upon us; the days are getting shorter and Google is gearing up for one of our favorite holidays. But as the temperature drops, the price you pay each month to power your home might start to make your blood run cold. Fear not! We've created a handy
energy saving calculator
to help you see how simple steps can help you save money for treats -- and ward off scary carbon emissions. We've also put together a
webpage full of tricks
to help you save energy -- and money. (For inspiration for this idea, we want to thank the U.S. Department of Energy.)
It's the perfect time of year to talk about efficiency since many of the energy-wasters in our homes are named after the ghouls of Halloween. Our living rooms may be infested with "vampire" electronics that suck power even when turned off. And open chimney flues let the "ghosts" of winter steal our heat (not to mention the "monster" furnace that lives in the basement). By taking small steps to ward off these ghouls of inefficiency, you can save cold, hard cash. By
, if the 80% of Americans who leave their fireplace flue open all winter all simply closed the damper, we could save over $6 billion a year. That's a lot of candy corn!
Posted by David Bercovich, Project Manager, and Dan Reicher, Director Climate Change & Energy Initiatives, Google.org
A Googlicious time
October 19, 2008
For a lot of us who work here, there's one thing that defines the culture more than anything else: the food. We have a passion for every edible item offered, from the ubiquitous organic fruit to the rotisserie leg of lamb with smoked shallot marmalade, mahi-mahi with coconut milk & lime in banana leaf, or the oysters with cilantro mignonette (and yes, the meals are free). But we're also accustomed to having our amazing culinary team do the work while we try to deploy our ingenuity in front of computers (and in devising new ways to work off the extra weight).
So last week some Googlers decided to see if the creativity that they bring to their jobs could be applied to other arenas. Charlie's Patio on our Mountain View campus was the site of the first-ever Google (Free) Bake Sale. More than 30 teams used the cafe kitchens and worked with our chefs to create delectables in five categories: cookies, cupcakes, confections, dessert bars, and pies. Everyone who stopped by was given 5 marbles to vote for their favorites.
What did we discover? Most Googlers prefer
a hands-on approach
to their endeavors. Some put their efforts into looking the part, whether that meant dressing as
, while others chose to focus on the
of their creation. Pastry designs ran the gamut from
, from the
. It can never be said that Googlers don't eat our own
. At the very least, the people who attended the event left with a smile on their faces and enough ingested sugar to turn their blood to cola.
More importantly we learned that, even in a skittish economy, it's possible to find ways to keep morale high -- and nothing does it as well as chocolate. With a little creativity, some motivation, and a culture that embraces fun (and food!) as a necessary component of our work, inspiration will flow, and spirits (and blood-sugar levels) will run high. One proof point:
Posted by Ben Bayer, Master of Space and Time, Google Research
googlers and culture
Give your gadgets some space
October 18, 2008
This week we launched a set of new features to all
users in the U.S. These features were designed to make it more powerful and bring more information to the homepage.
At the heart of this release is a feature we call "canvas view," which gives you the option to maximize your gadgets into full-screen mode. To use the Gmail gadget as an example, previously, you could only get a quick snippet of your Gmail messages on iGoogle. Now you can maximize Gmail to fully read and reply to your messages.
Comics. Games. Feeds. Photos. All of these get better when you give them some space. And to give you fast, one-click access to maximize your gadgets, we've introduced a new left-navigation model. This is a good way to navigate to these new, richer applications, and it makes space for more features you'll see in the coming months.
We invite you to
take a tour
of all the new features, and hope you'll give us a chance to show you why we're excited about the evolution of iGoogle.
Posted by Jessica Ewing, Group Product Manager, iGoogle
High-powered search for Arabic-speaking engineers
October 17, 2008
When I first started working at Google in 2006 I was amazed to see that the fabled
really existed, and that it was up to me to decide how to use it. Being of Egyptian descent and having lived in Canada and the U.S., I became increasingly interested in Google's international work. Based on my interests and background, I helped assemble a team of Arabic-speaking engineers and we began to spend 20% of our time on developing Arabic-language products. Over time this has become a more formal effort, so I'm really happy to tell you that today we're stepping up our commitment to users in the Middle East by hiring full-time engineers familiar with the Arabic language and its engineering challenges.
The reality is that in many countries across Middle East and North Africa (MENA) there is only single-digit Internet penetration rate. On the other hand, there are over 330 million Arabic speakers worldwide, many of them hungry for the information, interactivity, and opportunities that the Internet can provide. As more Arabic speaking people come online -- the vast majority via mobile phones -- our team wants to help provide effective and useful products in their native language. For example, despite the fact that there are millions of Arabic speakers worldwide, only approximately 1% of all of the content online is in Arabic. We want to build tools to make content creation even easier for our Arabic-speaking users, encouraging them to connect, share and interact with each other, and with other users around the world.
This isn't easy. Creating an Arabic-language product is actually significantly harder than for most other languages. As mentioned in a previous post about our
40 language initiative
, Arabic is written from right to left. An Arabic speaker searching for [Ramadan TV series schedule 2008] (a very popular query during Ramadan) would type [مواعيد مسلسلات رمضان 2008]. Part of the query will be
written from right to left in Arabic
while the numbers will be written left to right. Sometimes the right-to-left difference can mean having to change the entire layout of a page, as with Gmail.
As you can see, just delivering products in Arabic is challenging, but we also believe the differences mean that the capabilities of the products can be different. There are a large number of new, innovative features and products that need to be created to properly serve the Arabic markets, many of which have fundamental computer science challenges.
Intrigued? Google is looking for the best Arabic engineer minds to join the first dedicated team focused on tackling these engineering challenges. Our goal is to put together a top-notch Arabic engineering team. I am passionate about building an exceptional global team of engineers whose job it will be to design and develop innovative products and features that meet the needs of our Arabic speaking users. I was initially attracted to this challenge because I knew that my work at Google could easily have an impact on tens of millions of people around the world. It especially excites me that for a language that has been underserved to date, we'll be making product innovations that can have a material effect on the future of the region.
Google has been formally recognized in
and publicized worldwide for our unique work environment. The first question I always get from people after they find out I work here is, "Is what we've heard about Google really true?" The short answer: Yes. Two of our offices have slides, and one actually has a firepole between floors. We have numerous gourmet cafes that are free. We have massage therapists available in many locations. And the list goes on. It is truly a fun and rewarding place to work. But what I think what is most exceptional about Google is that we bring our own unique culture to every country we open an office in, and blend it with the uniqueness of the local culture.
Interested in joining our effort? Well if you've heard anything about our interview process, you probably know that simply put, it's tough, but for good reason. When I interviewed two years ago I went through many intense interviews. You're expected to be well versed in areas such as coding, data structures, algorithms, designing large scale systems and, depending on the role, you might be asked leadership questions. Having a Bachelors and Masters in Computer Science definitely helped, but it was still grueling. The interview process was less about what I had memorized from the past (fact-based questions) but instead included questions that showed my ability to apply what I had learned to problem sets that I had never encountered before. I came out of the interview with a deep respect for this style because Google hires the best of the best, and it shows in the rigor of the hiring process.
Are you a great engineer familiar with Arabic speaking skills? We're looking for engineers with the regional knowledge and Arabic language expertise to make Google products more relevant to this important population and to build new products for the global market. If you're interested, please visit
our job center
and apply for one of the open positions. You could be a part of a team that will positively affect the lives of millions of Arabic users around the world.
Some of our engineers working on Arabic products (L to R):
Posted by Ahmad Hamzawi, Engineering Manager, MENA
googlers and culture
Search findings from the third presidential debate
October 16, 2008
Last night, Republican candidate John McCain and Democratic candidate Barack Obama met at New York's Hofstra University for the last
2008 U.S. presidential debate
. CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer moderated the format of two-minute candidate answers followed by five minutes of discussion. This format gave Senators Obama and McCain more time to debate each individual issue — and gave viewers more time to
for information than they did for either for their
vice presidential debate.
Searches also clustered around [abortion], a question Schieffer posed earlier. In fact, of all the search queries emerging during the debate,
Roe v. Wade
was the most popular. Senator McCain's state-based approach to the issue sent many searching for more information on
, and subsequent discussions of
prompted queries too. The conversations around nominations to the Supreme Court inspired many to search for
While the volatile global economy and high energy prices may dominate news headlines, viewers sought more information about the topic of the evening's last question: education. People dug deeper into the issue of
; some searched explicitly for
school vouchers vs. charter schools
. Senator McCain raised the example of Washington, D.C., schools, prompting many to explore the issue further, searching for
, who is D.C.'s Chancellor of Public Schools. Other education-related searches included
No Child Left Behind
Troops to Teachers
Teach for America
A figure named "Joe" has been popular throughout the campaign: first there was Democratic VP candidate
, and then we heard about
from Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin. Now there's "Joe the plumber," who figured prominently throughout last night's debate. Viewers responded in kind, searching heavily for
Joe the plumber
. Some even found his real name:
. Other names that were dropped, discussed and then searched for large numbers:
Congressman John Lewis
And finally, here's a summary of sorts: these queries show the biggest overall spikes in search activity throughout the entire 90-minute debate.
Posted by Jeffrey Oldham, Software Engineer; Fred Leach, Customer Labs Analyst; and Jennie Johnson, Communications team
What's new with iGoogle?
October 16, 2008
I'm an iGoogle addict. I check my news, email, stocks, feeds and weather there and sometimes even manage to squeeze in a game or two during the day. Having everything in one place is super convenient, but I often wish I could deal with all my stuff without having to leave my iGoogle page. With today's release, I can. We've rolled out an updated design for iGoogle to all U.S. users, which includes full canvas views for gadget and support for full feed reading.
Not all of our gadgets have canvas views yet, but here are some of the best:
New gadgets from
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
The Washington Post
give me full-page views of what's new in the world. Nice.
lets me play thousands of full-page Sudoku puzzles without squinting at 6-point type. The
gives me my fix of
and lets me choose from all of their other comics. I've also spent many coffee breaks browsing through videos from
I've configured the
gadget to my zip code and just used it today to figure out when the newest episode of
Flixster's movies gadget
lets me access trailers, ratings, and theater information for any movie. I also use the
to browse news, concerts, and free MP3s from my favorite musicians.
Google stuff -
lets me read my full email and perform simple actions like send or reply to emails without leaving iGoogle. Last but not least, a gadget that I authored and use every day is for
, which provides full-screen finance charts and news of the stocks in my portfolio.
of our highlighted canvas view gadgets.
We've also replaced the tabs at the top with a left navigation that allows for access to any gadget with one click. We're very excited about these changes because it makes iGoogle a more useful homepage and a
better platform for developers
. And this is just the beginning: Expect to see more canvas gadgets created by developers and more new features on iGoogle soon. Not in the U.S.? Don't worry. We'll also be rolling out this updated version in other countries very soon.
Posted by Matt Gundersen, iGoogle Engineer
Remembering Jon Postel: Looking beyond the decade
October 16, 2008
A decade has passed since
left our midst. It seems timely to look back beyond that decade and to look forward beyond a decade hence. It seems ironic that a man who took special joy in natural surroundings, who hiked the Muir Trail and spent precious time in the high Sierras was also deeply involved in that most artificial of enterprises, the Internet. As the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and the RFC editor, Jon could hardly have chosen more polar interests. Perhaps the business of the artificial world was precisely what stimulated his interest in the natural one.
As a graduate student at UCLA in the late 1960s, Jon was deeply involved in the ARPANET project, becoming the first custodian of the Request for Comment note series inaugurated by Stephen D. Crocker. He also undertook to serve as the “Numbers Czar” tracking Domain Names, Internet Addresses, and all the parameters, numeric and otherwise, that were key to the successful functioning of the burgeoning ARPANET and, later, Internet protocols. His career took him to the east and west coasts of the United States but ultimately led him to the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) where he joined his colleagues, Danny Cohen, Joyce K. Reynolds, Daniel Lynch, Paul Mockapetris and Robert Braden, among many others, who were themselves to play important roles in the evolution of the Internet.
It was at ISI that Jon served longest and as the end of the 20th century approached, began to fashion an institutional home for the work he had so passionately and effectively carried out in support of the Internet. In consultation with many colleagues but particularly with Joseph Sims of the Jones Day law firm and Ira Magaziner, then with the Clinton administration at the White House, Jon worked to design an institution to assume the IANA responsibilities. Although the path to its creation was rocky, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was officially created in early October, 1998, just two weeks before Jon’s untimely death on October 16.
In 1998 there were an estimated 30 million computers on the Internet and an estimated 70 million users. In the ensuing decade, the user population has grown to almost 1.5 billion and the number of servers on the Internet now exceeds 500 million (not counting episodically connected laptops, personal digital assistants and other such devices). As this decade comes to a close, the Domain Name System is undergoing a major change to accommodate the use of non-Latin character sets in recognition that the world’s languages are not exclusively expressible in one script. A tidal wave of newly Internet-enabled devices as well as the increasing penetration of Internet access in the world’s population is consuming what remains of the current IPv4 address space, driving the need to adopt the much larger IPv6 address space in parallel with the older one. Over three billion mobiles are in use and roughly 15% of these are already Internet-enabled.
Jon would take considerable satisfaction knowing that the institution he worked hard to create has survived and contributed materially to the stability of the Internet. Not only has ICANN managed to meet the serious demands of Internet growth and importance in all aspects of society, but it has become a worked example of a new kind of international body that embraces and perhaps even defines a multi-stakeholder model of policy making. Governments, civil society, the private sector and the technical community are accommodated in the ICANN policy development process. By no means a perfect and frictionless process, it nonetheless has managed to take decisions and to adapt to the changing demands and new business developments rooted in the spread of the Internet around the globe.
Always a strong believer in the open and bottom-up style of the Internet, Jon would also be pleased to see that the management of the Internet address space has become regionalized and that there are now five Regional Internet Registries cooperating on global policy and serving and adapting to regional needs as they evolve. He would be equally relieved to find that the loose collaboration of DNS root zone operators has withstood the test of time and the demands of a hugely larger Internet, showing that their commitment has served the Internet community well.
As the very first individual member of the Internet Society he helped to found in 1992, Jon would certainly be pleased that it has become a key contributor to the support of the Internet protocol standards process, as intended. The Internet Architecture Board and Internet Engineering and Research Task Forces as well as the RFC editing functions all receive substantial support from the Internet Society. He might be surprised and pleased to discover that much of this support is derived from the Internet Society’s creation of the Public Interest Registry (PIR) to operate the .ORG top level domain registry. The Internet Society’s scope has increased significantly as a consequence of this stable support and it contributes to global education and training about the Internet as well as to the broad policy developments needed for effective use of this new communication infrastructure.
As a computer scientist and naturalist, Jon would also be fascinated and excited by the development of an interplanetary extension of the Internet to support manned and robotic exploration of the solar system. This very month, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will begin testing of an interplanetary protocol using the Deep Impact spacecraft now in eccentric orbit around the sun. This project began almost exactly ten years ago and is reaching a major milestone as the first decade of the 21st century comes to an end.
It is probable that Jon would not agree with all the various choices and decisions that have been made regarding the Internet in the last ten years and it is worth remembering his philosophical view:
“Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you receive.”
Of course, he meant this in the context of detailed protocols but it also serves as a reminder that in a multi-stakeholder world, accommodation and understanding can go a long way towards reaching consensus or, failing that, at least toleration of choices that might not be at the top of everyone’s list.
No one, not even someone of Jon’s vision, can predict where the Internet will end up decades hence. It is certain, however, that it will evolve and that this evolution will come, in large measure, from its users. Virtually all the most interesting new applications of the Internet have come, not from the providers of various Internet-based services but from ordinary users with extraordinary ideas and the skills to try things out. That they are able to do this is a consequence of the largely open and non-discriminatory access to the Internet that has prevailed over the past decade. Maintaining this spirit of open access is the key to further development and it seems a reasonable speculation that if Jon were still with us, he would be in the forefront of the Internet community in vocal and articulate support of that view.
A ten-year toast seems in order. Here’s to Jonathan B. Postel, a man who went about his work diligently and humbly, who served all who wished to partake of the Internet and to contribute to it, and who did so asking nothing in return but the satisfaction of a job well done and a world open to new ideas.
Corrected PIR mention; added
Internet Society's roundup of tributes
Posted by Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist
October 15, 2008
Blog Action Day
, an annual event that rallies blogs around the world to post about a common cause. This year's issue up for discussion is poverty, so we wanted to take a look at the relationship between access to information and social and economic development. The right information at the right time in the hands of people has enormous power. As someone who works for Google, I see evidence of this everyday as people search and find information they need to create knowledge, grow their business, or access essential services. But that applies primarily to the rich world, where economies are built on knowledge and presume access to information. What about the poor and developing countries where people are offline more than online? How do they benefit from the power of information?
In much of Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, rates of economic growth over the last decade have exceeded 5% every year. Despite this trend, poverty in many countries has remained constant. In Kenya, for example, the official poverty rate was 48% in 1981 (World Bank, June 2008). According to the
Kenya Poverty and Inequality Assessment
released by the World Bank this year, 17 million Kenyans or 47% of the population were unable to meet the costs of food sufficient to fulfill basic daily caloric requirements. The vast majority of these people live in rural areas and have even less access to the information that impacts their daily life. Data on water quality, education and health budgets, and agricultural prices are nearly impossible to access.
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year on providing basic public services like primary education, health, water, and sanitation to poor communities, poverty in much of Sub-Saharan Africa persists. Where does this money go, who gets it, and what are the results of the resources invested? That’s where we find a big black hole of information and a lack of basic accountability. How do inputs (dollars spent) turn into outputs (schools, clinics, and wells), and, more importantly, how do outputs translate into results (literate and healthy children, clean water, etc.)?
We simply don’t know the answers to most of these basic questions. But what if we could? What if a mother could find out how much money was budgeted for her daughter's school each year and how much of it was received? What if she and other parents could report how often teachers are absent from school or whether health clinics have the medicines they are supposed to carry? What if citizens could access and report on basic information to determine value for money as tax payers?
The work of The Social Development Network (SODNET) in Kenya is illustrative. They are developing a simple budget-tracking tool that allows citizens to track the allocation, use, and ultimate result of government funds earmarked for infrastructure projects in their districts. The tool is intended to create transparency in the use of tax revenues and answer the simple question: Are resources reaching their intended beneficiaries? Using tools like maps, they are able to overlay information that begins to tell a compelling story.
Google.org’s role, through
in East Africa and India, is to support, catalyze, and widely disseminate this kind of information to public, private, and civil society stakeholders that can use it to see more clearly what’s working, what’s broken and what are potential solutions. Leveraging platforms like Google Earth and Google Maps can help organizations disseminate their content widely and let people see and understand what was once invisible. Once information is visible, widely known, and easy to understand, we are betting that governments and citizens will pay more attention to leakages in the service delivery pipeline and feel empowered to propose solutions.
You can’t change what you can’t see. The power to know plus the power to act on what you know is the surest way to achieve positive social change from the bottom up. And when we consider the magnitude of resources invested in delivering public services each year, a 10% improvement globally would exceed the value of all foreign aid. We believe that is a bet worth making.
(Cross-posted from the
Posted by Aleem Walji, Head of Global Development Initiatives, Google.org
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