Monday, April 28, 2008

More Synergy Between Google's Communication Services

Google Talk has four flavors (Google Talk, Gmail Chat, Google Talk Gadget and Google Talk Labs Edition) and all of them have different features: you can transfer files only in Google Talk, chat with AIM contacts only in Gmail, get calendar notifications only in Google Talk Labs Edition and upload pictures from webcam only in the gadget. It's quite confusing to switch between all these implementations of the same service. Apparently, the main reason behind the launch of Google Talk Labs Edition was to unify these versions in a common platform. Here's a recent post from Ollie, Google Talk Guide:

We certainly haven't forgotten about our client users and we've been listening to your comments (here, in the Google Talk Help Discussion Group, and on the feedback forms). We hear you loud and clear; you love the client and you want it to have all the great new features that have been added to Gmail Chat or the Google Talk Gadget. We know that it's important to be able to chat inside and outside of your browser and that it's important to have a full array of features at your fingertips in both places. In short, you want to be able to choose how to connect to the Google Talk service without having to make any major feature trade-offs. We're completely with you on this one -- we want that too!

Now, I suspect some of you are thinking: if you're with us on that, why aren't all features available on the client right now? Well, we've got a lot on our plate here at Google Talk and we're always negotiating what we can get done. At the moment, we're focusing our energy on developing platforms that will let us make Google Talk better for all our users, whether they want a web-based experience or a client experience. There is still much to done, but we're committed to continually improving the Google Talk user experience for everyone.

As Jeff suggested in the comments, all these delayed Google Talk updates could be caused by a future integration with GrandCentral. "Although you haven't heard as much from us in the past few months as you did before, we are working hard every day on the next great version of GrandCentral and a ton of cool new features," informs up a post from GrandCentral Blog.

Google Docs Lives to Share the Words

Mike Riversdale wrote the best article I've read about Google Docs. "Google Docs ... so what - the ONE reason why you should care" doesn't talk only about Google Docs, it's also about Zoho, wikis or any other tool that lets you write, collaborate and share your documents. It outlines the major difference between Google Docs and office suites like Microsoft Office or OpenOffice: Google Docs is built for a connected environment.

Documents (PC-based I'm thinking) are fundamentally about "one person". The document you edit looks lovingly into your eyes proclaiming ever lasting love just for you. If someone else tries to muscle in on this close(d) relationship they will get told to go away, I am with someone else.

Of course the words inside the document want to be loved by all and to love all. They force the document to dump one person and love another in a serial monogamy type of way. The document that was only for you will quite easily tell you to go away as they are now in a one-on-one relationship with someone else...

This issue - words love all / documents love one at a time - is a fundamental issue that many have tried to solve using any number of clever means. We've had software attempting to mediate the differences - every electronic document management (EDMS) system you've battled against lives this category. We've had consultants claiming to solve it via changes in work practices - 'workflow" and the bottlenecks they employ.

The most common way employed by everyone ever is ... copy the document. The words love this - they can love more and more people, more words can join them as they spread around the network - you can put in your words, I can add my words, Stevens from Accounts can remove the words he doesn't want - the words are out there, they love to be free and are loving all.

But once set free they're bloody near impossible to reign back in, for a start where the frig are they - out there in the wilds of the electronic world running free is all well and good until some poor sod has to try and reign them in. (...)

Google Docs doesn't live in the 'document' world. Oh it has similar naming conventions, it uses all the jargon that we're used to and it pretends to be a document ... but it's not because it comes from the 'words' world view. It knows that the words you're gonna edit are, 99.9% of the time, going to want to be loved by many more than you. And being on the Web they know that the world of connected people at your fingertips is massive. Not only is there the list of attractive people in your contacts list but there is everyone with an internet connection!

Google Docs lives to share the words:

* knows that words want to be shared and that's why you've typed them.
* its world view knows/understands its connected environment
* its capabilities are built to use this environment

Google Me (The Movie)

"Egosurfing (also called vanity searching, egosearching, egogoogling, autogoogling, self-googling, or simply Googling yourself) is the practice of searching for one's own given name, surname, full name, pseudonym, or screen name on a popular search engine, to see what results appear." (Wikipedia)

"It all started when I Googled my name," says Jim Killeen, described by Washington Post as a "failed Los Angeles actor". "At 38 he was unmarried, no children. The movie stardom for which he'd left Detroit had never materialized; he'd eventually launched a business providing chair massages in poker halls for a dollar a minute. It was surprisingly lucrative but (perhaps not surprisingly) unfulfilling."

In search of his own identity, Jim decided to meet other people who share his name and to find their stories. Google was the most accessible way to find other Jim Killeens from all over the world: a cop from New York, a priest from Ireland, an engineer, a swinger. Google Me (The Movie) is a 96 minutes documentary that describes his cathartic journey. The full video is available for a limited timed at YouTube.

Google Me is an invitation to rediscover yourself by listening to other people's stories. If you can't watch the whole movie, the first 10 minutes are very special.

New in Google Docs: Insert Videos, Edit CSS

There are so many updates at Google Docs, that you'll need many hours to explore them and start to use them.

You can now access your browser's contextual menu by pressing Shift while right-clicking. This might be useful if you want to search the text from a document online or to use other features included in your browser.

If you don't want to convert a document to PDF and print the generated file, the option to print the document as a web page is back in the File menu. For simple documents, this should be a better option.

For better customization, Google Docs lets you define CSS styles for your documents: Edit > Edit CSS. Those who know CSS will find it faster to define styles and use them in the HTML code. The most important limitation is that you can't use images that are not hosted by Google Docs in your CSS rules. This page shows you how to add watermarks, repeating backgrounds, styled headers, image borders using CSS.

Presentations can now include videos, obviously only from YouTube, but at least you can find videos directly from Google Presently. "Videos can help you make a point, command the attention of your audience, or even add humor to your presentation," points out Google Docs Blog. Unfortunately, when you export your presentations as PPT, YouTube videos are replaced with still frames.

To write some text that might guide you while presenting, use the new speaker notes feature. "These notes will be visible to you and your viewers in presentation mode or when you print your slides."

Google Docs Blog also mentions that everyone who uses the English interface should be able to view and edit documents offline. "When we first announced offline access several weeks ago, it was limited to viewing and editing word processing documents. Now, we've added view-only offline access to spreadsheets and presentations as well."

Update at Google Product Search

The service formerly known as Froogle, Google Product Search, has received one of the most importance updates since it was launched, back in 2002. For some queries like [cell phone] or [scanner], Google detects identical products that are available in multiple online stores and lets you compare prices, read reviews and technical specifications on a single page. Until now, Google Product Search linked directly to the online store's web page and didn't include product reviews or detailed information about a product, like you can still see if you search for [barney].

Other comparison shopping sites like Shopzilla, MSN Shopping and Yahoo Shopping already have this feature and are more established destinations for finding products online. It's interesting that even Froogle used to include price comparison for an individual product, but the feature has been removed at some point. A mobile version of the site still waits for an update and Google Base needs more visibility.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Google Annoyances

While there are a lot of things to love about Google, some strange annoyances manage to balance the situation. Here are 10 annoyances that are in need for a fix:

1. Every time you go to, Google Analytics asks you to enter your password, even if you are already logged in. One workaround is to bookmark

2. "New features!". Google's products are updated pretty frequently, but sometimes they show this message for months, even if the features are no longer new. Some pathological examples: Google Calendar and Picasa Web Albums.

3. The inconsistent navigation bar. There's no consistency here: some of the links send you to search results, other links send you to homepages. Some of the pages open in a new tab/window, other pages open in the same tab/window. The list of links is different, depending on the current service, and the ordering is not predictable.

4. Search results with tracking code. Because Google needs to track the search results you click on in order to add them to Web History, it replaces their addresses with redirects like: That means you can no longer right click on the link and copy the location. Some workarounds: disable/pause Web History, log out or use a Greasemonkey script.

5. Google Updater. An annoying and intrusive way to install Google software, without providing an alternative for people who like the classic installer.

6. Set Google as my default search and notify me of changes. Every Google software has the mission to make Google your default search option in Internet Explorer (it's already the default option in other browsers), but also to install a notifier that warns you when other software tries to change the default search engine. Usually, the option can be disabled, but Google's wording is vague.

7. Blogger comments. It's hard to create something worse than Blogger's comments: they open in a new page with a different layout, the first option is to log in with a Google account, there's no spam filtering etc.

8. Posting a message at Google Groups. It usually takes one minute for your post to appear on the site, but Google should show it instantly.

9. When you translate a web page, Google Translate shows the original text in a bubble. Google's JavaScript code interferes with other web pages' code and the result is usually terrible. Another downside is that you can't copy the text from a translated web page. One workaround would be to block the JavaScript file, but it keeps changing its address.

10. Google Video has the worst advanced search page. If you search for something and click on "advanced search", your query is lost. The page doesn't put the focus on the first input box and pressing Enter has no effect.

11. Click on a broken link for a Blogger blog and Google is glad to inform you that "the blog you were looking for was not found". Pretty bad for an error message that should've been helpful.

Did you find other Google annoyances?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Radio Interview with Marissa Mayer

(Hopefully fair-use thumbnail of a photo)
from Marissa Mayer's public album

KQED FM hosted one of the most interesting interviews with Marissa Mayer, Vice President for Search Products & User Experience at Google. Some tidbits:

- because of the limited environments where you are able to search and because of the small number of options to express your searches, you search less often than you should. For example, you can't find web pages that describe an idea and you can't speak to a search engine.

- the goal for Google Street View is to find what something looks like (e.g.: the door to a museum).

- Google could make $80-200 million/year by adding ads to Image Search, but people would use the product less.

- Google shows fewer ads to make them more relevant and more meaningful to users.

- Google builds products for a broad audience of users, so the products have to be simple and easy to use.

- the ad targeting in Gmail works by finding the most relevant words from a message and then listing ads that are related to those words.

- Larry Page and Sergey Brin read some studies that showed it's good to have around 25% of the technical workforce women to get a balanced environment and managed to maintain this proportion inside Google.

- Google does a small amount of outsourcing for testing and user interface design.

- the median age for Google's employees generally follows the average between Larry's age and Sergey's age.

- 80% of the calls to GOOG-411 return satisfactory results.

- there are more than a million of books in Google Book Search and the average number of pages for a book is 300, so Book Search has a similar index with Google's index from 2000.

- no plans for building a desktop operating systems.

- the public version of Google Health will be launched shortly.

The interview can be downloaded as an MP3 (24 MB) or listened using the player below (52 minutes):