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):

YouTube Suggest

The always surprising video sharing service acquired by Google in October 2006 is constantly improving its search features and borrows many tricks from its parent company. The latest enhancement is an auto-complete feature that shows query suggestions as you start typing characters in the search box. You'll notice the obvious similarity between this feature and Google Suggest, a project that is about to finally graduate from Google Labs. YouTube Suggest has its own list of queries obtained from YouTube users, so it should offer decent suggestions.

"By suggesting more refined searches up front, Google Suggest can make your searches more convenient and efficient by keeping you from having to reformulate your query. Google Suggest might offer suggestions that you will find novel or intriguing," explains Google in an interesting FAQ.

The feature is enabled by default, but you can disable it in the "Settings". For now, YouTube Suggest seems to be live only for international sites like YouTube UK and only if you search from the homepage, but it should be available at YouTube's main site in the near future.

YouTube constantly experiments with new features and most of them are related to the way people navigate the site or discover new videos. A recent experiment added a search box below the list of related videos so that people can search and see the search results while watching a video. The only problem was that you couldn't add the results to the Quicklist in order to build dynamic playlists.

The Informational Distance Between Cities

Information Aesthetics points to an interesting visualization of the "informational" relation between cities. Two cities are "informationally" related if they are often mentioned together, so the visualization uses the number of Google results to approximate the distance:

Gdistance(w1,w2) = (#(w1)+#(w2)) / (#(w1+" and "+w2)+#(w2+" and "+w1)),
where #(w) is the number of Google search results for the query w enclosed in quotes.

This approximation could be improved by replacing "and" with "*", so that the words aren't necessarily separated by the conjunction "and". The Google distance is multiplied with the physical distance between cities to increase the connection between cities that are far away.

Among the cities that have a small "informational" distance: London and New York, Tokio and Sydney, London and Singapore City.

Another way you can use the number of Google results is to calculate the mindshare of a word or name within a domain. If you divide the number of search results for [nokia mobile phone] by the number of results for [mobile phone] you can find Nokia's Googleshare within the mobile space.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kai-Fu Lee on Cloud Computing

John Breslin highlights some interesting ideas from Kai-Fu Lee's keynote about cloud competing presented at the 17th International World Wide Web Conference (Kai-Fu Lee is the president of Google China from July 2005). He mentions six properties of cloud computing from Google's perspective:

1. User centric. "If data is all stored in the Cloud - images, messages, whatever - once you're connected to the Cloud, any new PC or mobile device that can access your data becomes yours. Not only is the data yours, but you can share it with others."

2. Task centric. "The applications of the past - spreadsheets, e-mail, calendar - are becoming modules, and can be composed and laid out in a task-specific manner. (...) Google considers communication to be a task" and that's the reason why Gmail integrates a chat feature for instant communication.

3. Powerful. "Having lots of computers in the Cloud means that it can do things that your PC cannot do. For example, Google Search is faster than searching in Windows or Outlook or Word" because a Google query hits at least 1000 machines.

4. Accessible. Having your data in the cloud means you can instantly get more information from different repositories - Google's universal search is one example of simultaneous search. "Traditional web page search does IR / TF-IDF / page rank stuff pretty well on the Web at large, but if you want to do a specific type of search, for restaurants, images, etc., web search isn't necessarily the best option. It's difficult for most people to get to the right vertical search page in the first place, since they usually can't remember where to go. Universal search is basically a single search that will access all of these vertical searches."

5. Intelligent. "Data mining and massive data analysis are required to give some intelligence to the masses of data available (massive data storage + massive data analysis = Google Intelligence)."

6. Programmable. "For fault tolerance, Google uses GFS or distributed disk storage. Every piece of data is replicated three times. If one machine dies, a master redistributes the data to a new server. There are around 200 clusters (some with over 5 PB of disk space on 500 machines). The Big Table is used for distributed memory. The largest cells in the Big Table are 700 TB, spread over 2000 machines. MapReduce is the solution for new programming paradigms. It cuts a trillion records into a thousand parts on a thousand machines. Each machine will then load a billion records and will run the same program over these records, and then the results are recombined. While in 2005, there were some 72,000 jobs being run on MapReduce, in 2007, there were two million jobs (use seems to be increasing exponentially)." This recent video has more information about Google's infrastructure.

Kai-Fu Lee thinks that outsourcing IT to a "trusted shop" like Google is the key to make using a computer simple and safe. "Entrepreneurs should have new opportunities with this paradigm shift, being freed from monopoly-dominated markets as more cloud-based companies evolve that are powered by open technologies."

There's a shift from the computer to the user, from applications to tasks, from isolated data to data that can be accessed anywhere and shared with anyone.

"Cloud computing liberates the user from having to remember where the data is, enables the user to access information anywhere once created, and makes services fast and powerful through essentially infinite information and computing. People are using cloud services to find, share, create, and organize information. People are also using cloud services to shop, bank, communicate, socialize. By using cloud computing, these capabilities will be accessible not only on PCs but also telephones, automobiles, televisions, and appliances. (...) Google is committed to help bring about the era of cloud computing, which we believe will facilitate services that are convenient, easy-to-learn, people-centric, scalable, and device-ready," mentions Kai-Fu Lee in the abstract.

Google Search REST API

More than one year after Google discontinued the SOAP Search API, it finally got a proper replacement. The AJAX Search API can now be used from any Web application, not just in JavaScript. The other two Google AJAX APIs for feeds and translations were updated for non-AJAX use, as well.

"For Flash developers, and those developers that have a need to access the AJAX Search API from other Non-Javascript environments, the API exposes a simple RESTful interface. In all cases, the method supported is GET and the response format is a JSON encoded result set with embedded status codes."

"Using the APIs from your Flash or Server Side framework couldn't be simpler. If you know how to make an http request, and how to process a JSON response, you are in business," says Mark Lucovsky. Here's a simple example for web search:

There are some differences between the old SOAP API and the REST one.

- the new API doesn't require a key
- there's no limitation for the number of queries
- it's much easier to use
- you can use the REST API for web search, but also for image search, news search, video search, local search, blog search and book search.

- you need to send "a valid and accurate http referer header"
- you can only get up to 8 results in a single call and you can't go beyond the first 32 results
- the terms of use are pretty restrictive: for example, you need to attribute the results to Google and you are not allowed to change the order of search results.

It's interesting to notice that Yahoo's search APIs are more developer-friendly and, although they require an application ID and have some usage limitations (5,000 queries per IP per day), they offer more features and they are more flexible, by also including XML output. Another important difference is that Yahoo doesn't require "a valid and accurate http referer header".

Philipp Lenssen suggests that it's much easier to just screenscrape the results, but search engines could change their code or block your requests.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

So When Do We Get Folders in Gmail?

- OK, I followed your advice and switched to Gmail. It's great, but when do we get folders in Gmail?

- Gmail already has something similar to folders: labels. The main difference between folders and labels is that you can add more labels to a message.

- Oh, I see, but I don't think it's very useful to add a message to more folders. I mean, labels.

- You could create labels to categorize your mail and some of the messages will certainly fit in more than one category.

- It doesn't work. I created a label for "Invitations" and I added the label to one of my messages, but it's still there in the inbox.

- That's because "inbox" is also a label and adding another label doesn't remove the other ones.

- So now I have to click on "Delete" to remove the message from my inbox, right?

- No, to remove a message from the inbox, click on "Archive".

- I thought "Archive" compresses my messages to save space.

- I'm sure that Google stores your email efficiently.

- Thanks for your help. Now I know how to use folders in Gmail. I select the message, click on "Archive" and then... Hey, wait a minute! My message has disappeared!

- You can still find it in "All Mail", one of the sections bellow Gmail's logo. "All Mail" includes all the messages, except those from the trash or flagged as spam.

- That's too complicated! So when do we get folders in Gmail?

Google's New Social Network: iGoogle

Google has a social network: orkut, but it's only successful in Brazil and India, without gaining too much traction in the US. With the launch of OpenSocial, an API for writing social gadgets, it was clear that iGoogle will play an important role in Google's second attempt to socialize. After all, OpenSocial applications are iGoogle gadgets with a social component.

Following orkut's model, iGoogle opened a sandbox for developers who write OpenSocial gadgets. The sandbox is probably a test for the next iteration of iGoogle: the personalized homepage turned into a social network. "The integration of OpenSocial with gadgets gives you an opportunity to enhance your content for users by incorporating social features. For example, a books gadget could display what a user's friends are reading, allow users to request to borrow books from friends' libraries, and show users books that their friends recently rated. As users share content with their friends, your gadget will naturally build a broad audience for distributing content and driving traffic," explains the new developer site for iGoogle gadgets.

iGoogle has tens of million of users, 50% of the users are from the US and it was one of the fastest growing Google products in 2006 and 2007. It's also the homepage for many Google users who want to personalize their experience by adding a theme and fresh information from the web. The new social component will not affect all the gadgets, so you'll still have gadgets for mail, weather or news, but some of the gadgets could share information with your friends. There's also a new canvas view that will show an expanded version of the gadgets, an integration with Google profiles and a newsfeed that shows your friends' recent activities.

Hopefully, the social component of iGoogle won't be too prominently promoted and people will be able to continue using the personalized homepage without dealing with friend invitations and viral gadgets. iGoogle will try to be the social connection between Google services, but this is a difficult mission for Google, a company that has never managed to build a successful social site.

iGoogle Gadget Maker
Google intends to integrate its social applications
Google to open up its social platform

Monday, April 21, 2008

Recent Searches To Influence Google's Results

Danny Sullivan reported earlier this month that Google will start to personalize search results based on the previous query. "For example, if someone were to search for [spain] and then [travel] after that, BOTH the ads and the organic results will be altered to take the previous query into account. To some degree, it will be as if the second query was for [spain travel]." According to some code from Google's sites, Google will use not just the previous query, but a list of recent queries.

Until now, Google personalized the results based on the search history only for users that were logged in and enabled the Web History service. Google created a profile from your search history and used it to disambiguate your queries and slightly alter the rankings for pages that were likely to match your interests.

The new signal for personalizing results (recent searches) should work without having to log in and could influence the results in a different way. In many cases, people constantly refine their queries by adding or removing keywords, but Google and other search engines don't use all these refinements to improve the results in real time. By connecting the related searches from a session, Google will understand more from what you intend to find and should deliver better results.

While search history disambiguates general queries, the list of recent searches connects the failed attempts to find an answer for a complex query and creates a more detailed description of your intentions. Search history could be Google's long-term memory and the recent queries could build the working memory.

Google Phishing Warning

After flagging search results that distribute malware, Google will also show warnings for web pages used for phishing. Most of these pages are active one or two days before they are taken down by hosting providers, but some of them could be indexed by search engines. While the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera have anti-phishing protection, a new security layer still have some usefulness.

"Warning - phishing (web forgery) suspected. The site you are trying to visit has been identified as a forgery, intended to trick you into disclosing financial, personal or other sensitive information," mentions the page displayed by Google instead of the search result.

Google also has a Safe Browsing API "that enables client applications to check URLs against Google's constantly updated blacklists of suspected phishing and malware pages." The API is used by Firefox and Google Desktop.

Search for Mapped Web Pages in Google Maps

Google Maps added the map view available at Google Experimental Search. Google extracts the most important locations from web pages and lets you see the search results on a map. To restrict your search to web pages, you need to click on "Show search options" and select "Mapped web pages" from the new drop-down. Google displays the most relevant web pages that include locations from your current map view, but you can change the location in your query using the operators near or in: for example, [Beethoven near Germany] or [Beethoven in Europe].

This is an entire new way to search the web by changing the focus from general information to geographical information. You could use it to search for people, companies, organizations, events, traditional food or anything that could be connected to a location.

Web pages include a lot of useful information that isn't properly used by search engines: addresses, phone numbers, dates, opinions, characteristics, quotes, examples. All of these could be used to create connections between people and some important dates, between products and people's opinion about them, between concepts and examples. Web search engines could answer to complex queries like "the general opinion about iPhone in the first week after its launch" by using the information available on the web and cleverly extracting attributes and connections.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Google WHOIS OneBox

Google shows a special OneBox when you search for "whois", followed by a domain name: for example, [whois]. The OneBox shows the date when a certain domain was created and date when it will expire. It seems that the only provider of information for this OneBox is Domain Tools.

Google launched a similar feature four years ago, but it was removed really fast because it scraped data from Network Solutions without permission. "Google quietly launched a service allowing visitors to look up data on domain name owners from public databases - collectively known as Whois - run by registrars worldwide. Although largely unpromoted, the service generated enough traffic to surpass Network Solutions' (NSI's) daily Whois use limits, which aim to stop spammers and other undesirables from harvesting information about its customers."

This is not the only direct answer displayed at the top of Google's search results: there are many OneBoxes that show maps, stock quotes, weather information, local time, books, definitions or facts.

{ via Matt Cutts }

Update: after 3 or 4 page views, DomainTools shows this message "You have reached your daily lookup limit as an guest user. Please login or register". Maybe Google should partner with companies that have less restrictions.

Yet Another Google Video Redesign

Google Video redesigned its homepage and now only includes a list of "hot" videos. "The Google Video home page allows you to browse and play hot videos directly from the home page, making it easier for you to discover popular, interesting videos from across the web. The hot video list is compiled by looking at a variety of signals including videos that most shared, viewed and blogged about."

The video watch page has also been redesigned and it's more flexible: you can hide the right sidebar, minimize the list of related videos and use pagination to read a long list of comments.

Videos from third-party online video sites are still displayed in an annoying frame, but Google Video's bar has been moved at the left of the page to leave more room for the videos.

The search page has two new options for displaying results: in a grid and in TV view, that lets you watch videos while also being able to see the list of results. An interesting new option in the advanced search page lets you search only closed captioned videos. Another good thing is that you can now watch videos inline for some new video sites: DailyMotion, Revver, Guba, Crackle, not just for YouTube and Google Video.

The updates make Google Video more user-friendly and easier to use, even if mixing a video search engine with a video hosting site makes the user experience confusing.

Watch Restricted YouTube Videos

I've noticed that an increasing number of YouTube videos are restricted to a limited number of countries, probably because the company that uploaded them doesn't have global distribution rights or because it wants to use different marketing strategies in other countries. Even if YouTube says that "this video is not available in your country", you can actually see it using a very simple trick: replace with (VIDEOID is the 11-characters video identifier).

Example of video blocked outside US (Madonna - 4 Minutes):
To see it, paste this in the address bar:

The same trick works if you don't want to log in when you get this message: "This video or group may contain content that is inappropriate for some users, as flagged by YouTube's user community. To view this video or group, please verify you are 18 or older by logging in or signing up." sends you to the player used by YouTube when you embed the video into a web page and this player doesn't perform country verifications and can't detect if you're logged in.

Finding the Right Signals to Rank Search Results

Udi Manber, VP for search quality at Google, talks in an interesting interview about search, personalization and the influence of social networks on finding the information you need.

Search has always been about people. It's not an abstract thing. It's not a formula. It's about getting people what they need. The art of ranking is one of taking lots of signals and putting them together. Signals from your friends are better signals, stronger signals. On the other hand, many searches are long-tail kinds of searches. If you're looking for what movies to see tonight, your friend can probably give you the best information. If you're looking for the address of the business, the Web as a whole can give you better information. If you're looking for something obscure about anything, again the web can give you much better information. It depends on the type of search you do and how to take all those signals and put them together.

The ranking algorithm is a recipe that takes into account many factors: an absolute value for the importance of a page, the relevance of the web page to your query, the location connected to the web page, the recency, the percentage of people with similar interests that found the web page helpful, the density of information etc. It's important to find the right signals, their importance and the contexts where you should apply them, but Google relies on engineers to adjust the recipe. At some point, Google will have to come up with an algorithm that automatically identifies potential signals.

"I found this surprising. Google manually comes up with tweaks to its search engine that only apply to a small percentage of queries, tests the tweaks, and then tosses them into the relevance rank? (...) Frankly, I thought Google was beyond this. Rather than piling hack upon hack, I thought Google's relevance rank was a giant, self-optimizing system, constantly learning and testing to determine automatically what works best," wrote Greg Linden in "The perils of tweaking Google by hand".

Google Maps Predicts Traffic Conditions

Google Maps can now predict traffic information for any day of the week and time of the day, based on past conditions. By default, if you click on the Traffic button in a supported area from the US, Google Maps shows real-time traffic information. "Comprehensive traffic data is available in over 30 major US metropolitan areas (including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and others), with partial coverage available in many more," according to Google Maps help center. There's also a traffic layer in Google Earth and Google Maps Mobile, but these applications don't include yet traffic prediction.

Subscribe to Authenticated Feeds in Google Reader

Google Reader is one of the many online feed readers that don't support authenticated feeds. This special kind of feeds requires a username and a password before displaying the content to protect sensitive information. An example of authenticated feed is Gmail's feed for unread messages, but you'll also find password-protected feeds for internal bug reports, private email distribution lists, etc.

FreeMyFeed wants to solve this problem by creating feeds that don't require authentication. The site acts as a proxy between the original feed and your feed reader, while promising that your credentials are safe. "Usernames and passwords are never stored on the server. The usernames and passwords are only parsed to retrieve your RSS feed and then are discarded." Rob Wilkerson explains that the credentials "are encrypted using a rotating algorithm and included in the new URI."

It's not a good idea to enter your username and password in any other place than the site where you created them, but FreeMyFeed could be useful for feeds that are not tied to important accounts. Make sure you don't share any item from the generated feeds.

Google News Quote Finder

Google News can now detect quotes in news articles and attribute them to their authors. If you search for people like Eric Schmidt, Pope Benedict XVI, President Bush, Angela Merkel or Fernando Alonso, Google News will display a relevant quote and a link to other quotes from recent news articles.

You can search inside the quotes, sort them by date, restrict them to the last day or the last week. Unfortunately the links to quote listings aren't very descriptive (here's one example) and there's no option to find the quotes related to a news cluster. By default, Google sorts the quotes by relevance and gives more weight to the quotes that are used often.

YouTube Search Enhancements

YouTube's search algorithms are increasingly smarter and borrow a lot of things from Google search: advanced operators, spelling corrections, related searches, query expansions. YouTube detects duplicate videos and shows the most popular copy in search results, followed by a link to the other videos. There's also an enhancement for videos that are split in two or more parts: YouTube displays a list of links to all of the episodes.

An Outdoor Campaign for Google Video

This very interesting outdoor campaign for Google Video Germany used a billboard imitating a real-life video player that captures the life as it happens. The tagline is "any film you can imagine", a simple message that encourages people to search for videos and to upload their own videos. AdFreak has an interesting explanation for the unusual idea: the see-through billboards suggest "that online video presents life in all its glorious randomness".

It's not very clear if the campaign was launched before or after the YouTube acquisition, but the fact that the video embedded below is from YouTube tells a lot about Google Video's success.

Google Earth 4.3 Adds New Navigation and Street View

The latest version of Google Earth brings a lot of interface changes and new features. There's a redesigned and improved navigation control that lets you change the perspective much faster. Here's the description from Google Earth's help center:

"1. Click the north up button to reset the view so that north is at the top of the screen. Click and drag the ring to rotate your view.
2. Use the Look joystick to look around from a single vantage point, as if you were turning your head. Click an arrow to look in that direction or continue to press down on the mouse button to change your view. After clicking an arrow, move the mouse around on the joystick to change the direction of motion.
3. Use the Move joystick to move your position from one place to another. Click an arrow to look in that direction or continue to press down on the mouse button to change your view. After clicking an arrow, move the mouse around on the joystick to change the direction of motion.
4. Use the zoom slider to zoom in or out (+ to zoom in, - to zoom out) or click the icons at the end of the slider. As you move closer to the ground, Google Earth swoops (tilts) to change your viewing angle to be parallel to the Earth's surface. You can turn off this automatic tilt (Tools > Options > Navigation > Navigation controls; Mac: Google Earth > Preferences > Navigation > Navigation controls)."

You can now display the sun by enabling View > Sun or clicking on the sun button from the toolbar. To create time-lapse views of sunsets and sunrises, click on the "play" button and watch the changes.

For some of the imagery, you can see at the bottom of the window an approximation of the date when it was taken. The Street View images from Google Maps are now available in a new Google Earth layer, which is not enabled by default.

Google Earth includes much more models in the 3D buildings layer for cities like: San Francisco, Boston, Orlando, Munich, Zurich. "Google has optimized the loading and performance of 3D buildings. When you first turn on the 3D Buildings layer near a city with models, you'll see simplistic versions of the buildings load up really fast, then they gradually get more solid and load more texture detail," explains the unofficial Google Earth Blog.

Google Earth 4.3 can be downloaded from Windows users that don't want to install the application using Google Updater can try this direct link. You'll probably notice that the Windows setup is much smaller: the size has been reduced from 12.7 MB to 7.36 MB. Unfortunately, the new version seems to be less stable and it uses more resources, but it's still in beta.

For Google, Online Video = YouTube

Whenever a Google product adds a feature related to video, YouTube comes into play. Google Talk's gadget lets you watch YouTube videos, orkut lets you add videos from YouTube and Google Video, personalized maps can include videos from the same two Google-owned services, content producers that want to add their videos to Google News need to host them at YouTube and now local business owners can add videos to their Google Maps listings, but only if they are hosted at YouTube.

"In addition to using Google Maps to get local business details, read reviews, and check out photos, I can now also get a sneak peek with embedded videos. Local business owners can easily add YouTube videos along with other content such as business details, photos, and descriptions to their listings. To do so, simply upload your videos to YouTube and ensure that the 'embed' option is turned on," explains Google LatLong Blog.

Online video is more than YouTube and Google Video, but Google seems to ignore this. Even if YouTube's US market share is 73.18% (according to Hitwise), it's unreasonable to think that YouTube should aggregate all the videos that are available online. Google should encourage diversity and choices, instead of selecting the most convenient options.

Google Updater, the New Installer for Google Software

Last year, I posted that Google intends to install all its applications through Google Updater, the central component of Google Pack. At that time, only some people were redirected to the integrated installer, but this behavior has become a standard practice.

Because some of the files from Google Earth were corrupted, I had to uninstall it. When I went to Google Earth's download page, Google informed me that I have to install Google Earth with Google Updater.

Google Pack's help center gives some reasons why it should be convenient to use the Updater, but most of them help Google promote other software. "The Google Updater makes the software installation process more convenient in several ways. First, it installs software easily with just a few clicks. Also, once the Google Updater is installed, you can choose to have a system tray icon notify you when new software becomes available. Finally, the Google Updater provides you with a central place from which you can download more Google software, as well as other software we think you'll enjoy." (my emphasis)

Probably the only reason why I use my computer is to install Google software and this updater finally helps me get things done. If I want to install Google Earth, it's obvious that I should be informed if Google launches other applications and I should be able to install them with a single click. Hopefully, in the next iterations of the Updater, the click will be eliminated and the new software will be installed automatically after analyzing my interests.

I installed Google Earth using the updater and the setup was launched in the background, with the default settings. Google Updater is installed as a system service that starts automatically, places an icon in the system tray and constantly pings Google to see if there are any updates for the Google software installed on your computer. By default, the application installs the updates automatically and can be uninstalled.

Google still offers the chance to install applications without the updater, but the page that points to the direct links is too difficult to find and has an inappropriate title. I'll repost the links here, for convenience.

Google Desktop for Windows:

Google Earth for Windows:

Google Toolbar 4 for IE:

This practice is not Windows-only. Google's Mac software is installed only with the updater. "Google Updater is the installer for Google products on the Mac. You can use Google Updater to see which Google software you have installed and to see other Google applications you might be interested in. Google Updater helps keep your software up-to-date by installing updates when they become available. And you can use Google Updater to uninstall Google Software." Probably the most outrageous part from the Mac FAQ is the answer to the question: how do I uninstall Google Updater? "To uninstall Google Updater, you first have to uninstall other Google software on your computer. You can't uninstall Google Updater while you have Google software on your computer because we need it there to keep your software up-to-date."

Maybe Google should focus less on "we" and more on "you". Most Google software already has an option to auto-update and this could be easily added to the applications that don't have it. If the installers are too confusing, Google could simplify them and remove the unnecessary steps. I don't want to imagine what would happen if each application installed a system service for auto-update and used your network connection to constantly check for new updates.

Update: Apparently, I was lucky because I used Firefox to install Google Earth. If you use Internet Explorer, Google also offers you the chance to install Google Toolbar and to set Google as the default search engine.

Google Starts to Index the Invisible Web

Google Webmaster Central Blog has recently announced that Google started to index web pages hidden behind web forms. "In the past few months we have been exploring some HTML forms to try to discover new web pages and URLs that we otherwise couldn't find and index for users who search on Google. Specifically, when we encounter a

element on a high-quality site, we might choose to do a small number of queries using the form. For text boxes, our computers automatically choose words from the site that has the form; for select menus, check boxes, and radio buttons on the form, we choose from among the values of the HTML. Having chosen the values for each input, we generate and then try to crawl URLs that correspond to a possible query a user may have made. If we ascertain that the web page resulting from our query is valid, interesting, and includes content not in our index, we may include it in our index much as we would include any other web page." For now, only a small number of websites will be affected by this change and Google will only fill forms that use GET to submit data and don't require personal information.

Many web pages are difficult to find because they're not indexed by search engines and they're only available if you know where to search and what to use as a query. All these web pages create the Invisible Web, which was estimated to include 550 billion documents in 2001. "Traditional search engines create their indices by spidering or crawling surface Web pages. To be discovered, the page must be static and linked to other pages. Traditional search engines can not see or retrieve content in the deep Web -- those pages do not exist until they are created dynamically as the result of a specific search."

Anand Rajaraman found that the new feature is related to a low-profile Google acquisition from 2005.

Between 1995 and 2005, Web search had become the dominant mechanism for finding information. Search engines, however, had a blind spot: the data behind HTML forms. (...) The key problem in indexing the Invisible Web are:

1. Determining which web forms are worth penetrating.
2. If we decide to crawl behind a form, how do we fill in values in the form to get at the data behind it? In the case of fields with checkboxes, radiobuttons, and drop-down menus, the solution is fairly straightforward. In the case of free-text inputs, the problem is quite challenging - we need to understand the semantics of the input box to guess possible valid inputs.

Transformic's technology addressed both problems (1) and (2). It was always clear to us that Google would be a great home for Transformic, and in 2005 Google acquired Transformic. (...) The Transformic team have been been working hard for the past two years perfecting the technology and integrating it into the Google crawler.

It's not clear what are the high-quality sites used by Google for the new feature, but this list includes some good options. Along with Google Book Search, Google Scholar, Google News Archive, this is yet another way to bring to light valuable information.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Download YouTube Videos as MP4 Files

An interesting side-effect of YouTube's recent push for higher quality videos is that most videos can be downloaded as MP4 files directly from YouTube. Until now, you could only get FLV files from your browser's cache or using one of the many websites that let you download YouTube videos. In fact, to download the MP4 files, you need to use the same URL like for FLV files and append "&fmt=18":

ID is the video's identification value, SIGNATURE is a value that prevents you from downloading the file just by knowing the ID. You could create this URL by looking at the source code of a YouTube page, but it's much easier to automatically generate it.

One way is to save the following link as a bookmarklet by dragging it to your Links bar (in Firefox, Opera) or right-clicking and adding it to your favorites (in Internet Explorer):

Download as MP4 (right-click and select Save '+ (navigator.appName=='Microsoft Internet Explorer'?'target':'link') +' as)';}void(0);">Get YouTube video

If you didn't manage to add the bookmarklet, this post has more detailed instructions.

When you want to download a YouTube video, click on the bookmarklet and you should see a new option below the embeddable code.

Because YouTube doesn't send the right MIME type, you shouldn't click on the download link. Right-click and select "save link as" or "save target as" and enter a proper name for the video. Make sure to use the .mp4 extension when you enter the filename.

Having to click on the bookmarklet is annoying, so this Greasemonkey script is a better alternative because it adds the download link automatically. It requires the Greasemonkey extension for Firefox or a similar plug-in for userscripts. Opera has built-in support for userscripts, so you only need to go to Tools > Preferences > Advanced > Content > JavaScript options, select the directory where you will put your script and copy the script to that directory.

YouTube's MP4 files have a higher resolution, stereo sound and can be played with applications like VLC, MPlayer, iTunes, QuickTime. Not all YouTube videos can be downloaded as MP4 files and the fallback format is FLV.

Note that YouTube's terms of use require you "not to access User Submissions or YouTube Content through any technology or means other than the video playback pages of the Website itself, the YouTube Embeddable Player, or other explicitly authorized means YouTube may designate," so these scripts could break YouTube's policies. The scripts only download files that are used by YouTube's player, so you may also find the videos in your browser's cache.

orkut Mobile

orkut, Google's social network, added a lot of features in the past year to be more competitive and to become more popular outside Brazil and India. Google Trends shows that the interest for orkut is declining, but it's likely that some people no longer search for "orkut" since Google India and Google Brazil added the service to the navigational bar in December 2007. orkut has around 120 million users, up from 50 million users in April 2007, but Brazil (53.99% of orkut users) and India (16.91%) continue to be the countries where orkut is popular, followed by the US (15.13%).

orkut was one of the few Google services that didn't have a mobile interface, but now you can access orkut mobile at The simplified interface shows the most recent scraps, updates from your friends, a link to your profile and a search box for orkut users. The mobile interface lets you write scraps, get birthday reminders and respond to friend requests. You can also use shortcuts to access the most important sections of the page.

There's also a new version of orkut for low bandwidth that displays less pictures. orkut will automatically switch to this new version depending on your connection, but you can opt to use it in the settings.

Collaborate on To-Do Lists and Notes in iGoogle

iGoogle added a new feature that lets you share gadgets with your contacts and allow them to edit the content from your gadgets. For example, if you share the To-Do list gadget with your friends or co-workers, they'll receive an invitation to add the gadget to their iGoogle pages and every time someone makes a change it will be propagated to all the instances of your shared gadget.

For now, the list of collaborative gadgets includes: to-do lists, notebooks, crossword puzzles, birthday reminders, but we'll see more interesting ideas as gadget developers can easily add this new feature.

"It's now possible for multiple instances of a gadget - on the home pages of different users - to access the same user-preference data, the part of the gadget state that is hosted by iGoogle. (...) It's a simple sharing model - last write wins, and a reload is required to see changes made by others."

To share a gadget, click on the small arrow from the title bar and select "Share this gadget". For most gadgets, you can invite your contacts to use them and optionally send your settings, but collaborative gadgets have a different dialog:

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Google Notebook Exposes More Exporting Options

Google Notebook updated the editing toolbar and to make it look more consistent with Google Docs. There are also new exporting options:

* you can export to HTML any notebook, not just public notebooks

* notebooks that include addresses can be visualized on a map and converted into a personalized map

* public notebooks already had feeds, but it's much easier to subscribe to the feeds by clicking on "export as RSS" in the Tools menu (ironically, Google uses the Atom format). This should be useful to track the changes in collaborative notebooks.

Google Notebook integrates with a lot of Google services: you can find a "Note this" option next to Google's search results, there's an option to import some text from public domain books in Google Book Search, Google Bookmarks are added to a special notebook, you can export a notebook into Google Docs to create a document or to save it as PDF, the latest version of Google Toolbar for IE integrates with Notebook, there's an iGoogle gadget and a cool integration with Blogger thanks to the hAtom microformat. Google Notebook is actually a web clipboard, a bridge between web applications and I expect to see options to identify structured content, bookmark videos, events, contact details, code snippets and more.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

User Interface Updates at YouTube

YouTube updated the design of its video watch pages by adding tabs for actions and showing statistics in a new container. The "Favorite" tab is the only one connected to an immediate action and it should be removed, while the favorite videos could be generated based on ratings. Hunter Walk, product manager at YouTube, says that the sharing options "are now contextual to the logged in user, so for example, if you use Digg a lot but not Facebook, Digg will be elevated to a persistent top-level display instead of Facebook".

The search results page has also been updated and the option to sort results by popularity is back. To restrict your search to one or more categories or to a certain language, check the new advanced search.

YouTube's personalized homepage lets you reorder the sections so you can place the featured videos at the top, but it's still less usable than the classic YouTube homepage.

Viewfinder - Integrate Photos in a 3D World Model

Viewfinder is an interesting technology that wants to bring photos to a software like Google Earth and display them as part of the satellite imagery.

"Geotagged photos, geographically indexed on a world map, either manually or via GPS, are an increasingly popular phenomenon. However, current implementations treat maps, and particularly 3D models, in fundamentally different modalities than photographs. The result is that photos tend to hover like playing cards, seemingly suspended over the world, remaining 2D objects in a 3D environment, and negating the transformative experience that we think should occur when combining images and a 3D world. (...) It's possible to place a photo in a 3D model in such a way that it appears seamlessly aligned with the model."

Google has already bought Panoramio, a Spanish photo sharing site that selected around 3 million geotagged photos to be added in a Google Earth layer. In October last year, Flickr had more than 42 million geotagged photos. All these photos could be used to compose a more accurate representation of the world. Combining this with projects such as Microsoft's PhotoSynth should result in new exciting ways to explore the world.

Create YouTube Playlists Dynamically

YouTube Fast Search is a cool web application that uses YouTube's API to create a way to both play videos and search for new videos at the same time. You can build a playlist from search results and add new videos to the playlist without interrupting it. The interface is similar to the one from MSN Video, but you can also edit the playlist and enlarge the video. Too bad that there's no option to save the playlist to your YouTube account or to import an existing playlist.

YouTube has the option to add videos from search results to a Quicklist and then play all the videos from the list, but you need to switch from the view mode to the search mode.

Track the Olympic Torch Relay

"An ongoing tradition from 766 B.C. has been to ignite the torch at the ancient site in Olympia, Greece. From March 24th until the start of August, the Torch Relay will travel across Greece, into Beijing, and then around the world through cities, oceans, and even the world’s highest mountain, Mt. Qomolangma (Mt. Everest). The relay's purpose is to spread the Olympic spirit as well as the message of peace and friendship, and also ignite the passion of the people around the world."

The Torch Relay can be followed using Google Maps and Google Earth. Google uses this opportunity to show that maps are valuable to track events and see the big picture, but it would've been nice to also see photos, videos and news related to this event. It's so easy to mix content from different sites and create something valuable like the iGoogle page for the Rugby World Cup or the page for Australia's Federal Election. The pages could also be used to attract more content: YouTube video responses, contributions on personalized maps, blog posts.

Google Earth Brings You the News

Google Earth added a very interesting layer that shows news from the New York Times that mention a certain place. Search for an address and you should see some small New York Times logos that hide previews from recent news articles.

Google LatLong Blog mentions that the layer is updated every 15 minutes, so it's probably the most up-to-date layer from Google Earth. "The New York Times offers geo-coded news, and Google Earth offers the platform for reading that news in a 3D browser. This is the first time we've endeavored to show news updated in real time, and we're very excited to work with this first-class publication to bring you the latest and greatest news."

It would be a great idea to port this layer to Google Maps and show the latest news from every place of the world.

Google App Engine: Write Your Own Google Apps

Google's applications could be useful and interesting, but they are just a small fraction from all the applications you may need. That's probably the reason why Google decided to open its infrastructure to third-party applications and released Google App Engine.

Google App Engine gives you access to the same building blocks that Google uses for its own applications, making it easier to build an application that runs reliably, even under heavy load and with large amounts of data. The development environment includes the following features:

* Dynamic webserving, with full support of common web technologies
* Persistent storage (powered by Bigtable and GFS with queries, sorting, and transactions)
* Automatic scaling and load balancing
* Google APIs for authenticating users and sending email
* Fully featured local development environment

For now, there are a lot of limitations: only the first 10,000 users who register at will be able to test the new service, you need to write your applications in Python (more languages will come) and the quotas are enough only for small to medium projects. "During this preview period, applications are limited to 500MB of storage, 200M megacycles of CPU per day, and 10GB bandwidth per day. We expect most applications will be able to serve around 5 million pageviews per month. In the future, these limited quotas will remain free, and developers will be able to purchase additional resources as needed." The limitations are reasonable if you think this is only a preview release and Google wants to get feedback from developers before the official launch.

The applications can be run locally using a SDK provided by Google or uploaded to a subdomain of or to your own site. There's already a gallery of applications that includes a chat room for teams, a movie quote site, a Python shell and more.

Google previously released Mashup Editor, "an AJAX development framework and a set of tools that enable developers to quickly and easily create simple web applications and mashups", but the new App Engine lets you build more complex applications. Kevin Gibbs explained more about Google's intentions at Google App Engine Campfire One.

Google App Engine provides an infrastructure for running web apps. By that, I mean that we're focused, specifically on web applications: making them easy to run, easy to deploy, and easy to scale. App Engine is different than a lot of other things out there: App Engine is not a grid computing solution-- we don't run arbitrary compute jobs. We also don't give you a raw virtual machine. Instead, we provide a way for you to package up your code, specify how you want it to run in response to requests, and then we run and serve it for you. You don't reserve resources, or machines, or RAM or a number of CPUs, or anything like that. It's a fluid system, that runs your code in response to load and demand. (...)

App Engine is a complete system. We provide ways to run your code, serve your static content, a database, request and application logs, methods to push new releases of your code, and more. Ultimately, we are trying to provide a simpler alternative to the traditional LAMP stack. (...) Finally, the other key part of App Engine is that we're providing you access to Google's infrastructure. The APIs and systems we are providing to you are built off of the same distributed, scalable infrastructure we use to power Google's other applications, like Google Accounts, GFS, and Bigtable. We're giving you access to those powerful building blocks, and giving you the ability to write real code and real apps that make use of them.

Usually, if you lower the entry barriers for a system, people will use it more often and the probability of building something great increases. Google wants to reduce the complexities of creating web applications and give developers the opportunity to spend more time writing code and less time building the infrastructure and scaling the application. The same way Amazon Web Services reduced the costs of running a start-up, Google App Engine could accelerate innovation by letting developers focus on what's important.

Advanced Search and Custom Views in Google Docs

Google Docs added an option to perform advanced searches. You can now restrict your search to the file's name or its content, select the sharing type, search only inside a folder or only for files modified in the past week. The interface is not very intuitive and it's very similar to Gmail's advanced search. Fortunately, you can save the search and create a new view that's accessible from the sidebar or from the small drop-down placed next to the search box.

The saved searches are actually custom views that could help you find documents faster. Create custom views for published documents, documents that are shared with you, starred spreadsheets or for documents last opened in the past 7 days.

Custom views could be a great addition to Gmail, while Google Docs lacks the powerful operators from Gmail. The list view from Google Docs looks more and more like a file explorer and should be used for any kind of files, not just for documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

Export Google Presentations to PowerPoint

Google Presentations (or Presently) finally added a feature that prevented most people from using it: exporting the presentations to a format that could be imported in Microsoft Office or OpenOffice. Now you can save your presentations as PPT and open them in your favorite desktop applications when you're offline or send them to other people. You can still export the presentations as PDF, a great format for printing.

Here's the list of formats supported by the three Google Docs applications:

Writely (documents)Trix (spreadsheets)Presently (presentations)
Microsoft Office formatsimport, exportimport, exportimport, export
OpenDocumentimport, exportimport, export---
RTFimport, export------
HTMLimport, exportexport---
TXTimport, exportimport, exportexport

Some other features that should be available soon in Presently: inserting tables, adding YouTube videos and viewing presentations offline.

Backup Your iGoogle Page

iGoogle, previously known as Google's personalized homepage, offers two options to backup your gadgets and feeds at the bottom of the settings page.

There's an option to backup the iGoogle page on Google's servers. While this may seem pointless, it's useful to backup your page before adding gadgets that might create problems.

The second option is to download an XML file that includes all the tabs, layouts and themes, the feeds, gadgets and their settings. The XML file can be imported in any iGoogle page, so this is a good way to migrate the page to a different Google account. You can also download the XML file to change the settings in a text editor and then upload the new version.