SiliconFilter

Mozilla's Asa Dotzler: "Chrome Team is Bowing to Pressure from Google's Advertising Business"

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Among the major browser vendors, Google’s Chrome is currently the only one that has not signed on to use the Do Not Track feature that Mozilla has been lobbying for. While Microsoft, Apple, Firefox and Opera have either already implemented this feature or will do so soon, Google is still holding out. According to Mozilla’s director of community development Asa Dotzler, the “Chrome team is bowing to pressure from Google’s advertising business and that’s a real shame.” Indeed, Dotzler says in his blog post, this situation is similar to what happened when Netscape released version 7.0 of its browser.

For Netscape 7.0, which according to Dotzler “was basically Mozilla 1.0 with a Netscape theme and a couple of proprietary Netscape features,” Netscape decided to remove the pop-up blocker that Mozilla 1.0 had just developed. The Netscape team had to bow to the pressure of AOL/Netscape as those sites depended on advertising money (including pop-up ads) to fund their work. The next version of Netscape did include the pop-up blocker, but excluded all Netscape/AOL/Time-Warner sites from this by default.

Pressure from Advertisers – Or Something Else?

It’s hard to say if it’s really pressure from Google’s advertising side that is keeping Chrome from supporting the Do Not Track feature. In its current form, browsers that support this feature just sent a header to the server that tells the publisher and advertiser that this particular user is opting out from being tracked. In its current form, this feature is – at best – a public demonstration that you would like to opt out, but advertisers don’t have to honor it. Indeed, you can’t even know if advertisers have seen it and intent to respect your choice. As such, pleading support to a feature that currently has no real effect is pretty easy at this point.

This could change in the long run, though. Given that various government agencies have started to look into online tracking and its privacy implications, online advertisers have every interest in supporting this feature if they want to continue to self-regulate without interference from Washington. In the comments on his post, Dotzler rightly notes that it’ll be impossible to get 100% of advertisers to agree to using this feature. Once you get a majority of them on board, though, you can “shame the remaining 20% by telling the user when they visit those sites that those sites aren’t honoring their wishes”

So what do you think? Is the Chrome team under pressure from the rest of Google to ignore this Do Not Track feature? Or is Google just waiting to see what happens and will implement this later?



10:37 am


Want Google's Ultra High-Speed Broadband? Move to Kansas City, Kansas

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Last year, Google announced that it would bring ultra high-speed broadband Internet to one community in the United States. After a long decision process, the search giant today finally revealed which community will be the first to enjoy Google-sponsored Internet access that’s more than 100 times faster than the U.S. average. Out of the 1,100 cities that applied for Google’s so-called “Fibre for Communities program, Topeka, Kansas probably went the furthest in attracting Google’s attention by renaming itself Google, Kansas. That was not enough, though, and Google today announced that it chose Kansas City, Kansas instead.

Google plans to start offering its fibre-based high-speed broadband service there in 2012. The company has already signed a development agreement with the city, but it still needs to get formal approval from the city’s Board of Commissioners.

When Google first announced this project in 2010, it said that it wanted to do this as an experiment to see what the “killer apps” for an ultra high-speed network would be and test how to deploy these networks on a large scale.



9:33 am


Think Quarterly: Google Launches Its Own Online Magazine (Updated)

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We hear a lot about Google’s relationship with publishers, but this week the search giant also quietly launched its own online publication based in the UK. Think Quarterly, which calls itself a “a breathing space in a busy world” is, as the name implies, a quarterly online magazine. The design feels somewhat reminiscent of Wired, with a strong focus on infographics and large photos (but without ads). The articles come both from writers inside of Google and freelancers and the publication is designed and edited by creative agency The Church of London.

This first edition mostly focuses on the topic of “data,” but the articles run the gamut from a discussion of Near Field Communication to an interview with “data superstar” Hans Rosling. The bias is obviously towards Google products, though some of the interviews could easily stand on their own in other publications.

Update: A Google spokesperson just sent me the following, clarifying that Think Quarterly will only have a very limited offline distribution:

"Like most companies we regularly communicate with our business customers via email newsletters, updates on our official blogs, and printed materials. This short book about data was sent to 1,500 of our UK partners and advertisers.

"There are only a limited number of copies, and they aren’t for sale or designed for anyone other than our partners – but anyone who’s interested can visit the companion website at www.thinkquarterly.co.uk."

think_quarterly_screen

Google made some interesting choices in presenting these articles. You can read the magazine (62 pages in this first edition) either in a full-screen view that recreates the magazine experience on the screen (this looks best on a big widescreen monitor) or as traditional online texts. You can also subscribe to the publication's RSS feed here.

It’s worth noting that a large part of the online reading experience is powered by Issuu and was not developed in-house by Google.



2:31 pm


Google Gets a Patent for Doodles

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It took more than 10 years, but after filing for a patent that covers “the use of an animated story line or a modified/customized company logo (“special event logo”) displayed on a web page” in April 2001, the U.S. Patent Office today finally granted Google’s Sergey Brin a patent for the company’s iconic Doodles.

Google Doodles are the variations on the company’s logo that it puts on its homepage to celebrate holidays and other  special events.

Google clearly thought ahead when it filed for the patent, because it doesn’t just include static images, but also animated objects, as well as video and audio information. These days Google changes its company logo almost daily and actually has a number of employees who do nothing but create these images.

Google Doodles holi 1

As far as patents go, this “invention” is pretty ridiculous. There is more to the patent than just the Doodles, though. It also covers the use of “an animated story line or a modified/customized company logo (“special event logo”) displayed on a web page. The story line may change periodically (e.g., hourly, daily, or weekly) to entice users to repeatedly access the web page to view the next episode in the changing story line.” So far, Google has not done this yet. While it has it has experimented with interactive logos in the past, the logos always remained the same throughout the day.

My favorite part of the patent’s text is this explanation of the Google Doodle as “a company logo [that] is modified with animated characters celebrating New Year’s Day. In the example 930, a company logo is modified with a turkey for Thanksgiving. In the example 940, a company logo is modified with a voter’s button for Election Day. Finally, in the example 950, a company logo is modified with an animated character for the Olympics.”

[via: Slashdot]



12:51 pm


Death to Content Farms: Google Tweaks Algorithm to Find More "High-Quality Sites"

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Google today made a major change to its search algorithm that will affect almost 12% of all queries. According to a blog post written by the company’s Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts, this change is meant to highlight high-quality sites and push down “sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.” While Google doesn’t mention content farms by name, there can be little doubt that this update is directly aimed at them and scraper sites that just copy content.

According to Google, this update doesn’t take any data from the Personal Blocklist Chrome extension into account, yet. The update does track well with the top blocked sites by Google’s users, though. Indeed, Google says the update addresses 84% of them, though it didn’t go into any details as to which sites specifically would be affected.  For now, this change is only in effect in the U.S. (where the content farm problem is most prevalent), but Google plans to roll this change out  “elsewhere over time.”

The SEO community is, of course, already discussing these updates, though given how recent these changes are, a lot of the discussion is based more on speculation than fact at this point. A number of publishers are already complaining that their sites’ ranking have been reduced drastically thanks to this update.

Overall, it’s hard to asses the extend of this update yet, but if Google is correct, then this update will hopefully mean that good content will once again be rewarded on Google and the so-called content farms can soon close up shop.

For a more in-depth look at how this change came about, also take a look at Danny Sullivan’s excellent post on Search Engine Land.

Image credit: pawpaw67



10:31 pm


Search Gets Personal

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Starting today, Google will integrate Social Search deeper into its main search results and will highlight whenever your friends shared this link on Twitter or Buzz. Even more importantly, Google will use these signals from your friends to personalize your search results if appropriate. If your friend shared a story about Google’s new Social Search feature on Google Reader, for example, this link will climb up in Google’s search results.

Until now, Social Search was relegated to the bottom of the search results page and only showed items that your friends actually created. Now that it also takes links your friends shared on Twitter and Google Buzz – but not Facebook – into account, it has become exponentially more useful. My old colleague Mike Melanson describes how this feature works in more detail on ReadWriteWeb. Google plans to roll this feature out over the next few days.

Cutts kilimanjaro

Across the Web, Search Gets Personal

The big trend here goes beyond the integration of social signals into search results, however. Today’s update to how Google displays its search results is part of a wider trend towards the personalization of search results. Here are a few examples: Just a few days ago, Bing announced that it will personalize results based on location (something Google has been doing for a while) and the links you have clicked on before. Earlier this week, Google announced a Chrome extensions that allows you to selectively block sites you don’t want to see in your ten blue links. With its slashtags, upstart search engine Blekko is making custom search engines the backbone of its service. Bing highlights likes from your Facebook friends when a relevant link appears in the results. All of the search engines now take your location into account when deciding which links to present to you.

For better or worse, companies like Google continue to learn more and more about our personal habits and those of our friends. It makes sense then, that this knowledge will sooner or later lead to completely personalized search results that aren’t based so much on the collective wisdom of the Internet (Pagerank), but on a sophisticated understanding of which links will likely be most interesting to the individual user.



1:06 pm


Google Gets into Fashion Trends with New Analytics Features for Boutiques.com

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Remember Boutiques.com, Google’s shopping site for fashion goods that launched in November 2010? Unless you are a regular Vogue reader and can’t wait for the New York Fashion Week to begin, chances are you don’t, but the site is doing quite well and Google just launched a number of new features for Boutiques.com. Most interestingly, Google is bringing some of its core competencies to the site by introducing two Google’s Analytics-like features called Designer Analytics for its partners and Trend Analytics for the rest of us.

According to Google, “Designer Analytics shows what colors, shapes and patterns are most loved and hated broadly (in categories such as shoes, dresses and handbags) and even down to how specific items are performing. Designers can also see how their stats compare to brands like them.”

In addition to this, Boutiques.com now also features Trend Analytics, which are available to all users and meant to give “curious fashionistas a view into the latest, site-wide fashion trends.” Thanks to this, you can now easily find out what this year’s hottest colors, products and must-have trends are without having to wait for Anna Wintour to tell you what to buy.

Designer anayltics for print jpg 667×1600 pixels

Google also made some other updates to Boutiques.com, including enhanced photo galleries and the ability to upload videos for its partners.



10:57 pm


Going Multilingual: Hands-On With Google Translate for iPhone

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Last month, Google launched an Android app for Google Translate, which allows users to write or speak a phrase in one language and then read or hear a translation in another. Today, Google also launched a native iPhone version of this tool, which works surprisingly well – though only while you have an Internet connection. The app accepts voice input in 15 languages (including German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese), as well as text inputs in over 50 languages. Spoken translations are available for 23 languages.

Update: Since Google launched this version of the app, it has now also launched another version of Google Translate with handwriting recognition.

The app has a number of nifty little features, including a full-screen view to make it easier to the translation to whoever you are trying to communicate with, dictionary results for single works and the ability to star translations for phrases you expect to use more than once.

google translate for iphone

A tool like this isn't very useful, though, if the translations aren't very good. Thankfully, though, Google generally does an excellent job here. No machine translation is ever perfect, but for the most part, the translations – while sometimes comical – are close enough and the voice recognition and synthesis work very well.

No Offline Mode

The problem with the app, though, is that it only works while you have a working network connection as all the translations happen on Google's servers. So unless you are willing to pay high roaming costs or have access to a WiFi network, chances are the app won't be of much use when you are trying to figure out how to buy a metro ticket in Paris or order dinner in Beijing. In these situations, an app like WordLens or an offline dictionary app is far more useful.



1:13 pm


Google's Logo Dives 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (with Accelerometer Support)

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It isn’t quite the Pacman doodle, but today’s version of Google’s iconic logo introduces a whole new degree of interactivity to the animated logos the company sometimes produces for special occasions. Just in time for Jules Verne’s 183rd birthday, the company produced a whimsical logo that allows you to steer the submarine from Verne’s famous novel “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” with the help of your laptop’s or tablet’s built-in accelerometer. You can also play along by using the keyboard.

My Laptop has an Accelerometer?

Quite a few people will likely be surprised that their laptops have built-in accelerometers and that their browsers can access these (most modern MacBooks should work just fine, for example). As for browsers, today’s doodle works best on the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox. We also tested it on an iPad, where it worked perfectly well (though you probably want to lock the screen rotation).

The doodle really isn’t so much a game as a showcase for what developers can do with the help of modern browsers and web technologies like CSS3. The folks on Reddit will be happy to hear that Google’s ocean includes more than one narwhal.

Google 20000 leagues under the sea verne

Here are the images Google used to create the 3D effect in the doodle:



12:08 am


Mobile Gmail Gets a Priority Inbox

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Gmail’s Priority Inbox has been a major hit for Google and, according to the company’s own research, saves its users a lot of time. Until now, though, it was only available in the desktop and Android versions of Google’s email service. Starting today, you can also access it in the Gmail mobile web app on most mobile browsers that support HTML5. These include early Android devices that don’t natively support Priority Inbox yet, as well as Apple iOS devices (version 3 and up).

According to Google’s own research, the average Priority Inbox user spends “6% less time reading mail overall, and 13% less time reading unimportant mail.” On a mobile device, where users generally want to get important information even faster than on the desktop, this new feature has the potential to save users even more time.

Chances are that one of the next versions of Apple’s iOS will natively support Priority Inbox. Apple’s slow release schedule for iOS often makes the native email client feel a bit antiquated given how often Google releases new features.

Priority Inbox



12:10 pm


Hiybbprqag: Google Claims Bing is Copying its Search Results (Updated)

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There is a major scandal brewing in the tech world this morning that has the potential to greatly tarnish the reputation of Bing, Microsoft’s Google-challenger. According to Search Engine Land‘s Danny Sullivan, Google thinks that Microsoft is copying some of its search results. That’s about as serious an allegation as there can be in the search engine world. In an early statement, Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s director of Bing does not deny this and told Sullivan that Bing uses “multiple signals and approaches” when thinking about ranking.

So what happened? According to Search Engine Land, Google noticed that some of Bing’s search results looked more and more like Google’s over the last few months. In order to test this theory, Google set up a sting operation. Starting in mid-December, Google engineers used laptops that ran Internet Explorer and with both the Suggested Sites and Bing Toolbar turned on to search for around 100 terms that were either made up or barely ever searched for. Among these terms were nonsense words like hiybbprqagindoswiftjobinproduction and mbzrxpgjys. Most of these returned either none or very poor results on Google and none on Bing.

[notification type=”alert”] Update: Microsoft just published an official reaction on the Bing blog, acknowledging that it uses” the clickstream data we get from some of our customers, who opt-in to sharing anonymous data as they navigate the web in order to help us improve the experience for all users.”

Harry Shum, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Bing, argues that Google created this controversy as a publicity stunt: “What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking. It was a creative tactic by a competitor, and we’ll take it as a back-handed compliment.”

[/notification]

Hiybbprqag bing 1

Google then set up fake search results for these terms that were accessible over the Internet but, given the nature of the search terms, would never be seen by real users. After just two weeks of running this experiment on these laptops with the Bing toolbar and IE’s Suggested Sites feature turned on, Bing started to return the exact same results for the terms used in Google’s honeypot sting. It’s important to note that this only happened for 7 out of the 100 terms Google experimented with.

Using IE, Suggested Sites and the Bing Toolbar to Copy Google Search Results

How did this happen? The likely explanation for this is that Bing uses the signals it gets from users who use the Bing Toolbar and Suggested Sites features to enhance its own search results. So whenever somebody who has these tools installed searches on Google, Bing gets this information. As Sullivan points out, this is perfectly within the realm of Microsoft’s privacy policy, but most users are likely not aware of it. Basically, Bing looks at what Internet Explorer users are clicking on when they use Google and then molds its own search results accordingly.

While that’s oddly clever and likely benefits Bing’s users, it also doesn’t feel right at all. The evidence, as presented by Google, is clearly damning for Bing. We expect to hear more from Microsoft about this over the course of the day and will update this post as warranted.



9:42 am


Google Introduces a Priority Inbox for Your Documents

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Google Docs just announced a user interface overhaul of its documents list. This new interface makes it easier to organize and find the documents you upload to Google Docs. Google introduced a set of filters that now allow you to organize your files by type, visibility state (whether you shared it online, with friends, etc.), last modified date and, of course, by name.

In addition, Google Docs can now organize files by priority – similar to Gmail’s Priority Inbox. Just like in Gmail, this new feature looks at a number of signals to evaluate how important a file is to you and moves the most relevant documents to the top of your list.

Google Docs priority-1.jpg

Google Docs now also features a preview pane that shows thumbnails of your documents and some basic information about them. Next to this, Google also renamed “Folders” to “Collections.” Files, according to the company, can “live in multiple collections.” All of this culminates in the new “Home” screen that allows you to quickly access the documents you access the most often.

Another welcome new feature that makes the web app even more like a desktop app is that you can now use your Shift or Control keys to select multiple files.

The refresh will be rolling out over the next few days. For Google Apps for Business users, the roll-out will take a bit longer if your administrator hasn’t enabled pre-release features for your company.

Google Docs_new_list-1.jpg



12:47 pm


Google Earth Brings 3D Buildings to the Virtual San Francisco Bay Area

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Google just announced that Google Earth now features high-quality 3D-models of virtually all of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Google’s hometown of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Oakland, Redwood City, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Sunnyvale. To see this expanded 3D coverage, you will need to turn on “3D Buildings” in Google Earth.

If you are using Google Earth 6.0 – the latest version currently available – you will also be able to see 3D trees in San Francisco.

Google already offers 3D buildings in other cities around its virtual globe in Google Earth, including New York. It is also worth noting that Microsoft’s Virtual Earth application was among the first to feature 3D buildings. Microsoft was able to generate these relatively quickly by using radar data to create its models while Google seems to be using a more manual hands-on approach.

If you would like to improve how your own building looks like in Google Earth or help create more 3D buildings, you can use Google’s easy to use Building Maker and SketchUp tools to do so.



10:58 am


Death by Zillow? Google Retires Google Maps Real Estate Listings

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In 2009, Google launched real estate listings as one of the search options in Google Maps. Apparently, this was not a major hit, as the company today announced that it is retiring this feature because of “low usage” and “the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate websites.”

Google also plans to shut down the Google Base API, which listing providers used to submit their listing to Google Maps. According to the company, this posed major “infrastructure challenges.” Given the low usage of the service, it probably didn’t make sense for Google to re-engineer this API just for real estate listings as the new API is focused on inventory data for stores.

Killed by Zillow?

It’s worth noting that Google never really gave its real estate listings first billing in Google Maps. Unless you knew that feature was there, you would have only really stumbled upon it by accident. Now that sites like Zillow, Estately and others have cornered the market for these listings already, it probably makes more business sense to focus on helping real estate agents market their businesses to potential customers than on spending its engineers’ time on building a better real estate search experience (though if there is one market I can think of that could use even more disruption from the Internet, it’s real estate).

real estate portland Google Maps.jpg



12:59 pm


Don't Track Me: Google Makes Opting Out of Ad and Data Tracking Easy

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About two years ago, Google launched a browser plugin that allowed users to opt out of the company’s ads tracking mechanism. By tracking your moves around the Internet, Google – and most other advertising companies – can ensure that you see relevant ads (read: ads you are likely to click) on the pages you visit. Today, just a few hours after Mozilla announced its plan to offer a do-not-track tool for Firefox, Google announced its own Chrome plugin that allows users to permanently opt out of personalized ads and data tracking from not just Google but a wide range of other online advertising companies as well.

According to Google, there are currently 50 advertising companies that are part of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), including the 15 largest ad networks, that will now let you opt out of data tracking through this plugin. While the add-on is currently only available for Google’s own browser, the company has released the source code on an open-source basis and plans to make it available for other browsers as well.

Keep My Opt-Outs Chrome Web Store

Until now, Google’s opt-out mechanism – and that of its competitors – worked reasonably well, but every time you cleared your browsers’ cookies, you would lose your settings. This new tool makes your choices permanent.

Once you have installed the plugin, you can head over to About Ads, the “Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising” to check if the plugin works.

So what changes once you install the plugin? According to Google, “you may see the same ads repeatedly on particular websites, or see ads that are less relevant to you.” Not much of a price to pay if you want to keep your browsing habits a bit more private.

Clearly, Google isn’t doing this just out of the goodness of its heart. There has been a lot of pressure on online advertising companies to enhance their users’ privacy. In the U.S., for example, the FTC just issued a major report on Internet privacy in December that endorses the idea of a “do-not-track list.” Instead of dealing with federal regulations, the advertising industry would obviously prefer to self-regulate and plugins like this are a step in this direction.

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10:47 am