SiliconFilter

Is There Still a Future for Google Knol?

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Remember Google’s Knol? The company’s answer to Wikipedia? If you don’t, you are not alone. Indeed, it’s questionable whether Google itself remembers Knol. As the intrepid Google-watchers at the Google Operating System pointed out yesterday, not only does the site seem to suffer from major performance issues, but the site’s software hasn’t been updated for over a year now. Before that, Google updated the site’s release notes at least once per month.

While it started out as a product with lots of hype and some good activity from its users and even support from some scientific communities, Knol today is simply a mess. While the homepage shows a widget with the most discussed, top viewed and highest rated Knols, none of those links actually work. There are still featured articles on the site, but the fact that these receive fewer than 200 pageviews per week indicates the low level of traffic on the site today. The articles featured under the “What’s New” headline are often more than a month – and sometimes more than a year – old. The view count for these articles on the homepage is also completely off and just loading the homepage currently often takes close to a minute. As Frank Watson notes on SearchEngineWatch, the site also suffers from issues with its RSS feeds and from a steady influx of spammers.

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There does seem to be a healthy science community on Knol, though, which could make it harder for Google to shut the site down quietly.

For now, it looks like Google has simply abandoned the site and whoever used to be in charge of upkeep has moved on. Keeping it up and running is probably so cheap that it’s easy enough for a company of Google’s size. With Google Notebook, it has set a precedent for keeping abandoned services up and running without developing them any further. Maybe that’s what the company is trying to do here as well.



6:18 pm


Google Tries to Clarify Why It's Dropping Support for H.264

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Very few developments in the tech world this week got as much attention as Google’s announcement that it would slowly drop support for the H.264 video codec from its Chrome browser. Given how ubiquitous H.264 is on the Web today – though it is also encumbered by patent and licensing issues – quite a few pundits shook their heads at this development. Today, Google published a more detailed explanation for this decision.

In this, Google product manager Mike Jazayeri explains that these changes will only affect the HTML tag, where the standards organizations involved have reached “an impasse.” Mozilla, for example, won’t support H.264 for the tag anytime soon, while the current versions of Apple’s and Microsoft’s browsers offer support for this codec. Given that different browser now support different codecs, Google argues that “core web technologies need to be open and community developed to enable the same great innovation that has brought the web to where it is today. These facts led us to join the efforts of the web community and invest in an open alternative, WebM.”

Google also notes that it has to pay royalties for using this codec and that there is no guarantee that licensing fees for H.264 won’t go up in the future.

We Don’t Want to Control WebM

When Google first made its announcement earlier this week, a lot of pundits speculated that Google wants to control web video by pushing its own codec to the front of the pack. In his post today, Jazayeri addresses this question quite diplomatically and argues that Google expects “majority of organizations and individuals contributing to WebM won’t be affiliated with Google or any single entity.” Be that as it may, I don’t think that this answer will satisfy a lot of the company’s critics.

“Few sites use it today.”

Another point of criticism we heard a lot this week was that publishers will not be forced to support multiple copies of their content and encode their video is multiple formats – something that can be difficult for small publishers to do.



2:36 pm


Google Plans to End H.264 Video Support From Chrome in Favor of Open Formats

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Google just announced that it plans to fade out support for the widely used H.264 codec from its Chrome browser “in the next few months”. Instead, Google will favor the open Theora video codec and its own open WebM (VP8) codec.

This is an extremely bold move on Google’s part, as H.264 is currently the most popular video codec on the net, though it is encumbered by licensing issues and software patents. Indeed, these issues were one of the reasons why Google launched the WebM project to begin with, but few ever expected Google to drop support for H.264 in favor of other open standards this quickly.

While WebM is an interesting technology, few third-party services currently make use of it. Google will likely drive adoption of this standard because of today’s announcement, but it remains to be seen if others will follow Google’s move.

As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber rightly notes, there are currently no hardware decoders for WebM on the market, while most mobile devices can handle H.264 natively. This means that battery live will suffer on these devices. Developers can’t drop H.264, instead, as Gruber points out, they will have to support both codecs.

Also, given that H.264 video will continue to play even on Chrome as long as Adobe’s Flash Player is installed (and its part of the default install of all version of Chrome), developers really don’t have a lot of incentive to go all out in their support for WebM.



3:33 pm


Google’s Super-Fast URL Shortener Gets an API: Coming to an App Near You Soon

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Goo.gl, Google’s fast URL shortener, just got an API that will make it easier for developers to add it to their own applications. Goo.gl launched as a feature for Google’s own apps in December 2009, but only went public as a more direct competitor to URL shorteners like bit.ly in late September 2010. At that time, Google didn’t offer an API for the tool yet, so building it into third-party apps wasn’t yet an option, though some intrepid hackers figured out some of the internals based on how Google’s own toolbar communicates with the service.

Chances are it will only be a little while before third-party apps like TweetDeck or Hootsuite will make use of this new feature.

Why would you want to use goo.gl over its competitors? According to uptime monitoring service Pingdom, it’s the fastest URL shortener around, beating all of its competitors by a huge margin.

For now, Goo.gl doesn’t offer the kind of advanced features that Bit.ly users get to enjoy (custom domains, for example), but Google promises to “work on several usability improvements and to make our auto-detection of spammy or malicious content even more robust. We hope that with the new API, you’ll find goo.gl to be even more useful in your future shortening endeavors!”

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3:11 pm


Google Goggles Now Solves Sudoku Puzzles

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Google Goggles is one of the most fascinating products to come out of Google’s labs for quite some time and the company continues to improve the product regularly. Today, Google is introducing a major update Goggles which features improved barcode scanning and the ability to take pictures of ads in magazines and get search results about the product and brand.

Sudoku Solver, Faster Barcode Scanner and Smarter Recognition of Print Ads

If you are still suffering from an unhealthy addiction to Sudoku, Goggles will now also help you to solve these puzzles (though this feels like cheating to us). Just snap a picture of the puzzle and Goggles will provide you with the right answers.

The new barcode scanner (Android only for now) is, according to Google, faster than the old version and it should take the app less than a second to latch on to a code and scan it. Scanning a print ad on Android and the iPhone should now automatically bring up relevant search results. For now, this only works for ads printed in “major U.S. magazines” and only for magazines published after August 2010.

The new barcode scanning algorithm is currently only available in the Android version of Goggles. Ad recognition and the Sudoku solver are available in both the Android and iPhone version.



12:02 pm


One Week With the Google ChromeOS Notebook: An Experiment in Total Cloud Computing

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It’s been just about a week since Google’s Cr-48 prototype ChromeOS netbook appeared on my doorstep. Since then, I’ve been putting it through its paces, including during a short trip to a press event in Detroit, and it’s turned out to be a surprisingly useful machine.

A Few Words About the Hardware

I’ve read quite a bit about people’s problems with the current hardware, especially the trackpad. I don’t know if I just got lucky, but besides the widely chronicled issues with slow video playback (which I tend to attribute to Flash more than to the hardware itself), the trackpad and everything else on the Cr-48 worked as expected. Indeed, while the 3.8 pound Atom-powered netbook is clearly no a speed demon, it’s perfectly adequate for browsing the Web and the speed feels similar to the browsing experience on the iPad.

cr48 packaging

Q: Is Living in the Cloud Really an Option Yet? A: Kinda

At the end of the day, the Cr-48 is really a radical experiment on Google’s part that tries to answer whether it’s really possible to live in the cloud without wired Internet access and native apps outside of the browser. After all, ChromeOS gives you nothing but a browser and access to WiFi and Verizon’s 3G network (with a meager 100mb of free data transfer on Verizon’s network). You don’t get any native apps and with the exception of a few early ChromeOS apps like the NYTimes app, most of the current apps don’t offer an offline mode yet. For the most part, you don’t even get access to the notebook’s local storage (a fast 16GB SSD drive).

What was interesting to me, was that the Cr-48 made me realize how much of my current computing needs can be satisfied by ChromeOS. I already read all my email through various Google and Google Apps accounts, for example, and Google Docs is perfectly adequate for taking notes during a meeting.

At the same time, though, Google Docs is still not able to handle complex documents. For those, I prefer Microsoft’s Office Web apps, but those apps are – of course – not as tightly integrated with Gmail as Google’s own productivity apps.

Thanks to Seesmic and the new online version of TweetDeck, the Cr-48 satisfies all my Twitter needs, and as a long-time MOG subscriber, all my music needs are fulfilled as well. For blog posts, I can just write in the WordPress and MovableType online editors. And for the most part, that’s all I do with my laptop today anyway, so the Cr-48 turned out to be all I needed during my last business trip earlier this week (thanks, fittingly, to Delta’s Google-sponsored free in-flight wireless, too).

But Would I Use it as My Only Laptop? Probably Not Yet

That said, though, would I use the Cr-48 and/or ChromeOS as my one and only notebook anytime soon? Probably not – while it fulfills a good chunk of my day-to-day computing needs, there are those four or five apps I need (like Skitch for screenshots and Skype for VoIP calls) that just don’t run on ChromeOS today. A full switch to Google’s new operating system really isn’t an option yet – though with time, as more ChromeOS apps become available – this could change.

For now, ChromeOS is an interesting experiment and I fully expect to continue using the Cr-48 as a secondary notebook when I head out to the local coffee shop.



12:26 pm


Voice Control Your Android Phone: Google Introduces Voice Actions

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If you own an Android phone with the latest Android 2.2 Froyo update, you can now use your voice to control almost all of the most often used features of the phone. With Voice Actions for Android, users can use voice commands to perform actions like sending text messages (“send text to Allison Miller Running late. I will be home around 9“), play specific songs from their music collection (“listen to the New Pornographers”), go to websites, send email, write a note, search Google and view a map and get directions.

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To invoke this feature, Android users will first have to install the necessary application on their devices (Voice Search, Google Search widget and music apps that support this feature). Then, they can invoke the app by either tapping the microphone button on the Google search box on the home screen or by pressing the physical search button on their phone.

Here is a list of the available commands:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]

Obviously, this is still a bit limited, especially when compared to the huge vocabulary that systems like Ford’s Microsoft-powered SYNC offers or the tools that Siri developed before the company was acquired by Apple. Apple’s own Voice Control service offers some similar features, though with a more limited focus (music playback and voice dialing). Overall, though, this looks like a good start, and according to Google, the voice search has a strong semantic underpinning, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw regular updates with additional commands in the near future.



10:41 am


Time to Wave Goodbye: Google Ceases Development of Google Wave

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Google just announced that it has stopped development of its real-time collaboration and communication platform Google Wave. Wave, according to Google’s Urs Holzle, “has not seen the user adoption [Google] would have liked.” The parts of the code that Google already offered as open source code will remain available, but Wave as a standalone product will cease to exist by the end of the year when Google plans to shut the Wave website down.

So Long, and Thanks for all The Real-Time Goodness

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It’s a shame to see Google Wave go. I had high hopes for it when it was first announced (I was actually one of the first journalists to get my hands on it). Clearly, though, it failed to gain enough users to make continued development worthwhile for Google. What is odd, though, is to see how quickly Google killed Wave. After a long beta period, the company only officially launched Wave a little more than two months ago. Ironically, the last post on the Google Wave blog from just about a week ago is called: “STOP! Waving time…

For a lot of users, seeing others type in real time just wasn’t a good enough reason to abandon email or more traditional collaboration tools. The promised “draft” feature – which turned off the real-time typing mode – never materialized. Over the next few days, we will surely see a lot of analysis about what exactly went wrong. If anything, though, I have to give Google credit for giving Wave a shot.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Australia-based team behind Wave (which also developed the earliest versions of Google Maps) will do next.

The Announcement

Here is the central part of Google’s announcement:

We were equally jazzed about Google Wave internally, even though we weren’t quite sure how users would respond to this radically different kind of communication. The use cases we’ve seen show the power of this technology: sharing images and other media in real time; improving spell-checking by understanding not just an individual word, but also the context of each word; and enabling third-party developers to build new tools like consumer gadgets for travel, or robots to check code.

But despite these wins, and numerous loyal fans, Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked. We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects. The central parts of the code, as well as the protocols that have driven many of Wave’s innovations, like drag-and-drop and character-by-character live typing, are already available as open source, so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began. In addition, we will work on tools so that users can easily “liberate” their content from Wave.



2:09 pm


YouTube Now Supports 4K Video – But Why?

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YouTube just announced that it will soon support 4k video – the next-generation HD format with a resolution of 4096×3072 pixels. At almost four times the size of 1080p, the highest resolution HD format currently available in the mainstream market, YouTube’s resolution for 4K videos goes far beyond what most people will be able to watch on their TVs and computers for quite a while to come.

Nice Tech Demo – But Inconsequential for Users

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As a technology demo, this is an interesting gimmick. It shows that YouTube is able to handle this kind of material and will be able to support video producers who want to shoot in 4K.

For users, however, this is an inconsequential move for now. On my own fast broadband connection, I was able to easily download 4K videos (you can find a playlist here), but I neither have a screen nor video card that is able to handle this kind of resolution with any grace.

According to Google, the ideal screen size for a 4K movie is about 25 feet – a bit larger than the screens most of us have on our desks and in our living rooms. And – if course – unless you own a Red camera – you can’t actually shoot any 4K video yourself.

So why is Google doing this? Is it just a technology demo to show off at VidCon? With HD, Google was very late to the party, so maybe the company is trying to stay ahead of the curb here.

What’s interesting, too, is that WebM – the open video format Google supports – can’t even display this kind of video.

So if you have any idea why Google is doing this now, let me know in the comments.



1:54 pm