SiliconFilter

Modern Rome Goes 3D in Google Earth

/

A few years ago, Google added a 3D model of ancient Rome to Google Earth. Today, Google is also adding thousands of new 3D buildings for modern Rome to its inventory of 3D models. Just like other cities that recently got a 3D makeover in Google Earth, the Rome model is surprisingly detailed and complete. Few cities, of course, can boast of as rich a history as Rome, so being able to look at both a model of the city as it looked in 320AD and today makes for a very interesting teaching tool.

You can find a web-based demo what the new set of buildings looks like here.

For the historic model, Google partners with the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. There, a group of students and teachers developed the Rome Reborn model that forms the basis of Google’s version of ancient Rome.

To see the 3D version of modern Rome in Google Earth, use Google Maps with Earth view or turn on Google Earth’s “3D Buildings” layer and search for “Rome, Italy.” Users can, of course, also use Google Building Maker or Google SketchUp to add their own models or improve upon existing ones.

rome_3d_vatican



11:21 pm


Better Search Results for All: Google’s Panda Update Goes Global

/

In its efforts to preserve the quality of its search results, Google rolled out the so-called Panda and Panda 2.0 update to its algorithm for searches in English earlier this year. Until now, however, these changes didn’t impact searchers outside of the English-speaking world. That’s changing today, however. Earlier this morning, Google announced that it has now brought its “algorithmic search improvements” to all other languages, with the exception of Chines, Japanese and Korean.

Impact: 6-9% of All Searches

According to Google, these changes will impact about 6-9% of all queries to the degree that users will notice the difference. The earlier Panda update for English queries was decidedly more aggressive, as it affected a good 12% of all searches.

While Google doesn’t explicitly say so, the originally Panda update was – for a large part – motivated by the proliferation of content farms that pollute search results with low-quality content written by badly paid freelancers. Indeed, companies like Demand Media were strongly affected by this change and lost a good amount of traffic because of it.

The content spam problem isn’t quite as bad in the rest of the world. It looks like Google clearly felt that the Panda update improved search algorithm worked well enough in other languages as well to roll it out globally.

Image credit: Flickr user Stéfan



4:07 pm


A Sign of Things to Come: Google Books Gets Support for Easy Google+ Sharing

/

Google just announced that you can now easily share links to Google Books on its new social network Google+. That, by itself, isn’t really the most exciting news of the day – and the implementation could still be improved – but I think it is a sign of what’s to come once Google gets around to integrating Google+ sharing into more of its products.

Share Books With Your Literary Circles

If you are a Google+ user, you are already familiar with the new black bar at the top of your screens that gives you access to Google’s various properties and also alerts you of any activity in your Google+ account. This bar also features a “share” button, but by default, the share feature isn’t populated with any information from the site you are visiting when you click on it. On Google Books, however, Google will now automatically add the title, book cover and description to your post when you click the “share” button.

Still Room for Improvement

None of this is highly spectacular, but Google will hopefully get around to adding this functionality on more of its sites. Currently, for example, you can’t easily share a Place Page you found on Google Maps on Google+ without copying and pasting the URL. Indeed, it is somewhat surprising that the Google+ team chose Google Books – a relatively underused service – as the first property for this feature.

As Google expands its Google+ service to more sites – and maybe even launches a sharing button for third-party sites as well – it will hopefully learn to automatically extract more relevant information from these sites and services automatically and pre-populate the sharing dialog with these. While adding the link, cover and description from Google Books is nice, for example, there really is no reason why it couldn’t be formatted a bit nicer and why Google doesn’t add some more info (publishing date, name of author etc.) here as well.



5:20 pm


ChromeOS Just Got a Bit Faster and More Secure

/

The latest version of Google’s ChromeOS now allows Chromebooks to resume faster and offers support for 802.1x secure WiFi and VPN networks.

When Google first announced the idea of Chromebooks, a series of small, Internet (and Chrome)-centric laptops made by manufacturers like Samsung and Acer, its engineers touted the fact that – unlike other laptops – Chromebooks would actually get faster over time. Chromebooks, Google said, would see the same kind of performance gains that users of its Chrome browser have gotten used to. Now, with the release of the latest stable version of the ChromeOS operating system that powers these devices, Google is starting to fulfill this promise.

The Chrome browser, of course, continues to get faster with almost every release, but according to Google, the company also managed to get ChromeOS to resume from sleep about 30% faster than before. Starting up a Chromebook generally doesn’t take more than 6 or 7 seconds these days and a resume from sleep is virtually instant, so these speed differences won’t make much of a difference in the real world. It is still nice to see that Google is still working on shaving off a few seconds from the startup and resume procedure here and there.

Besides this speed increase, the latest edition of ChromeOS also brings support for virtual private networks (VPN) (an essential feature for many business users) and support for secure 802.1x WiFi networks.

In addition, Google also notes that a number of new services that are compatible with ChromeOS, including Netflix, Amazon’s HTML5-based Cloud Reader and a tech preview of the Citrix Receiver (for running virtual versions of high-end desktop software) are now available.



3:23 pm


Google Seeds Fund To Drive Social Innovation Through IT in Pakistan

/

Google seems to have a special interest in Pakistan these days. After hosting a number of events for map makers in the country earlier this year, Google today announced that is providing a seed grant of $250,000 for the [email protected] Social Innovation fund. [email protected], an IT trade organization in Pakistan, is looking for 25 entrepreneurs, social activists and non-profits who want “to use technology to meet social needs in education, culture, medicine, environmental or any other community problem.”

The organization’s advisory board mostly consists of Pakistani expats with IT experience in the U.S. and Europe. According to Google, the idea behind the fund is not just to create software, but to fund ideas that use software “as a platform for delivery and as a means for empowerment.”

The seed round will fund the 25 chosen projects (applicants have to be Pakistanis who are based in Pakistan) and ensure that those teams can rely on the advisory committee and other mentors to bring the project to reality. Google hopes that [email protected] can provide “a safe harbor for eager entrepreneurs to jump-start ideas without the fear of failure.”



6:49 pm



Google News Gets a Fresh New Look

/

Over the last few weeks, Google has been slowly rolling out new designs for virtually all of its web-based products, including Google Search, Gmail, Good Docs and Maps. Today, Google News joined these products and the company’s news aggregation service now sports a new design as well. Besides the cleaner look with more whitespace and less clutter, Google also decided to stress the personalization feature by highlighting it more clearly at the top of the page.

In terms of features, nothing has changed with this new design. Google user experience designer Jasson Schrock did note in today’s announcement, though, that we will see more changes to the layout and design of the site in the coming months.

For the time being, this new design is only available for users in the U.S., but Google plans to bring this new look to international users in the coming months.



11:16 pm


Google-Backed Measurement Lab to Distribute Free Routers for Broadband Testing

/

Measurement Lab is a Google-backed project that brings together industry and academic researchers who are interested in measuring broadband speed, doing network diagnostics and researching how ISPs throttle and block certain applications and services. The project launched in 2009 and has since released a number of tools for measuring your Internet connection. Now, with the BISMark (the Broadband Internet Service BenchMARK) project, Measurement Lab is taking its efforts one step further by distributing a large number of free routers to users all across the country. Currently, the project gathers data every time a user runs a test on its website. This new project, however, will give researchers a better idea of how networks perform, as the measurements are done at the router level and hence shielded from problems on a user’s computer and home network setup.

The project is led by Georgia Tech and the University of Napoli, but the organization is also working with broadband measurement company SamKnows and the FCC. SamKnows, of course, already has a network of routers installed all across the U.S. and UK (I’ve been using one for the last 9 months or so), making the company an ideal partner for this project.

The routers will then run tests throughout the day. These tests measure latency, packet loss, jitter, throughput, and network capacity. The results will be available for researchers, but the users themselves will also get access to a dashboard where they can take a look at their own data.

Apply

To apply for a free router and to become part of the project, just fill out this form here. The primary router used in this test will be a NetGear WNDR3700. Advanced users with an OpenWRT-capable router can also download the software package themselves and install it on their own routers.



3:28 pm


The Google+ Ecosystem is Slowly Expanding – Even Without an API

/

Google+ doesn’t currently offer an API, but that isn’t stopping developers from trying to offer Google+-related  apps and services. Given how fast Google’s new social network is growing, it doesn’t come as a surprise that developers are working hard to get a head start in developing services for it, even without Google’s support. (more…)



6:24 pm


How Many Users Does Google+ Really Have? 9,460,000

/

Google has been rather coy about sharing exact user numbers for its new social network Google+. Answer.com’s Paul Allen has been using an interesting statistical model to estimate the number of current users based on an analysis of the percentage of uncommon surnames he has found on the service. In his estimate, there should be about 10 million users on the service today. Now, it looks like there could be an easier way to discern the number of Google+ users, though. Jonathan Nelson, the founder of Google+ community site GooglePlusAnswers.com, argues that a simple Google search query could give us a pretty accurate user count without having to resort to complicated statistical models. (more…)



1:09 am


Google Promises to Make Google Docs Available Offline Soon

/

For the last few weeks, Google has been soliciting product ideas for Google Docs. Since the start of this program, just under 4,000 users have submitted about 2,000 suggestions. Today, Google announced its plans to give priority to three of the top ideas. These include better header and footer functionality, the ability to create vertical merge in spreadsheets and – most importantly – making Google Docs available offline.

(more…)



4:44 pm


Report: Google’s +1 Buttons Gain Wider Distribution, Facebook Still Dominant

/

In some corners of the Internet, the battle between Google’s +1 buttons and Facebook’s and Twitter’s equivalent sharing tools has already been decided. According to Enterprise SEO company Brightedge, however, all of these tools still have a lot of room to grow when it comes to distribution on the top 10,000 websites. Google’s buttons are currently only in use on 4.5% of these sites, while Facebook’s Like button and box are being used by 10.8% and 6.1% of these sites respectively. (more…)



4:00 pm


Cosmic Panda: YouTube Gets an Experimental New Look

/

YouTube, the world’s most popular video streaming site, just launched a new experimental design that brings a fresh look to virtually every part of the YouTube experience, including videos, playlists and channels. The new look, called Cosmic Panda, introduces a darker look, with an emphasis on black backgrounds that make the videos stand out more than the white backdrop YouTube has been using since its earliest days.

previews_youtube_pandaBesides the darker background, Google has also changed the way it displays video thumbnails by making them larger. This means you will see fewer suggested videos per page, but the images will likely make to click on more of them in the long run. The new design also sports a few new interface elements, including buttons that allow you to change the size of the video player without changing the video resolution.

To join the Cosmic Panda experiment, just head over here and opt in (to opt out again, just go back to the sign-up page). Google is also actively soliciting feedback with the help of a prominent button on the left side of the screen.

Google, of course, has been on a redesign spree lately, including major changes to the look and feel of some of its most well-known products like Gmail, Google Calendar and even its search engine.

youtube_cosmic_panda



4:25 pm


Why Twitter Should be Very Worried About Google+

/

When Google unexpectedly launched its new social network Google+ earlier this week, many pundits were skeptical about the company’s latest attempt to enter the social arena. Given Google’s dismal track record when it comes to these kinds of products, that kind of skepticism made sense, but after using it extensively for the last few days, I can’t help but think that it is the single biggest threat Twitter has had to face yet.

Google, being late to the party, had the advantage of being able to learn from Twitter, Facebook and every other social network out there right now.

Note: I’m consciously not saying that it’s a threat to Facebook (at least not for now), as I think the group dynamics and strong network effect that made Facebook what it is today will continue to be relevant and have locked users in for now.

addictive

Twitter’s Problem and Google’s Advantage

What Google+ makes abundantly clear is that Twitter’s success was a happy accident. While Google was able to bake all of Twitter’s current core functions (status updates, /replies/retweets/shares/photo sharing etc.) into its service at launch, Twitter grew organically. That, at the time, was to Twitter’s advantage. Now, however, it is holding the company’s growth back, as those conventions that grew out of this are anything but intuitive for newcomers. Indeed, one could argue that everything Twitter has done over the last few months was meant to rein this chaos in.

Why Twitter Should be Concerned

So here is why I think Twitter should be very concerned:

It’s Everywhere Google Is: Google added a Google+ notification icon to the Sandbar (the black bar that sits on top of every Google product now). It’s crack. It keeps drawing you back to Google+. If you regularly use search, Gmail or Google Docs, Google+ will also be just one click away.

Even though Google’s +1 buttons don’t do much yet, those buttons will soon be connected to Google+ in some form as well, giving Google+ an instant presence on virtually every major website.

media-brandsCircles: Google took Twitter’s asymmetric follower model and put some great twists on it. Thanks to this, you can use Google+ just like you would use Twitter: to follow interesting people. When they share something publicly, it will appear in your stream.

While Google is mostly describing circles as a way to share content privately or semi-privately with select groups, it’s also an easy way to create Twitter-like lists with interesting people you would like to follow. Consuming content – whether from your friends or media brands – will become a major part of the Google+ experience.

Comments: Twitter’s @replies are clunky at best and hard to explain to new users. On Google+, you just leave a comment and a real and real-time discussion can form around the content. That is far more compelling and easier to use than using @replies. Google uses +replies in these comment threads to make these discussions even easier to follow and to push out notifications to the Sandbar when somebody mentions you.

fail_whaleGoogle+ Will be a Platform: Currently, there are no APIs for developers to write products that could hook into Google+. That means we can’t have aggregation tools, third-party clients or anything else that has become standard in the Twitter ecosystem right now.

All of that is coming, though, and while Twitter has managed to squander most of its developer community’s trust, Google doesn’t have to worry about that at all. Indeed, Google will likely be able to offer access to the Google+ firehose to anybody who wants it, free of charge.

No artificial character limits: For a long time now, Twitter’s proponents have argued that Twitter’s 140 character limit was an advantage. It keeps posts brief and to the point. Once you use Google+ for a bit, though, you come to realize that those constraints are really just annoying at the end – and likely hard to explain to a mainstream user anyway.

Google Doesn’t Have to Worry About Monetization: After all these years, Twitter still hasn’t figure out how to make money in a way that won’t alienate its users. Google can just stick some AdSense ads into the Google+ sidebar if it really wants to monetize Google+ directly.

Hangouts: Built-in video chats are a killer feature. Nobody else is doing anything this slick right now.

There are lots of other small reasons why I think Google+ could threaten Twitter: built-in photo sharing, for example, the potential for making it a platform for working collaboratively and extending it to every other Google product in some form. Then, there are the mobile apps for the mobile web, Android and iPhone (iPhone is coming soon). Those include a group messaging feature and Foursquare-like check-ins.

What do You Think?

What do you think? I’m I too optimistic about Google+ here and too down on Twitter? Let me know in the comments.

Enhanced by Zemanta


3:40 pm


Chromebooks Take Flight on Virgin America

/

Google is definitely trying its best to get the word out about its ChromeOS-based Chromebooks. Now, the company has teamed up with Virgin America – one of the Silicon Valley’s favorite (yet perennially money-losing) airlines – to offer travellers to “test-fly” Chromebooks for free onboard their flights and at select gates from July to the end of September. Chromebook users – including those who bring their own ChromeOS-powered laptops on board – will also get free WiFi courtesy of Virgin America and Gogo. Travelers who stay in New York’s Ace Hotel will also find a Chromebook in their rooms. (more…)



4:51 pm