Google Labs Top 10 Projects From 2010

Google Labs is the place where you can find a lot of experimental services that are developed by Google engineers in their “20 percent time”. As Jeffrey Ressner points out, “Labs began [back in 2002] when Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to allow engineers and programmers to devote 20 percent of their time, or one day each week, to projects of their own choosing. It was a bold move, but Page and Brin figured the great minds they hired would be even more creative if they were given free rein to unleash their imaginations and cultivate their personal interests instead of spending all their energies on assigned tasks.” Aparna Chennapragada, product manager for Google Labs, says that Google tried to “remove all friction between the idea and the experiment”.

Features like Google Suggest or Social Search and services like iGoogle, Google Reader, Google Local or Google Docs started as Labs projects. Here are some of the best services and features released in Google Labs, Gmail Labs, TestTube and other similar places in 2010:

1. Google Scribe is a powerful tool that uses aggregated data from Web pages to provide suggestions as you type. It could become an useful Google Docs feature and it could improve the suggestions provided by the default Android keyboard.

2. Body Browser, a WebGL application developed by the Google Health team that shows a detailed 3D model of the human body. Try it in Chrome 9 beta or Firefox 4 beta.

3. YouTube Leanback – a YouTube interface designed for Google TV or any other big screen. The great thing about YouTube Leanback is that it doesn’t require interaction, so you can quickly watch the videos added to the queue or the latest videos from your subscribed channels.

4. Apps Search – a Gmail Labs feature that lets you search your Gmail messages, Google Docs files and Google Sites pages from a single search box. If Google shows results from other services and improves the interface, this feature could become very useful. Imagine searching your contacts, calendars, bookmarks, files and your browsing history from a single search box.

5. YouTube’s HTML5 player has improved a lot ever since it was launched, back in January 2010. It now supports WebM videos and it works in most browsers: Chrome, Opera, Safari and the latest beta versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer. YouTube even offers a new embedding code that triggers the HTML5 player if your browser supports it and Adobe Flash is not installed.

6. Aardvark, a social Q&A service acquired by Google last year, hasn’t improved since its acquisition, but it has a lot of potential to make search more social. Google Spreadsheets also started as a Google Labs project, even though it was the result of an acquisition.

7. Public Data Explorer “makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate”. This could be a great way to make Google Search more visual and more interactive.

8. Google Books Ngram Viewer is a Google Trends for books. It’s useful if you want to see how often certain words or phrases have been used in books over time.

9. Google Reader Play – a new way to view your feeds and the most popular blog posts on the Web. The interface works well for photo blogs, comics and videos.

10. Google Calendar’s Gentle Reminders replaces annoying pop-ups with a blinking tab and a notification sound. If you use Google Chrome, you’ll also see desktop notifications.

It’s interesting to see that most of the services are related to data visualization, cutting-edge browser features and productivity.

Google Labs: App Inventor for Android

App Inventor is a new tool in Google Labs that makes it easy for anyone—programmers and non-programmers, professionals and students—to create mobile applications for Android-powered devices. And today, we’re extending invitations to the general public.

For many people, their mobile phone—and access to the Internet—is always within reach. App Inventor for Android gives everyone, regardless of programming experience, the opportunity to control and reshape their communication experience. We’ve observed people take pride in becoming creators of mobile technology and not just consumers of it.

For the past year, we’ve been testing App Inventor in classrooms around the United States, and we’ve found that it opens up the world of computer programming to students in new and powerful ways. David Wolber, professor of computer science at the University of San Francisco and part of the initial pilot program, says “students traditionally intimidated by technology are motivated and excited to program with App Inventor.” One student from Professor Wolber’s class told us: “I used to think that no one could program except CS people. Now, I’ve made dozens of applications for the Android phone!” Another student, who struggles with dyslexia, was inspired by App Inventor to take more computer science classes and is now learning Python. Check out this video to hear more about App Inventor for Android at University of San Francisco.

Visit our site to learn more about App Inventor and see sample apps. To request an invitation, fill out this form and you’ll soon be on your way to building mobile applications. And check out the video below to see how it works. We can’t wait to see what you create!

Posted by Mark Friedman

Google Follow Finder A new feature to expand your Twitter

This morning Google announced a replay feature in real-time search that helps you search the public archive of updates from Twitter. Now, we have more Twitter news from today’s Chirp Conference. Google just released a new experimental service in Google Labs called Google Follow Finder to help you expand your Twitter network. With Google Follow Finder, simply enter your Twitter account name and you’ll see a list of people you might be interested in following. You can also get interesting suggestions by entering other Twitter user names. Here’s what it looks like:

If you see someone you want to follow, just click “Follow on Twitter,” log in, and they’ll be added to your following list in Twitter. This integration is based on Twitter’s new @anywhere frameworks, which make it easy for any site to add Twitter functionality. We’re using the frameworks to provide dynamic information about Twitter accounts and one-click following.

The lists in Google Follow Finder are generated using public following and follower lists on Twitter. For example, if you follow CNN and the New York Times on Twitter, and most people who follow CNN and the New York Times also tend to follow TIME, we’ll suggest TIME as a “Tweep you might like.” The list of “Tweeps with similar followers” is simply a list of accounts with similar follower lists to yours.

We hope you find some sweet tweeps.

New Features on Google Labs- Google Apps

Gmail Labs updates
We’ve made a handful of updates in Gmail Labs, our experimental testing ground where Google engineers can quickly launch new Gmail features and get feedback from users. Based on usage and user feedback, six Labs have graduated to become full-fledged Gmail features: Search Autocomplete, Go To Label, Forgotten Attachment Detector, YouTube Previews, Custom Label Colors and Vacation Dates. We also retired five Labs that weren’t as popular. Finally, we introduced one new Lab: Refresh POP Accounts. If you use Gmail to retrieve messages from another email account with POP, this Lab immediately checks your other account for new mail when you click the “Refresh” link in Gmail.

Calendar Labs updates
We also have Labs in Google Calendar, and we’ve cooked up a few new experiments there as well. Event Flair lets you add custom icons to appointments, Gentle Reminders prevents event reminders from interrupting your flow in the browser and Automatically Declining Events blocks people from double-booking time on your calendar when you’re already busy.

Apps Script Gallery
Google Apps Script is a flexible system that lets you add custom menus, buttons and functions to spreadsheets, as well as make the components of Google Apps work together in new ways. For example, you can trigger a set of automated Gmail messages and add appointments to your calendar based on changes in a spreadsheet. On Wednesday, we made Google Apps Script available to everyone — not just businesses, schools and organizations — and we launched the Apps Script Gallery to share script examples and help you get started scripting.

DocVerse joins Google
We’re always looking for ways to help people transition smoothly to the cloud. With this in mind, last week we acquired DocVerse, a small team that’s built a powerful set of add-ons to help teams work together more efficiently with Microsoft Office. With DocVerse, people can begin to experience some of the benefits of web-based collaboration using the traditional Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint desktop applications that they’re familiar with. Stay tuned for more information about our plans with DocVerse.

More apps for Google Apps
Google Apps customers often decide to move even more of their technology into the cloud, but it hasn’t always been easy for them to find good web-based solutions that meet their needs and to integrate those solutions with Google Apps. This Tuesday, we launched the Google Apps Marketplace to help customers find technology from trusted providers and give developers a platform where they can sell their products. When Google Apps administrators find something they like in the Marketplace, it takes just a few clicks to integrate a developer’s application with Google Apps. Authentication to third-party applications can be handled automatically by Google Apps, and developers’ applications can integrate with and securely share data among services like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sites and Google Calendar. There are more than 50 applications available in the Marketplace today, ranging from accounting and project management apps to graphic design and customer relationship management tools.

Who’s gone Google?
We’re pleased to welcome another crop of new businesses and schools to Google Apps. More than 11,000 crew members at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines took flight with Google Apps, and the Sports Basement switched teams from Microsoft Exchange. National Geographic is exploring the world of real-time collaboration, and Hamilton College is learning a few new tricks with Google Apps, too.

Hope you’re enjoying the latest round of new features, whether you’re using Google Apps with friends and family, with colleagues or with classmates. For details and the latest news in this area, check out the Google Apps Blog.

Posted by Jeremy Milo, Google Apps Marketing Manager

Statistics for a changing world: Google Public Data Explorer in Labs

Last year, Google released a public data search feature that enables people to quickly find useful statistics in search. More recently, we expanded this service to include information from the World Bank, such as population data for every region in the world. More and more public agencies, non-profits and other organizations are looking for ways to open up their data and expand global access to this kind of information. We want to help keep that momentum going, so today we’re sharing a snapshot of some of the most popular public data search topics on Google. We’re also launching the Google Public Data Explorer, an experimental visualization tool in Google Labs.

google labs

Popular public data topics on Google
We know people want to be able to find reliable data and statistics on a variety of subjects. But what kind of statistics are they looking for most? To help us better prioritize which data sets to include in our public data search feature, we’ve analyzed anonymous search logs to find patterns in the kinds of searches people are doing, similar to the patterns you can find on Google Trends and Insights for Search. Some public data providers have asked us to share what we’ve learned, so we decided to put together an approximate list of the 80 most popular data and statistics search topics.

You can read the complete list at this link (PDF), but here’s the top 20 to get you started:

1. School comparisons
2. Unemployment
3. Population
4. Sales tax
5. Salaries
6. Exchange rates
7. Crime statistics
8. Health statistics (health conditions)
9. Disaster statistics
10. Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
11. Last names
12. Poverty
13. Oil price
14. Minimum wage
15. Consumer price index, inflation
16. Mortality
17. Cost of living
18. Election results
19. First names
20. Accidents, traffic violations

You’ll notice some interesting entries in the list. For example, we were surprised by how many people search for data about popular first and last names. Perhaps people are trying to decide what to name a new baby boy or girl? As it turns out, people are interested in a wide range of statistical information.

To build the list, we looked at the aggregation of billions of queries people typed into Google search, using data from multiple sources, including Insights for Search, Google Trends and internal data tools — similar to what we do for our annual Zeitgeist. We combined search terms into groups, filtering out spam and repeats, to prepare a list reflecting the most popular public data topics. As a statistician, it’s important for me to note that the data only covers one week’s worth of searches in the U.S., so there could be seasonal and other confounding factors (perhaps there was an election that week). In addition, preparing a study like this requires a fair amount of manual grouping of similar queries into topics, which is fairly subjective and prone to human error. While imperfect, we still think the list is helpful to consider.

The Public Data Explorer
As you can see, people are interested in a wide variety of data and statistics, but this information is only useful if it’s easy to access, understand and communicate. That’s why today we’re also releasing the Google Public Data Explorer in Labs, a new experimental product designed to help people comprehend data and statistics through rich visualizations. With the Data Explorer, you can mash up data using line graphs, bar graphs, maps and bubble charts. The visualizations are dynamic, so you can watch them move over time, change topics, highlight different entries and change the scale. Once you have a chart ready, you can easily share it with friends or even embed it on your own website or blog. We’ve embedded the following chart using the new feature as an example:

This chart compares life expectancy and the number of births per woman over the last 47 years for most economies of the world. The bubble sizes show population, and colors represent different geographic regions. Press the play button to see the dramatic changes over time. Click “explore data” to dig deeper.

Animated charts can bring data to life. Click the play button in the chart to watch life expectancy increase while fertility rates fall around the world. The bubble colors make it quick and easy to see clusters of countries along these variables (e.g., in 1960 the European and Central Asian countries were in the lower right and Sub-Saharan Africa in the upper left). The bubble sizes help you follow the most populous countries, such as India and China. These charts are based on the Trendalyzer technology we acquired from the Gapminder Foundation, which we’ve previously made available in the Motion Chart in Google Spreadsheets and the Visualization API.

With a handful of data providers, there are already billions of possible charts to explore. We currently provide data from the same three providers currently available in our search feature: the World Bank, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, we’ve added five new data providers: the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the California Department of Education, Eurostat, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. We’re excited that all around the world new data providers are deciding to make their information freely available on the Internet, enabling innovators to create interesting applications, mash up the data in new ways and discover profound meaning behind the numbers.

We hope our list and new tool help demonstrate both the public demand for more data and the potential for new applications to enlighten it. We want to hear from you, so please share your feedback in our discussion forum. If you’re a data provider interested in becoming a part of the Public Data Explorer, contact us.

Posted by Jürgen Schwärzler, Statistician, Public Data team