Google: Renewing old resolutions for the new year

Here’s an update on some products that will be merged, open-sourced, or phased out in the coming months:

  • Google Message Continuity (GMC): In December 2010 we launched an email disaster recovery product for enterprise customers that use Google’s cloud to back up emails originally sent or received in an on-premise, Microsoft Exchange system. In the time since we launched, we’ve seen hundreds of businesses sign up for it. By comparison, in that same time, we’ve seen millions of businesses move entirely to the cloud with Google Apps, benefitting from disaster recovery capabilities built directly into Apps. Going forward we’ve decided to focus our efforts on Google Apps and end support for GMC. Current GMC customers will be able to use GMC for the duration of their contract and are encouraged to consider using Google Apps as their primary messaging and collaboration platform.
  • Google Sky Map: This app was created by half a dozen Googlers at the Pittsburgh office in their 20 percent time to show off the amazing capabilities of the sensors in the first-generation Android phones and offer a window into the sky. Since we launched the tool in 2009, we have managed to share our passion with more than 20 million Android users. We will be open-sourcing Sky Map and are collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University in a partnership that will see further development of Sky Map as a series of student projects.
  • Needlebase: We are retiring this data management platform, which we acquired from ITA Software, on June 1, 2012. The technology is being evaluated for integration into Google’s other data-related initiatives.
  • Picnik: We acquired this online photo editor in 2010. We’re retiring the service on April 19, 2012 so the Picnik team can continue creating photo-editing magic across Google products. You can download a zip file of your creations through Picnik Takeout or copy them to Google+. As of now, the premium service is free to everyone. Premium members will receive a full refund in the coming weeks.
  • Social Graph API: This API makes information about the public connections between people on the web available for developers. The API isn’t experiencing the kind of adoption we’d like, and is being deprecated as of today. It will be fully retired on April 20, 2012.
  • Urchin: In 2005 we acquired Urchin, whose online web analytics product became the foundation for Google Analytics, helping businesses of all sizes measure their websites and online marketing. We’re fully committed to building an industry-leading online analytics product, so we’re saying goodbye to the client-hosted version, known as Urchin Software. New Urchin Software licenses will no longer be available after March 2012.

Resolutions can be hard, and changing products that people love is hard too. But we’re excited to focus on creating a beautifully simple, intuitive user experience across Google—an experience that will change the lives of millions of people.

Posted by Dave Girouard, VP of Product Management

Google+ now available for Google Apps domains

Google Apps administrators can manually turn on Google+ for their organization. Once Google+ is turned on, users will need to sign up at to get started. For customers who use Google Apps for Business or the free version of Google Apps and who have chosen to automatically enable new services, Google+ will automatically become available to all of your users over the next several days.

Note: Google+ requires Picasa Web Albums for photo sharing and Google Talk for chat, so if these services are not enabled then Google+ will not automatically become available, even if your domain has chosen to automatically enable new services. The option to automatically enable new services is controlled in the Domain settings tab of the administrator control panel.

Education editions only: Google+ is available only for higher education institutions that are existing Google Apps for Education customers. If you don’t see the Google+ service in your control panel (as described above), you’ll need to apply for the service to have it added to your control panel.

Blogger to Integrate With Google+

When you edit your Blogger profile, Blogger shows a message at the top of the page that says: “Connect Blogger to Google+: Use your Google profile and get access to upcoming Google+ features on Blogger”. Unfortunately, the links seem to be broken, but both URLs reference profile switching.

It’s obvious that Blogger profiles will be discontinued and replaced by Google Profiles, but it’s not clear how Blogger will integrate with Google+. Maybe Blogger posts will automatically trigger Google+ posts and Blogger/Google+ comments will be synchronized. Friend Connect will be discontinued and Google+ could replace it. Friend Connect’s goal was to “help site owners easily provide social features for their visitors. Users gain the ability to sign in to, make friends on, and interact with your site, making it more social and more dynamic”. It wasn’t successful, but Google+ has a better chance to make Blogger more social.

Update: Blogger’s blog informs that this option is available if you use Blogger in Draftand it will be released in the regular Blogger interface in the coming weeks. For now, the only changes are that the Blogger profile redirects to the Google profile, the author’s name is now obtained from Google Profiles and Google’s snippets for the blog posts include information about authors: name, thumbnail and link to the profile. “If you blog under a pseudonym and do not want your blog to be associated with your real name, you should not migrate from a Blogger profile to a Google+ profile,” suggests Google. If you change your mind after switching to the Google+ profile, you can revert to the Blogger profile.

{ Thanks, Herin. }

Soon Google Sets Will Be Shut Down

Google Sets, one of my favorite Google Labs experiments, will be shut down on September 5, just like Google Squared. Launched in 2002, Google Sets is the only experiment from the early days of Google Labs that’s still available, even though it hasn’t graduated.

The great thing about Google Sets is that it only did one thing and did it very well: automatically generating lists from a few examples. Google Sets used the explicit and implicit lists from the pages indexed by Google and tried to find the lists that were relevant to the examples entered by users. For example, you could enter “Honda” and “Toyota” and Google Sets returned a long list of car brands.

The patent filed in 2003 explains that, at that time, there wasn’t any “mechanism for quickly and efficiently generating lists of items given one or more example”. Web pages included a lot of lists: some of them were created using special HTML tags (<ul>, <ol>, document headers), others used tables, while most of them were items separated by commas or tabs. The patent was filed by Simon Tong, a researcher who contributed to Google’s ranking algorithm, designed AdSense’s targeting algorithm and Gmail’s spam detection’s learning algorithm, and Jeff Dean, who designed Google’s crawling, indexing, and query serving systems, BigTable and MapReduce, the initial version of Google’s advertising serving system and a lot more.

Google Sets was the building block for Google Squared, a service that generated lists and information about the items. If you type “dogs” in Google Squared, you’ll see a list of dog breeds, related images, descriptions, the size and the country of origin. The list of dog breeds is now also displayed at the bottom of Google’s results page for [dogs]. The attributes aren’t yet available in Google Search, but this feature will probably added in the future.

While Google Sets and Google Squared will no longer be available, they’re still used in Google Search to better understand the content of a page and to provide lists of related searches.

Play Google+ Games

6 weeks after the Google+ launch, the project received a major upgrade and added social games. “Games in Google+ are there when you want them and gone when you don’t. When you’re ready to play, the Games page is waiting — click the games button at the top of your stream. You can see the latest game updates from your circles, browse the invites you’ve received and check out games that people you know have played recently. The Games page is also where your game accomplishments will appear.”

The nice thing is that game updates don’t clutter your main stream, but this also means that the stream will no longer be comprehensive and it will be difficult for a game to become popular in a short amount of time.
on Youtube

For now, there’s a small number of games from companies like Zynga, Rovio (Angry Birds), PopCap Games and it’s interesting to see that the games APIs aren’t publicly available. “We chose to start with a small number of partners so that we could experiment, get the kinks out of our APIs, and get real end-user feedback before opening up to the world. (…) Because we want to provide both a great user experience and a great developer experience, we’re focusing on quality before quantity. We will continue to add new partners and new features in small steps, starting with today’s release of the games APIs to a small number of developers,” explains Google.

Games aren’t available to all Google+ users because the feature is slowly rolled out. When you see a new tab at the top of the page, next to the search box, you should be able to play games.

Google+ games are social. When you play a game, you can share updates with your circles, buy virtual goods, send gifts, invite your friends. “Additionally, a game may involve multiple players in a single match (such as a poker table). In these situations, the other players in the room can see and interact with each other during gameplay. Some games allow you to partner up with (or work against) another player, such as a neighbor, ally, or an enemy/rival. These games use your circles to suggest people to interact with. You could show up as a suggestion to another player to become an ally or to challenge,” mentions Google.

Forbes reports that Google charges a 5% fee to developers for virtual goods transactions. “With this much lower fee to attract developers, Google is going after Facebook, which takes a 30% cut from developers for using its required Facebook Credits virtual currency system.”

Google: Try Blogger’s New Interface

Google promised a new Blogger interface back in March and started a limited test in April. “The new design is not only cleaner and more modern, but it also uses Google Web Toolkit, delivering the latest in web technology.”

The new interface is now available in Blogger in Draft, but it looks quite different. “Over the last couple of months, we’ve made significant improvements to our new user interface. First and foremost, we’ve incorporated your feedback and made numerous fixes based on that feedback. Also, we’ve updated the look and feel of our new design, inspired by Google’s newest design evolutions,” explains Google. Blogger uses Ajax, so all the pages load a lot faster, including the post editor. Unfortunately, Blogger is still very slow when you perform a search and try to display posts or comments.

Blogger’s new UI is cleaner and it offers additional information about your posts: the number of pageviews. Tabs have been replaced by a vertical menu and the list of labels is now a drop-down. The post editor is much better, especially if you use the default view. Blogger’s new editor takes up most of the page and post settings are now included in a sidebar.

There’s a lot of white space in the new interface, buttons aren’t big enough to be readable and Blogger includes too much information that’s not very useful: the total number of published comments and the total number of pageviews. The new interface is a mixed bag: it’s modern, clean, faster and more powerful, but there are many things that need to be changed before replacing the existing interface.

You can try the new UI at and you also have the option to make it the default interface.

Google’s New Interfaces

After many weeks of testing, Google finally updated the homepage and search results pages. The changes aren’t so radical, but they’re still significant: there’s a black navigation bar, two updated buttons for “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky”, while the corporate links are moved to the bottom of the page.

Google says that this is just a small step from a redesign that will affect many other services. “The new Google experience that we’ve begun working toward is founded on three key design principles: focus, elasticity and effortlessness. (…) With the design changes in the coming weeks and months, we’re bringing forward the stuff that matters to you and getting all the other clutter out of your way. Even simple changes, like using bolder colors for actionable buttons or hiding navigation buttons until they’re actually needed, can help you better focus on only what you need at the moment.”

The new navigation bar seems to draw unnecessary attention and some find it distracting, so it’s not clear how it helps you “better focus on only what you need at the moment”. Google’s black bar is used in Google+, so it’s likely that it will include other social features in the future.

Google also says that new design is flexible so that it can be used in the desktop interface, the smartphone interface, the tablet interface and even the interface for smart TVs. “The new design will soon allow you to seamlessly transition from one device to another and have a consistent visual experience.” At the moment, I’m seeing a new mobile interface that doesn’t have too much in common with the desktop interface:

While the interface continues to be simple and utilitarian, Google wants to use HTML5, WebGL and other new technologies to make Google’s apps more powerful and better looking. “Our design philosophy is to combine power with simplicity. We want to keep our look simple and clean, but behind the seemingly simple design, use new technologies like HTML5, WebGL and the latest, fastest browsers to make sure you have all the power of the web behind you,” explains Google.

Google promises to improve the user interface in Gmail in the coming months, but I think that many other apps will be redesigned and the main goal is to integrate with Google+. If you want a preview of Google’s new interfaces, take a look at the Google+ project. Here’s, for example, the new Google Maps design:

It’s interesting to see that Google Maps added the label-less blue button from Google+, but Google Search still uses the regular button.

{ Thanks, Nikita. }

More About Google+ Hangouts

Google’s Justin Uberti has more information about Hangouts, the video conferencing app that will be available in Google+.

To support Hangouts, we built an all-new standards-based cloud video conferencing platform. This platform combines high quality, low latency, and strong security with the ease of use of a web application. Through the efficiency of this new platform, we’re able to deliver a leading video conferencing experience at Google scale.

A few noteworthy technical points:
* Fully browser-based/cloud-based
* Client-server: leverages the power of Google’s infrastructure
* Designed for low latency (< 100 ms) and high performance (multicore + hardware acceleration)
* Standards-based: XMPP, Jingle, RTP, ICE, STUN, SRTP
* Fully encrypted (HTTPS + SRTP)

Hangouts require the same plugin that’s currently used for voice and video chat, it’s limited to 10 participants and doesn’t work on mobile devices yet. Another interesting thing is that “hangouts are created by one person, but everyone in the hangout shares the ability to invite others. Each hangout has a specific URL. That URL can be shared as a link to invite others.” You can also use Hangout to watch a YouTube video with your friends.

Hangout looks like a great Google Talk feature and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be added to Gmail and to Google Apps. Video conferencing could make Google Apps a lot more useful.

Google’s Experimental New Black Navigation Bar

A while ago, I spotted a black navigation bar in a Google page and wondered if it’s a bug or a new Google experiment. It turns out that it’s yet another experiment.

At least three readers of this blog saw the black navigation bar on Google’s homepage today.

YouTube also tests a black player, so the two experiments could be connected.

Update: A lot of people see the new design, so it’s hard to say if it’s a test or a gradual roll-out. If you clear Google’s cookies, do you still see the black bar?

{ Thanks, David, Francesc and Don. }

Google Chromification of the Operating System

Three years ago, when Google launched Chrome many people wondered if it will be successful. Chrome became a very popular browser, with more than 160 million active users, but its most important achievement was accelerating the development of all the other browsers and shifting their priorities from adding UI features to removing clutter, making them faster and better suited for running Web apps. Internet Explorer embraced HTML5, Firefox started to update more often, Opera simplified its interface. Google started from the scratch and created a browser for today’s Web apps.

For some, Chrome OS may seem pointless. Why buy a notebook that can only run a single program, when you can install Chrome on your existing computer? But why switch from Firefox to a browser that doesn’t support advanced extensions? After all, Firefox is a lot more customizable than Chrome since any extension can dramatically alter the interface and integrate with the browser. It turns out that Firefox extensions can sometimes slow down the browser, some use a lot of resources, they’re difficult to update and every new major release can break them. Chrome’s extensions are less powerful, but they don’t slow down the browser, they’re easier to develop and to maintain and major new releases rarely break them.

Just like Chrome influenced all the other important browsers, Chrome OS will change the other operating systems. Sandboxing applications can make the operating system a lot more secure, saving your settings and files online allows you to use them from any other computer, Web applications are powerful enough to replace some of the native apps and they don’t live on your computer, so they can be constantly updated. Even Windows intends to switch to “Web-powered apps built using HTML5 and JavaScript that have access to the full power of the PC” in the next major release, while still supporting “legacy” apps. It’s obvious that most of the apps will eventually migrate to the Web and Chrome OS is better suited to support them because it doesn’t have to worry about legacy apps and because it’s designed just like a Google Web app: constantly updated, fast, clutter-free. “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed,” said William Gibson. Chrome OS is ready… when you are.

{ image from the Chrome Comic Book, licensed by Google as Creative Commons }