Google Body Browser

Google has recently demoed an interesting WebGL application called Body Browser, which lets you explore the human body just like you can explore the world in Google Earth. Now you can try Google Body Browser before it’s added to Google Labs, assuming that you have a WebGL-enabled browser:

* WebGL is available, but not enabled by default in Chrome 8 (the latest stable version). Type about:flags in the address bar, click “Enable” next to “WebGL” and then click on “Restart now”. Please note that this is an experimental feature in Chrome 8.
* WebGL is enabled by default in Chrome 9 Beta, Chrome 9 Dev Channel, Chrome Canary Build and Firefox 4 beta.

Damon Hernandez was surprised to notice that the application doesn’t require a plugin. “Unlike other web based medical applications I have seen, no Flash, Java, or other plugins are needed. This application will run on any WebGL supported browser. (…) Last year I got the opportunity to work on an open standards based web3D medical app for learning the bones of the body. After witnessing how that app really helped students learn the bones, I am sold on using web3D for medical education.”

{ Thanks, Juuso. }

Google’s AROUND Operator for Proximity Search

Google has an undocumented operator called “AROUND” for finding web pages that include words or phrases which are near to each other.

If you want to find results that include both “Steve Jobs” and “Andy Rubin”, you might search for [“Steve Jobs” “Andy Rubin”] or even for [“Steve Jobs * Andy Rubin”]. Google’s AROUND operator lets you specify the maximum number of words that separate the two names. For example, you could search for [“Steve Jobs” AROUND(3) “Andy Rubin”] and only get web pages that include the two names separated by less than three words.

“The AROUND operator is a handy trick to use when you’re looking for a combination of search terms when one dominates the results, but you’re interested in the relationship between two query terms. Note also that if Google can’t find anything within the limit, it will just do regular ranking of the terms without the AROUND coming into play. Using AROUND is especially useful when the documents are rather long (think book-length articles). So try this operator in Google Books…. [slavery AROUND(4) indigo],” suggests Google’s Daniel Russell.

Barry Schwartz notes that Bing has a similar operator, but it’s called “near”.

{ via Search Engine Roundtable }

Google: Being bad to your customers is bad for business

A recent article by the New York Times related a disturbing story. By treating your customers badly, one merchant told the paper, you can generate complaints and negative reviews that translate to more links to your site; which, in turn, make it more prominent in search engines. The main premise of the article was that being bad on the web can be good for business.

We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google’s search results.

As always, we learned a lot from this experience, and we wanted to share some of that with you. Consider the obvious responses we could have tried to fix the problem:

  • Block the particular offender. That would be easy and might solve the immediate problem for that specific business, but it wouldn’t solve the larger issue in a general way. Our first reaction in search quality is to look for ways to solve problems algorithmically.
  • Use sentiment analysis to identify negative remarks and turn negative comments into negative votes. While this proposal initially sounds promising, it turns out to be based on a misconception. First off, the terrible merchant in the story wasn’t really ranking because of links from customer complaint websites. In fact, many consumer community sites such as Get Satisfaction added a simple attribute called rel=nofollow to their links. The rel=nofollow attribute is a general mechanism that allows websites to tell search engines not to give weight to specific links, and it’s perfect for the situation when you want to link to a site without endorsing it. Ironically, some of the most reputable links to Decor My Eyes came from mainstream news websites such as the New York Times and Bloomberg. The Bloomberg article was about someone suing the company behind Decor My Eyes, but the language of the article was neutral, so sentiment analysis wouldn’t have helped here either.

    As it turns out, Google has a world-class sentiment analysis system (Large-Scale Sentiment Analysis for News and Blogs). But if we demoted web pages that have negative comments against them, you might not be able to find information about many elected officials, not to mention a lot of important but controversial concepts. So far we have not found an effective way to significantly improve search using sentiment analysis. Of course, we will continue trying.

  • Yet another option is to expose user reviews and ratings for various merchants alongside their results. Though still on the table, this would not demote poor quality merchants in our results and could still lead users to their websites.

Instead, in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.

We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said. We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search.

Posted by Amit Singhal

U.S. General Services Administration is going Google

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) today announced its decision to move 17,000 employees and contractors to Google Apps for Government. GSA oversees the business of the U.S. federal government, providing real estate and building management services as well as acquisition and procurement assistance to other federal agencies.

GSA’s decision to switch to Google Apps resulted from a competitive request for proposal (RFP) process that took place over the past six months, during which the agency evaluated multiple proposals for replacing their existing on-premises email system. GSA selected Google partner Unisys as the prime contractor to migrate all employees in 17 locations around the world to an integrated, flexible and robust email and collaboration service in 2011.

By making this switch, GSA will benefit in a number of ways. Modern email and collaboration tools will help make employees more efficient and effective. Google Apps will bring GSA a continual stream of new and innovative features, helping the agency keep pace with advances in technology in the years ahead. And taxpayers will benefit too—by reducing the burden of in-house maintenance and eliminating the need to replace hardware to host its email systems, GSA expects to lower costs by 50 percent over the next five years.

Earlier this year, Google Apps became the first suite of cloud computing email and collaboration applications to receive Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification, enabling agencies to compare the security features of Google Apps to that of existing systems.

GSA is leading the way in embracing the federal government’s “cloud first” policy, under which agencies should opt for hosted applications when secure, reliable, cost-effective options are available. We are thrilled that GSA has chosen to move to the cloud with Google and look forward to expanding our productive partnership with them.

Posted by Mike Bradshaw,

Google Editions to Be Released This Month

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google will launch this month Google Editions, the service that will allow users to read copyrighted books from Google Book Search.

The long-delayed venture — Google executives had said they hoped to launch this summer — recently has cleared several technical and legal hurdles, people close to the company say. It is set to debut in the U.S. by the end of the year and internationally in the first quarter of next year, said Scott Dougall, a Google product management director. (…)

Google Editions hopes to upend the existing e-book market by offering an open, “read anywhere” model that is different from many competitors. Users will be able to buy books directly from Google or from multiple online retailers — including independent bookstores — and add them to an online library tied to a Google account. They will be able to access their Google accounts on most devices with a Web browser, including personal computers, smartphones and tablets.

This will finally answer the question “How can I read an entire book in Google Book Search?“. Right now, you can only read books in the public domain and some books from the Partner Program. “Many of the books in Google Books come from authors and publishers who participate in our Partner Program. For these books, our partners decide how much of the book is browsable – anywhere from a few sample pages to the whole book,” explains Google. Google’s partners will now have an incentive to allow full access to the books: users will actually pay to read the books.

Google’s Guide to the Web

Google Chrome’s comic book was a great way to introduce to the world a new browser, but not everyone knew what’s an URL or a web app. “20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web” is a guidebook created by the Google Chrome team that tries to address this issue by explaining complicated terms like “Internet”, “cloud computing”, “JavaScript”, “HTML5”, “cookies”, “URL”, “IP address” using illustrations and real life analogies. Here’s an example:

“An IP address is a series of numbers that tells us where a particular device is on the Internet network, be it the server or your computer. It’s a bit like mom’s phone number: just as the phone number tells an operator which house to route a call to so it reaches your mom, an IP address tells your computer which other device on the Internet to communicate with — to send data to and get data from.”

The guidebook is actually a great example of an HTML5 web application that works offline and Google recommends to read it in “Chrome or any up-to-date, HTML5-compliant modern browser”. Most of the examples from the book are about Google Chrome and that’s what makes it look like a Chrome ad.

Google This week: search 11/15/10

NHL Live Result
Many of you are sports fans, and we’re always delighted to make improvements that help you find those scores, stats and recaps. We partnered with our friends at to provide rich information in the snippets of the results. These include real-time scores, schedules and team standings. They also include links for quick access to game previews, live streams, recaps and video highlights of completed games making it super-easy to keep up to date on the latest NHL action.

Example searches: [nhl], [rangers]

Help for those who need it
In times of crisis, it’s especially important to find the crucial information you’re looking for—and find it fast. After receiving positive feedback for poison control and suicide prevention special search features in the U.S., this week we launched one or more emergency search features in 13 countries: Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. For certain queries, the feature displays the phone number to call for poison emergencies, suicide prevention or general emergency services.

Instant Previews
This week we were excited to take the speed of Google Instant even further with the launch of Instant Previews in almost all languages and domains. Instant Previews is a new, interactive feature that helps you select the right results by showing you a preview of each page and highlighting the most relevant sections for your query. You can activate the feature with a single click on the magnifying glass next to the result title. The tool is fast and interactive, with the average preview appearing in under a tenth of a second.

Learn more about Instant Previews here.

We hope you enjoyed this week’s updates. You can check out some of the top searches of the week on our latest edition of Google Beat—stay tuned for more!

Posted by Johanna Wright

Google Promotes Data Portability by Adding Restrictions to the Contacts API

Google found a strange way to show to the world that Facebook is a walled garden that traps your data: by blocking Facebook’s access to the Google Contacts API. A Google spokesperson said that “users often aren’t aware that once they have imported their contacts into sites like Facebook they are effectively trapped. We hope that reciprocity will be an important step towards creating a world of true data liberation—and that this move will encourage other websites to allow users to automate the export of their contacts as well.”

Facebook users can still export their Gmail contacts and manually upload the file to Facebook, but Google Contacts API made this much easier. Facebook even found a direct URL that lets you export your contacts, so you don’t have to visit Gmail.

Google may have good intentions, but that’s a terrible way to treat users. After all, it’s their data and it should be their choice to use services like Facebook.

To show that Facebook is not the only target, Google Contacts API includes some new terms of use: “Google supports data portability. By accessing Content through the Contacts Data API or Portable Contacts API for use in your service or application, you are agreeing to enable your users to export their contacts data to other services or applications of their choice in a way that’s substantially as fast and easy as exporting such data from Google Contacts, subject to applicable laws.”

That’s like trying to make the web faster by asking developers that use the Google Analytics tracking code to make their sites as fast as Google Analytics.

Update: Danny Sullivan quotes a Facebook engineer who says that “the most important principle for Facebook is that every person owns and controls her information. Each person owns her friends list, but not her friends’ information. A person has no more right to mass export all of her friends’ private email addresses than she does to mass export all of her friends’ private photo albums”.

But that’s not always the case, since Facebook allows Yahoo and Microsoft to build services that import your Facebook friends, while Google can’t get that data. Danny concludes that “Facebook simply doesn’t want you to mass export them into Google — not unless, I suppose, it gets a business deal with Google. And if it doesn’t want to do a deal, then those emails don’t get to go. They aren’t yours. They belong to Facebook, and can only be exported to the business partners that Facebook agrees with.”

Update 2: Google redirects users that want to download their address book directly from Facebook to a page titled “Trap my data now“:

“Hold on a second. Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won’t let you get it out? Here’s the not-so-fine print. You have been directed to this page from a site that doesn’t allow you to re-export your data to other services, essentially locking up your contact data about your friends. So once you import your data there, you won’t be able to get it out. We think this is an important thing for you to know before you import your data there. Although we strongly disagree with this data protectionism, the choice is yours. Because, after all, you should have control over your data.”

Google Shuts Down GOOG-411

Google announced that GOOG-411, the free directory assistance service launched in 2007, will be discontinued next month. GOOG-411 is available in the US and Canada, where it was launched as a free alternative to the expensive services provided by telephone companies.

The service has helped Google build a large database of voice samples and improved the voice recognition technology. Here’s what Google’s Marissa Mayer said about GOOG-411:

“The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. … So 1-800-GOOG-411 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-800-GOOG-411 end_of_the_skype_highlighting is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we’re trying to get the voice out of video, we can do it with high accuracy.”

2007 was also the year when iPhone and Android were launched. Smartphones turned out to be better suited for voice-powered search because the service was easier to use and it could integrate with the phone. Google launched a mobile voice search app for iPhone in 2008, a built-in search app for Android in 2009, followed by voice input and voice actions this year. The mobile Google Maps app for Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Mobile added support for voice search, which now works in more than 10 languages.

Google no longer focused on GOOG-411 and decided to discontinue the service. “Our success encouraged us to aim for more innovation. Thus, we’re putting all of our resources into speech-enabling the next generation of Google products and services across a multitude of languages,” explained Google.

A good alternative to GOOG-411 is BING-411 (1-800-BING-411 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-800-BING-411 end_of_the_skype_highlighting), Microsoft’s service that gives you turn-by-turn driving directions, traffic conditions, and weather reports. The service is only available in the US.

Here’s one of my favorite Google promotional videos:

{ Thanks, Bill. }

Google’s John Lennon Doodle

Google’s doodle that celebrates the 70th anniversary of John Lennon‘s birthday doesn’t seem special until you click on it.

Google embeds a short animated video for John Lennon’s “Imagine”. After using bigger doodles, image animations, particle simulations and JavaScript games, it’s time for video doodles.

Unfortunately, clicking on the YouTube video doesn’t send you to the search results page for [John Lennon], but Google used a trick: after playing the video, you’re automatically redirected to the search results.

If you don’t see the doodle on Google’s homepage, go to Google Australia or Google India.