Archive for September, 2011

September 27, 2011

Google Tashkeel for diacritics in Arabic to be discontinued

The name Tashkeel – تشكيل means to “give shape or form”. The process of diacritizing is also called Tashkeel.

Google Tashkeel adds missing diacritics to Arabic text:

Diacritic symbols are crucial to identify how words are pronounced and to disambiguate their meanings. Arabic uses diacritic symbols to specify short vowels.

Google Tashkeel Translation product

Google Tashkeel for Arabic diacritic annotation

The symbols are usually omitted by native speakers when writing, as the word meaning can be inferred by context. However, including diacritics is necessary as a pre-processing step for many text processing applications. Diacritics are used in a similar context in many other languages. The two that I am most familiar with are Chinese and Hebrew.

Google is shutting down Tashkeel

Tashkeel will go offline by September 30, 2011. The URL is

http://tashkeel.googlelabs.com

Arabic language by geography

which explains why Tashkeel is shutting down: It is yet another product closing as part of the Google corporate decision to shutter Google Labs.

Tashkeel will be missed by many users. As of September 16, 2011, the product page had over 200 five-star reviews.

September 22, 2011

New Google domains

Google offers search on different regional domains, to give users the most locally relevant results.

These are two examples of regional domains

  • google.fr for France
  • google.dj for Djibouti

In March 2011, Google introduced two more domains, google.iq for Iraq and google.tn for Tunisia. This brings the count of local Google search domains, worldwide, to 184. According to the Official Google Arabia blog, 15 of these domains are now in Arab countries.

Coupon

Free search!

Curious to view the internet from the view point of these domains? Or any other Google local domain?

The GoogleSystem Blog gives a step-by-step explanation for changing Google’s search domain from the default associated with your physical location.

September 17, 2011

Google Plus impact on page rank

Controversy over the impact of Google Plus buttons on search engine page rank is the latest news story associated with Google’s recently introduced social network. Will it benefit large websites to the detriment of small or specialty sites, particularly blogs? Since Google page rank is part of the mysterious world of search engine optimization, speculation is plentiful.

I found this attractive rendering of a Google Plus button on the Flickr page of a Second Life resident.

Circle Me! on G+

The image was used as the illustration for a mysteriously de-listed Forbes article* about the effect of Google+ buttons on website page rank. The article URL was supposedly removed from Google search results. Based on the error returned when I checked just now, I think it is more likely that it was deleted by Forbes. Whether accidental or by intent wasn’t obvious to me.

Yet it is not easy for anyone, not even Google, to erase digital footprints. Alternative search engine Blekko has the article in cache. Publication date was 18 August 2011 (Forbes Online). I will amend this post with a cleaner URL for the web cached result from Blekko. The article didn’t seem objectionable to me, upon first glance. But I am not an SEO expert.

* Thanks and attribution given to a Google+ user discussion of 31 August 2011.

UPDATE

Here is the Blekko web cached URL: http://blekko-webcache.com/cache/http%3A%2F%2Fwww.forbes.com%2Fsites%2Fkashmirhill%2F2011%2F08%2F18%2Fstick-google-plus-buttons-on-your-pages-or-your-search-traffic-dies%2F

The author is Forbes staff writer Ms. Kashmir Hill. The article is time stamped 11:21 AM on August 18, 2011, Technology section. The title is Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Dies. The content of the article is not as dire as the title. These are the salient points, and possibly cause for concern by any website involved in e-commerce, publisher or otherwise:

Though recommendations from contacts in your Google circles will be weighted more heavily, the number of “+1″s overall will now be a factor in search whether you’re part of Plus or not…. The Google guys explained how the new recommendation system will be a factor in search. “Universally, or just among Google Plus friends?” I asked. ‘Universal’ was the answer.

This was not surprising, but still unsavory:

Some traffic scammers are already onto this. Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic reports that SEO shops are already offering bushels of +1 votes for $9.99 a pop.

Ms. Hill then suggested that the Google+ buttons will benefit users of online services and those active in social media:

There are going to be lots of benefits to this… I just gave a hotel I liked in TownN a +1. Should I miss a Facebook status update from a friend going to TownN in the future asking for recommendations, this is a built-in back-up, so that this hotel will rise up in the search results should they Google “TownN hotels.” That’s pretty cool… And I can do that even though TownN doesn’t have a +1 on its page, since these buttons are also available from the main Google search page.

Additional web analytics information will be available to sites that include the Google+ button. But similarly, sites that choose not to place the +1 button on their pages will likely fare worse in search results than competitors who have included the button.

Is this a problem?

Facebook “Like” buttons have a similar impact, though not through Google search engine results directly.

What is the downside?

The Google Plus button is free to use, just like other social media services. There will be some work for the web maintenance staff, decisions about optimal placement. Page load speed? Uncertain. Yet it would be very unwise for Google to penalize sites in search results due to incremental delay from using one its own products! Overall, Google+ does not seem to be a cause for concern– merely the addition of another social media button to the already ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter icons.

September 15, 2011

Google Apps discontinues support for old web browsers

As of August 1, 2011, Google Apps will support modern browsers ONLY

Users of Firefox 3.5, IE7 and Safari 3 (and their predecessors) take note! Gmail, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs and Sites will not work correctly on these older versions. Eventually they will stop working at all if you do not upgrade your browser to a more up to date version.

What is a modern browser according to Google Apps?

For Google Apps, “modern browser” has two parts. “Modern” refers to current and prior major releases. Support will be maintained on a rolling basis going forward.

Opera browser

The second part is “browser”, specifically, one of the following:

  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Internet Explorer
  • Safari

Opera is conspicuously absent, which may irk some European users.

Web browser market share

The following is a chart of desktop browser usage rates. Data was provided by StatCounter.

Desktop browser usage, Oct 2010 - Sep 2011

Safari is twice as popular as Opera, though a 4.26% market share is small compared to the top three. Safari is part of the larger Apple product line. Maybe that is the justification for Google’s decision to include Safari but not Opera.

Conjecture

The modern browser support announcement was specifically for Google Apps, though it may include all Google accounts at some point. I am uncertain. Perhaps Opera is not as often used by Google Apps and enterprise customers as Safari?

September 4, 2011

The Google Labs story continues

Green is the new blue for Code Labs

According to this comprehensive listing via Google Code, Google Code Labs projects will be associated with a green bar, not light blue. Google Labs that have graduated to full products will have the usual light blue bar:

Instead of the blue page elements that you see on most Google Code pages, Labs products use green. For example, see the title bar above that says “Google Code Labs.” For Labs products, you’ll also notice “(Labs)” in the title bar, next to the product name.

The other way of denoting a Google Labs project is more pleasing to me, and endearing:

Instead of the typical Google Code logo, Labs products have one with a conical flask as the “L”.  We’re admittedly fond of conical flasks so they may show up in other places as well.

I am fond of Erlenmeyer flasks too.

Google Labs is being discontinued

Which Google Labs projects will be discontinued and which will remain? Unknown.

Swiffy screenshot

Google Swiffy — click to view full size

There will be some survivors, despite the demise of Google Labs announcement several weeks ago. For example, reCAPTCHA is a Google Labs project , but is unlikely to go away! Nor is the Google Prediction API.

Google also indicated that Google Swiffy, the HTML to Flash content converter project, will continue as a Google Labs project, although perhaps in a different location. See image for further details.

UPDATE

Two days ago, Search Engine Land featured a comprehensive post about Google Labs projects status. Some projects will live on, others will not.  A few of the more noteworthy decisions were that Google Correlate will survive. Say farewell to Google Sets and Google Squared though.

UPDATE 2

This is a shock. Straight from the REAL GooglePlex was this sad announcement on 2 September 2011. The following much-loved favorites, at least by me, and profiled in the past here, are closing down:

Google Health and Google Power Meter were discontinued too. The announcement about Google Health and Power Meter was made separately, in June 2011. Google Fiber was not affected.

Google Experimental Labs logo

Still alive!

Fate of Experiments?

I do not know how this will impact Google Experimental Search.

Although the image denotes it as part of Google Labs, the URL is http://www.google.com/experimental/ a sub-domain of Google, rather than the Google Labs URL of  googlelabs.com. The official description implies to me that it is a search-specific feature:

Google is always experimenting with new features aimed at improving the search experience. Take one for a spin and let us know what you think. Join an experiment and you’ll see that feature whenever you do a Google search.

September 3, 2011

Prediction API Part 2

Motivation

In my initial coverage of the Google Prediction API, I was very curious why Google would be so magnanimous as to open up this API for public use. This is a plausible answer from Google:

We do not describe the actual logic of the Prediction API in these documents, because that system is constantly being changed and improved. Therefore we can’t provide optimization tips that depend on specific implementations of our matching logic, which can change without notice.

An older prediction API

Based on some of the user comments in the Google group for the Prediction API, I would guess that it is one of the more difficult of all Google APIs to understand and use. Similarly, it will probably be challenging to get meaningful results. A great deal more information is available in the Prediction API developer guide. It includes an example (with detailed instructions): An application for movie recommendations.

Requirements

Google advises that all the following are prerequisite for using the Prediction API:

  • an active Google Storage account
  • an APIs Console project with both the Google Prediction API and the Google Storage for Developers API activated

And of course, a Google account! See getting started for further details.

Free but not forever

Nor is the Prediction API free of charge indefinitely. According to the initial terms, usage is free for all users for the first six months, up to the following limits per project:

  • Predictions: 100 predictions/day
  • Hosted model predictions: Hosted models have a usage limit of 100 predictions/day/user across all models
  • Training: 5MB trained/day
  • Streaming updates: 100 streaming updates/day
  • Lifetime cap: 20,000 predictions

This free quota expires at the end of the six month introductory period. The introductory periods begins the day that Google Prediction is activated for a project in the Google APIs console. Remember that charges associated with Google Storage must be included to figure total cost. Presumably this is an API that Google won’t be deprecating without replacement any time soon. However, there is a separate Terms of Service for the Prediction API, which does give Google the right to do exactly that. I think that is standard language though, as Google is not contractually bound to support a free, or even paid but unprofitable service unless explicitly specifically stated.

Summary

The Google Prediction API is probably best used as a sandbox. It may be helpful for deciding whether one wants to use machine learning for predictive purposes. If one decides to go ahead with this approach, there are probably more suitable alternatives than the Google Prediction API for an application intended for production use.

September 3, 2011

Android 404 with Cthulhu

Android seems fully in control of this situation.

Please be patient! We are experiencing a HUGE doughnut break

.

Android encounters the 404 Tentacle Horror

Now this… well, I am more concerned.

It looks like Android has quite an unruly creature to contend with. For the very, very curious, more about the mysterious “mythos” of the tentacles may be found here: Cthulhu, zombies and the Centers For Disease Control.

Disclaimer: I am solely responsible for the content of that link, which, in the interest of full disclosure, leads to the Quora website.

Do not be afraid.

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