December 19, 2011

A Special Kind Of Proxy

GoogleSharing is a special proxy service that doesn’t hide what you are searching from Google. Instead, it obscures where the requests are coming from. GoogleSharing is not a full proxy service designed to anonymize traffic. It is exclusively intended for certain aspects of your communication with Google. So there are no “alternative” websites to visit. Your use of the web need not change at all.

diagram

How does it work?

How does it work?
The GoogleSharing system is a custom proxy with a Firefox Add-on.

The proxy

The proxy generates a pool of GoogleSharing “identities,” each containing a cookie issued by Google and an arbitrary User-Agent for one of several browsers.

The add-on

The Firefox add-on watches for requests to Google services from your browser… and will transparently redirect them to a GoogleSharing proxy. There your request is stripped of identifying information and replaced with a GoogleSharing identity. Then this request is forwarded to Google, and the response is proxied back to you.

If your next search is given a different identity, Continue reading

December 16, 2011

Google Cloud Print one year later

A few days ago, Google Cloud Print was rolled out to more users, with new features. One of the more interesting is the ability to embed a cloud print button on one’s website. Read on to learn the reason this cloud print button is important.

Reverse colors in 2011

Google Cloud Print's new logo

The Google Cloud Print landing page now offers complete instructions for registering a printer that is not connected to a PC or other computer. There is also a detailed user tutorial, which wasn’t available a year ago.

The full list of operating systems, device types and browsers from which one can access Cloud Print is extensive.  This seems to be the easiest way to decide whether Cloud Print will work with a user’s current “configuration”:

On any web page, if you see a “Print” button with the Google Cloud Print logo, you can print without leaving your browser.

As I wrote this article, I found a few user tips. Profiles and Cloud Print for Any Page has good instructions for embedding the Cloud Print button, and for using it with multiple Google profiles in Chrome 16.

Variety of services

Google Cloud Print offers versatility

Implementation and strategy thoughts

The level of detail required to specify device (mobile/ tablet/ PC/ Mac/ Chromebook), operating system (Android/ iOS/ Windows/ Mac/ Chrome OS) and print app makes one think about the project management complexity. I can only imagine the hardware and data integration challenges!

It is worth noting that Google chose to expend this effort on printing, which is one of the least interesting computing services, for marketing and developers alike. This is a reality, despite the importance of print functionality to those who need it.

In Beta

A certain problem URL, described in my  Cloud Print post last year, still returns the same 400 error. I don’t fault Google for that. Google Cloud Print remains is in beta. It is more prudent to keep the beta designation until a product is ready. Avoid the sort of headaches Google recently had with the still-buggy Gmail for Apple iPhone mess a few weeks ago.

December 9, 2011

Emotional response to Google search

Humorous representation of user perception of Google search engine results

Charting emotional response to results returned by Google search

Via UberHumor, When searching on Google.

A second source of fun came to my attention courtesy of web designer, developer, and past Google employee Ji Lee 이지별 and his rather agreeable website-portfolio, Please Enjoy. It is Goollery (not affiliated with Google):

Via Goollery not affiliated with Google
Google Map Points

a collection of awesome Google-related projects from people around the world

Typical features are entertaining anecdotes and items like this life-sized Google map marker photo and story.

It is worth mentioning that neither Mr. Ji Lee’s website, nor Goollery are thinly disguised marketing-fodder. Both sites are sharp-witted in tone at times. They do not hesitate to mention less-than-favorable Google corporate strategies and policies. Similarly, they acknowledge instances when competitors excelled, or customers were not well-served. Yet neither site is mean-spirited.

Today’s post includes one more item of Google fun. The following video is now featured on Goollery in the “Most Recent” section, EPIC Google Docs.

It is a delightful animation, about 1:30 mins duration.

This demo shows how you can make a Flash-like animated presentation by only using Google Docs, without using any animation software. The presentation consists of 450 pages and was created by 3 persons from 3 different locations in 3 days.

There may be some adult, or at least “over age 13″ type content in one or both sites. That is a standard for most sites though. Even The Federal Reserve Bank of New York website has that provision in the terms of service:

Eligibility …not intended for users under the age of 13. By using the Services, you warrant that you are at least 13 years of age.

* All content on the Fed’s site is 100% free for re-use, however. Well, mostly, as long as it doesn’t come from third parties. And isn’t re-posted for commercial purposes. Probably best to view the Fed’s TOS page just to be certain.

November 23, 2011

Google Sidewiki is closing

Google Sidewiki will close effective 5 December 2011 and all content will be deleted. Sidewiki was a web annotation experiment of sorts, allowing anyone with access to the internet to comment on any web page, in an ad hoc sort of way.

Google Sidewiki to be seen no more

Sidewiki icon

Demise of another Google Labs project

Google Sidewiki seemed to have a relatively small cadre of regular users. It was initially received with anticipation, and from some surprising sources. According to pharma industry analyst Dominic Tyer, in his coverage of the closure:

Sidewiki was briefly a big deal for pharma…it caused at least one over enthusiastic pharma commentator to declare it a “game changer” at launch two years ago.

Google Sidewiki was plagued by spam and extraneous content from the beginning. Google itself did not seem to stand behind the project as much as with other Labs, as the Google Sidewiki Twitter account and Google Buzz feed were not updated after July 2010, despite remaining online. Google+ is much more closely aligned with the direction Google seems to be taking for social and collaborative web interaction lately.

How to export your Sidewiki contributions

You can do this as follows:

  1. Sign in to your Google account
  2. Go to All my entries to see all Sidewiki content that you have created
  3. Save the page to your computer. It will be in a *.zip file format.
  4. Check that the saved page is readable
Logo

Final days for Sidewiki

There is also a Google Toolbar Help Center article about removing Sidewiki for those who don’t use Chrome browser, but it hasn’t been updated since September 2011.

Chrome Extension for Sidewiki

If you use the Sidewiki Chrome extension, see these Help Center instructions  which are up-to-date, about how to remove it.

In order to keep your Sidewiki contributions you must export them before 5 December 2011.

Tags:
October 20, 2011

Google for investors with 3Q 2011 update

This post will focus on Google the corporate entity, and not a product review or news (or humor with pictures and video) that is my usual subject here In the GooglePlex.

Google for investors

Google, Inc. is listed as GOOG on the NASDAQ. The corporate website for Google Investor Relations is http://investor.google.com

Have a look at (and consider bookmarking) the Events and Webcast page of the Investor Relations website. I find that to be the most convenient way to check on the status of any Google corporate news or document releases.

Current status of Google as a going concern

Google released third quarter financial information last week, for the three months ending September 30, 2011. Revenue is up 33% over 3Q 2010, and profits have increased 26%.

Android logo pillow

Google Android close-up

Some analysts expressed concern over the recent acquisition of Motorola as well as the Google mobile phone product, Android. Patent-related troubles are the primary reason for that. The full length version of the official press release is always available to the public, straight from the source: Google Announces 3Q 2011 Financial Results.

The slide presentation* accompanying every quarterly financial announcement is posted on the Google Investor Relations site, which is probably the quickest way to get access to it. The 3Q 2011 slides [PDF] are there already, although XBRL data, which is of less general interest to the public, hasn’t been posted yet.

XBRL is an abbreviation for eXtensible Business Reporting Language. I don’t recall how quickly the Google 2Q 2011 XBRL files were posted. XBRL files are in ZIP format. They are part of recent financial reforms related to the Dodd-Frank bill. Publicly traded (exchange listed) companies are required to use XBRL for better standardization of financial reporting for regulatory compliance purposes. This is required of all companies, and does not reflect negatively on Google, who has a good record with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In fact, one of the most upbeat, unequivocally positive posts to emerge from that Dark Horse, Zero Hedge (some of whose dire predictions are coming true, reflecting present conditions rather well) is about Google. Yes, it would be fair to say that Zero Hedge is actually bullish on Google: Our Growth Projection For Google Is Intact and Performing Well.

Opinion from a corner of a foreign field that wishes it were in the GooglePlex

I’ll share some ad hoc thoughts of my own, not to be taken as investment advice in any way, shape or form. I am not licensed to recommend, act as adviser nor broker in any financial instruments. I own no shares of Google stock. Keep in mind that this is my Google hobby blog, so I am obviously biased in favor of the company. I love the green Android, he is so sweet and cute.

Google has spread itself thin. There is a rather dour but sober post over at Read Write Web by Jon Mitchell that alludes to such. But steps are being taken to address that. Many, myself included, mourn the September 2011 closure of Google Labs, and the wonderful projects it offered. Yet this is an example of how Google is taking action to focus on products that are most likely to generate revenue. And also most likely to help mainstream users.

One must remember that Google is not a public utility, nor a government agency. Google provides a great many services that have zero profit potential, such as free Google Code Hosting for open source projects, server space to house the Usenet bulletin boards of the past etc.

Customer service

Google is not perfect. Advertising remains a primary revenue source. To-date, Google AdSense and AdWords revenue was primarily from e-commerce customers who don’t require much in the way of user support. Google needs to improve its customer support, particularly as an enterprise provider of custom search solutions such as the Google Search Appliance, and most visibly, Google Apps.

Social

I am not too concerned about Google Plus and its competitive positioning versus Facebook. Google+ is new, has glitches, and may be of interest to a smaller subset of the population than Facebook. That’s okay though. Facebook is 100% about social (note that the Facebook Places project was discontinued). Facebook doesn’t try, nor need to be a search engine too. Similarly, it is great that Google offers social features, a nice “extra”. However, Google’s core business is search and information retrieval. Advertising revenue finances that, and social features facilitate advertising.

* Google quarterly earnings slide presentations all have a similar format and character. As an example, you can glance at the slide presentation that accompanied the 2Q 2011 Google announcement. I found it on Scribd, before I knew about the Google Investor Relations website. This is for the quarter ending June 30, 2011 (whereas the link in the paragraph above was for the most current 3Q data):

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?

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