Friday, March 30, 2007

Improve AdWords & Win an iPod

Today, I received an email from AdWords Team telling me to fill out a survey form which could win me a 80GB iPod Video. Owing to the agreements in the email, I could not reveal what the survey is exactly about. It is mainly about how effective AdWords is and comparing a few advertising channels both online and offline. Anyone got invited as well?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

News Summary

I was in Thailand during the past 8 days and didn't have time to blog about Google. Let's catch up by summarizing the hundred something RSS feeds I missed:

Google China released two beta products: Rebang and Daohang
Rebang and Daohang means Hot List and Web Navigation in Chinese respectively. Rebang is the Chinese version of Google Zeitgeist but creates more dynamic content and puts search trends into various groups. Daohang is a directory where users can find top sites in one single page.

Google Talk Gadget released
Google Talk Gadget allows users to chat within their personalized homepage and even your own homepage. There are two new features that the talk client does not support: Video and photo preview within chat window. (i.e. the gadget automatically identifies links to YouTube videos and images in Picasa Web Album and displays a snapshot in the chat window)

Google acquired both Adscape and Gapminder
Adscape is an in-game advertising company based in San Francisco California that "offers dynamic delivery of advertising with plot and storyline integration". Gapminder is a non-profit organization from Sweeden aiming to "make the data more accessible and easier to use for instant visual analysis". They developed a tool called Trendalyzer "that turns boring ... statistics into attractive moving graphics".

St. Patrick's Day Doodle

According to Wikipedia St. Patrick's Day is “the Christian feast day which celebrates Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. … A major parade takes place in Dublin and in most other Irish towns and villages”.

Aggregated Source: Official Google Blog Googlified Google Operating System

Personalized Homepage gets dressed

Some people like plain interfaces (just like the classic Google homepage) but there are also people who loves fancy, cool-looking and stylish stuff. Google now caters both group by adding themes to its personalized homepage. There are all together 7 choices: 'Classic', 'Beach', 'Bus Stop' , 'City Scape', 'Sweet Dreams', 'Tea House' and 'Seasonal Scape'. Every theme are basically templates that have a header image and is customized into specific color schemes. Some themes can even change dynamically to match your time of day, including local sunrise and sunset times. I think this is just the first step of coloring the personalized homepage as Google should predefined templates can only satisfy a small group of users. If the templates can be modified in a control panel like customizing themes in Blogger and Groups, it would allow more variations (that means users might get to change the Google logo to their beloved static colors!). A good step forward!

This is a beach theme in the afternoon.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Google Desktop 5 Review

Google launched a new version of its Desktop Search program named Google Desktop. Google Desktop was created to make searching on computers as easy as searching the web with Google. It provides full text search over your email, files, music, photos, chats, Gmail, web pages that you've viewed, and many more. As a Windows XP users, Desktop can accurately locate documents in my PC as it indexes not only the title but also the inner text. Back to Desktop 5, what's so special about it? Actually, not too surprising. Here are the new stuff in Desktop 5:
  • Improved look-n-feel of the sidebar and some of the gadgets
    The new feeling is more Vista-like, for instance, the option buttons in the sidebar or the transparent background in the sidebar. Another update is the 'Add Gadgets' page. When scrolling over individual gadgets, it displays basic information about the gadget at the bottom of the page where previously users will have to visit visit a new web page. But compared with Mac dashboard (or even some Yahoo Widgets), Desktop still lack design talents though improvements could be seen in later versions. One thing I really dislike: when auto-hide is selected, the sidebar background becomes black when it appears on top of other screens (other than the desktop). It just does not look cool.

  • Introducing ranking in search results
    Before search results are arranged in date or relevancy. But relevancy here only takes into account text-matching. Desktop 5, however, tries to rank results according to factors such as whether the file is used recently and frequently, or have been designated as particularly important by the user, for instance through the creation of a desktop shortcut. This definitely improves the relevancy of search results but the problem is personalization takes time so users won't see any significant changes immediately.

  • Preview search results
    Instead of waiting for an entire application to open just to verify that you’ve found the file you were looking for, Desktop 5 provides preview for search results right inside the browser. This preview might come from the PlusBox idea in Google search but if users not only can preview text, but also preview images and play audio Desktop shall be much more powerful. Another inadequacy is that previews do not highlight the search term which means users will have to glance through the whole thing to find what they are looking for.

  • Better Security
    I was being mislead by the title as well. But as you read on ... "We care about your security", it explains more. Desktop will show a warning when you are about to visit a site that might be trying to steal your personal information or install malicious software on your computer whether you are clicking on links from documents, IMs and e-mails on your desktop or browsing the web itself. This feature is already available in Google web search and it definitely improves security of your computer. (This feature even protects you from those annoying MSN virus which says 'Is that you in the right corner of the photo? Is looks exactly like you!' and a link attached which actually redirects you to a site where a virus is installed on your computer.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Google CSE gets better branding

Google Custom Search allows users to create their own search engine by manually including certain sites of similar topics to either 'get emphasized' or 'monopolize' the results. The idea is great, but since it is new, Google focused more on its core features (e.g. adding statistics, allow individual search engines to be ad-free) than its look-n-feel. But now the basic frame work is almost done, Google starts to furbish the product. The first improvement they made (which happened in Feb) is that they turned the long and annoying sentence that previously said "Google search results customized by [XYZ site] using Google Co-op" in the result pages is being replaced by a small CSE logo. They now allow more changes to the search box. According to the new branding guidelines, you can either display Google CSE logo next to your search box, or you may choose a watermark that will be displayed inside your search box (default for all old search engines). Obviously the new look-n-feel makes the search box in gSpy look more professional and less banal.

P.S. I have submitted the watermark suggestion to Google for ages (maybe since it launch CSE) and glad they have take it into account.

Related: Google Custom Search - Better branding part II

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Google makes its personalized homepage more user-friendly

Google Personalized Homepage allows users to place interesting gadgets into their homepage such like RSS Reader, Bookmarks, Stock Quotes, etc. The good thing is that users get the choice of what to be included in their homepage but the bad thing is that users will have to spend time choosing what to include. Google sees the problem so they decided to make things easier. Now you just have to enter tab names and Google will do the rest. Google uses its 'understanding' on the tab names you provide to suggest a few gadgets which saves time selecting from the gadget directory. Google also allows commenting and provides related gadgets suggestions for individual gadgets. By simplifying the set-up process and providing more interaction among users, Google hopes to attract more users to use its personalized homepage service and above all, start your browser with Google.