Archive for the ‘Google’ Tag

Google on “special people”

Computers aren’t politically correct. Computers aren’t sensitive to someone’s feelings. Computers don’t feel social pressures or have a conscience. So when a company entrusts all of its “editorial” control to software-generated algorithms, things can go wrong.

Case in point: search “special people” on Google Images, and receive the suggested search “retards.” Barry Schwartz found this anomaly through a tip and blogged about it. Fortunately for the world’s largest search engine, Google employees are frequent readers of his blog, and generally fix errors he reports on within a couple hours, Schwartz said. As of this morning, the search term suggestion is no longer listed.

But that didn’t stop a barrage of searches for the term. Schwartz’s blog post hit the top of Digg‘s recent stories, which sent the term spiralling to the top of Google’s search trend list, where it’s enjoyed its dominant spot all morning.

It’s probably a good thing Google has people constantly checking for these bad publicity pitfalls. But with the way the Internet works, if any anomaly presents itself even for a moment, somebody is going to be there ready to take a screen grab.


AIM in Gmail: Google’s Strategy to Take Over Chat

Google has added integration for its web-based Gmail with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Google Talk, the company’s chat client, competing with AOL, Microsoft’s Windows Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, has been embedded into Gmail for months. Since practically nobody uses the Talk software, Google’s chat network was little more than people browsing the e-mail in their inboxes and messaging others doing the same at the same time.

But AIM integration changes things. AIM is the most popular instant messaging network in the United States, so now when you login to Gmail, you might end up staying longer to chat with friends. Since Gmail keeps logs of your chats alongside your inbox, it even offers features not traditionally present in the official AIM client. This new feature doesn’t bode well for web-based IM startup Meebo.

Is this a step in the right direction for Google, who would rather its own chat network be the standard, not AOL’s? I think so. It keeps its core e-mail user base, the only ones using Google Talk right now, on the site longer. And maybe when people start seeing their friends using one web site to manage their e-mail and chats, more people will signup for Gmail, in turn creating wider access to Talk in Gmail. Google is taking it one step at a time.

Google Images Photo Recognition

Image recognition is the next big hurdle that computers need to surmount. An application that could break down an image and recognize certain characteristics (colors, arrangement, etc.) and “understand” what it’s seeing is the next step. By analyzing color composition, an app could be able to distinguish a tulip from a sunflower.

The applications would be incredible. Coupled with the convenience of camera phones, the possibilities would be endless. Imagine snapping a picture of a plant on your phone, sending that to a search engine like Google and receiving a result in a few seconds, just like a text search. “Plant: Poison ivy” is Google’s response.

Pretty handy, huh?

Why I Prefer Software to Web Apps

It’s no secret on this blog that I like iCal (see: exhibits A, B and C). Google Calendar is by far the closest application, client- or server-side, to iCal’s elegant interface. One might even argue that Google’s is better, offering anywhere-access to your daily planner. And with tasks (to-do) for Google Calendar on the way, why not make Google your default time management software?

I don’t want to entrust all my information to someone else’s computer. Web sites go down. Sometimes Internet access isn’t available in certain areas. I need to know that I can gain access to my information whenever I have my computer (or iPod, thanks to iTunes data syncing).

Sure, hard drives crash, and data can get corrupted. But at least then I’ll recognize that it was my own fault for not backing up my data. And at the end of the week, I shouldn’t have to worry about that anymore.

Maps Made for iPod touch

I did a post last month on Web-based substitutes for iPhone applications missing from the iPod touch. There wasn’t really a suitable alternative to the iPhone’s nifty, Google-developed maps app, so I simply suggested the Google Maps web site. It’s not custom-tailored to the i-products, but it does the job.

Thanks to a tip from web developer Al, he pointed me toward his new baby, Complete with an Apple-like interface, iTouchMap offers many of the great features of the maps application setup in a compact interface suitable for the iPod touch.

While the site’s driving directions feature doesn’t operate exactly like the iPhone’s handy turn-by-turn directions, you can load up separate Safari tabs on your WiFi connection before you head on the road, so you have all of them with you without killing a bunch of trees.

Cell Phone Service Brought to You By…

It seems like advertising can pay for anything nowadays. We have free newspapers, free TV programs, free web services: all in exchange for an inundation of consumerism thrown at us from every angle. A few years ago the idea of a project on the web being able to support bandwidth for hundreds of thousands of 200+ MB each, HD video downloads seemed absurd, but thanks to some well placed advertising from domain registrars and liquor brands, video podcast Diggnation is doing just that.

We’ve even see ad-supported service provider models spring up (but not survive) like NetZero for free Internet access. So what industry might be next to give consumers free service thanks to advertising exposure? Stowe Boyd of /Message suggests it could be the cell phone industry.

In his post Boyd points out that ad-supported cellular content is already on the way in the United States, starting with MySpace as the first major site to offer such a model. Blyk will offer free, ad-supported mobile phone connection in the U.K. Is the U.S. next?

Unlike the U.K., which is currently beyond 100 percent mobile penetration — despite how little sense that makes (are people buying multiple cell contracts for themselves?) — the U.S. stands at 84 percent, says MocoNews. A free cellular provider might be exactly what the cell industry needs to gobble up the last bit of the U.S. population resisting the mobile market.

Google WiFi, free wireless Internet access for residents of Mountain View, Calif., is a good example of what we might see in ad-supported service providers. While Google WiFi doesn’t currently show ads, the model (especially when run by a technology advertising firm) is certainly there. I think we’ll be seeing big things in the next couple years in terms of ad-supported services.

Todoist: Handy Web-based To-do List

I’ve mentioned before how much I use the to-do function in iCal. It’s a great way to keep your daily tasks organized. Mac users have a pretty good option for keeping tasks and appointments in one application — and it’s only going to get better with iCal-Mail integration in the new version of the OS, coming next month.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been a great all-in-one on the Web. Google Calendar is a pretty good web app for logging events, and Google has recently dropped an iPhone version that’s pretty nice. Gmail users will also appreciate the mail-calendar integration (if someone mentions a date in an email, it’ll suggest you create an appoint out of it).

But Google Calendar doesn’t provide a to-do list, instead encouraging its calendar users to use the ToDo gadget on its iGoogle home page.

There’s a better option. This tip comes from Stowe Boyd’s /Message blog, which has been featured on Bigthawt before.

Todoist is a great web-based to-do list. You can keep a simple to-do list, and check items off as you complete them. Boyd provides a tip to tie your list in to Firefox’s sidebar. Another great tool is the bookmarklet that plays well with Gmail — or any page on the net — that lets you connect multiple links or mail messages to a to-do task. It’s an awesome feature that I would love to see in iCal.

How Facebook Kept Its Users Coming Back

Facebook is by far one of the most fascinating web phenomena of the past few years. It came in with a service that fulfilled the exact same purpose as Friendster and MySpace were already offering millions of users. And not everybody could use it for the first few years!

So how did the site go from obscurity to being one of the top used web services? Aside from a clean, user-friendly design, and an isolated network system, there are two distinct trends that seem to be very successful.

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Apply Google’s ‘20% Time’ to Your Own Life

Google Inc. has long offered its coders a very compelling proposition: for one-fifth of the time they’re at work, they can do just about whatever they want.

That’s not exactly true, but that’s the basic idea behind “20 percent time” for employees. It means coders can devote a few hours each day to a personal project, pending approval by administrators.

Such “personal projects” that have resulted from the program are Gmail, Google News, Adsense and Google Reader.

The concept is so successful because it gives some of the smartest technological minds the freedom to pursue those ambitious projects that never would have gotten done if someone wasn’t paying them for the time they were working on it.

Not every employer will pay a handsome salary for doing whatever you want on company time, but these personal ambitions are important for maintaining a happy, healthy lifestyle. Ambition is one of the most important ingredients for self-satisfaction.

So try to set aside about 20 percent of your time away from work — the time spent watching TV or surfing the Web — for your own project. If you have wanted to build a birdhouse, start a blog or write a book, but you’ve been putting it off, stop reading this and start working on it!

And of course, once you finish with that, start something else. Try not to keep doing the same thing over and over again.

Tip for Printing Google My Maps

The My Maps feature of Google Maps is incredibly useful. It’s simple to layout any trip, long or short.

I put together my first map for a trip into New York City Tuesday to see Mae and As Tall As Lions play at Blender Theatre. We ended up short on time, so having a printout of the My Map printout, complete with subway station locations and points of interest, was a lifesaver.

But that printout wasn’t so easy to get. Google Inc.’s tool doesn’t provide a direct way to print a map you’ve made. So here’s how I did it.

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