New Google Chrome Aims at Windows 8

Google just released a new version of its Chrome operating system with fancy tweaks to online computing services like word processing and video — all designed to make it faster, more functional and easier to use.

It’s an open question whether the changes are enough to make Chrome, which is also the name of Google’s browser, more than a marginal player, but the system is impressive, and designed to work seamlessly with Google products like Android phones and the (still-underwhelming) Google Plus social network. It is also clearly pointed at Microsoft, just as Microsoft is preparing to introduce Windows 8, one of the biggest changes to its operating system ever.

The Chrome operating system is designed for lightweight computers known as Chromebooks that require an Internet connection to obtain access to most applications.

“People participate in ecosystems,” said Sundar Pichai, who is in charge of the Chrome project at Google. “If you are a Chrome browser user, an Android user and a Gmail user, a Chromebook is a more natural experience than a Windows 8.”

Most of Google’s changes will be available to people already using computers running Chrome, since Google can change things online. Some, like hardware-accelerated graphics for faster scrolling, or a better trackpad on the Chrome laptop, require a new machine. The first of these, from Samsung, has also just been announced. It is about the size and weight of a MacBook Air, and starts at $449.

The Air starts at $999, but is a well-regarded and powerful machine that does not require you to be online to use it. Google is making more strides in that direction. In about two more weeks, Mr. Pichai said, you will be able to write offline in Google Docs, or Drive, as it is now called.

“We really wanted to show how productive you could be with this device,” Mr. Pichai said. “By default you will be able to get the last 100 documents you were working on. When you go back online, it will resynch with your files and update everything.” You can also “pin” certain documents, no matter how old, so they are always available.

It is also possible to open and work on anything from Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, without converting it to the Google version of those products.

In order to inspire software developers with what the graphics can do, there is a special hidden feature: press the control, alt and shift buttons together, then the refresh button, and the screen spins, even while playing a video.

There is also a new Samsung desktop, the Chromebox, starting at $329, that could be attractive to schools and businesses looking to provide a lot of people the same kind of machine.

The prices of both new Samsung devices undercut even most low-end tablet and desktop machines.

Previously the desktops and laptops were only sold online, but next month they will also be offered at some Best Buy stores. That could be a big shot in the arm for a machine that has probably sold in the tens of thousands.

Acer also makes Chromebooks, but does yet have machines with the new hardware. Mr. Pichai said other manufacturers, which he did not mention, would be selling their versions of the machine in time for the Christmas season.

Another new Chrome feature, still in beta, enables customers to get access to their PCs and Mac computers remotely. The screen of the remote computer appears on the Chrome machine, and the distant computer can be manipulated from Chrome. The other computer has to be on, though it can be in screensaver mode.

“Companies are excited about Chromebooks, but have legacy applications they want to keep,” Mr. Pichai said. “Now, if you have a legacy Oracle expense app, you can put it somewhere and have it accessible on Chrome.


Google+ Local Replaces Google Places

Google Maps, Google Local, Google Places and now Google+ Local - yep Google has yet again renamed their local results to bring in Google+, as expected.

The new experience ties in Google+ into Google Maps and business listings, plus adds Zagat reviews to the foreground.

As Google announced on their Google+ page:

Today we’re rolling out Google+ Local, a simple way to discover and share local information featuring ZAGAT scores and recommendations from people you trust in Google+.

From the new “Local” icon on the left-hand side of Google+, you can search for specific places or browse for ones that fit your mood. Clicking on any place will take you to a local Google+ page that includes photos, Zagat’s high-quality scores and summaries, reviews from people in your circles and other information like address and opening hours.

Google+ Local is also integrated across the other products you already use every day, including Search, Maps and mobile, so you can get the same great local information wherever you go.

Here are some screen shots showing the level of integration with Google+, circles, and Zagat reviews (note click on any image to enlarge):

Local information integrated across Google

A search on Google Maps
Google+ Local on an Android phone
Plus search view 

Better decisions with Zagat
Recommendations and reviews from people you know and trust
If you have a Google Places result, continue to manage that place result in Google Places at Google Places. Although it seems like that will change over time and more and more features will be tied to the Google+ experience.

Forum discussion at Google+ Page.


Maximize Your Google Grant Potential with Ad Extensions

Do you have a Google Grant?  Are you having trouble hitting the spend levels to apply for Grantspro?  Enter stage left: Google ad extensions.  Ad extensions help attract attention to your ads and can help improve click-through-rates.  And if you're trying to increase your daily spend to reach the Grantspro levels, you need enticing ads that users will click on!  Here are some additional great benefits to adding an ad extension to your ad:
  • provide additional information about your organization without using valuable character space in your ad copy
  • take up more space above the fold on the search engine results page (which is great if you're trying to own as much "real estate" on the search engine results page as possible)

There are several different types of ad extensions, so let me jump right in:

Ad Sitelinks

Ad Sitelinks are additional links underneath your ad. You can have up to ten different links, and Google is currently showing six links on average. These links provide users with additional places to go on your site other than your ad's landing page.  You can use these additional links to highlight other key areas of your site, like a new marketing campaign or a fundraising page.  Ad Sitelinks only show when your ad appears above the organic search results (usually spots 1-3 but not always) and you need to have a quality score of at least 7 out of 10.

Call Extensions with Call Metrics

Call extensions allow you to add a phone number on your ad. If users see your ad while on their mobile phone, using the click-to-call feature they will be able to click your phone number and call you directly.  Adding a phone number to your PPC ads will help put potential donors or volunteers directly in contact with your organization.  For example, if your organization is accepting donations over the phone for disaster relief, you could be one step closer to the person connecting with your organization and donating.

Call metrics assigns your organization with a Google Voice number, which enables them to track more information about who actually calls the phone number that is on your ad.  Since call metrics uses a Google Voice number, you won't actually see your organization's specific phone number on your ads, but the Google Voice number will redirect to your chosen number.  Using call metrics, you can see when users called, whether the call was missed or received, call duration, and the caller's area code. When users call the phone number on your ad, you are normally "charged" $1 per call.  Assuming you have a Google Grant, the $1 per call will just add to your daily spend that is taken out of the $10,000 per month credit within your account.  However, if the calls are missed or if the duration was only a few seconds, Google will often not charge you for the call at all.

Location Extensions

Location extensions add location information to your PPC ads about your organization. You can have one location or several locations, and you can include both your phone number and your address.  This could be a great tool if you want to help people find your organization's local chapters or offices. Location extensions in action actually look quite fancy since they are in the family of "plus box extensions" as you can see in the example below. Once the user expands the plus box extension, they can see exactly where your organization is located on a Google Map, get directions, and more.

Social Extensions

Social extensions are a relatively new extension that allows you to link your organization's Google+ page with your PPC ads.  Not only will social extensions add a link directly to your Google+ page, but they will also show the total number of +1's that your company has received. The total +1's includes not only +1's on your Google+ page, but +1's from your AdWords ads, your website, and organic search. Adding social extensions can draw attention to your ad and also lets users see how many people have recommended your site via +1s, building trust.  Additionally, you can draw more traffic to your Google+ page, which provides another avenue to interactively engage with donors and users.  Don't have a Google+ page yet?  Set one up here.

So there you have it!  Go forth and add Google ad extensions.  Have a question?  Leave a comment below.


Take Photos With Your Eyes Using Google’s Project Glass

Google revealed its newest idea for mobile photography for the Project Glass eyewear concept. At the company’s company’s Google+ Photographer’s Conference last week, tech lead Max Braun talked about how the company incorporated photography technology into these augmented reality glasses:

We see glass as an evolution of cell phone photography. It’s the next step of the camera that’s always with you. It’s not meant to replace your professional camera anytime soon [...] We think that photography in Glass is going to open up a whole range of pictures that would not have been possible otherwise.

Although still unclear on how exactly this photo-taking technology will work in Project Glass, Google’s example photos show users enabling the camera function while their hands were occupied, indicating that the device would have a hands-free mechanism. In addition, it is rumored that the camera will have wide angle lens, which attempts to mimic the user’s actual point of view. Incorporating Google’s heads up display (HUD) technology that will enable users to view augmented people and objects anytime, anywhere, the glasses will work in conjunction with Android smartphones or tablet devices. Check out a video of Google’s Project Glass camera functions in action below.


Google sends virus alert

Search giant Google has issued a warring to its millions of users that they could lose the ability to connect to the Internet in July due to a computer virus.

The problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of infected computers around the world.

In a highly unusual response, the FBI set up a safety net months ago using government computers to prevent Internet disruptions for those infected users, but that system will be shut down on July 9, killing connections for those people

The FBI has run a campaign for months, encouraging people to visit a website that will inform them whether they are infected and explain how to fix the problem.

After July 9, infected users won't be able to connect to the Internet.

According to Fox News, Google has now planned to throw its weight into the awareness campaign.

The site will be rolling out alerts to users via a special message that will appear at the top of the Google search results page for users with affected computers, CNET reported.

"We believe directly messaging affected users on a trusted site and in their preferred language will produce the best possible results," wrote Google security engineer Damian Menscher in a post on the firm's blog

"If more devices are cleaned and steps are taken to better secure the machines against further abuse, the notification effort will be well worth it," he added

According to the report, the challenge, and the reason for the awareness campaigns is the fact that most victims don't even know their computers have been infected, although the malicious software probably has slowed their web surfing and disabled their antivirus software, making their machines more vulnerable to other problems.


Open source Google Drive client has arrived on Linux

When Google Drive finally launched after roughly a million years of waiting, we got desktop clients for Windows and OSX. As usual, poor unrequited Linux was left out in the cold. Google says a Linux client is coming, but why wait? A free open source Google Drive client called Grive has been put together by a third-party developer, and it looks quite nice.

We all know the dedicated Linux fan doesn’t have time to pronounce two words, thus Google Drive becomes Grive. The program is still in the early stages of public availability, and is missing some features like full sync. Instead, you will have to manually refresh to upload and download new files. Development is proceeding quickly; the file upload ability was just added recently, in fact.

The Grive application can be installed from the repository in Ubuntu 11.10 or later. The source code is also available at GitHub if you want to tinker a bit. Set up is a bit of a pain right now, and requires some command line work; not uncommon in Linux.

After installing, you’ll need to create a Grive directory and grant it access to your Google Drive account. The “grive -a” terminal command should provide you with a URL to paste into the web browser. This page will have you authenticate Grive, and provide you with a code to paste back into the terminal window.

After all this business is done, all you have to do to refresh your Google Drive files is run Grive from the terminal. Is it as convenient as Google’s official desktop solutions? No, but you’re not running Linux because you want easy.


Google+ for Android updated: New UI and mobile Hangout control

Google has released a new version of Google+ for Android, with v2.6 following the recently updated iPhone version with a slick new UI and better integration with Hangout video chat. The new Android app now allows Google+ users to start a new Hangout while on the move, with a new navigation “ribbon” getting a dedicated “Hangout” button. Tap that, add some friends, and their phones automatically ring to notify them you’ve made a video chat request.

If your friend misses the call, they’ll be able to return it directly from their phone and join a new Hangout that way. Actually ringing phones is also optional, in case you want to be more discrete.

As with the iPhone version, the new Google+ UI puts the emphasis on rich, vivid media. Full-screen photos, animated transitions and easier access to the “+1″ control have all been added, along with a slide-in navigation ribbon that makes hopping between sections more streamlined.

It’s also now possible to download photos from Google+ and instantly make them into your Android smartphone’s wallpaper. If you’ve made a mistake in a post, you’ll now be able to edit it directly from the mobile app too; previously, you’d have to find a desktop browser or just delete the whole thing.

“In all cases we’re building for a mobile future, and we’re excited about what’s ahead” Google said of the update. It’s a free download from Google Play.


Google revamps search app for iPhone‎

Google has released a major update for its search app for iPhone users, bringing it closer to the iPad app. The update brings visual as well as performance improvements to Google Search app including faster results, full-screen image search, and one stop to access all your Google apps in one place.

Company has also issued an update for their existing iPad app, which now allows users to save images to their camera roll.

Google Search for iPhone 2.0

The iPhone app has been redesigned and now includes an updated start screen with search box at the centre. Additionally, there are links to sign-in, access Google apps, voice search and Google Goggles on the start screen. It also houses a shortcut for settings as well as an icon to switch between search results and start screen anytime.

Users can now search by typing or using the voice search or Goggles shortcuts, both of which work as expected.

The search results page has also been revamped. Results are now shown in full screen and you can swipe between search results and results webpages.

Users can change the search type using the links given at the bottom, from everything to images and more.

Similar to the web results, the image results are also now shown in full-screen.

The new apps tab on the start page, gives access to Google apps on the web or iPhone.

Here is the full changelog
  • Complete redesign
  • Major speed improvements
  • Auto full screen: scroll down to hide controls, scroll up to reveal
  • Beautiful full-screen image search
  • Swipe away webpages to quickly return to search results
  • Search within a webpage using the built-in text finder
  • Easily switch between images, places, news, and more
  • Fast access to Google apps like Gmail, Calendar, Docs and more all from one place


Larry Page Looks Beyond Today at Zeitgeist 2012

Google CEO Larry Page took the stage at Zeitgeist 2012 sporting an augmented reality headset and joked, “If you guys are going to take my picture, I’ll take your picture, too.”

The headset is the basis of Project Glass, announced in early April this year. Page noted that although the project is in its early stages, he’s excited about how they work so far. Hinting towards his vision for the headset, Page perused the audience and quipped, “It doesn’t yet show me all of your names...”

Google Zeitgeist invitation-only events are typically current or forward-looking presentations by statespeople, inventors, humanitarians and other thought leaders. This year, however, Page is looking back over the year he’s spent as CEO of the company he founded with Sergey Brin, after Eric Schmidt stepped down and into the Executive Chairman role last April.

More than looking ahead, Page explained how the tech giant evolved so rapidly in the past year, changing their entire focus. In doing so, he offered glimpses of things to come.

Page Reflects on Google’s Changing Scope

To that end, Page shared his focus over his time as CEO, primarily in the way Google shifted its focus away from organic search. “It’s easy to think about technology as being relatively static... you know, Google’s a search engine, we’ve done these various things for a long time, not much changes,” he said. “But that’s not really what’s happening. I think that the pace of change is really accelerating.”

Google has shut down over 30 services since Page took over again, in a process he described as “painful.” Not surprisingly, Buzz got the axe, as did Google Labs, The Google Friends Newsletter, Knol, and Aardvark.

Page described his personal process for deciding which services are worth keeping: the Toothbrush Test. Do you use a product as often as you would use your toothbrush? Clearly, Google wants to be a part of the average user’s everyday life; this is where their focus will lie.

The closing of certain services pales in comparison to new launches under Page; social/identity network Google+, the one universal privacy policy, and Search Plus Your World all came out in the year since he’s taken back the reins.

Most recently, Google finally closed the Motorola acquisition, after months of intense scrutiny by antitrust investigators.

Google’s Priorities: Google+, Search Plus Your World & Knowledge Graph

Despite its title of Beyond Today, Page’s speech did a substantial bit of looking back over the relatively short period since he regained the CEO seat, and even more recently spoke at Zeitgeist 2011 in September. The focus this time is markedly different; where Page hammered home the importance of user experience in organic search time and again at the last Zeitgeist, this time, it was about something more.

Their primary areas of focus over the last year, he said, have been Google Plus and search – though it’s worth noting that he’s actually speaking of Search Plus Your World, personalized signed in search that is customized based on social activity. Another major priority is Knowledge Graph, which Page refers to as Knowledge panels, released last week.

“What we’re really trying to do is get to the point where we can represent knowledge and we can do much more complicated types of queries,” Page explained. “We’re really looking at synthesizing knowledge and I’m incredibly excited about that.”

Google’s Vision for Search: Instant, Actionable Answers Straight From Google

Search should be about taking actions, said Page. When users want to buy something, book a flight, or see the weather, Google wants to have the answers right there for them. Last year, they made headway with Google Flights; the Knowledge Graph (or panels) is an extension of this capability. Google aims to be your one-stop shop for everything knowledge or information.

Of course, the original creators and providers of this information have concerns. What is the benefit to publishers when visitors no longer need to visit their site to access their information?

“We’ve been doing a lot of this work over the years,” Page said. “A lot of it requires deep partnerships, with probably many of the people in the room, to make sure we have access to the right kind of data and the right business models to make all that work.”

No kidding. Ultimately, he said, Google wants users to be able to take action, which is even more important in mobile.

Google “Making Some Big Bets”

Page notes that Google has taken on or developed some services over the years that people thought were either too expensive (YouTube) or just too crazy (Chrome) to pan out for them. However, they focus on the long-term. YouTube has doubled its revenue each year over the past four years, said Page. It was a good long-term bet, regardless of the acquisition cost or perceived risk.

“I think that’s a good example of how our philosophy is,” he explained. “We see things that people use a lot - that are going to be really important to them - and we think that usually, you can make money from those things over time.”

Anything you can imagine is doable, said Page, so long as you can imagine and work on it. Google relishes finding the impossible task and making it happen, that much is clear. Near the end of his presentation, Page shared his nearly Utopian vision of a world where every person had the resources they need to have a good quality life, resources he says are available now.

“We have enough raw materials and things like that. I think we need to get better organized and really move a lot faster,” Page said. “We’re really working on making that a reality, by developing amazing technology that helps the world get better organized, that helps people be more productive.”

Despite his reinforcement of Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra and their lofty, admirable goals in search, Google has a tough row to hoe with partners and publishers given their new direction as a curator/publisher.

What do you think of the changes Google has made over the past year and what do you foresee for the remainder of 2012? Let us know in the comments!

See Larry Page’s Google Zeitgeist presentation in full:


Photo Features Could Boost Google Plus In Battle Vs. Facebook

Google Plus appears to be working on closing the gap that exists between what some call a sparsely populated semblance of a social network and Facebook. It is harnessing innovative spirit and brainpower to enhance its photo technology, potentially making itself a (well, an eventual, let’s be real) social-network opponent to Facebook.

Despite the bad rap Google Plus has received from much of the tech community, it has accomplished some feats, especially in the photography department. Largely, though, they have gone unnoticed. If Google Plus continues to delve deeply into photo technology, it could become a worthy social-network opponent, right under Facebook’s nose, suggests Janko Roettgers in an article for GigaOM.

Indeed, an entire gathering, the Google Plus Photographer’s Conference, took place Tuesday in San Francisco, catering to the flock of photographers who have discovered Google Plus.

Photogs, from novice to pro, some of whom have millions of followers, enjoy Google Plus photo features that outperform Facebook and Twitter, reports Roettgers, such as:
  • Lightbox integration that makes browsing entire galleries a breeze (unlike, cough, Twitter, which is ever changing its photo-share and gallery options).
  • Easily showcasing their wares, photos, in news feeds.
  • Finding like-minded photog friends and organizing Google Plus real-life photo-walks (good in concept with Facebook groups, but they still haven’t taken off).
  • Hosting Hangouts about photography.

Facebook has not aced the mobile photo-sharing game, although some 250 million photos are uploaded to the social network daily. Its recent $1 billion purchase of Instagram may spell progress for Facebook in this arena. But as its new hires get up to speed, Google Plus has clearly spotted an opportunity and is putting muscle into it. With some strong photo tech muscle behind it, consider Google Plus’ iOS app revamp, announced earlier this month.

Take Bradley Horowitz, nestled in Google Plus’ back pocket, Roettgers reports, saying the vice president of product management is versed in image recognition, having studied at MIT’s Media Lab, and he is familiar with social photo, having overseen Yahoo’s acquisition of Flickr.

At the core of the Google Plus mobile app? Photo sharing: Users can automatically upload every photo they snap, easy-breezy does it.

Horowitz also hinted at the conference that Google is listening to photographers who are active on Google Plus and chipping away, coming up with innovative tools to make the photo-sharing experience on its social network even richer, Roettgers reports.


New Google Gadget For High Yield Covered Calls Plus Two Free Giveaway Promotions

Born To Sell releases new iGoogle gadget to help investors find high yield covered calls, plus two free contest giveaways to help promote the new tool.

Born To Sell LLC, the investment software company, today announced a free Google gadget that helps investors find high yield covered calls for any US traded stock symbol. Now anyone can screen for high covered call yields throughout the day by simply adding this gadget to their iGoogle home page.

"Our gadget makes it easy to follow covered call yields on your favorite stocks. Because the prices update during market hours, just enter the symbol and wait until the annualized returns reach the level you are looking for. Then go to your broker and place the trade." says Mike Scanlin, Born To Sell's CEO.

To promote the new gadget, Born To Sell has two free giveaways:

(1) $25 iTunes Gift Card, or one of two covered call investment books: New Insights On Covered Call Writing or Options For Volatile Markets. Register to win at

(2) $25 Starbucks Gift Card. Register by sending a tweet. Details at

This new Google gadget and be found at and is a subset of the functionality available Born To Sell's main site where visitors will find a free covered call tutorial that shows how to generate recurring income with covered calls, as well as a free blog and covered call newsletter. Recent blog articles have discussed weekly trading of Apple covered calls, early exercise of options, and high frequency trading.

About Born To Sell

Established in 2009, Born To Sell is a software development company dedicated to making best-of-breed covered call investment tools for self-directed investors. Headquartered in Los Altos and privately funded, Born To Sell's subscription service helps income-oriented investors with trade selection and portfolio management. For more information, please visit


Google+ is better than Facebook

Facebook has nearly a billion users and an impending IPO that's the toast of the financial world. But the service itself can't compare to the cleaner and more intuitive Google+.

Facebook is in an enviable position regardless of whether you care more about business or technology. Those who love the former are anxious to see whether the company meets its $13.6 billion goal, and those who focus on the latter are hoping that Mark Zuckerberg's brain child either changes for the better or doesn't change at all.

Wherever your interest, and whatever happens, Facebook has revolutionized professional marketing and interpersonal connections on the Internet. And if you're predicting that the IPO will be anything less than ridiculously successful, you should have your head examined.

And you know what? I couldn't care less. Why worry so much about what Facebook does, how it does it, and how much it spends and makes, when a far better social network exists in Google+?

Yes, I just said that Google+ is better than Facebook. And yes, I meant it. Google's upstart offering launched last year, and despite experiencing some difficulty competing with other sites, it has been slowly if steadily improving in popularity. It's still a long way from being a household fixture, but in almost every way that matters it surpasses Facebook.

Facebook has only two things going for it. First, its history. It was launched in 2004, so it's had plenty of time to worm its way into our collective consciousness. Then there's its enormous user base: With more than 900 million people (some 526 million of whom log on every day) and major businesses with accounts, finding and following all your friends and family, people you've known and forgotten, people you've dated and not forgotten, and the products and companies you care about is a cinch.

If only everything else were. Facebook has not been immune to the feature bloat that afflicts so many tech creations once they have to work to maintain their popularity, and that means that a service that used to be an amusing diversion has become, from top to bottom, an enormous pain to use. It constantly bombards you with friend and group requests, reminders to celebrate birthdays, exhortations to give away Klout, advertisements that rarely (if ever) are relevant to your life, and constant reminders about the absurd minutiae to which all of your contacts are addicted. Can you tone down some of this? Sure. But not all of it. And although Facebook's privacy policy and settings have improved of late, the nonstop spam remains essentially an all-or-nothing proposition that makes you a slave to someone else's vision of your usage habits.

More Control on Google+

Google+ has proven there's no reason for any of this. It gives you more control over the time you spend on it, rather than less, and is stocked with features that make interacting with friends and companies a pleasure rather than a chore. The Stream in Google+ is not strewn with bottomless detritus; it keeps the things most important to you at the top, and lets you scroll to find whatever else you might want. If you don't like what you're seeing or how you're seeing it, simply tweak a setting and you won't see it again next time.

A big part of why this works are the Circles, which are more intuitive and powerful than Facebook's groups for organizing your friends and acquaintances. One interface lets you easily drag and drop people into multiple classifications, and change or delete your choices (or, gulp, them) whenever you want. Facebook's separating groups and friends makes dealing with either much more aggravating, whereas Google+ lets you organize them exactly the way you perceive them from the outset.

But Google+ lets you control everything else about your online worldview, too. Want to know what the broader population beyond your limited sphere is buzzing about? A short collection of trending topics, like those you'll find on Twitter, tells you instantly. Interested in seeing the hottest discussions and posts on Google+? Click the Explore button to view them. Best of all, you can use a slider to adjust how much of any given Circle, or the crowd-sourced hot stories, float down your Stream. Facebook's implementation of this (drawn primarily from groups) is astonishingly primitive and unpredictable.

Then there are the additional features. Facebook has nothing as cool as Google+'s video Hangouts, which encourage you to congregate, whether in public or private, with multiple real people in real time. Uploading and displaying photos, and especially sharing them among multiple Circles, is less arduous, too, with no confusing settings or interface elements getting in the way. Best of all: If you want to play games in Google+, they couldn't be easier to find, and if you don't care about them at all, you will never see or hear a word about them from anyone in your Circles—no special settings required.

None of this is to say that Google+ is perfect. The Web is riddled with jokes about its incredibly small number of active users, which are sadly accurate: If even a fifth of your friends have accounts and check them regularly, consider yourself in the upper echelon. This helps keep Stream pollution down, and may give you more flexibility of speech than you have someplace more popular, but most days it results in a depressingly anemic experience. (Some weekends, my Stream hasn't changed at all. Sigh.) And I could have done without some recent revamps, which made the interface more heavy with white space (particularly on a widescreen monitor) and toy-like in appearance, and introduced a personal profile page that looks, to put it kindly, like a blatant ripoff of what you see on Facebook's Timeline.

Even if Google has some serious work to do making Google+ look and perform as polished as Facebook, and convincing people that there's a good reason to belong to it, the distance it's come in less than a year shows it is, and should be, a major player. Google has learned from Facebook's mistakes better than Facebook has, and has generated fresh ideas and a cleaner aesthetic that, admittedly, have reciprocally improved Facebook over the last 10 months. Competition makes everyone better, and Facebook has definitely benefited.

What's most evident is that Google has figured out what Facebook hasn't: how to create a social network that emphasizes the "social" while leaving you in command of your digital destiny. You'll never feel on Google+ like your life is spinning out of your control, which is an every-hour occurrence on the messier, more chaotic Facebook. Google+ needs more users (okay, a lot more users) and maybe another redesign to emphasize its naturally adult nature. But once it's found its look, its voice, and its user base, Google+ will rapidly get bigger as well as better. 


The truth about Google+: The social network without passion

While usage is low, it's not quite the ghost town some claim, and there's a deeper story behind the numbers

Google entered the social networking game with Google+ to fanfare and high hopes. But only a third of the site's users ever make a public post, and those who do only post every 12 days.

Google+ seems to be inescapable. Everywhere you go on the Web, you see that little logo and a picture. (Heck, I get tired of seeing my own mug staring back at me, page after page.) And people who are responsible for traffic on many sites have worried that competitors will find ways to use the social networking feature to grab page views.

Fears and annoyance aside, it turns out that Google+ is not nearly as popular as Google had hoped and many had feared. That's not to say, as some commentators have gleefully reported, that it's a "ghost town." It is not. The truth is more nuanced and tells us something important about the way the Web works these days.

Although Google says that plus has more than 100 million users, a survey by RJ Metrics cast serious doubt on how engaged those users really are. Indeed, it appears that only one third of the users ever post publicly, many only post a few times, and even then, at fairly wide intervals. "It looks like there is a large dormant user population that may have joined as result of being opted in by other Google services," says Robert J. Moore, CEO of the business analytics company.

That sounds pretty bleak, and it does seem likely that Google overestimated the enthusiasm for yet another social network. But there's something important to keep in mind. Google+ users can post privately, as well as publicly, and when they do so, the engine used by RJ Metrics cannot see them, Moore says.

It's also evident that because many people opt in as part of their interaction with another Google service, those casual users who don't have much interest in the service will pull down the averages of time spent on the site and time between posts and so on, he tells me. (Moore, by the way, deserves some respect for being so frank about the limitations of his research instead of simply hyping it, as some analyst firms tend to do.)

Google+: Public engagement is very low

RJ Metrics sampled posts by 40,000 randomly selected users. For each user who had actually posted (about one third of the sample), the company downloaded their entire public timelines, which consist of all of their publicly visible activities.

Here's what they found:

  • The average post has less than one +1, less than one reply, and less than one re-share.
  • 30 percent of users who make a public post never make a second one. Even after making five public posts, there is a 15 percent chance that a user will not post publicly again.
  • Among users who make publicly viewable posts, there is an average of 12 days between each post.
  • After a member makes a public post, the average number of public posts he or she makes in each subsequent month declines steadily.
Not surprisingly, Google disputes the findings of the RJ Metrics study, and in a statement to Fast Company, which wrote about the research last week, the company said, "By only tracking engagement on public posts, this study is flawed and not an accurate representation of all the sharing and activity taking place on Google+.... As we've said before, more sharing occurs privately to circles and individuals than publicly on Google+. The beauty of Google+ is that it allows you to share privately -- you don't have to publicly share your thoughts, photos, or videos with the world."

Google+ usage: Just three minutes a month

As Moore himself points out, there's no way to know how many posts are shared privately. But there's another metric, one that wasn't used by RJ Metrics, that is probably even more distressing from Google's point of view: Time using the service.

In February, ComScore found that visitors using personal computers spent an average of about three minutes a month on Google+ between September and January, versus six to seven hours on Facebook each month over the same period. Google says that ComScore data understates the amount of time people spend on the service, but did not share its own numbers.

It's possible that Google+ is a different kind of animal, one whose popularity researchers haven't been able to capture. But I suspect that we're seeing three things:

  • Many people aren't exactly sure what Google+ really is about. It's not search, it's not Facebook, it's not Twitter, so what is it?
  • Facebook may have such a huge advantage in the marketplace that it's game over, at least for now, for Zuckerberg wannabes.
  • Google stepped into the privacy hornet's nest early on, and users may have decided to stay away because of the misstep.
Given the poor performance of Facebook’s stock during its first few trading sessions, there may well be a glut of social media. Or maybe, just maybe, people are tiring of so much sharing and are starting to see the virtue in a bit of privacy.


Google Knowledge Graph attempts 'next generation of search'

Google's Knowledge Engine tries to smartly connect information on the Web to search queries based on deeper meanings. Is it another sign of a revolution in search, or another case of looking at the world through Google-colored glasses?

Google is starting to roll out its new Knowledge Graph technology to its English-speaking users in the United States. Although the new service will be popping up as an adjunct to Google’s normal Web search results — rather than a separate service in its own right — it represents a fundamentally different way to approaching search. Instead of returning ranked search results based on literal search terms (or some search terms, or possibly-corrected versions of some of search terms), Knowledge Graph essentially attempts to associate search queries with stuff it knows about: places, people, books, movies, events — you name it. Knowledge Graph is an effort to achieve semantic search, attempting to return results based on the meaning of what users search for, instead of just literal matches.

Can the Knowledge Graph change the way we search? And what might it mean for Google’s fundamental business — and sites that rely on Google to bring traffic to their sites?

Knowledge Graph under the hood

Although Knowledge Graph is a fundamentally new kind of search offering from Google, it follows well-trodden paths Google has been pursuing for years with its mainstream search service. And Google is being careful to introduce it in a way that isn’t terribly disruptive to its market-dominating search.

For years, Google has been able to answer a selection of simple factual queries directly from the search bar, and even do some math — handy for people who are more likely to have a Web browser running than a calculator. Try it: Google should provide direct answers to things like “capital of suriname” or “square root 3952.”

With Knowledge Graph, Google will also be dropping search queries into complex databases of interrelated information about…well, things, for lack of a better terms. In some ways these databases function much like a traditional lookup: they return records with important bits of information about a particular thing. For a person, that might be something like their birth date (and maybe death date), their nationalities, titles or offices they may have held, full legal name, and more.

For a building, these datasets might include things like its location, when it was built, its overall size, its type (say, monument, retail space, commercial space, residence, um…space station?). However, in addition to what amount to a few bare facts and some keywords, these database entries also collect together direct links to related objects in the database (which in turn link to other related objects, and so on). In all probability, the nature of those links are defined too. For instance, an entry around a person might contain links to that person’s parents, spouse(s), and children, and other significant relationships and be able to distinguish between family members and other types of relationships. The database wouldn’t be doing its job if an dataset on George H. W. Bush (the 41st President of the United States) didn’t link to dataset on George W. Bush (the 43rd President) — and both would link to Condoleezza Rice, but in different ways. A dataset on the Great Pyramid should include links to Cheops and Khufu, and The Sphinx — but also to the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. (Can you guess why?)

These datasets make up the heart of semantic search — and they don’t come cheap. First of all, they’re huge: The sum of human knowledge may be but a tiny speck in the face of all the information in the universe, but just scraping the service can easy produce hundreds of millions (or billions) of datasets. (In comparison, the English version of Wikipedia has a scant 4 million or so articles.) These datasets aren’t easy to get: they have to be painstakingly compiled from reliable sources. Furthermore, they have to be organized and designed in such a way that the information can be accessed and manipulated in useful ways (and in real time, for Google’s purposes). And the datasets have to be able to cope with the maleable nature of “knowledge.” After all, just a few years ago, Pluto was a planet and Vioxx was an FDA-approved osteoarthritus treatment.

Google is apparently building its databases using technologies and methods acquired with Metaweb back in 2010 — although Metaweb’s Freebase semantic database remains available to anyone. Google is using Freebase for data, along with information culled from Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook. Google claims its Knowledge Graph database already has entries for some 500 million objects (please note thee objects can’t be directly compared to Wikipedia articles) and some 3.5 billion “facts.” We put “fact” in quotes because it was once a “fact” that the Earth was flat and humans couldn’t fly. Knowledge is slippery.

Knowledge Graph on the screen

Google’s initial implementation of Knowledge Graph is designed to augment the company’s existing search results listings, rather than replace them. Much as Google sometimes shows previews of pages in a panel to the right side of search results in a standard Web browser window, Knowledge Graph results will appear in panels next to search results. Not all search terms will produce Knowledge Graph panels: Queries will have to match well-defined objects in the Knowledge Graph. (Don’t worry if you don’t see Knowledge Graph results just yet; Google is still rolling the feature out, and right now it’s limited to English-speaking users in the United States.)

The Knowledge Graph panels seek to display a summary of key and most-sought information about a query without requiring users to read through two-line summaries of a Web page or click through to another site. For a person, these key facts might include birth and death dates, significant people associated with them, and quick highlights of titles, accomplishments, or what else makes that person significant. For other entities, Google will try to surface key information, statistics, and associations. The Knowledge Graph panel will also handle disambiguation. If more than one Knowledge Graph entity matches a search query, Google provides access to them all.

Perhaps more significantly, once users are interacting with a Knowledge Graph entity they can, within some limits, surf the links of relationships to those entities. For instance, pulling up a Knowledge Graph entry on Dashiell Hammett ought to let users immediately jump to a Knowledge Graph summary of The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon — and, perhaps to summaries about Lillian Helman and post-World War II anti-Communist witch hunts.

Knowledge Graph won’t be restricted to browser-based searches: Google is currently rolling out Knowledge Graph search results to most devices running Android 2.2 or higher (again, U.S.-only in English) in the Quick Search box and browser-based searchers. Knowledge Graph search results will also be introduced to forthcoming versions of Google’s search app for iOS devices. Users can navigate though information in Knowledge Graph by tapping or swiping back and forth through the content.

It’s important to note these are just the first places Knowledge Graph is surfacing in Google’s services. Behind the scenes, you can expect Knowledge Graph search results to begin informing a broad variety of Google services, particularly as its corpus of datasets and “facts” grows. Knowledge Graph searches will likely never replace Google’s traditional keyword-based search — semantic search and literal search are kind of two different tools good at two separate tasks — but, in theory, it wouldn’t be surprising if Knowledge Graph one day contributed to as much as a quarter of Google’s interactions with search users.

Crowdsourcing…or Google-colored classes?

So, how does Knowledge Graph pick information for its summaries? So far, Google hasn’t been very explicit about the methodology behind Knowledge Graph’s presentation. In my (limited) sampling, a good portion of the data Google prioritizes for its summaries seems to be pretty consistent: dates, relations, and a single “significant accomplishment” field for people (which could be labeled something like “Discoveries” or “Occupation” or “Title”). Places get locations and dates, and a selection of other fields that could be exactly what someone wants or completely inappropriate. For instance, if you’re looking at The Empire State Building, providing the street address seems appropriate…but it’s not quite as appropriate for, say, Stonehenge. Similar oddities can happen with phone numbers: how many people need instant access to a phone number for the Taj Mahal?

Google says it prioritizes the information it presents in Knowledge Graph summaries using “human wisdom.” And by that, Google doesn’t actually mean things that humans tell them or that subject experts or database curators collect — it means making indirect assumptions about users’ intentions by logging search behaviors and keeping tabs on what they click, don’t click, and look for after doing a search. In a nutshell, Google is using crowdsourcing to try to determine which “facts” are the best ones to present in a Knowledge Graph summary.

For example, Google says the Knowledge Graph summary information it presents for Tom Cruise answers 37 percent of Google search users’ follow-up queries about the actor when they search for him. That 37 percent number sounds re-assuringly scientific and precise, but there is absolutely no way to assess whether Google’s assessment of search users’ aggregate behavior has anything to do with what a particular user — like you — wants to know. Since Google seems so proud of that 37 percent figure, let’s turn it on its head: Google says 63 percent of the time, it can’t present any information about a topic that its search users find relevant.

Google’s position is easy to understand: Whenever possible, it wants to immediately present the information its users are seeking. The only way Google can really assess that is by looking at how people use its search engine and trying to do some guesswork.

Crowdsourcing has its dangers. Just as Google is treading in murky waters when it chooses to prioritize search results from Google+ in Search Plus Your World, there are hazards to relying on crowdsourcing to prioritize the presentation of information and “facts.” Just because Google’s search audience may not know (or particularly care) about certain information doesn’t mean it’s not important or relevant. There are plenty of cases where “the crowd’s” perception of facts are wrong. Most people think schizophrenia means having multiple personalities, drinking milk or eating ice cream increases mucus production, and Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake.” Yet none of these things are true.

Relying on crowdsourcing to assess the important of information also creates potential for abuse. Say a government wanted to seed misinformation about dissidents, a political campaign wanted to smear an opponent, or hackers wanted to play with search results just for laughs? In much the same way Google search results have been “Googlebombed,” crowdsourcing could be used to manipulate Knowledge Graph. Sensible people won’t believe everything they read; similarly, “facts” presented by semantic search engines will not be reliable — and in some cases crowdsourcing will make them even less so.

Making Google stickier

On the practical side, Google’s Knowledge Graph will have one immediate impact: It will make Google’s search results stickier. Whenever Knowledge Graph can provide a direct answer to a search user’s question — or let them navigate to it quickly via related topics — users will be staying on Google services. That means Google collects more data about users’ searches and behaviors (regardless of whether they’re signed in to a Google account or not). That, in turn, lets Google further refine its targeted advertising platform.

It also means that services like Wikipedia that often answer the same sorts of knowledge-specific queries targeted by Knowledge Graph will see a decline in the amount of Web traffic they receive from Google. In Wikipedia’s case, that directly corresponds to fewer opportunities to solicit community support; for other services, that will translate directly to a lower number of ad impressions and (hence) lower revenues. For folks who offer sites and services based on providing discrete facts and information — and that includes everything from Wikipedia to IMDb to online retailers to phone books and business directories to (conceivably) crowd-sourced services like Yelp and even public records…Knowledge Graph could slowly erode their businesses.