Archive for March, 2011

Searching for a Cinderella story

Like everyone else in the U.S. who fills out a bracket for their office pool, I always have a strategy going into the NCAA Men’s and Women’s basketball tournaments. It’s a mix of alma mater pride, light research, some guessing and a lot of crossing my fingers. And, like almost everyone, my bracket always gets busted.

With both the Men’s and Women’s Final Four being played out on the hardwood in the United States this weekend, we thought it would be a good time to check in with what American sports fans are searching for around the web.

Almost ever year, an unknown team comes out of nowhere to end up in the Final Four. Back in 2006, that team was [george mason] and last year it was [butler university]. In the men’s bracket this year, there’s not just one, but two “Cinderellas,” in the form of the VCU Rams and the return of the Butler University Bulldogs. These underdogs have captured the attention of the nation’s sports fans; searches for [vcu] have climbed lately and currently outpace searches for each of the other three teams in the Men’s Final Four.


When the women take the court in Indianapolis, Indiana, for their Final Four this weekend, I’ll be rooting on my Notre Dame Fighting Irish in what looks to be an even field of four teams. But in search query volume, there’s a runaway favorite: [uconn] leads the way against the other three teams in the bracket. The Stanford Cardinal are trying to break through this year, having played in the previous three Final Fours, but have to get to the finals first against a tough Notre Dame team. Having both the UConn Men and Women playing in the Final Four is clearly a strong reason for this search volume lead, but so is having arguably the best player in the women’s game!


Great coaches can get their teams to dig deep and come together to succeed in the difficult field of 64. In the women’s tournament, the coaching match-up that hoops fans across the country were hoping for unfortunately won’t take place: we’re not going to be seeing a head-to-head battle between two giants of the coaching profession in UConn’s [geno auriemma] and Tennessee’s [pat summitt], thanks to my Fighting Irish of Notre Dame besting the Lady Volunteers of Tennessee. While Coach Auriemma’s team is still alive, Coach Summitt is winning the search query volume contest off the floor. I’m sure if I were Coach Summitt, I’d rather still have my team playing this weekend—but maybe her lead in search can be some small consolation!


On the men’s side, there’s a nice mix of seasoned veteran coaches as well as two young coaches emerging as rising stars. As we near the end of the tournament, it’s not Coach [jim calhoun] or Coach [john calipari] capturing the attention of U.S. searchers—it’s the young head coach at VCU, [shaka smart], and Butler’s equally young coach [brad stevens] who currently take the top spots in search query volume.


Each year, new stars emerge as the tournaments unfold. In 2010, Duke’s [kyle singler] captured the Final Four MVP, and in 2006 Florida’s [joakim noah] captured the nation’s attention. This year, Butler’s [matt howard] has risen to take the top spot as the most searched player of the tournament.


Finally, I know that I get a little basketball-crazy during this time of year, but looking at some of our data, I discover that I’m not alone. In the state of Indiana—the home of Hoosiers and some of the most vocal hoops fans, home-state [butler bulldogs] have pulled ahead of pop music star [katy perry] in search query volume. Now that’s dedication to basketball!


This tournament is always one of the most unpredictable sporting events in the country, so it’s comforting to know that the tournaments end the same way every year: with the champions cutting down the nets. While we can’t predict which team will be up on the ladder cutting the nylon, the search data does provide a glimpse into what we U.S. sports fans are interested in—and perhaps who we’re cheering for in the waning seconds of the games.

Like you, I’ll be sitting on the edge of my couch this weekend with my busted bracket in hand. Of course, in my case, I’ll be rooting on my alma mater. Go Irish!

Posted by Jim Lecinski, Managing Director, U.S. Sales and Service and Notre Dame class of ‘87

YouTube highlights 3/31/2011

This is the latest in our series of YouTube highlights. Every couple of weeks, we bring you regular updates on new product features, interesting programs to watch and tips you can use to grow your audience on YouTube. Just look for the label “YouTube Highlights” and subscribe to the series. – Ed.

In the past two weeks, we saw online video swing into action in a few very powerful scenarios. Video helped connect people with loved ones affected by tragedy while at the same time, uniting musicians from around the world to create art.

YouTube Person Finder
The YouTube Person Finder (消息情報) channel aggregates video messages from those affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan. You can search for videos within the module or browse videos in Japanese. Our hope is that the power of video and the access to YouTube will help victims and their families find each other and make sure they’re safe.


YouTube Symphony Orchestra dazzles from Sydney
One hundred and one musicians from 33 countries were selected via online auditions to come together as an orchestra and celebrate music, creativity and collaboration. Well-known YouTube stars joined the show in Sydney to collaborate, including Pogo and Ukrainian sand artist Kseniya Simonova. A week of events and seven sold-out concerts captured on youtube.com/symphony culminated in a Grand Finale event on March 20. The event was streamed 33 million times around the world to 189 countries, including an incredible 2.8 million mobile live-streams.

Lights, YouTube—Action
Owning a video camera is no longer a prerequisite to joining the YouTube community. youtube.com/create, just launched in beta, enables anyone to use video creation sites Xtranormal, Stupeflix and GoAnimate to make personal videos using images, music and animations and then share them by posting to YouTube.

If you do own a video camera, we have some good news for you too. Nine months ago we introduced our cloud-based video editor, with basic tools, at www.youtube.com/editor. This week, we’ve made two major enhancements to our video editor—image stabilizer and 3D capabilities. Now, you can smooth unsteady video footage with the click of a button or create a composite of two side-by-side videos to produce your very own 3D action flick—all for free.

Baby, she was “Born this way”
Lady Gaga stopped by Google’s headquarters last week and wowed a packed auditorium of Googlers and YouTubers. Gaga answered questions from fans via Twitter and Moderator as well as the audience, dishing on fashion, her larger-than-life persona and upcoming album. Watch the entire Q&A now on YouTube.

This week in trends
Some quick highlights from YouTube Trends:
U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the issue of bullying early this month at the White House and since then, we’ve seen anti-bullying videos appear on YouTube by the hundreds each week.

We’re seeing new video coming from Syria, where demonstrations have reportedly escalated. CitizenTube, in partnership with StoryFul, is curating that footage on its channel.
We looked at how popular cartoonists in Jordan have reacted to the major events taking place in North Africa and the Middle East.
We looked at some of the most popular viral clips from around the world, including a proposal gone wrong, a musically-inclined baby and masked flash mobbers in Korea. Check them out for yourself.
Until our next update, keep up on what’s going in the world of video via the YouTube Blog.

Posted by Neha Mandal, Marketing Manager, The YouTube Team

Two new Google domains: Iraq and Tunisia

We offer search on different regional domains, such as google.fr for France and google.dj for Djibouti, in order to provide the most locally-relevant results. We’ve steadily brought Google to many of the world’s domains, and today we announced on our Google Arabia Blog that we’re adding two more: google.iq for Iraq and google.tn for Tunisia. This brings the number of local Google search domains worldwide to 184, with 15 domains in Arab countries.

The new domains will help people in Iraq and Tunisia find locally relevant information, faster. For example, a search for [central bank] on the Iraq domain yields results relevant to someone in Iraq, such as the Central Bank of Iraq. On the other hand, the same search on the Tunisia domain returns slightly different results.

The new domains also make it easier for people in Iraq and Tunisia to access search in their preferred languages. In Iraq, people can now easily access Google search in local languages like Arabic and Kurdish; while in Tunisia, people can find the Google interface in Arabic and French. In the past, people in these regions would need to visit the domain for another country to use Google in an interface they were comfortable with. And when they did, the results would be relevant to a different region.

Local domains are a first step towards making the web more accessible and relevant for people around the world. They’re also an integral part of our vision to make all of our products available in the world’s top 40 most spoken languages covering 99 percent of Internet users worldwide. We plan to add more domains in the coming months, so stay tuned!

Posted by AbdelKarim Mardini, Product Manager, Middle East & North Africa

Fresh new perspectives for your blog

(Cross-posted from Blogger Buzz)

Today we’re previewing five new dynamic templates in Blogger that you’ll soon be able to customize and use for your blog. These new views use the latest in web technology, including AJAX, HTML5 and CSS3, to deliver a host of benefits to you and your readers:
Infinite scrolling: read more posts without having to reload or click to a second page
New layouts: different views suited to different types of blogs
Speed: download images as you view them, not all at once in advance
Interactivity: there are now more ways to experience and engage with blog content

Click on any of these links to take the new dynamic views for a spin on a few of our favorite blogs: Flipcard, Mosaic, Sidebar, Snapshot and Timeslide.

Flipcard
Snapshot
Mosaic
To try these views on your own blog, simply add “/view” to the end of the blog URL—for example, http://buzz.blogspot.com/view. These new views are available on all public Blogger blogs with feeds fully enabled—to learn more, including how to disable these views for your blog if you wish, please see our help center article.

We’re previewing these templates early on so we can incorporate your feedback for a wider launch soon. At that time you’ll be able to customize these templates and select one for your blog. Please let us know what you think!

Posted by Antin Harasymiv, Software Engineer, Blogger

New imagery of Japan after the earthquake

(Cross-posted from the Lat Long Blog)

It’s now the third week after the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck northeastern Japan. Aid organizations have been hard at work and cities are starting to show signs of recovery, but the damage is beyond imagination and there are still thousands of people at shelters grappling with daily challenges. As a native of Sendai city, I’m still speechless seeing the destruction and damage that has been done to the places I love and care about.

We’ve been looking for ways we can assist in the relief efforts using Google’s map-related tools. A few days after the quake, we published updated satellite imagery of northeast Japan in Google Maps and Google Earth, which illustrated the massive scale of devastation in the affected areas.

Today, we’ve published imagery of the Sendai region at even higher resolution, which we collected on Sunday and Monday. The new Sendai imagery, along with satellite imagery from throughout the area, is now live in the base imagery layer of Google Earth and will soon be visible in Google Maps. We hope to continue collecting updated images and publishing them as soon as they are ready.

We hope our effort to deliver up-to-date imagery provides the relief organizations and volunteers working around the clock with the data they need to better understand the current conditions on the ground. We also hope these tools help our millions of users—both those in Japan and those closely watching and sending their support from all over the globe—to find useful information about the affected areas.

A riverside neighborhood in Sendai from our newly released imagery
Posted by Keiichi Kawai, Senior Product Manager, on behalf of Google Japan and international Crisis Response teams

Our goal at Google is to get you the most relevant results as quickly as possible. But relevance is about relationships as well as words on webpages. That’s why we recently started to include more information from people you know—stuff they’ve shared on Twitter, Flickr and other sites—in Google search results.

Today we’re taking that a step further, enabling you to share recommendations with the world right in Google’s search results. It’s called +1—the digital shorthand for “this is pretty cool.” To recommend something, all you have to do is click +1 on a webpage or ad you find useful. These +1’s will then start appearing in Google’s search results.

The +1 button will appear next to each search result

After pressing the +1 button, you have the option to undo the action immediately
Say, for example, you’re planning a winter trip to Tahoe, Calif. When you do a search, you may now see a +1 from your slalom-skiing aunt next to the result for a lodge in the area. Or if you’re looking for a new pasta recipe, we’ll show you +1’s from your culinary genius college roommate. And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop.


The beauty of +1’s is their relevance—you get the right recommendations (because they come from people who matter to you), at the right time (when you are actually looking for information about that topic) and in the right format (your search results). For more information about +1, watch this video:

So how do we know which +1’s to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible. If you want to know who you’re connected to, and how, visit the “Social Circle and Content” section of the Google Dashboard.

To get started +1’ing the stuff you like, you’ll need to create a Google profile—or if you already have one, upgrade it. You can use your profile to see all of your +1’s in one place, and delete those you no longer want to recommend. To see +1’s in your Google search results you’ll need to be logged into your Google Account.

We’ll be slowly rolling out +1’s, starting in English on Google.com. If you can’t wait to start seeing +1’s, we’ll soon let you opt-in to the launch by visiting our experimental search site. Initially, +1’s will appear alongside search results and ads, but in the weeks ahead they’ll appear in many more places (including other Google products and sites across the web). If you’re an advertiser and want to learn more about how the +1 button works on search ads and websites, visit our AdWords blog.

We’re confident that +1, combined with all of the social content we’re now including in search, will mean even better, more relevant results than you get today.

Posted by Rob Spiro, Product Manager

As part of our overall goal to make the web better for users, last year we announced a new project: to provide a community with Internet access more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have today. The response was overwhelming—nearly 1,100 cities felt the need for speed—and we were thrilled by the enthusiasm we saw across the country for better and faster web connections. Thank you to every community and individual that submitted a response, joined a rally, starred in a YouTube video or otherwise participated.

After a careful review, today we’re very happy to announce that we will build our ultra high-speed network in Kansas City, Kansas. We’ve signed a development agreement with the city, and we’ll be working closely with local organizations, businesses and universities to bring a next-generation web experience to the community.

Later this morning we’ll join Mayor Reardon at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas, for an event we’ll carry live on the Google YouTube channel—be sure to tune in at 10am PDT to watch.

In selecting a city, our goal was to find a location where we could build efficiently, make an impact on the community and develop relationships with local government and community organizations. We’ve found this in Kansas City. We’ll be working closely with local organizations including the Kauffman Foundation, KCNext and the University of Kansas Medical Center to help develop the gigabit applications of the future.

Pending approval from the city’s Board of Commissioners, we plan to offer service beginning in 2012. We’ll also be looking closely at ways to bring ultra high-speed Internet to other cities across the country.

Over the past decade, the jump from dial-up to broadband has led to streaming online video, digital music sales, video conferencing over the web and countless other innovations that have transformed communication and commerce. We can’t wait to see what new products and services will emerge as Kansas City moves from traditional broadband to ultra high-speed fiber optic connections.

Now it’s time to get to work.

Update 4:15PM: We’ve heard from some communities that they’re disappointed not to have been selected for our initial build. So just to reiterate what I’ve said many times in interviews: we’re so thrilled by the interest we’ve generated—today is the start, not the end the project. And over the coming months, we’ll be talking to other interested cities about the possibility of us bringing ultra high-speed broadband to their communities.

Posted by Milo Medin, Vice President, Access Services

An update on Buzz

User trust really matters to Google. That’s why we try to be clear about what data we collect and how we use it—and to give people real control over the information they share with us. For example, Google Dashboard lets you view the data that’s stored in your Google Account and manage your privacy settings for different services. With our Ads Preferences Manager, you can see and edit the data Google uses to tailor ads on our partner websites—or opt out of them entirely. And the Data Liberation Front makes it easy to move your data in and out of Google products. We also recently improved our internal privacy and security procedures.

That said, we don’t always get everything right. The launch of Google Buzz fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control—letting our users and Google down. While we worked quickly to make improvements, regulators—including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission—unsurprisingly wanted more detail about what went wrong and how we could prevent it from happening again. Today, we’ve reached an agreement with the FTC to address their concerns. We’ll receive an independent review of our privacy procedures once every two years, and we’ll ask users to give us affirmative consent before we change how we share their personal information.

We’d like to apologize again for the mistakes we made with Buzz. While today’s announcement thankfully put this incident behind us, we are 100 percent focused on ensuring that our new privacy procedures effectively protect the interests of all our users going forward.

Posted by Alma Whitten, Director of Privacy, Product & Engineering

(Cross-posted on the Lat Long Blog)

We’ve been busy pedaling the Street View trike around the nooks and crannies of storied sites in Europe, including palaces, monuments and castles, so you can explore them in Google Maps with Street View.

Starting today, you can view some of the most historic and architecturally significant landmarks in Italy and France, including UNESCO sites in Rome, the center of Florence and stunning chateaux in the French countryside.

In addition to seeing the exterior of archaeological sites like the Imperial Forum and the Colosseum in Rome, you can now explore inside the Colosseum and imagine yourself viewing naumachiae—simulated sea battles for which the Colosseum was filled with water—or speaking with statesmen inside the Imperial Forum.

Inside the Colosseum, Rome
In few clicks you can navigate through centuries of history. Start at the birthplace of Rome, the Palatine Hill, where the mythical founders of the city, Romulus and Remus were found and saved by a she-wolf, and where the most ancient buildings of the city are located. Follow the Appian Way, a little path that became one of the most strategically important roads of ancient Rome. After the long walk, experience the splendor of Imperial Rome at the Thermae (Baths) of Diocletian—ancient wellness and cultural centers with 33 acres of pools, gymnasiums and public libraries.

Baths of Diocletian
After wandering around Rome, you can fast forward in time to witness the celebrated architectural wonders of the Italian Renaissance, including Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) and Brunelleschi’s Cupola (dome) in Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. While in Florence don’t miss the opportunity to walk through Ponte Vecchio and shop at the famous artisan jewel stores built on top of it!

Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
In France, you can view picturesque chateaux and indulge your fantasies of living like French royalty by taking a virtual stroll around the beautiful Fontainebleau.

Château de Fontainebleau
Start exploring these sites in our Street View gallery, or find your favorite historic spots directly in Google Maps.

Posted by Marco Zennaro, Senior Software Engineer

When we first introduced Google Commerce Search—our search solution for e-commerce websites—our focus was on improving search quality and speed to help online shoppers find what they’re looking for. Retailers such as Woodcraft Supply, BabyAge.com and HealthWarehouse.com implemented Google Commerce Search on their respective websites; Woodcraft increased search revenues 34 percent, BabyAge increased site searches 64 percent and HealthWarehouse saw online conversions increase 19 percent—and all have reported an increase in customer satisfaction.

Today we’re building on the capabilities that have proved useful to our retail partners with the third-generation Google Commerce Search (GCS). With this new version, we hope to help create an even more interactive and engaging experience for shoppers and retailers.

Here are some of the cool new features in GCS 3.0:
Search as You Type provides instant gratification to shoppers, returning product results with every keystroke, right from the search bar
Local Product Availability helps retailers bridge online and offline sales by showing shoppers when a product is also available in a store nearby—in-line with the search results
Enhanced Merchandising tools allow retailers to create product promotions that display in banners alongside related search queries, and to easily set query-based landing pages (for example, when a visitor types [shoes], they’re directed to a “shoe” page)
Product Recommendations (Labs) helps shoppers make purchase decisions by showing them what others viewed and ultimately bought

Search As You Type on www.babyage.com
With this release we’re also welcoming three new retail partners: Forever21, General Nutrition Company (GNC) and L’Occitane. GNC implemented Google Commerce Search in less than a week on their mobile website, while Forever 21 and L’Occitane are currently working to implement various new features of GCS, such as Search as You Type and Local Product Availability. Here’s what Christine Burke, VP of International E-Commerce at cosmetics staple L’Occitane had to say about GCS 3.0:
L’Occitane is unique in that our beauty products center around ingredients—such as lavender, shea butter and verbena. As our customers visit our re-designed website to shop and research our products, we’re excited about the speed and accuracy of on-site search results that will be provided to us through Google Commerce Search. We’re also very excited about the possibility of the new local inventory feature, which can help us connect our customers with their favorite products in one of our 170 U.S. boutiques.For more information, visit google.com/commercesearch.

Posted by Tianyu Wen, Software Engineer, Google Commerce Search

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