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February 07, 2008

Google Spreadsheet forms

Writing about web page http://googledocs.blogspot.com/2008/02/stop-sharing-spreadsheets-start.html

Here’s a clever idea: Google have extended their online spreadsheet application in an ingenious way: they’ve made it possible for spreadsheet authors to expose a form view of their spreadsheet. So if you have a spreadsheet to which you’d like lots of people to contribute a small snippet of data, instead of giving them all edit rights to the spreadsheet, you can create a form view and allow people to add their data to your spreadsheet just using the form. From the Google Blog

Create a form in a Google Docs spreadsheet and send it out to anyone with an email address. They won’t need to sign in, and they can respond directly from the email message or from an automatically generated web page. Creating the form is easy: start with a spreadsheet to get the form, or start by creating the form and you’ll get the spreadsheet automatically. Responses are automatically added to your spreadsheet. You can even keep a closer eye on them by adding the Google Docs forms gadget to your iGoogle home page.

If you have Firefox and you keep the underlying spreadsheet open in the browser, you can see it update live as people contribute data to it using your form.

This strikes me as a fantastically clever way to extend Google Docs; at a stroke, they’ve transformed the spreadsheets module from a tool which is essentially a simplified online version of Excel into a completely new tool which can do things like surveys, questionnaires and so on which desktop spreadsheets could never be used for. And rather than introduce a completely new application (“Google Surveys”), they’ve extended an existing application in a way which is intuitive and natural, making it easy for people to use a tool they’re already familiar with to do cool new stuff, instead of having to adopt and learn a new tool and ending up with yet another silo of data. Brilliant.


October 24, 2007

IMAP coming to GMail

Writing about web page https://mail.google.com/support/bin/topic.py?topic=12806

Gmail is great, except that you have to either use the web client or pop your messages off it and into an email client. If only it supported IMAP, then you’d be able to use a nice client such as Thunderbird but still keep all your messages on the GMail server so you don’t have to worry about keeping your messages in sync when you move from one computer to another.

And it looks as though the wait is finally over: some users are supporting that IMAP support is appearing in their account settings screen, and the Google docs centre has a bunch of pages about IMAP support. Combine this with the recent bump in space (the allocation for my account has gone from 2.8GB to 4.4GB over the last few weeks), the excellent support for access from mobile devices, and there’s not much more I can think of to want from an email service.


July 21, 2006

Google accessible web search

Writing about web page http://labs.google.com/accessible/

Google have just launched a new service: Accessible web search, a search engine which favours web pages which are more usable by visually impaired users. From their FAQ:–

Google Accessible Search looks at a number of signals by examining the HTML markup found on a web page. It tends to favor pages that degrade gracefully —– pages with few visual distractions and pages that are likely to render well with images turned off. [...] Currently we take into account several factors, including a given page's simplicity, how much visual imagery it carries and whether or not its primary purpose is immediately viable with keyboard navigation.

It's a Google Labs product so it's too early to say how well it'll persist and evolve. Clever idea, though.


June 29, 2006

Google account authentication

Writing about web page http://code.google.com/apis/accounts/AuthForWebApps.html

Interesting to see that Google have released code which lets developers of web applications do one of two things with Google account data:–

  1. The ClientLogin API lets you incorporate programmatic login into your desktop or mobile applications. This API incorporates CAPTCHA for greater security against password trollers.

  2. The AuthSub API gives your web application the ability to access a user's Google services accounts without handling the user's login information. This API offers a secure mode, in which the web application can register with Google for greater security.

So if your web application wants (say) to publish an event to a user's Google calendar then it can do so with the request for the user's Google username and password well integrated into the flow of your application rather than being a separate process. Once the login is done, your application gets a session token (which never expires, interestingly; it has to be explciitly revoked) and can then perform other tasks without re–authenticating. Tokens are issued per service, and different Google services can define different sets of operations which are acceptable.

You can also register your web application with Google, at which point it becomes trusted and the login screen which Google presents to the user is a bit less paranoid about whether the user should trust the third party application. To register, you need a self–signed certificate:–

Prior to contacting Google, you will need to generate a public key. The public key must be a 1024–bit RSA key encoded in an X.509 certificate in PEM format. We suggest creating a self–signed certification rather than getting one from a central certificate authority.

I wonder whether this gets groups like ours any closer to being able to regard some services as being devolved to third–party providers such as Google, and simply to share data with those services rather than owning them.


March 14, 2006

Google in twenty years

Writing about web page http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1856/2130/1600/googlein20years_.jpg


February 23, 2006

Google Page Creator

Writing about web page http://pages.google.com/

Google Page Creator

The Google machine marches on. Their latest is Google Page Creator, a tool to let anyone make a web site - not a blog - using WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editing. Anyone with a GMail account also automatically has a URL for their site of the form name.googlepages.com where name is your Google email account name.

And it's pretty slick. There are four page layout templates to choose from, lots of colour schemes and each user has 100MB of space for their site. Everything on the page is immediately editable by clicking on it, and there are simple options to insert images, hyperlinks, headings, etc. As you create more pages, making links from one page to another is a WYSIWYG operation, and when you upload images you can reuse them from page to page by clicking on a thumbnail.

There doesn't seem to be any way to do automatic links so that you can have a set of links to all your sub-pages which updates whenever you add or remove a sub-page, though. I don't see any way to insert a table, either, and there are bulleted lists but not numbered lists.

Also, the resulting pages don't validate – six errors on my simple "Hello World" page.

It is, however, (inevitably) a beta so I guess more functions might come along in due course. It raises an interesting question; what's the proportion of people who want a personal web presence who don't want a blog? This tool is clearly aimed at the non-technical individual, not at organisations or techies, so it's operating in exactly the same space that all the blog providers are in. Is there a distinct demand?


February 22, 2006

GMail for institutions

Writing about web page http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/big-mail-on-campus.html

The Google Blog contained an interesting announcement the other day; they're becoming the email provider for an educational institution – specifically, San Jose City College in the US. They'll be GMail accounts, but they'll have SJCC addresses, and they'll be supporting about 10,000 students.

Given that GMail accounts are free to individuals, I wonder how much the college is paying Google for the service?

Google aren't the only ones pursuing this line; Microsoft have a similar offering called Windows Live @ Edu. If anything, Microsoft's offering is even more interesting, since it includes not just hosted email, but contacts management, calendering, Messenger, MSN Spaces, MSN Mobile and SMS Alerts. Furthermore, if I understand the web site correctly, the Microsoft offering is free to the institution with 2GB of storage per student, and the email accounts persist forever – so the institution can offer lifetime hosting for alumni at no cost to itself.

Hmm.


December 28, 2005

Google mocks Jesus?

Writing about web page http://confederateyankee.mu.nu/archives/145981.php

What do you think the top result would be if you went to Google and did a search on the two words "Baby" and "Jesus"? Obviously you don't have to wonder; click here to see. The first result is, shall we say, not what you might expect.

Conspiracy theorists are already outraged, and assert that this can't be an accidental by-product of Google's algorithms, but must have been done manually by Google staff. I don't think that's even remotely plausible, but it does seem like a strange result.


November 14, 2005

Google Analytics

So Google have yet another free tool out; Google Analytics, a tool to analyse your web site traffic. (I presume that this is why Google bought Urchin last March.)

The idea is pretty simple; you embed a little bit of javascript in all your web pages which includes a unique ID number for your site, and then you can sign in to Google Analytics (yet another use for your Google account name!) and see lots of interesting stuff about your site including:-

  • Keyword referrers (especially Google Adwords if you have them, unsurprisingly)
  • New and returning visitors
  • Geographical distribution of your visitors, with nice maps
  • Referrers
  • Trend reporting to compare any of your data sets from one arbitrary period to another arbitrary period.
  • Data overlays – see stats for your pages overlaid right on to those pages so that you can get data in context just by browsing your own site.

It looks like a really polished set of reports and data manipulation tools. And it's free. If I had a site with no stats reporting on it right now, I'd be tempted to give this a go. But of course, if you're swayed by the "Google has all my data!" argument, then this is not so much the last straw as a giant great tree trunk across the camel's back.


September 14, 2005

Google Blog search

Writing about web page http://blogsearch.google.com/

Google now have a search service specifically for blogs. Hooray. But it doesn't see Warwick Blogs. Boo. The FAQs say:-

The goal of Blog Search is to include every blog that publishes a site feed (either RSS or Atom). It is not restricted to Blogger blogs, or blogs from any other service. If your blog publishes a site feed in any format and automatically pings an updating service (such as Weblogs.com), we should be able to find and list it. Also, we will soon be providing a form that you can use to manually add your blog to our index, in case we haven't picked it up automatically.

Interestingly, they've introduced some new search restriction operators for blog searching:-

  • inblogtitle:
  • inposttitle:
  • inpostauthor:
  • blogurl:

August 31, 2005

Google Purge

Google today announced Google Purge, their latest application aimed at simplifying and streamlining search. But Purge operates quite differently from existing, non-invasive Google apps; it works by destroying all the information it is unable to index. From the press release:-

As a part of Purge's first phase, executives will destroy all copyrighted materials that cannot be searched by Google. "A year ago, Google offered to scan every book on the planet for its Google Print project. Now, they are promising to burn the rest," John Battelle wrote in his widely read Searchblog. "Thanks to Google Purge, you'll never have to worry that your search has missed some obscure book, because that book will no longer exist. And the same goes for movies, art, and music."

As a part of Phase One operations, Google executives will permanently erase the hard drive of any computer that is not already indexed by the Google Desktop Search. Although Google executives are keeping many details about Google Purge under wraps, some analysts speculate that the categories of information Google will eventually index or destroy include handwritten correspondence, buried fossils, and private thoughts and feelings.


August 20, 2005

Flash Earth

Writing about web page http://www.neave.com/lab/flash_earth/

There's a continuing debate amongst web developers about whether Flash or Ajax is a better platform for interactive web applications. Google make some cool apps using Ajax – Google Maps, GMail and so on. Now, one guy has experimented to see whether the Google Maps satellite imagery interface could be done as well or better using Flash. The results are impressive: the redraw is better than Google's original, as is the panning and zooming, and he's added rotation, which is easy in Flash, but hard in HTML.

His interface feels nicer partly because he's gone to some trouble to polish the behaviour of the application; when you click the "zoom in" button, or the "pan north" button, the zoom (or pan) starts and slows to a stop smoothly. Handling both rotating and panning using the compass is a nice UI touch, too. And letting the user switch seamlessly between Google Maps and MSN Virtual Earth to compare and contrast the two is clever and elegant. It's details like that which make the difference, and at the very least, this shows that Flash can do as good a job as Ajax for certain types of application – and, of course, this application works in every browser that can handle the Flash plugin, and there only needs to be one version of the code for all browsers – no conditional hacks to hide things from browser X. Worth a look.


May 31, 2005

What do people search Google for?

Follow-up to What do people search for? from Autology: John Dale's blog

An interesting additional set of search stats come from Google. and other search engines outside of Warwick. What we can determine here is the number of times that WB pages were requested by someone who did a Google search and got a WB page in their results set.

This data is slightly different from my previous post, because for searches done within WB, it's safe to infer that people really are looking for a particular post within WB, whereas with Google searches, the user probably doesn't care whether the result is WB or somewhere else, it just turns out that WB has some content that they think might be what they're looking for.

May 2005

  • 3,148 imogen heap hide and seek lyrics
  • 1,467 imogen heap hide and seek
  • 850 msn screen names
  • 772 hide and seek lyrics imogen heap
  • 758 bt efnet
  • 598 graffiti generator
  • 590 hide and seek imogen heap lyrics
  • 503 charity wristbands
  • 476 hide and seek imogen heap
  • 475 warwick blogs
  • 425 big cook
  • 413 imogen heap lyrics hide and seek
  • 412 stupidvideos
  • 374 msn names
  • 354 barry chuckle
  • 342 lyrics to hide and seek by imogen heap
  • 329 west wing series 6
  • 327 cilit bang
  • 321 sweety the chick lyrics
  • 300 bathroom renovation
  • 299 hide and seek lyrics imogen
  • 281 citation machine
  • 257 lyrics imogen heap hide and seek
  • 255 hide and seek by imogen heap
  • 247 student survivor
  • 243 sweety the chick
  • 239 melanie harvey
  • 229 800b0001
  • 226 kitten cannon
  • 224 lyrics hide and seek imogen heap

April 2005

  • 875 warwick blogs
  • 689 stupidvideos
  • 481 citation machine
  • 460 sweety the chick
  • 440 sweety the chick lyrics
  • 383 graffiti generator
  • 373 800b0001
  • 358 msn names
  • 340 big cook
  • 323 big cook little cook
  • 312 msn screen names
  • 266 point and click games
  • 258 bathroom renovation
  • 247 funny gifs
  • 232 threesomes
  • 202 lol meaning
  • 196 sony erricsson
  • 193 kung fu hustle torrent
  • 187 poker statistics
  • 176 charity wristbands
  • 174 warwick blog
  • 171 bring your own bombs
  • 166 devvo
  • 147 cebeebies
  • 144 west wing series 5
  • 135 depressing msn names
  • 133 computer says no
  • 131 west wing series 6
  • 125 laptop pictures
  • 123 umd discs

April 23, 2005

Guess the Google images

Writing about web page http://www.weavedigital.com/guess-the-google/

This is entertaining. You're shown twenty images from Google Images, and you have twenty seconds to guess the single keyword which would have retrieved all the images you're shown. If you're good enough at it, there's a scoreboard to record your performance for posterity. I wasn't.

March 22, 2005

More Google goodness

Writing about web page http://news.google.com/

More bits of DHTML niceness at Google: visit Google news and then click on "Edit this page" on the right-hand side. You can then drag the various sections around to get the customised view of the page that you want, and when you click Save, the page redraws itself according to the layout you've designed. Much the same sort of thing is done at Typepad where you can configure what goes into your blog's columns using a very similar interface, but you need a Typepad account to see it.

February 08, 2005

Google maps

Writing about Google maps from Hannah's handbag

Hannah points out Google Maps which is a very nice interactive map tool, albeit one that's limited to the US and Canada right now. It's not that maps on the web are a new idea; after all there's MultiMap, MapQuest, MSN Maps and various others (and some of them have features that Google Maps doesn't, like creating Mobile pages for your Pocket PC, or trip planning, or alternate routes), but once again, Google score on the elegance of the interface.

Like Google Suggest and GMail, Maps uses dHTML and javascript to offer an interface that's miles nicer than anyone else's – drag the map to scroll around it, or use the arrow keys on your keyboard, plus the map only redraws the bits of itself it needs to, so you don't lose context.

As many commentators noted with GMail and Suggest, they're raising the bar on what people will come to expect from web interfaces. They're showing that you don't need a complete page reload to change visible data, that you can use keyboard shortcuts just like in a desktop application, that you can directly interact with your data. We might need to raise our client-side programming game. :-)

As an aside, is it just me, or are Google turning out new things faster than is even vaguely plausible? In the last few weeks alone, I count Maps, Video, Suggest and Scholar, and a complete list of Google applications now includes:-

  • Web search, Groups search, News search, Image search, Catalog search, Google alerts, Froogle, Compute, Sets, Desktop search, Toolbar, GMail, Print search, Scholar, Suggest, Video search, Maps, Blogger, Picasa, Keyhole, Translate, Appliances (including the new Google Mini).

Some of these are acquisitions, to be fair, and some of them are re-uses of the same core technology, but still, it's a pretty big portfolio, up from just "Search", what, three years ago?


January 05, 2005

Google suggest

Writing about web page http://www.google.com/webhp?complete=1

Google Suggest offers possible matches for your search term as you type it in. It's done with XMLHttpRequest, but the Javascript on the page has been highly compressed, so it's hard to make sense of. Luckily, Chris Justus rides to the rescue with a rewritten, commented version of the code.

There are some other implementations too: here's an auto-complete search for CPAN and Dunstan's blog offers "Live Search" which is much the same idea. Worth adding to the "Could be useful" file.


November 19, 2004

Google Scholar

Writing about web page http://scholar.google.com/

From the FAQs:-

Google Scholar enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.

Interesting development. Apparently, Google have done deals with publishers to let them index content which they normally wouldn't be able to get to, because it's behind a subscription barrier. If you search for "search engines", there's a result for a paper titled "ProFusion: Intelligent fusion from multiple, distributed search engines". That paper is published by the Journal Of Universal Computer Science, a subscription-based service.

Google require that participating publishers and other groups make abstracts available so that users can see more than just the existence of a paper; they can get some idea of its relevance to them. Presumably this is win-win: Google gains a new search resource, and publishers and others get to show their wares and maybe gain new subscriptions.

Danny Sullivan does his usual sterling job of analysing this new service.


November 11, 2004

Google's aptitude test: answers

Follow-up to Google's aptitude test from Autology: John Dale's blog

An elegant set of answers to the Google aptitude test can be found here. I wish I understood enough Mathematica to have been able to figure out how to use it to solve the problems, especially #17 which intrigued me at the time. I can see what their expression is doing, but I wouldn't have been able to write it.

October 17, 2004

Google's aptitude test

It seems that Google now have an aptitude test for prospective employees. It's a mixture of creative writing, general tech awareness, and some maths-y puzzles. There are four pages to it:-

Question 17 is fun, but to my chagrin I can't find a more elegant way to solve it than by brute force.


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