Data Visualization From Google’s Data Arts Team

I don’t know about you but to me cool things don’t necessarily have to have a clear utility, and here’s a great example of what I mean: check out this wild Chrome experiment, a 3-D graph of worldwide Google search volume. This was created by the ‘Google Data Arts Team’… is it just me or does ‘data arts’ sound like a fun job?

Regardless of what you think about Google otherwise you have to give them credit for making it a policy to pay PhD’s to spend 20 percent of their time exploring new possibilities latent in technology that might not otherwise be discovered.

Google Search Volume By Language
Google Search Volume By Language

Set Up A Paywall With Google

It was about five minutes after someone came up with the brilliant meme “information wants to be free” that people started screaming about the death of printed newspapers and magazines. How would content creators ever get paid if redistributing the fruits of their labor was no more difficult than copy/paste? To date very few established media brands have been able to make use of paywalls successfully, and it’s not clear which monetization models will enable writers and editors to be compensated sufficiently to continue to produce quality work.

Still, as disruptive technology obscures the way forward it holds the seeds of the future within the chaos it introduces.

Paid-content success stories have come from out of the blue: Wired Magazine successfully sold individual issues for iPad; naturally other magazines followed suit. Rupert Murdoch’s recent the introduction of The Daily for iPad, a news-delivery app costing about a dollar per week, is another interesting try at monetizing content, again by leveraging hardware and software to deliver an improved multi-media experience that’s superior to newsprint.

Paywalls in their most primitive form seem unlikely to work, especially when they attempt to control access to sites and webpages that exist in search engine indexes anyway. One still suspects that 10 years from now many of the media brands we’ve known for decades will have found ways to monetize. But how will publishers find means to survival in a mediascape of infinite complexity? In a word: testing.

Enter Google One Pass. It’s a payment system that attempts to make it very easy for publishers of any size to test different business models for delivering their content. Of course you can do this manually already, but rather than making a project out of each model you test, you can try various methods with One Pass. You could quickly create a paid subscription service, sell day passes or set up a pay-per-article offer. One Pass is integrated with Google Checkout, and implementing it sounds simple. This ease and flexibility it offers even small publishers is critical.

Simple paywalls are inflexible and seem to risk alienating readers. Google One Pass might make it easier for a publisher to fine tune his approach based on empirical evidence as to what’s working.

Distance Finder: Google Maps API Tutorial

Here’s a nice two-part tutorial on using the Google Maps API to build yourself a distance finder for a website. Part two explains how to build functionality to allow the user to choose different kinds of routes depending on their mode of transportation and also make drag-able markers where the distance between two points is automatically recomputed. A lot of people who are not professional programmers are aware that the Google Maps API (as well as quite a few others) are available for them to use to facilitate a great idea for a web application they might have. This tutorial assumes very little prior knowledge of how to use APIs and could definitely serve to bridge the gap between that great idea and its implementation. Check it out now or save it for later.

Gmail Shortcut

OK, assuming you have a Gmail account and are using Firefox, check out a cool tip for getting to Gmail from a browser window, without having to hit a button or bookmark: just enter ‘g’ into the URL field. That’s it. You’ll regale them with this tip at this weekend’s parties.

OK that was pretty short. Here are 35 more Gmail tips. Hey, did you know that every Gmail message has its own URL, and so can be bookmarked? Or that extra space in your Gmail account can be used as an external drive via a Windows drive shell extension/gDisk on Mac/GmailFS on Linux? You did? Well I didn’t…

Google Wave, First Thoughts

I just spent a fun hour watching the introductory Google Wave demo.

Google touts it as a ‘demonstration of what’s possible in the browser’. Hello HTML 5. The larger message from Google is clear: you need the (Microsoft) desktop even less than you did before. Well we’ll see.

A Wave is a multimedia shared object on steroids, combining aspects of instant messaging, email, wikis and document sharing, that can easily be rewound by people who belatedly join the conversation. As you communicate, there is a cool instant transmit feature, “live collaborative editing”, where you can see your friend’s message as he types it, without having to wait until he sends it to see it. IMs will flow along like conversations… an amazing time-saver. (But wait, it’s not IM, it Wave-ing!)

There’s a lot more and I’d recommend checking out the video.

One possible shortcoming that I see is that if a Wave is an ongoing ‘conversation’ about a given subject, will I still have to check my email for entirely new messages that have no place in an existing wave? If I do, then Google seems to have fragmented, not integrated, my communications, and I have yet another place to check for vital messages each day.

Wave could be a threat to many of Google’s existing products, bundling the functionality of many existing tools together as it does, but you have to respect Google for taking that chance. One lesson of the last 15-20 years is that if large established tech companies don’t retain a tendency in their cultures toward disruptive innovation, smaller more nimble companies with less to lose will displace them. The real significance of Wave might be that it shows that despite Google’s size and large pile of cash, it hasn’t lost its willingness to take chances.

Make a Free/Busy Schedule with Google Calendar and JSON

Ben Maurer has devised a simple JavaScript that will create a free/busy schedule using Google Calendar and JSON. This is perfect if you want to publicly make your schedule available while only giving details on whether you are free or busy. This mimics some of the functionality that you find in Outlook of course, but I think people are going to like this alternative, primarily because so many people do not have Outlook installed on their Mac laptops. A free/busy schedule application like this has crossed my mind several times and I applaud Maurer for going forward and developing it. I predict he sees huge interest in it.

Free Proxy – Thanks Google!

Does your workplace or educational institution block websites using a proxy? This tip from O’Reilly, will show you how to access those sites using Google Translate. Think of it as a free proxy!  This proxy tool is more of an ingenious meta hack than it is particularly high-tech.

In fact if you think about how you could use the functionality of Google translate to make a proxy that costs nothing, you might even come up with the solution before you take a look at this article! If you are able to make use of the tip, why not let others know that it really does result in a useful proxy, free of charge from Google.

Gmail, Picasa and Flickr

I’m a big fan of the Flickr photo sharing and publication service. It is an amazing web application that lets you present your photographs on the web. It uses a tagging system to allow you to easily categorize your photographs. One of the neatest features, is that you can also view photos from other people who use the service, and because of the tagging features, you can easily look for photographs from other people that share the same interests or tags.

But, I’ve always found it a bit tedious to upload images to the service. You can use Flickr’s web based image upload tool or you can use their small Windows application to upload your images. Both methods are extremly inefficient especially if you have alot of photos. The other problem is that if you use their free accounts, you can only upload 10MB worth of images every month. With my Nikon Coolpix 5000 camera, each photo I take is about 2MB in size. This means that I can only upload 5 high quality images per month. But I’m not really interested in uploading high quality images, so I resize my images before I upload. This means going into Fireworks, resizing, saving and uploading. Quite a few steps.

The third way you can get photos to your Flickr account is by using email. Enter Picasa and Gmail. Picasa is a great free photo management tool that lets you organize and perform simple edits and manipulations to your photos.

With the recent release of Picasa 2.0, you can now email directly from this great image management software. When you email from Picasa, you can tell the application to automatically resize your photos before sending them. So uploading to Flickr has become much easier.

Here are the steps:

  • Login to your Flickr account. Near the bottom of the page click on the link that says Upload by Email
  • Copy the email address that is presented to you. This is a personalized email address that you can use to send photos to your Flickr account.
  • Now, open Picasa and click on the Tools>Options… menu.
  • On the Email tab, choose Use my GMail Account then set the picture size (using the slider) to whatever size you want. This is the size that Picasa will scale your image to before sending it.
  • Click the OK button and you’re ready to start sending images to Flickr.
  • Click on the image that you want to upload then click on the Email button near the bottom of the Picasa application window.
  • Picasa will ask you to enter your GMail login details
  • In the To field, enter the email address that Flickr gave you.
  • Enter the title of the picture in the subject line. This is the title that Picasa will use when it displays your picture.
  • Enter the description of the photo in the message area. This is the description that Picasa will use when it displays your picture.
  • Finally, click the Send button and the photo is uploaded to Flickr.

The only limitation with this method is that you cannot tag the image. You will need to login to Flickr to do that.

Happy uploading, and if you want to check out my photos, you can find my photostream at

Google Preferences

Google Preferences allows you to set default search preferences like Language, Number of Results, Safe Search Filtering and whether or not your results are opened in a new window.

The greatest preference is the Language setting. It allows you to choose search results only for pages written in the languages you choose.  All this is profoundly useful. In the West we take for granted sometimes that documents we may have run across years ago will be freely accessible on the Internet, and naturally enough through a search engine like Google.

But imagine if you speak a relatively obscure language, possibly native to a part of the world far from where you’re living: you might have no access whatsoever to the documents in this language. Now Google serves as a convenient conduit allowing you to filter results with as much granularity as you require.