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December 31, 2014

Google's Smarter Step-by-Step Instructions

Back in January, I wrote about Google's answers to complicated questions. Google uses snippets from search results and places them in a special card at the top of the page. Sometimes it even shows step-by-step instructions.

I noticed a different format for Google's answers and it's seems to be limited to questions about Google's services. When searching for [go incognito chrome], Google shows step-by-step instructions for both desktop and mobile. The list is short, it includes icons and the text is not from the page that's referenced. The help center article includes separate instructions for desktop, Android and iOS, while the Google Search answer suggests things like: "Click the Chrome menu on your computer browser toolbar or touch Menu on your mobile device". Another difference is that the the title and the URL are placed before the answer.

Another example: when searching for [how to change gmail password], Google shows a link to the page that lets you change the password.

Google shows a similar card for [how to create google account] and links to the "account creation" page. "With a Google Account, you can access Gmail, YouTube, Google+, and other Google services with a single username and password," mentions Google.

What about printing in Google Maps? The answer is longer and it shows how to print maps and directions. It even links to a Google Maps tutorial.

New Google Account Switcher in Chrome for Android

I noticed something strange in Chrome for Android. I was already logged in to one of my Google accounts and I visited Google's homepage to log in to a different Google account. The account switching interface had a new feature called "go incognito" and the "manage accounts" link opened Chrome's account settings sections.

"You're signed in to the following Google Accounts. Add or remove accounts in Android settings," explained Google. There's also an option to "go incognito to browse privately or sign in temporarily".  So now I have to add the account to my device if I want to sign in to a Google account in a mobile browser.

When tapping "add account", you're sent to a different section that lets you sign in to your account and enable various syncing options.

Chrome is just a browser, Google is just a site. Why would you add a Google account to your device when you only want to log in to that account in a browser?

To log in to a different account you can either open a new incognito tab or go to Chrome's settings, disable all accounts and dismiss the warnings. Or you can install a different browser. Why make things so complicated?

Update: There's a flag in chrome://flags called "Enable identity consistency between browser and cookie jar". When enabled, "the browser manages signing in and out of Google accounts". Google also tests a new profile management menu borrowed from Chrome OS. You can try it by enabling these flags: "Enable new profile management system" and "Enable the new avatar menu". "If you share a computer, click 'Switch person' to add your profile and get your own bookmarks, apps, and theme. Switching lets you keep your stuff separate," informs Google.

December 30, 2014

YouTube's Roboto Experiment

YouTube experiments with switching from Arial to Roboto, a typeface that's already used by many other Google products. Roboto "was designed entirely in-house at Google by Christian Robertson, an interface designer for Google" and it "was released for the first time in 2011 with Android 4.0".

Here's the Roboto font experiment:

... and YouTube's regular interface which uses Arial:

This is a screenshot from Google Docs, which shows a sample text that uses Roboto and Arial:

Here's how you can enable the experimental interface. If you use Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari or Internet Explorer 8+:

1. open in a new tab

2. load your browser's developer console:

* Chrome or Opera 15+ - press Ctrl+Shift+J for Windows/Linux/ChromeOS or Command-Option-J for Mac

* Firefox - press Ctrl+Shift+K for Windows/Linux or Command-Option-K for Mac

* Internet Explorer 8+ - press F12 and select the "Console" tab

* Safari 6+ - if you haven't enabled the Develop menu, open Preferences from the Safari menu, go to the Advanced tab and check "Show Develop menu in menu bar". Close Preferences and then press Command-Option-C to show the console.

* Opera 12 - press Ctrl+Shift+I for Windows/Linux or Command-Option-I for Mac, then click "Console".

3. paste the following code which changes a YouTube cookie:

document.cookie="VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE=vuYbQD3x-HQ; path=/;";window.location.reload();

4. press Enter and close the console.

To disable the experiment, use the same instructions, but replace the code from step 3 with this one:

document.cookie="VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE=; path=/;";window.location.reload();

{ Thanks, Rubén Gómez. }

December 25, 2014

Christmas Easter Egg in Google Translate

Google Translate has a cool Easter Egg for Christmas: when translating "Happy holidays" or "Santa Claus", Google shows an image of Santa Claus and links to Google's Santa Tracker.

{ Thanks, Emanuele Bartolomucci. }

Search Card for Google Trends

When searching for [2014], Google shows a card with the top 5 trending topics from your country in 2014. You can click "Explore 2014 trending topics" to find other popular searches or pick a different country. There's also a "global" option that shows the worldwide trending searches.

It's the first time when Google Zeitgeist is displayed in Google Search. As Google explains, "search statistics are automatically generated based on the billions of searches conducted on Google," so it makes sense to place them next to Google's search results.

Google Knowledge Graph Links to Online Music Services

Back in June, Google announced a feature that allowed you to play music in your favorite mobile app directly from Google Search. "When you ask Google about a musician, you can simply tap a link to play their music right in one of your installed apps," explained Google. The feature is only available for Android devices in the US and works with apps like YouTube, Google Play Music, Tunein, Spotify.

Google now tests a similar feature that works in desktop browsers and it's still limited to the US. When searching for musicians or bands, Google shows a list of links to services like YouTube, Google Play Music, Tunein. The knowledge graph card includes a section called "available on" that links to the official YouTube channel, the Play Music page and the Tunein artist page.

Google's Music Video Card Shows Lyrics

Google has recently added a search card for lyrics in the US. You can also find the first lyrics of the song if you search for the song's name. Google links to the YouTube music video, shows the album's name, the year when it was released and now also links to a Google Play Store page that includes the song's lyrics and lets you preview the song and buy it. Here's an example: [bjork all is full of love].

Here's what happens when you click the play button: you can listen to a 90-second preview. If the track is shorter than 2min 30sec, the preview is only 30 seconds long.

December 24, 2014

Christmas Lights in Google+

Mr. Jingles has some new Christmas lights. Open the Google+ notifications pane in Google+ and in many other Google services, mark as read all the notifications and click the bell icon to see the lights.

"All these colorful lights should surely help Santa find me," says Mr. Jingles.

Here's the animation:

And here are last year's festive costumes. Merry Christmas!

Lyrics Card in Google Search

Google now shows song lyrics in a new search card and links to Google Play for the full lyrics. For example, a search for [your song lyrics] in the US shows some of the lyrics from Elton John's song and links to a Google Play Store page that lets you preview the song, buy it or listen it in Google Play Music.

This only works in the US, so you should add &gl=us to the Google Search URL if you're not in the US or use this link. Hopefully, Google will also add lyrics to Google Play Music and YouTube.

{ via Search Engine Roundtable }

December 20, 2014

Word Origin Google Search Card

Last year, Google updated the dictionary card and added a lot of useful features, including etymological information, a translation box and a graph that shows the use of a word over time. If you only want to find the origin of a word like "basilica", you don't have to search for [define basilica], expand the card and scroll to the word origin section. You can search for [basilica origin] or [basilica word origin] and Google shows a special version of the dictionary card that highlights etymological information.

Reduce Data Usage When Playing YouTube Music Videos

YouTube doesn't offer yet an audio-only version for the desktop, but there's a simple way to save bandwidth when playing a YouTube video in a different tab or in the background.

Let's say you're listening to a 2-hour concert while reading a book. Since you only care about the audio, YouTube wastes bandwidth by streaming the entire video. YouTube now uses adaptive streaming (DASH) and there are separate streams for audio and video.

I mentioned in a recent post that the mobile YouTube app for Android downloads only the audio files when playing music videos in the background. The desktop site doesn't do this, but you can save bandwidth by switching to the lowest quality option that's available: 144p. Click the player's settings button (the wheel icon) and pick 144p from the "quality" dropdown.

It may not seem obvious, but YouTube uses exactly the same audio stream, whether you're watching 144p, 240p, 360p, 480p, 720p or 1080p videos. You can check this by right clicking the player, selecting "stats for nerds" and watching the DASH section when switching to other resolutions. The first numerical value is the ID (itag) of the video stream, while the second one is the ID of the audio stream.  You'll notice that the audio ID is the same: 140.

Here's an example: the 2-hour David Gilmour concert from the screenshot above uses 237MB for the 360p stream and 94MB for 144p stream, while the audio stream uses 111MB. That means you can save more than 140MB by switching from 360p to 144p.

Please note that this only works if you're using the Flash player or you're using YouTube's HTML5 player in a browser that supports Media Source Extensions (Chrome, Opera, Safari, IE11).

December 19, 2014

Gmail Links to Google Inbox

Gmail now promotes Google Inbox. If Inbox is enabled for your account, you might see this message in Chrome: "Good news – Inbox by Gmail is enabled for this account. To use it on the web, go to You can always use Gmail at"

Gmail also shows a promotional link for Google Inbox at the bottom of the page: "Take me to Inbox".

If you click "x", Gmail hides the link and shows this message: "You dismissed the Inbox link." Click "Don't show this again" to permanently hide the Inbox link.

Chrome Data Saver, Compression Proxy for Desktop

Chrome has a data compression feature that works in Chrome for Android and Chrome for iOS. There's an unofficial extension that enables the compression proxy in Chrome for desktop and Google works on its own extension called Data Saver (the codename is Flywheel).

Jerzy Głowacki found this screenshot:

Add Google Docs, Sheets and Slides to App Launcher

You can now add Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides to Google's app launcher from the navigation bar. Just visit each desktop app, click the app launcher and then click "add a shortcut" at the bottom of the pane. Use drag and drop to move the shortcut or hide it by dragging the shortcut to the "more" section. Make sure you are signed in to your Google Account to be able to customize the app launcher.

I added Docs, Sheets and Slides to the app launcher, so I can quickly open the apps from almost any Google service.

To switch between Google's Office apps, you can also use this menu:

{ via +Google Drive }

Save Bandwidth When Playing YouTube Music Videos

I've checked to see what happens when you play a YouTube music video in the background when using the YouTube app for Android, while YouTube Music Key is enabled (it's bundled with the Play Music All Access subscription). I played U2's Beautiful Day on my Nexus 5 and opened the app data usage section to see how much data is used by the YouTube app.

When playing the video in the background, the YouTube app used about 4MB.

When playing the same video in the foreground, the YouTube app used about 24MB.

By default, YouTube selected the highest video quality that was available for this video: 480p.

This means that you can save bandwidth by playing music videos in the background. YouTube uses separate chunked streams for audio and video, so it can download only audio files when playing videos in the background.

December 16, 2014

Add Google Drive Files as Gmail Attachments

You can now attach Google Drive files to Gmail messages. When you compose a message, click the Drive button, pick a file and select "insert as attachment" at the bottom of the pane. Then click "insert" and the file is added as an attachment, not as a link. You can only use this feature for files that haven't been converted to Google's formats.

Here's an example of attachment from Google Drive:

If you pick a file that's too big, you'll get this error message: "Your message could not be saved because it exceeds the maximum size of 25 MB. Try removing an attachment."

"There are now more ways to share Drive files with friends and family through Gmail, without having to worry about accidentally removing their access. By selecting the 'Insert as Attachment' option from Drive you'll be able to attach non-Google files directly to your Gmail message. Now you can be sure your friend will always have that great candid photo from your weekend getaway, or the PDF for your aunt's fruitcake recipe (do people actually eat Fruitcake?) even if you delete it from your Drive," informs Google.

Google Zeitgeist 2014

Google announced the list of the top trending searches in 2014: Robin Williams, World Cup, Ebola, MH370, ALS, Flappy Bird, Conchita Wurst, ISIS, Frozen and Sochi. There's a site that shows more information about these topics and you can check Google Trends for more charts.

The top trending consumer electronics products in 2014: iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S5, Nexus 6, Moto G, Samsung Note 4, LG G3, Xbox One, Apple Watch, Nokia X, iPad Air. According to Google Trends, Chromecast is the fifth most popular tech gadget in the US, while "Okay Google" is the 8th fastest rising tech query in Germany. Ironically, iPhone 6 is the most popular IT-related query in South Korea.

Google Slides Imports OpenDocument Presentations

Google Drive's support for OpenDocument files has never been a priority for Google. Until today, you couldn't even open .odp files in Google Slides. "We now offer support for importing all three major ODF (Open) file formats: .odt files for documents, .ods for spreadsheets, and .odp for presentations," informs Google.

An interesting article from Computer World UK offers more information about Google's support for ODF:

"Magnus Falk, deputy CTO for HM Government, told the audience that the decision to adopt ODF (alongside HTML and PDF) as the UK government's required document format is now well in hand. (...) As a result, Google faces significant pressure securing government business in the UK – including in the health and education sectors – now that ODF is a requirement. The support for ODF in Google's products is weak and uneven. (...) Chris DiBona, head of open source at Google, told the PlugFest audience that support for exporting ODS and ODT files in ODF 1.2 format (the one used by all modern suites including MS Office and LibreOffice) is now under development. He also said that support for ODP presentations was under development and could be ready as soon as summer 2015. (...) DiBona explained that Google's internal metrics suggest to product groups there is little use of the existing ODF facilities, but he admitted that may be because of both the poor quality of the import and export, the weakness of the viewer implementations (which fail to display many aspects of ODF documents) and the lack of integration of the collaboration mechanisms into ODF."

Google+ Notifications Sidebar

The new icon for Google+ notifications is not the only change: previously read notifications can only be found in Google+, which now has a notifications sidebar. "Use the tray on the right to browse through your Google+ notifications," informs Google.

You can pick between all notifications, unread notifications or other notifications. When you click a notification, Google sends you to the Google+ post, Blogger post or YouTube video and doesn't show a preview inline.

Here's the notifications tray from Google's navigation bar. "Looking for your previously read Google+ notifications? They can now be found in Google+," informs Google.

Showing two bell icons is confusing. I'm not sure why previously read notifications were removed from Google's navigation bar. Maybe Google wants to drive more traffic to Google+.

Update: Google switched back to the old interface. "We’ve realized that there were a few shortcomings in the new desktop Google+ notification tray, so we're reverting back to the original notifications experience for now," says Balaji Srinivasan, from Google.

{ Thanks, Neil Capper. }

December 15, 2014

New Google+ Notification Icons

There's a new Google+ notification icon in Google's navigation bar. When you have one or more notifications, Google only shows the red circle, which is now bigger.

If you don't have notifications, you'll see this new bell icon:

Here's the old bell icon:

{ Thanks, Alfredo Hernández. }