Saturday, January 27, 2007

Welcome to GoogleWorlds

Niniane Wang's secret social project at Google might do to MySpace what Gmail did to Hotmail, with virtual GoogleWorlds that combine the best things of social sites like MySpace and virtual worlds like Second Life.
This isn't a new idea, people considered the possibility soon after Google Earth was launched, but last week a PhD grapevine rumour and Google's possible purchase of an in-game advertising company have renewed speculation.

How does Niniane fit into this? Ever since I read about Googler Niniane Wang's top secret social application space project for Google I've wondered what it could be. Google already has Orkut -- and it's not been a resounding success, but it seems unlikely that a new Orkut style project could be regarded as 'the best project at Google'.

Plus Niniane's background is in Windows programming, specifically real-world simulators. Her project has a c++ client and a Java server (like Google Earth). Before working at Google she was a team leader on Microsoft's Flight Simulator, and has submitted papers to SIGGRAPH for virtual world innovations like dynamic weather generation. At Google she won a founder's award for her work on the Windows application project Google Desktop. Who better to conceive of and head up Google Virtual Worlds?

Whether it's Niniane's team or not, Google does already have the tools to make virtual worlds that put Second Life to shame:

  • Sketchup. People complain endlessly of the difficulty of using Second Life's in-game modelling tools. Sketchup is awesome and will let people construct all kinds of in game homes and artifacts quickly, easily, and for free.
  • Google Earth. Google already has an increasingly detailed 3D world based on Google Earth submissions, why not let people explore it with avatars? It also proves they have the technology to present a virtual world.
  • Checkout. Ready made in-game commerce system.
  • Advertising. The in-game advertising company they've possibly just purchased gives them an excellent way to monetise a virtual world without charging players for every creation they build or use.
  • *Many* global servers. Google already has a global network of high powered servers, perfect for ensuring everyone in Googleworld has a high speed, low latency experience.
By integrating things like YouTube, Froogle, and Picasaweb they can create virtual worlds that combine the best things from Second Life and MySpace. Second Life currently charges players for 'land', and to have and create 3D models for their characters. An advertising powered GoogleWorld would let users create and share 3D models for free, while monetising with in-game advertising and Checkout revenues.

Whether this is pure wishful thinking or the future direction of online social sites remains to be seen, but Niniane's project has been in deep cover for over a year, maybe in 2007 we'll get to see what they've been busy working on!
Update: To clarify, Niniane's resume changed since the last time I read it. Details for her secret social project previously included the following entries (since removed):

* Led a team of engineers through technical design and implementation of client (C++) and server (Java).
* Convinced artists, PM, UI designer, and engineers around the company to join the team or contribute 20% time.

The following blog entries from earlier confirm the previous wording:
- Google Operating System (
The Brilliant Niniane Wang)
- Search Engine Lowdown

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Google Coop Custom Search Engine Statistics

Last October Google Coops Custom Search Engine started producing a Most Popular List of custom search engines in a variety of categories to provide some metrics on which CSEs were popular.

I've now noticed that those of us with our own Custom Search Engines have access to usage trends and popular queries metrics as well. Clicking the 'statistics' link on your CSE page displays a graph showing queries per day, and a summary of the most popular queries made using your CSE.

This is really useful as it gives us some proper metrics on how often our CSEs are used, and what they're used for. I'd like to see metrics like this for the other Coop property, subscribed links, as well.
Update: It's now been announced on the Google Custom Search blog.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Google Announces Mapping Expedition

I think this is the first time Google have announced when and where they're going to be taking high-res photos for Google Maps / Earth Imagery. The 'This Australia Day Put Yourself on the Map' page encourages Sydney-siders to come down to Sydney harbour and make yourself seen by the low-flying Google branded plane. The site even lets you click a map of the harbour to see when the plane is expected in each area.

According to this article from the Sydney Morning Herald, a Google plane will be aloft over Sydney on Australia Day (26 January) to take photos at 4 to 5 times the resolution currently available for Australia – which should make it amongst the highest quality footage available on Google Earth.

Perhaps not coincidently, the Australian domain of Google Maps went live this weekend.
The theory is to take photos of cities during periods when they're at their most impressive – hence Australia Day celebrations in Australia. If it turns out well, expect to see more of the same in other international cities.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

5 Reasons Why the iPhone Will Fail / Dominate

It's time for the obligatory iPhone post. A lot has been said already, so I'll keep it brief.

5 Reasons iPhone Trumps Sliced Bread
  1. OMFG! Have you seen this thing? Aesthetically it's a wonder to behold; thin, light, and the UI is sublime. I've read people describe disturbingly carnal reactions to seeing the iPhone, say what you will but she's pretty.
  2. iPr0n. (shown above) Well du'h, in the right wrong hands this turns into the handheld porn repository to end all porn stashes. That's 8Gb of full motion video, photos, and websites. Brings a whole new perspective to the multi touch interface.
  3. One word. Usability. Nokia? Eriksson? Are you listening? The iPhone is an object lesson in usability design -- the learning curve on this thing looks horizontal. It's easy enough for my mother to use. The iPhone defines how a smartphone is supposed to work.
  4. OSX powered. If Apple take the high road 3rd party developers will be able to leverage the iPhone as a new application platform. If you think web service fed applications are hot now, wait until you can get desktop quality front-ends on a portable device. And with OSX running under the hood we should expect to see iChat powered VOIP. IM, and video chat before long (please!)
  5. Apple fanbois. It's Apple, so people will love it, and people will buy it. No matter the cost. QED.
5 Reasons iPhone is Dead in the Water
  1. Closed system. Indications are that no SDK or development kit will be available to 3rd parties, and you're locked in to a questionable mobile carrier. Oh, and you can't upgrade the 4/8Gb storage. Without the cool 3rd party apps to personalise my iPhone isn't a smart phone. It's a video Nano that I can make calls with. For $600.
  2. Did I mention it costs US$599! I'm a working tech professional and I'll struggle (but manage) to justify 600 clams plus a contract. I don't see uncles and grandparents giving them away as Christmas presents.
  3. No hard keys == beautiful == hard to type. A lot of people dial and text without looking at keys, and softkeys tend to be too small and clumsy for business use. There's a reason new smartphones have keyboards.
  4. US release in June, Europe at Christmas, 2008 for Asia. That's a lot of time for us to think better of selling children / body parts for this thing. And it gives exisitng phone makers a year to catch up. Sony Eriksson, Motorolla, and Nokia, aren't giving up just yet.
  5. It's slow. If web access has been described as 'slow' in WiFi mode, GSM / Edge Internet is going to be painful.
Version 1.0 will be a tough sell, but early adoptors will be all over it, $600 be damned. By mid 2008 we'll start seeing 3rd party applications and version 2 with 20Gb of flash storage and no carrier lock-in.

The iPhone will almost certainly be a success, but whether it eventually holds the 5% market share of its Mac
brethren, or the 70% share of its iPod kin remains to be seen. Early indications are that price won't be the clincher, it'll be how open the system is.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Blogger Hosted Blogs on Your Domain

Blogger Buzz has just announced Blogger Custom Domains.

It's a new feature that lets you serve your blog from a custom domain without having to host it yourself. Your old Blogspot address will forward reader to your new custom domain so you don't lose any precious readers, links, or bookmarks.

This is much simpler and cleaner than using the FTP hosting option to serve your blog from your own domain, a very neat solution indeed -- particularly for small businesses who want a hassle free blog, but need it to be served on there company's domain.

I'm planning to take advantage of this new feature to host this blog, I'll update the post with progress.

UPDATE: Done! As of today the blog can be seen at -- all the advantages of Blogspot hosting without the stigma. Sweet. The transition was seamless, and the blog (and all post permalinks) redirect from the old Blogspot subdomain, so I'd have to classify it as a success. Slick move Google.

UPDATE 2: PageRank for the blog on the new domain is zero and straight after the transfer Adsense was displaying PSA. 12hrs later Adsense had figured itself out, but PR will likely remain zero until the next PR update. The question is -- will links to the old domain count towards the new one?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Response to 'Cracks Spread in Google's Armor'

I've just been reading 'Cracks Spread in Google's Armor', an article by Cody Willard published on RealMoney yesterday and on today.

In it Cody describes three key 'fumbles' which he considers an early sign of the Google's potential downfall. It's a common theme this year with many Internet prognosticators suggesting that Google's 'golden age' is starting to tarnish, with some even suggesting that it's time to find the next Google.

It's an interesting theory and one that deserves discussion, unfortunately at least one of Cody's three points is patently false. Cody's second point decries Google abandoning its much trumpeted Gmail API strategy. He makes a strong arguement, the problem is Google's never offered an API to control Gmail, let alone one which supported "hundreds of applications".

I assume that the API he's referring too is the SOAP powered search API, which was shut down late last year to a chorus of dismay. Gmail offers POP access and some RSS feeds of mail, but no API (that's not stopped individuals reverse engineering the Javascript to develop their own hacked APIs mind you). I'm not saying that Google abandoning their search API is not a very bad thing, it is. But that's not what Cody is claiming.

Cody's remaining points focus on content agnosticism, particularly in Google Video, and net neutrality. I agree with him that CA is going to be a big issue with Google, the recent outrage on their insertion of 'tips' in search results bears witness to that. Much has been written on the net neutrality issue, so I'll simply say I disagree with him (and agree with Google) on that one and leave it at that. But at least these two points actually exist.

To add a concern of my own, I'd say Google's lack of transparency -- particularly its poor record of communication with developers looking to use Google's systems as a back-end to their own applications -- has the potential for Google's undoing. If in years to come a competitor arrives with services as good but offering robust and transparent APIs across the board, Google could be in trouble. Of course it's not too late for them to turn it around, and their recent work on gData APIs is a step in the right direction.

UPDATE: I've had the opportunity to try and clarify the issue with Cody. He maintains that, "They most certainly did and still do offer a gmail api. But they've reduced its functionality.". When I asked for references or links he suggested I search for 'Gmail API' on Google. The results feature dozens of links to an unofficial (and unendorsed) open source user created API written by Johnvy Hwang. Cody seems to have confused this unofficial, unendorsed, and unsupported project with a real and official Google API, which it most certainly isn't. Whoops.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Embedable Picasaweb Images

Small but useful new feature for Picasaweb today, they now support embedding images you're hosting on Picasaweb in your blog posts or Myspace pages, like this:

It's an essential feature for any web image host so I guess it's about time. They've got a couple of options for including a link to the album or just showing the image.