Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Google Maps India

The train keeps rolling on, Google Maps now features street level road maps for India.

Like every national release the details are slightly different, the India data also includes icons for locations of interest -- including schools, hospitals, 'talkies', and playgrounds.

It's another impressive addition, to an increasingly complete 'road map of the world'.

Also out in this push are maps for Singapore and Hong Kong. Go Asia!

This is in addition to an announcement earlier in the week that Google has aquired a Swiss based online mapping company to further expand their existing European operation.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Multiple Stop Directions on Google Maps

Google maps now lets you plan journey itineries by showing routes with multiple destinations for a single trip.

You can add as many intermediate stops as you like, and can drag and drop the order of each stop to have Google recalculate the suggested route. Very. Nice. As far as I know Google's the first online mapping destination to provide this kind of functionality, though similar things have been available for GPS units in the past.

There's also a newly added, tiny little gray arrow, that sites half way down the page between the map and the directions. Clicking it will hide the directions 'full screening' the map. This is a nice touch that I've been waiting a while for.

In any case I've now got my trip to Cornwall for Christmas plugged in -- including the stop at Stonehenge for good measure.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Googling Google with Google's Patent Search

Earlier today Google announced a new patent search service, that will show you all the patents filed with the US patent office. It's a clever service based on their Book Search technology, but without the associated copyright controversies.

The neat thing about this is you can Google Google with this to get an interesting list of patents that have been assigned to them using the inassignee operator.

Some of the more interesting results include:
  • 7031961: A system and method for searching and recommending objects from a categorised organised information repository -- which looks a bit like Coop on drugs, and could indicate the way Google are planning on heading social.
  • 7027987: Voice interface for a search engine. The technology behind a future TV driven Adsense, or what's driving Adsense for radio?
  • 7089237: Interface and system for persistent contextual relevance for commerce... Looks like the future of Google Base / Froogle. Note again the references to 'groups of users' and 'recommendation systems'. I predict 2007 is going to see Google enter the social sphere in a big way.

There's plenty more, including some practical hardware patents from their data centers. Hours of fun!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Google Spreadsheets API C# Client Library

Excellent news for C# developers using Google gData API platform. As of yesterday the gData SVN repository and C# library download have been updated to include C# client libraries for using the new Google Spreadsheets API.

In more good news the C# libraries also fully support development on the Microsoft Mobile platform, so portable apps can make use of online spreadsheet data. Nice one.

I've been looking forward to this since Google announced the spreadsheets API last week. Actually this was something I'd requested from the Writely team before they got bought out by Google. Spreadsheets are a powerful business tool, so I expect to see some good developments in this space.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Book Releases with Nexus.Alerts: Developing on the GoogleOS

Part 1: For Those Who Love Books...

I love new books. I count down the days until favorite authors release the next shining tome of their current series -- just to make sure I can be at the bookstore bright and early to pick up a crisp, mint, first edition.

If that sounds familiar then check out my online book release tracking tools at Nexus.Alerts, featuring:

I've been using these tools for a while to track upcoming book releases and thought I'd put them together and share them. They're at Nexus.Alerts, along with the full list of almost 20 authors I'm currently tracking, plus a an Amazon storefront for your pre-ordering needs.

Part2: ...For Those Interested in the Technology

There has been a lot of talk lately about a GoogleOS. Theories include Linux distros and web desktops, either way people want a Windows killer. I think this is off track. Google aren't interested in replacing the desktop, there's no need -- why tackle MS head-on? Instead they'll subvert it, by turning desktop apps into attractive thin clients, with the heavy lifting done by online services.

Picasa and Sketchup show Google know that some things are best done on the desktop, but they also show you can leverage further benefits by linking the desktop to the web. As a desktop developer I thought I'd test this theory for myself. Below are my experiences developing Nexus.Alerts for the GoogleOS.

Creating Nexus.Alerts

Context is central to our expectations when finding information.

Take book releases; I'd expect to use a calendar to check which releases are coming up, but a Google search would be my first destination to check release dates for a specific author. If I want regular updates about new releases I'd be looking for an RSS feed. It's the same set of information but the reason I want it is a significant factor in how I expect to find it.

I wrote Nexus.Alerts so I could keep a close eye on book release dates. I started by writing code that regularly collects and structures upcoming book release data, the next goal was then to make it as accessible as possible.

I started with a desktop client that collects release data, displays upcoming releases, and lets me manage the authors I want to track.

It's based on a larger project (The Nexus) that I've been neglecting for months. Not coincidently, I'm at home with my laptop a lot less often than I'd like, which is why accessibility is so important.

I'm no web guru; realtime Windows application development is my thing, so I wasn't inclined to create a web app for the job. But with Google quietly developing a WebOS platform I can build a nice AJAXy site with calendars, RSS feeds, author searches, and a customized store front with Google (and a little help from Amazon) doing the heavy lifting.

The result is that my desktop client is now a light-weight server, effectively transferring my data dynamically to various Google services. In executive speak that's 'leveraging SOA' or as I like to think of it 'using other people's brains and bandwidth'. See below for how it was done.

Developing on the GoogleOS

If a Google powered WebOS becomes a reality, Google's APIs are going to be a cornerstone of their empire. They're coming along rapidly, and companies like Amazon are also producing some fine web APIs. Full details on Google's APIs and developer tools can be found on their Google code site.

The good news is decent programmers of many stripes can develop on the Google platform. The most powerful API - and their standard - is gData. gData includes Java, C++, Python, and C# client libraries; I'm a C# programmer so that's what I used.

I constructed Nexus.Alerts with these Google services:

Also at play are the following Amazon services*.

*I'm not going to focus on Amazon's offerings in this post as I'm saving them for a later one, but let me say upfront that their services are outstanding. Note to Google -- buy Amazon. No, seriously. Buy them.


The Google Calendar API rocks. Calendar was one of the first Google services to fully leverage gData, and Google have been active in making sure it's up to snuff. There's plenty of feedback in the developer community and you can add or track issues on the gData open source project issues page.

Here's what I'm doing with Calendar:

  1. Whenever my desktop client/server finds a new book, it adds a new calendar entry.
  2. If any release details have changed it updates the calendar entry.
  3. If I choose to ignore a particular book, or the book has come out (therefore it's no longer the next release), it removes the calendar entry.

The result is upcoming book releases in the context of my Google calendar.

Here's a few tricky points to note for gCal development:

  • There's no explicit way to 'remember' or identify a particular calendar entry. So every session the desktop app wants to update the calendar, it goes through the book list and reconciles it with the calendar entries. For this to work you need to embed an index, or identifier, into the calendar entries so you can uniquely identify them. I'm dealing with books so the ISBN is perfect. I've put it in the location field because the location field isn't relevant and so is unlikely to be messed with.
  • Getting the correct url path for a calendar to use in the API is non-trivial. None of the 'address' buttons generate exactly the right string. To get the correct path you want a string in the form of: You can get most of those details by clicking the XML button calendar address button on the calendar settings page. Make sure you have /private/full at the end.
  • Asking for all events on a calendar defaults to one 'page' (25 by default). Either remember this and page through, or set your ItemsPerPage for your gDataFeed to int.MaxValue. I've had problems with paging (it didn't), so I'd recommend the latter.
  • No analytics. Google doesn't provide any feedback telling you how many people are using your calendar. Hopefully Google will implement something like the feedback for Google base items that tells you how many people have viewed / clicked through to your item.

...And some bonus tips to take home from the experience:

  • Once you're setup it's really easy. You can keep references to your entry objects, and you can call .Update() or .Delete() directly on the EventEntry objects. So once you've gone through and found the references once, further run-time changes to calendar events are quick and easy.
  • You can include HTML links in the calendar description field! I've included links to Amazon to pre-order books, in future I'll probably add a link to the author's website as well.
  • It's fast. Adding / removing / modifying entries is lightning quick, and the effects are seen instantly on the Calendar WebApp (You may need to hit refresh).
  • As mentioned above, the client libraries are open source and available from Google's Source Code Repository. Get updates as they're implemented and become part of the community.

Subscribed Links (Coop)

I'm a massive fan of Coop, I believe it's Google's most underutilized and underrated service. I mean seriously, a customizable onebox!? Why won't people put useful information in there? It's simple to setup, trivial to update, and can be very effective.

Follow this link to see a Nexus.Alerts book release one-box result.

I'm using SLs to:

  1. Answer question like: "What's the next book by Raymond E. Feist in the UK?" (For any author in the UK/US).
  2. Find out the name of the next release, as well as the scheduled release date.
  3. Provide a link for more information plus a way to pre-order the book from Amazon.

This is probably the tool I use the most often. Perfect when I'm sitting at my desk at work (no gCal!) wondering when the next Feist book come out. 0.11 seconds later I've got an answer. Why don't more people offer this sort of service? "When's The Killers next concert?", "When's the next episode of Lost scheduled to air?". Hmmm, projects for another day :)

To make your own, start with the Subscribed Links documentation, then here's some more tips:

  • Make sure your query covers the likely ways people will ask the question, but be careful not to make them too broad. A match on anything ending with next Feist book in the UK is good, but a query that must match exactly what is the name and release date for the next Feist book in the United Kingdom is much too specific. Conversely a match on anything containing Feist is far too broad.
  • Coop data objects let you specify 'synonyms' for different query terms. My UK book results apply in Australia as well as the UK, so rather than enforce a match just on 'UK', I've included the synonyms: the UK, United Kingdom, Britain, England, Australia, the United Kingdom. It makes it easier for your users to trigger a 'special' search result without having to remember the exact query structure.
  • You can use multiple files to provide data for one (or more) subscribed links. I have three files: The 'rules' (which defines the queries to match and that I uploaded to Google), and two separate 'dataobjects' files (one each for UK and US releases), which I host myself and update twice a day.
  • Host any XML files you're planning to update somewhere you can use FTP to do so. This makes it easier to update them programmatically. That's what I'm doing, whenever book details change I rewrite and upload the dataobjects file(s). Google caches your hosted XML file so your server won't get hammered, the only drawback is the update rate. You'll have to wait for the coop spider to find your changes so it's not real-time. In my experience the spider can be unpredictable, updating changes at least once a day, sometimes every couple of hours.
  • If you're automating this output be aware of XML limitations - make sure to escape special characters ('&' for example) where necessary.
  • Coop dataobjects need to have unique identifiers. This goes across ALL the XML files you submit, whether they're related to each other or not. They're only used within coop internally, but to make them unique and recognizable in the XML as well I'm concatenating each author's name with a GUID.
  • Include as much useful info in your result box as possible. What might you want to do when you get an answer? For me, it was looking up Amazon info on the book, pre-ordering it, or adding a reminder to my calendar; so these options are all available from the onebox.
  • You're creating XML anyway so think about formatting an RSS file at the same time. I produce a feed with items for each new book, with updates if any details change. Remember that RSS feeds are often pushed out based on creation/modification times so it will probably make sense to keep track of when items were last updated so updates don't flood people with duplicate entries every day.
  • Like calendars there's no subscribed links analytics. Coop will tell you how many people are subscribed, but what I'd really love to know is how many people are actually seeing my onebox results -- and how many are clicking the links?
  • The structure of the onebox is tightly controlled. You get at most one link per line so make them all count. Conversely, don't use lines just because you can. If you can deliver all your data in two lines leave it at that.

Custom Search Engines

While trolling for release information I tagged the good sites with the CSE marker to create the fiction custom search engine. It's a side effect of my research, but the extra couple of seconds per search created a useful search engine. Searches using this CSE will prioritize those tagged sites, providing them with a PageRank boost within these search results.

It's worth noting that the degree of this 'boost' is customizable. You'll need to download the XML file that defines your CSE and modify the boost 'weight' for the sites deserving a greater or lesser amount of boost juice. This is really worth doing or tagging Amazon will blow every other tag out of the water. Weighting your tags will let you give Amazon a small (0.15) boost, but an obscure author's homepage can be weighted right up (with a 1.0). Dead sites and spam can have negative boost (retro?) applied (down to -1). I'll leave it at that as there's a great post on Google Blogoscoped that describes this tweaking process in detail.

Now this I really like. Google recently announced support for enforcing the use of specified Subscription Links in our CSE results. So *anyone* doing a search for 'next Greg Bear book in the UK' via the Fiction CSE will get my SL one-box like this. I love this, now we can leverage the CSE and SL onebox results without users having to commit to always letting our results influence their searches. Plus we can create links from our sites that will bring up the onebox results.

The web-based CSE setup doesn't support this yet so you'll again need to download and modify your CSE's XML file. Full instructions can be found in the CSE documentation.

Google Web Toolkit

Like the CSE, the whole Nexus.Alerts website is a side effect. I needed somewhere online to collect all the tools together and thought I'd give GWT a try while throwing something basic together.

Wow. From n00b to Web 2.0 goodness in a matter of hours. In the spirit of full disclosure I'll say that I do have a few years of basic Java programming behind me from my University days, but that fell well short of anything resembling AJAX. The Nexus.Alert website took (start to finish) about 4hrs. That might sound like a lot to any web developer worth their salt, but it would have taken me that long to create it in Google Page Creator.

I'm only 4hrs in to GWT, but here's some notes I've compiled on the way:

  • It's encapsulating AJAX into a widget framework, so knowing Java syntax is
    going to help you here. Really -- it'll help a lot. As will any sort of programming background.
  • The documentation is doco-lite. The samples are great, but there's not a lot more there. There does seem to be a pretty large community using the tools though.
  • Download and use Eclipse for your development work. Eclipse is an IDE for Java, and features things like code completion and syntax highlighting. GWT offers full Eclipse support so there's no reason not to use it (unless you're too h4rdc0rz). I really recommend this.
  • Google's GWT site gives good instructions for creating new projects from scratch for Eclipse but skips how to create an Eclipse project based on a sample. Easiest way is to create a new project, then move everything in the samples 'src' folder into your new project.
  • The Kitchen Sink sample has a GMail style interface with buttons on the side acting like tab pages. But none of the other samples specifically address how to do this! Use the Kitchen Sink sample, the classes you'll want to check out are SinkItem and SinkList.
  • Note that if you want the Google looking colors and styles you'll need to use their sample CSS files. The KitchenSink.css takes care of everything I've needed so far.
  • Start with one widget, then build on top of that. GWT builds up really well and it's easy to follow what's happening if you master one new widget at a time. I started with the GMail style Sinks / Sinklist, then added the HistoryListener (back button support), and finally added country tabs for the calendar and bookstore pages. Popup boxes are next!

Some Final Thoughts on the GoogleOS

The success of any OS relies heavily on the ability of users to write code for it.

You think Windows is so popular because it's the *best*? Good lord. Marketing and monopolies aside, a big reason people choose Windows is because the software they want to use is available on that platform. That software's there due to the relative ease of writing code that works the same on (more or less) any Windows box.

As Google positions itself as a WebOS, their APIs are going to be coming under very close scrutiny by very picky people. Their ability to provide robust, predictable, easy to use APIs (and quickly respond to developer feedback) will go a long way in determining their success against more traditional desktop rivals.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Google Maps Africa

Google maps now features street level maps for much of Africa. South Africa in particular seems to have excellent street level maps, but most African nations have at least major highways represented.

The circle is now complete, all continents bar Antarctica feature at least one country with street level maps (Check out Japan and Brazil for Asia and South America). Impressive work by the Google Maps team that continue to impress.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Orkut Open to All, Integrates GoogleTalk

Orkut, Google's ugliest step-child has come out of invite-only lockdown.

There's now a "Join Now" link on the main page that will allow you to create a new Orkut account based on a Google Account login. I noticed that if you try to login before you've created an account you'll get the old 'link to an existing account' pass-off to the 'Orkut is unique, you need to be invited...' page -- so if you want in, make sure you hit the "Join Now" link.

Coinciding with this, Orkut has
fully integrated GoogleTalk. Your Orkut 'friends' can be automatically added to your GoogleTalk friends list and Orkut 'scraps' automatically get IM'd to your GoogleTalk client. That's the second piece of tidy integration after Orkut started displaying a map of your friends via an in page Google Map mashup.

All this is a positive step, but I think it's important to point out that Orkut is still very ugly, and a long way away from being a MySpace killer. At least we can take this as a sign that things aren't dead at Orkut development HQ.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Google Launches New Mobile GMail

Google's just announced a new version of mobile gmail. According to the press release it's US/Canada only, but I've just downloaded it in London and it works a treat!

It's a Java applet that works on any J2ME enabled phone and provides the cool GMail stuff like conversations view, searching, stars, and attachments

It looks really slick, very much a GMail feel and it's lightning quick. I was a big fan of the old-style mobile GMail and this is a big improvement over that. Check it out on your mobile by pointing it to

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Google Acquires JotSpot

According to Google and Jotspot's respective blogs, Google has just finalized its acquisition of the three year old Californian startup JotSpot.

JotSpot is a player in the collaborative corporate online publishing field. Essentially they've built a business model on making easy to use Wikis for companies that don't want to setup something like Microsoft's Sharepoint or *shudder* Lotus Notes.

The current implementation can only be described as fugly. Still, the concept's sound and that's the key. Having seen it in action, I can imagine this as a neat way to tie together
Google Applications for your Domain. Each GAfyD service currently stands alone, using the JotSpot metaphor (but replacing JotSpot's calendar/spreadsheet/document/photo implementations with Google's) would be an excellent way to unify Google's office suite into more of a tight application set or workspace environment.

JotSpot has closed new user registrations while they move to Google's architecture, we'll see what happens when they re-reveal themselves to the world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Google Coop Gets Useful

To coincide with Google breaking its stock price record, Google has released a product that makes Coop useful. It's the Google Coop Custom Search Engine, and it gives users unprecedented power to create a customised web search.

CSE creates a topic specific search engine by letting you:
  • Restrict to or weight by sites you specify as particularly relevant.
  • Tag sites using the 'Google Marker' to add labels to sites, or add sites to your search engine.
  • Monetise your search with Adsense.
  • Embed your search (and results) on your site with search boxes and Ajax.
  • Let others collaborate to create an uber search on a given topic.
It looks like a really powerful new tool that could be very useful in decluttering famously spam filled search topics, or helping promote good results in more obscure topics. As always the proof will be in the uptake.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Geocoding for Google Maps in Australia & New Zealand

Google Maps keeps on impressing.

Today they've released geocoding support for Australia and New Zealand. The satellite imagery has been there a while, and earlier this year they added street maps, so now with geocoding it's actually useful to people living there.

Of course, the Google Maps API now supports geocoding, so expect to see a bunch of new maps mashups coming out of Aus and NZ in the coming weeks as people can use street addresses rather than having to look things up themselves.

Here's an example of where I used to live in Australia -- note no lat/long included!

The only thing missing now is directions and businesses, I predict they won't be long in coming.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google News Archive Search

Google has launched a news archive search facility.

It features 200 years of archival data from the New York Times and the UK's Guardian, but includes most of the sources available from 'live' Google News.

It's a really useful service that lets you view articles on timelines to get a real sense for the flow and context of world news, giving current news articles an instant sense of history.

This will be a boon for schools, researchers, and anyone interested in knowing the how and why of things, provided in the context of their time.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

GoogleOffice Part 2 : Client Interaction with a Powered Support and News Site

[ Google Office Tools Homepage Google Powered Office Articles GoogleOffice Notebook ]

Last time, I looked at using a particular Google product (GMail) in a business environment. This week I'm looking to achieve a particular business function using a bunch of Google tools together.

Here's what we'll use:

Used together they're going to be the foundation for a customer support site for people interested in industry information (Oil & Gas Technology) as well as my company's PR line. And the best thing? Once set up it's going to update itself regularly with minimal maintenance required from me. Sweet.

This, is what we're heading towards.

But -- Why?

The idea is to create an Intervention Engineering branded website with useful dynamic content that also serves as a central support site for clients; one that requires minimal upkeep but stays fresh. Then if there's something I want to advertise announce I've got an interested forum with a ready made audience.

I'm using these Google services because they let me setup and maintain this support and news site without my having to dedicate a lot of time to it. As you'll see below, I'm going to use these tools to leverage my existing activities to provide content for the site.

Why not make this the main site? If you're online (Amazon, Google, etc.) your main site is you. It should be functional and intuitive. If you're offline (like me) your site is where people go to find out who you are -- because they've just heard of us or gotten our business card and want to know WTF we are. So it's formal, professional, and carefully crafted to deliver a strong message of who we are. The blog is conversational, less formal and more generally informative.

Can You Blog a Business with Blogger?

Indeed you can. A nice feature of Blogger is that it allows you to host your own blog while still using their platform. While I'm developing the blog I'll sandbox it at Blogspot, but when it's ready for release I'll host it on a subdomain like

The 5 keys to corporate blogging with Blogger:

  • Customize your template. Branding is key, make sure your colours and logos are consistent with your existing website(s). It's a blog so it can (and should) be less formal, but maintain a consistent look and feel.

  • Blog Widely, Blog Often. This may be a bit controversial, but I'm going to make this site more about the industry than my company. I think this is vital to keep the blog ticking over regularly and a small company will struggle to come up with material. Mind you, I'll blog the s**t out of anything noteworthy that our company does, but I'll also have regular industry posts. My hope is that local industry will start visiting regularly, and the blog will become a part of their browsing routine.

  • Be fair and objective. This follows on from the last point. The blog is less formal than our main page, so we don't have to stick as closely to the script. If there's a problem with a product or project, here's the place to admit it and discuss it with users. If a partner company has a cool new toy, talk about it. Big new project coming up in the region? Talk about it. You get the idea, yes?

  • Encourage interaction. Respond to queries and try and generate discussion and conversation in the comments. Ask questions of your readers to initiate conversations. Trying to decide on which feature to implement? Ask people! Make people know you're there and listening, and give credit where it's due. Why should you bother? It'll make you site dynamic, with useful commentary for zero effort. An active community of readers and regular commentators is the life blood of a popular site, it's difficult to achieve but worth the effort.

Dynamic Content with Related Links, Google Reader, and the GoogleMaps API

This stuff is cool because it adds content without having to put in any effort.

Related Content Links

Google's related content links lets you add dynamic content in the form of news, web links, videos, and searches based entirely on the content of your page.

I've added this related link applet to the bottom of each post to provide readers with additional information on the topic of the article. It's an excellent way of adding depth -- without having to do the hard work yourself.

Create an Aggregated RSS Feed with Google Reader

Use Google Reader to leverage your browsing habits to provide content for your support site.

Each morning I trawl through a couple dozen RSS feeds to get my news fix. That includes a half dozen oil & gas industry and tech feeds. If there's something of particular note, I'll write it up as a post on the blog -- but there's always at least 2 or 3 items that are noteworthy but not worth writing up on my own site.

Reader lets you label each article and has the option of 'sharing' an aggregated feed based on a label. I label 'shareworthy' articles 'intervention-engineering', and then share this feed. When you select 'share' from the Reader interface, you get the option of creating a JavaScript applet that you can embed in your site. This provides a handy 'quick news' panel that updates with current news every day as a side effect to your own news reading! Lazy, but effective.

Show Where You're Working with Google Maps API

Google Maps on websites are cool. They're an excellent way to share information, and they're interactive to boot. The Google maps API makes it easy to add a map to your site, for an excellent tutorial on putting a map on your blog check out the aptly titled 'How to Insert a Map Into Your Blog'.

What you put on your map depends on your business. IE's projects are based in remote location all over the world, so I'm going to mark the locations of our projects and provide a little information about each of them. It's an effective way to provide a list of our successful projects and our global coverage. For real-estate or travel sites the use here is obvious, if your business is entirely local, you could put up a map of your exact location.

I've put my map on my support site, but it could just as happily live on the main site, YMMV.

Realtime Client Support with GoogleTalk

GoogleTalk is a great tool for interacting with your clients. The ability to support your customers using IM or voice is the way of the future. Maximise the potention by using Google Apps for Your Domain, create a new alias specifically for client support enquiries. I'm setting up Because we're using GMail, we can use GoogleTalk for IM, VOIP, and Voicemail -- as well as a centralised support email address.

Using hosted GMail nicknames you can shift the responsibility for online support to suit you, without needing to log on to different accounts or change contact details. Your clients email / IM / talk to -- but support is a nickname for me or Stuart depending on who's rostered.

Share Knowledge with Google Coop

I' ve already written an article on Gaining Trust with Google Coop, it gives a decent idea on how I think Coop should be used. I won't go on for long now, but essentially, you can leverage your existing knowledge by making it available to subscribers to your Coop profile. Once people are subscribed, your rankings and subscribed links will affect their search results. If done well Coop can form an excellent part of your communications strategy.

I'll talk more about coop in a later week when I discuss how to increasing your public profile and becoming an influencial voice in the online community.

Next Week

Project Management

This one is going to take a bit of effort on my part, I'm going to use Google Apps for Your Domain, Spreadsheets, Writely, Blogger, Calendar, Google Desktop Search, and the Calendar API to manage a project.

It's going to include timesheeting, invoicing, scheduling, and internal discussion tracking. I'm going to need to write a couple of applications that make use of Google's APIs to help smooth this process along, so I'm going to be busy, but I should have a couple of cool tools to share when I'm done, so keep tuned!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Quick Link bar for My Services

To coincide with yesterday's Google Homepage layout changes, this morning I noticed that the quick link 'my services' bar in GMail has grown. It now includes 'Photos' (Picasaweb) and 'Spreadsheets' (Google Spreadsheets) -- but only if you are registered and using those services.

So far, the quick link bar appears only in GMail and Calendar.

The next step (seen by some for a moment, some time ago) is to let us define which of our services we want to appear in the bar, as well as making it available in the top left of more services.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

GoogleOffice Part 1 : Business GMail

[ Google Office Tools Homepage Google Powered Office Articles Gmail for Business Notebook ]

Desktop email clients are old and broken. The new hotness? Web based email for your domain.

In many ways GMail is the cornerstone of my GoogleOffice. So for Week 1 I'll spend some time justifying GMail, before passing on some tricks. This is a big topic, so I'll leave most of the crossovers with other Google services for when I discuss them specifically later.

It was sometime around 1999 when email at work stopped being a useful convenience and started being a necessary evil. Until recently, web based email was Outlook's ugly step child. You would never have considered something like Hotmail as a business email client (rightly so!) -- in fact people actually used Outlook Web Access for Exchange to access work email via the web(!).


I know people who return from a week's holiday and delete their whole inbox.

"If it's important they'll send it again"
Seriously. Is that how to do business? GMail has instant search results and lets you filter and label, so you can quickly get to the important stuff in an overcrowded inbox. These days you expect to be online, so you can download just for a local offline 'cache' or backup. This alone will change the way you think of business email. Gmail is a strong Google offering. Gmail for your domain is a robust, web hosted, email alternative that still provides POP3 access for local copies.

Using GMail for Domains For Your Company's Email Hosting

Enough evangelising, on to business. Let's look at:

  • A business case for justifying the switch to GMail for your domain.
  • How to get a hosted 'GMail for your domain' account.
  • Using labels and filters effectively.
  • Some tricks and tips for maximizing GMail's effectiveness.

A Business Case

Here's a short list of reasons for you (or your boss) to switch to GMail:

  • 2Gb online storage capacity. All your emails are accessible from a web interface, plus you've now got a robust offsite backup strategy.

  • Conversation View. One of GMail's most addictive features. 'Email chains' are displayed as conversations, grouped together with their replies, including all different participants over long durations. Once you've had this for business you'll wonder how email could ever have worked without it.

  • Instant search. Search the complete email text; search by sender, recipient, date, or label. Search in Outlook is so ridiculous it's been relegated from both standard Windows search shortcuts -- 'tis neither F3 nor Ctrl-f (it's F4) -- my recommendation? Hold down Alt before you trigger your next search in Outlook.

  • One SMTP server for outgoing mail. If you're using a desktop client, you can use Google's outgoing mail server no matter how you connected.

  • Use Google Calendar within your company. Share calendars and events using your domain email addresses instead of separate GMail ones.

  • Great web interface. Better than anything your ISP will provide, better in fact, than any desktop client will provide.

  • Excellent spam filter. Invaluable in a business environment; I've had zero false positives and only 5% of spam slips into my inbox.

  • Presence and Instant Messaging. GoogleTalk and GMail chat provide presence and IM between all your workers (and your clients). All your IMs are logged in your email -- as part of the email conversations that spawned them. For privacy you can go 'off the record'

  • VOIP with Voicemail. GoogleTalk has VOIP functionality, and these days also lets you receive VOIP voicemail in your GMail inbox. Sweet.
  • Email aliases for business roles (and individuals).
  • Internal mailing lists.
  • Mobile phone access. Via GMail mobile access.
  • GMail for your domain is free.

Why not a normal GMail account?

  • For business email? Seriously, if it's work, you've got to be sending it from your business domain. Maintain your brand and professionalism while taking advantage of GMail functionality.
  • Hosted email is more stable than its public cousin.
  • Google Calendar is fully integrated -- more on this later.

Getting GMail for Your Domain

Happily, this process is straight forward. Go to and click 'I'm Interested'. You'll need to be logged in on a Google Account. Answer a series of questions about your company, the most important are 'number of users' and 'why do you want it?'. Be honest. For tips on the latter, look above at the business case :)

It'll take a couple of days to process, so far I've seen either 25 or 100 accounts provided. If you've got a requirement for more, contact Google -- they've provided GMail for domains for several universities already.

Filing with Labels and Filters

Every company I've worked in has issues with email filing. In business it's vital to easily track:

  • Full conversation threads/chains. Particularly contract negotiations and/or disputes.
  • All emails from anyone at a particular client.
  • Any correspondence from anyone mentioning a particular product or service.
  • Emails from everyone to do with a particular project.
The result in Outlook usually ends up like one of these:

The first layout is highly structured and needs careful maintainance. The second effectively forces you to have multiple copies of each email in different folders. Ouch. Filing with folders is a poor metaphor for email, and labels are the solution.

Labeling for Business

Create a label for all your: clients (Upstream), projects (06/007 Field Visualization), and products (IE:DEV). Add all relevant labels to each email. In paper-land this is stupid. To search, you'd have to go through each piece of mail to find the ones with the label(s) you want -- but GMail does exactly that, in about 3 nanoseconds -- so it works!

Now label your emails auto-magically, as they arrive, with a few simple filters. Emails will then be presented in your inbox with the right labels pre-applied. At a glance you can see what each email is about without having to open it.

  • Clients. You know Bill works for 'Upstream' so create a filter that labels any of his emails as 'upstream'. Do the same for anyone else at Upstream -- or anyone with an address.

  • Products and Services. Create a 'Has the words' filter for all your products and services. Any mention of 'IE:DEV' or 'DEV' will get labeled accordingly.

  • Projects. GMail features '+' notation, so you can create arbitrary email addresses of the form ''. GMail will deliver them to you with the full name. Why does this rock? For each project, create a new email address using + notation ( Distribute this email to other project members, and set it as your reply-to address when you send project email. Then just add a filter that applies the project label whenever you receive an email addressed to this new address. Sweet!
There's no need to add a year label as it's trivial to search by year (after:2006/01/01).

Your inbox will be populated with messages pre-labeled by client, project and product. Unlike Outlook, GMail doesn't presume that labeling something means it doesn't still belong in your inbox.

Tips and Tricks

I've included a bunch of tips and tricks under links below, but here are a few that are particularly useful at work. There are plenty more I'll go over, but most of them relate to using GMail with other Google services, so I'll talk about them later.
  • Create and share a label in Google Reader specifically for internal broadcasting using Webclips within GMail.
  • Get mobile access to your important business emails. Creating a standard GMail account and use filter rules to auto-forward all important messages to this account. Auto-forwarding lets you use any number of any filter rules to forward messages.
  • 'Save searches' with browser bookmarks. Perform a search in GMail, then create a bookmark in your browser. Opening this bookmark will open GMail with the search performed.
    This works for any complicated search -- like your two top clients in 2006: (label:BHP OR label:Woodside) AND (after:2006/01/01).
  • Similarly, you can save a bookmark for composing new messages.
  • For those of you who can't let go of a desktop client I know of two options:
  • Opera. Opera's mail client supports labeling exactly the same way as GMail. Point of fact, Opera was doing it first.
  • Hosted GMail Client (Unofficial). I've never used this but could be worth a look.
  • Any other POP3 desktop email client. GMail provides POP3 access to your email so you can access it from any desktop client.

Useful Links

Next Time

Communicating with Clients and Customers -- Google Style

Email is good, a web presence is better -- but excellent customer communication should be dynamic. Next time I'll talk about creating a company blog, using Google to add dynamic (ad free) content to your webpages, providing real-time support and interaction with clients using GoogleTalk/Chat, and using Google Coop to become a part of their everyday web searching.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

David 'The Legend' Gemmell Dies at 57


David Gemmell, heroic fantasy writer extraordinaire, passed away Friday 28th July 2006 while recovering from earlier heart bypass surgery - he was aged 57.

Gemmell was and remains one of my favorite fantasy authors. He's written over 30 novels starting with Legend in 1984, the first of his 'Drenai Tales' featuring Druss the Legend. Since then many heroes have graced his pages, from the noble Druss to the more ambiguous morality of Waylander the Slayer. Amongst my favorites were his 'Stones of Power' sequence featuring Jon Shannow, as troubled and ambiguous a hero as ever written.

We have lost him in his prime, his latest trilogy 'Troy' is some of his best work to date. The second novel in the trilogy 'Shield of Thunder' is still scheduled for release in September 2006. Our thoughts are with his family, he will be greatly missed by all who were lucky enough to enjoy the world of his imagination.

Monday, July 24, 2006

GoogleOffice (Beta): The Google Powered Business

[ Google Office Tools Homepage Google Powered Office Articles ]

I loved Philipp Lessen's '55 Ways to Have Fun with Google', but I couldn't help thinking, 'What about when I'm not avoiding work?'. Google's great as a distraction, but it's also vital for getting my work done. As a playful response to Philipp's book, I'm going to show you the best ways to Get Work Done with a Google powered office.


Over the last 12 months, Google has released an astounding array of business related applications -- including a calendar, spreadsheet, word processor, and hosted email. Few are Enterprise ready -- in fact none of them are entirely mature (all are still in Beta or Labs) -- but
importantly all of them are available gratis, and I'm not Sony or Nestle, so my QA standards are a little lower.

It's not just these 'Office Suite' style products that you can use for your company. Services like Alerts, Notebook, Maps, Co-op, and Google Groups (to name a few) can become invaluable tools for your business.

The Plan

Each week fortnight I'll post a new article on either how to:
  • Replace an existing business function with a Google alternative
  • Get the most out of a particular Google service in the workplace environment.
To focus my attention (and 'eat my own dog food'), these articles will be based on my experiences as I transform Intervention Engineering into a Google Powered company.

Hopefully the end result will be a useful guide for those contemplating a switch to a non traditional office IT setup, or for those simply looking to get the most from Google's many services.

What to Expect

My approach will be fairly haphazard, but I'll try to cover a wide selection of services rather than focusing too heavily in one area at a time. Requests are welcome and feedback gratefully received. For a list of articles, updated as they're completed, check out Google Office Tools.

In addition to the weekly fortnightly post, I'll also be maintaining a collection of Google Notebooks to summarize my findings. They'll be dynamic, and I'll update them regularly with new ideas, changes to Google's services, plus suggestions and feedback from you guys. Each article will link to applicable notebooks -- plus I'll keep a GoogleOffice index notebook here.

Along the way I expect to make reference to non-Google products which adhere to the same philosophy -- products like FireFox and OpenOffice -- but Google will be the primary focus.

At the end of each post I'll announce the subject for the next week, if you have specific questions regarding the topic, send me an email or leave a comment and I'll make sure to address it in the article.

Next Week's Preview

Business email

Every business needs a powerful and robust email solution. Many of you have probably used GMail before, but some of you may not be aware of Google's hosted GMail for your domain. A service that lets you use GMail for your business email domain.

I'll be looking at using a hosted GMail account for my business, and will look specifically at:

  • The business case for switching to a Google hosted email solution.
  • How to set up hosted GMail for your business.
  • Using email alias, labels, filters, and mailing lists to optimize your email experience
  • Google Alerts and Google Groups with GMail
  • GoogleBerry -- Mobile GMail for email on the road

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

English Twenty20 Cup Calendar

With the English Domestic season well under way, it's almost time for the Twenty20 cup. To keep track, I present the English Domestic Twenty20 Cup calendar for your scheduling enjoyment.

In other cricket news, Google Maps have just rolled out a major satellite imagery update. Check out my Test Match Venue map page and see most of the world's test grounds in 10cm per pixel high resolution goodness.

This update is big - South Africa, New Zealand, India, and Pakistan - have nearly all their cricket grounds visible at high res.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Picasa Web Albums

Hot on the heals of Picasa for Linux comes the Picasa Web Albums Beta.

This is a nice offering, clearly targeted at photo sharing sites like Flickr. Is it a Flickr killer? Not yet, but it does do what Google does best, in that it provides a clean and simple way to store, view, and share content -- in this case, photo content.

Once you've been accepted into the current test, you'll be allowed to download the newest version of Picasa that will let you upload your existing images directly to your Web Album. Google currently provide 250Mb gratis, with the possibility of upgrading this to 6Gb.

Once online, you can sort your pictures into albums, which you can choose to share or keep private. Shared albums can be viewed and downloaded by other users who know your Picasa URL ([Google Username]), like this test user. There's currently no way to search for people of images.

Within your albums you can view slideshows, zoom and rotate images, or download them into Picasa. You can also caption or comment on your images.

Socially its in its early stages, with no labeling or searching available -- however RSS feeds are provided for users and albums, and you can flag a user as a 'favorite' that will then track any new additions to their online albums.

Overall it is a solid start with a simple and elegant interface. The Picasa blog post says "Of course, there's a lot we want to add and improve..." So I expect more to come before too long.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Google Local Offering Free Business Listings

Not too long ago Google's Adwords started offering GeoAds -- a low cost-per-click way of advertising your businesses on Google Maps. Now they've extended this service to all business owners who wish to see their company appearing on Google Local, for free (albeit without the fancy icons available to paid listings).

After completing the process of describing your business (address, opening hours, description, and contact details) you select the categories that describe your business. Then once Google has confirmed a business exists at the premises specified (via phone or mail) you're in!

This is an obvious and necessary step for Google Maps / Local which has so far been relying on commercial listings (like Yell) and by scouring web sources. Now owners can specify details for their business directly -- which is probably bad news for the aforementioned companies, but good news for small business.

With the ability to specify details like web, email, opening hours, and payment methods all at no cost, it's certainly a much better deal than most of the 'traditional' business listings (like the Yellow Pages) currently offer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Upcoming Book Release Google Onebox

For those of you who -- like me -- need to know exactly when your favourite authors' next books are coming out, the upcoming book release Google Coop subscribed link, may be just the thing.

There's different results tailored for both the US and UK markets, so once you're subscribed to my
Google Coop profile, any Google search in the form

author book in the UK (or US)

for a
tracked author will provide a onebox that includes:
  • The name of the next release.
  • The expected date of release in that country.
  • Any series information (Ie. Book 2 of SomeSeries).
  • A link to pre-order the book at Amazon.
  • A link to add a reminder for the release on Google Calendar.
  • A link to the best source of more information about the release.

A full list of the authors I'm currently tracking is available at my
tracked authors page. I've started with the authors I already track for myself, but the list will grow as I find out whose books you want tracked, so let me know!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Google Maps for Australia and New Zealand

Not before time, but Google Maps now features full road maps for Australia and New Zealand!

Users of Google Earth will already know that the satellite imagery available for most metropolitan areas of Australia is of superb quality, and now they've got the road maps to match!

Marissa Myers explained at the Google Press day that Maps / Earth was initially developed in Australia (via Keyhole), so it's good to see that Australians can now benefit from this excellent work.

The and maps domains aren't yet live, nor does searching for street names or directions currently yield results. But based on the Western Europe expansion last month I expect they won't be far behind.

I expect to see a bunch of new Google Maps mashups that take advantage of this new detailed information. Though I'm now based in London, Australia is my 'home town' so I'm very excited -- here's a snapshot of the streets I grew up around to celebrate.

Man, I have to say. One of the things I was going to miss about the UK when I moved back to Australia was Google Maps. It's incredible how quickly it and local search became an essential part of my everyday life -- particularly now that they're both available on my mobile.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Google Notebook, Live!

Google Notebook is live -- and wow.

Available as a plugin for IE and Firefox (WinXP and Linux -- maybe MacOS), Google Notebook works as a web clippings aggregation, collation, and bookmarking tool, letting you compile the useful fruit of your web search / browse and arrange it in a useful manner all in one place.

As you grab data from each source (a simple matter of selecting the text/images and right-clicking to 'add note' GN will automatically annotate source attribution. You can then add section headings, new notes by hand, or shuffle your notes around using AJAX goodness.

Look out, perhaps the most powerful tool is the ability to share your notebooks (here's my Google Notebook Notebook). These public notebooks are searchable and perfect for sharing anything from bookmarks, to vacation planning, to finding the perfect plasma television.

The Future
Surely, the best is yet to come. I'm waiting for Google to develop a Notebook API and integrate Notebook with other Google services. I want:
  • Notebook available for each day in my Google calendar, and
  • A Notebook for each Event in my Google Calendar.
  • Collaborative notebooks -- use the Writely technology to implement it. This would kill.
  • Limited sharing. Let me share my wedding planning notebook with my spouse but not the whole world.
  • A Desktop Sidebar 'gadget' for viewing and compiling my notebooks, and
  • An API that lets me read and create Notebooks from code (oh the possibilities!)
As it stands I no longer need Windows Notebook -- implement all that, and I can throw away the notebook and pen that travels with me and my laptop.

UPDATE: I'm going to keep track of feature suggestions and possible current workaround on my Google Notebook Notebook.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Test Cricket Venues on Google Earth

To round out my recent adventures in Google code, I've made a start on a Google Earth version of the Test Cricket Venue map from The Cricketing Yak.

The linked cricket venues KMZ file contains a network link that will update the test venue placemarks, the moment I add new ones (or change existing details). So far there are beautifully chosen views of the Test cricket venues in England and Australia.

I must say, it's quite something to fly around the world shooting from venue to venue. So if you've got Google Earth, download the file now and check it out.