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September 23, 2014

Creating Google Accounts No Longer Requires Google+

When you create a Google account, Google no longer forces you to join Google+. Google only asks you to create a public Google+ profile, but you can click "No thanks" and avoid upgrading to Google+.


A Google spokesperson confirmed the change to Quartz: "Users can now create a public profile during signup, or later, if and when they share public content for the first time (like a restaurant review, YouTube video or Google+ post)."


Google has removed the "real names" policy and made Hangouts available to Google Apps users who don't have Google+ accounts. It's likely that Hangouts and Google Photos will become standalone apps that don't require Google+. As Google+ fades into the background, it's time to open Google's apps to everyone and transform Google+ into a social enhancement instead of a requirement.

Back in 2012, creating a Google account from the Google homepage meant joining Gmail and Google+. Some time ago, Google added the option to use an existing email address and now you can bypass Google+.

September 18, 2014

Quick Unit Conversion in Google Search

Here's a simple way to use Google's unit conversion feature, while typing shorter queries. Instead of searching Google for [6 lbs to kg], you can use [6 lbs =]. Just add the equal sign to the value you want to convert and Google will use the right measurement unit most of the time.


Here's another example: [68 f =]. The query is shorter than [68 f to c] or [6 fahrenheit to celsius]. Unfortunately, [20 c =] doesn't convert temperature, since c is the speed of light, so you'll have to use [20 c to f].


You can use Google's dropdown to pick other measurement units or you can edit the value and the result will change as yo type.

This trick also works in Chrome's omnibox, Firefox's search box, Safari's address bar:


September 17, 2014

Blogger Updates Photo Picker

Blogger updated the dialog that lets you insert photos. Now it uses horizontal tabs, just like in Gmail. You can upload photos, add photos from Picasa Web Albums/Google+ Photos, capture photos from your webcam or paste URLs. Blogger's dialog has special sections that restrict Google+ Photos to images from your blog or from your phone (Auto Backup).


When you select "from your phone", you can rotate photos or even delete them:


It's interesting that Blogger still uses Picasa Web Albums instead of Google+ Photos, while also including a feature that's only available if you use Google+: Auto Backup.

Blogger, Gmail and other Google services use the same Google Drive picker and customize it  by adding a long list of parameters.

Google Maps Views to Replace Panoramio

Google acquired the photo sharing site Panoramio back in 2007 to add high-quality photos to Google Maps and Google Earth. Last year, Panoramio's team launched Google Maps Views, a community site that lets you upload panoramic images and geotagged photos. Now Google Maps Views uses publicly shared Google+ photos and it will replace Panoramio.

"Over the past year, we've developed a similar community in Views, which lets you publish geo-relevant content (photo spheres and traditional photography) on Google Maps. In the future, we plan to migrate Panoramio into Views, creating one destination where you can publish and peruse imagery from around the globe. Before migrating any imagery, we'll make sure that Views reaches a level of feature maturity that supports the needs of the community," says Evan Rapoport, Product Manager for Google Maps Views.

Most likely, Google hopes to add more photos to Google Maps and to build its own community of users that make the Google Maps better by uploading great photos.


"Views is a Google Maps community where you can share photos that help other people explore the world and decide where they want to go. If you publicly share photos with a location on Google+, they may also appear on your page," informs Google.


{ Thanks, Jordan. }


September 16, 2014

Google Maps Engine Is Now Called My Maps

From a Google email:

"We want to let you know that in the coming months, we're upgrading the content you created in My Maps. All of the maps that you've created will automatically move to the new Google My Maps (previously called Google Maps Engine). Classic My Maps on maps.google.com will no longer be available."

So all the custom maps you've created in the old Google Maps interface will be automatically migrated to the new My Maps. If you don't want to wait, you can go to My Maps and click "upgrade now".



"Upgrading your maps is permanent and takes just a minute or two," informs Google. "The new My Maps is a more powerful maps creation tool that makes it easier to edit and share maps you've made. Just like with classic My Maps, you can work on a map with others, save driving directions, add photos and videos, and more." There are some limitations and restrictions, since Google also has a paid version called My Maps Pro, which is better suited for big maps.


The new My Maps (previously known as Maps Engine Lite) is more powerful than the old My Maps as it uses Google Drive sharing, has support for layers, it lets you import locations from spreadsheets and more. The main difference is that My Maps is a standalone site and you can't create custom maps inside Google Maps. You can see a list of recent custom maps and there's a button that lets you create maps.


Google has an Android app for My Maps and a gallery that features publicly shared custom maps. "The possibilities are pretty much endless—students have photographed and mapped a city's public art installments, authors have laid out their stories' locations on the map, and activists have plotted out shelters and distribution centers during emergency situations," mentions Google's Lat Long blog.

September 15, 2014

Removal Tool for Apps That Interfere With Chrome

Google released a Software Removal Tool that "scans and removes software that may cause problems with Chrome". It's Windows-only, still in beta and it tries to detect if you've installed software that changes Chrome's settings without informing you about this. There are applications that change Chrome's new tab page, change the default search engine, add toolbars, insert ads.


"If you notice Chrome behaving strangely (for example, showing you unusual startup pages, toolbars, or pop-up ads you can't get rid of), it may be due to an unwanted program on your computer. You may be able to fix the problem by downloading and running the Software Removal Tool. Think of this as a 'factory reset' of Chrome. It restores Chrome's original settings and removes programs that affect its behavior," informs Google. It's interesting to notice that Google's tool doesn't show a list of unwanted programs: "To discourage attackers from changing the names of their programs, the Software Removal Tool does not reveal the names of the suspicious programs it finds. You'll only see the number of programs detected." Google SRT (Software Removal Tool) doesn't scan for malware, so it doesn't replace antivirus software.


I installed Google SRT and it quickly displayed this message: "no suspicious programs found". It looks like Google's blacklist is not very long.


Google also opened a new tab in Chrome that asked if I want to reset browser settings: "Your browser settings will be restored to their original defaults. This will reset your homepage, new tab page and search engine, disable your extensions and unpin all tabs. It will also clear other temporary and cached data, such as cookies, content and site data." You can close the tab or click "Cancel" if you don't want to reset Chrome's settings.


Google SRT downloads ChromeRecovery, an emergency utility for restoring critical functionality.


Here's the text from the log file software_removal_tool.log:


Software Removal Tool has a cool codename: Chrome Foil. Foiling means "preventing something considered wrong or undesirable from succeeding".

{ via Chrome Story }

September 11, 2014

Android Apps in Chrome OS

Google built an app runtime for Chrome that allows Android apps to run in Chrome OS. The first Android apps you can run in Chrome OS are Duolingo, Evernote, Sight Words and Vine.



Bringing more powerful apps to Chrome OS is a great idea. Making it easier to bring mobile apps to Chrome encourages developers to go beyond web apps and write native apps that work offline, include hardware integration and work outside of the browser. While cross-platform web apps are still useful, the new Chrome apps can bring some missing features that people expect to find in native apps. "These combine the best of websites and native applications — they're available offline, are always up to date, and they can communicate with devices like USB drives & Bluetooth speakers," explains Google.

"These first apps are the result of a project called the App Runtime for Chrome (Beta), which we announced earlier this summer at Google I/O. Over the coming months, we'll be working with a select group of Android developers to add more of your favorite apps so you'll have a more seamless experience across your Android phone and Chromebook," informs Google. You can tell Google what Android apps you'd like to be ported to Chrome.

For now, the first 4 apps can only be installed in Chrome OS, but I'm sure that Google will add support for Chrome in the near future.


It's interesting to notice that the apps aren't manually ported to Chrome, as I assumed. Here's an explanation from a Google employee:

"The app code is all running on top of the Chrome platform, specifically inside of Native Client. In this way the ARC (Android Runtime for Chrome) apps run in the same environment as other apps you can download from the Chrome Web Store, even though they are written on top of standard Android APIs. The developers do not need to port or modify their code, though they often choose to improve it to work well with the Chromebook form factor (keyboard, touchpad, optional touchscreen, etc)."

Here's an APK for Duolingo (Android app) inside the CRX file (Chrome app):

Google's Object Recognition Technology

Google continues to improve its image recognition technology. A Google team placed first in the classification and detection tasks of the ImageNet large-scale visual recognition challenge, the largest academic challenge in computer vision.

"Superior performance in the detection challenge requires pushing beyond annotating an image with a 'bag of labels' - a model must be able to describe a complex scene by accurately locating and identifying many objects in it," explains Google. Here's are some examples of object detection:


"This effort was accomplished by using the DistBelief infrastructure, which makes it possible to train neural networks in a distributed manner and rapidly iterate. At the core of the approach is a radically redesigned convolutional network architecture," mentions Google. The goal is to train large models for deep neural networks.

Last year, Google used the DistBelief infrastructure to improve some models used by the winning team at ImageNet and implemented the algorithms in Google+ Photos Search and later in Google Drive's search engine. Google automatically annotates images and it allows you to search for things like "car" or "laptop" and find images that include them.

Google promises to use the latest achievements to improve "Google products such as photo search, image search, YouTube, self-driving cars, and any place where it is useful to understand what is in an image as well as where things are".

New Security Section in Google Accounts Settings

The Security tab from Google's accounts settings page has a new section that lets you quickly update your security settings. Google suggests to "secure your account and
get better protection for your account."

You can edit your recovery phone and email, check your recent activity, disable access for less secure apps and remove account permissions. All of these features were already available, but this page groups them and displays them using a simplified interface.




{ Thanks, Florian Kiersch. }

Google Tests Search History Export

Google tests a feature that will let you export your Web History data. For now, the experimental feature creates a ZIP archive that splits your search history in several JSON files.





Most likely, this feature will be added to Google Takeout when it's released.

{ Thanks, Florian Kiersch. }