Google Maps Labs

In true Google fashion, they have recently extended the reach of their ‘labs’ experiments by releasing a Google Maps Labs – a place for the Google Maps team to experiment with new features that may or may not be ready for mainstream use within Google Maps.

The latest extensions available from within Google Maps Labs are:

  • Drag ‘n’ Zoom
  • Aerial Imagery
  • Back to Beta
  • Where in the World Game
  • Rotatable Maps
  • What’s Around Here?
  • LatLng Tooltip
  • LatLng Marker
  • Smart Zoom

I really like the implementation of the Drag ‘n’ Zoom experimental feature and it is something that I think I’ll definitely leave enabled. The two LatLng lab experiments are going to be very useful to people who use Google Maps a lot and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Smart Zoom make its way into Google Maps as a default feature going forward either.

To enabled any of the currently available Google Maps Labs experimental features, look for a link in the top right hand corner of Google Maps beside  your user links such as My Profile, My Account, Help & Sign Out.

Google Fusion Tables

Google have recently released a new labs product known as Fusion Tables. Google Fusion Tables allows users to merge data from numerous data sources, to deliver compelling easy to understand comprehensive visualisations of the merged data set.

The announcement for Google Fusion Tables notes that it is releasing the API for it, which integrates with a number of existing Google products such as Maps, App Engine, Base Data and the Visualisation APIs to allow for motion charts, timelines, maps with all the data running on Google’s infrastructure.

The Google Fusion Tables example video provided showcases an incredibly easy to use interface, which interleaves numerous existing data sources with custom data from the user on the fly. While that might be fine for static data sets, Google Fusion Tables also allows for dynamic data sets as well – where data can be synchronised into Fusion Tables in real time as the data is changing.

Recently Microsoft Live Labs released a similar product named Pivot, which provides similar functionality with a completely different user experience. The upfront effort for implementing Microsoft Pivot appears to much greater than Google Fusion Tables, as at least at this stage there doesn’t appear to be a way to simply upload, merge or link data together without providing that data through the Pivot architecture.

Watch this space, I suspect there are going to be some incredibly innovative uses for both products.

Google Webmaster Tools Displaying PDF & Word Document Links

Google Webmaster Tools has the ability to explore the internal links and external links or backlinks information for a given domain, instead of relying on the infrequently updated and wildly inaccurate link: operator within a Google search. Traditionally the link information within Google Webmaster Tools has displayed links, that were sourced or crawled from, what would otherwise be considered standard web formats such as HTML.

For a long time, Google has been indexing numerous non-web specific file formats such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Adobe PDF and Macromedia now Adobe Flash file formats. While they were indexing and ranking those documents to show up in search, I have never seen anything to suggest that Google was counting either links or plain text URLs within those documents as a ranking indicator specifically. However, while viewing backlink data for a domain recently I noticed that Google Webmaster Tools was reporting backlinks from Adobe PDF and Microsoft Word documents.

If you’re in the business of generating a lot of documents to provide to third parties, a certain number of your clients will put the document on their web site for their users. If that happens, you’ve just gained additional inbound links to your site using the link text of your choice. If it turns out that Google is counting PDF, Word and other file format links as a ranking indicator – a savvy marketer might even recommend to third parties that they upload the document to their site – for any number of reasons, least of which is search engine optimisation.

Google Local Business Centre Receives Upgrade With Humorous Outage Message

The Google Local Business Centre is currently undergoing maintenance for approximately 60 minutes and instead of a standard maintenance notice, Google engineers have gone for something a little more light hearted:

The Google Local Business Center is unavailable for the next hour

We appreciate your patience as we perform some routine system maintenance.

More specifically, we’re updating ‘the backend’ (to employ that catchy, catchall moniker coined and lent to us by engineering folks who work on all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes but know we communications folks can’t very well say ‘We’re updating all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes’ and expect you, an enlightened Google user, to take us seriously or at least not wonder aloud ‘ Wait, what sort of bits were those again?’).

So please check back in sixty minutes. Maybe less, considering the time you’ve invested in deciphering this message.

[Screenshot]

Google Search Options Enhanced

Google Search Options allows the user to refine their search to target a subset of the normal search results, such as only showing video, forum or news results in addition to date and time filtering.

Today the search options have been enhanced further to allow a user to remove shopping sites such as Amazon from the search results or to see more shopping sites in the search results. By choosing to add additional shopping sites, the layout of the search results changes slightly to be more price focused for comparison.

I came across new category filters that I haven’t previously seen, such as restaurants, retail, apartments, for sale, parking and so on. In this particular example, the additional category filters are contextually relevant to the search – in this case Circle on Cavill.

Circle on Cavill Gold Coast is a residential high rise located in the heart of Surfers Paradise and is of comprised of two towers and complemented by a retail precinct located at the base. As a by product of the type of facility, it offers restaurants, retail shopping, apartments for holiday letting, apartments to purchase to live in, secure under ground car parking and an enormous outdoor big screen hanging between the two towers which plays sport, movies, news and life style shows and much more.

The additional categorisation filters available within the search options are fantastic, allowing a user to see the different types of information that Google knows about a particular search term.

Leaving Kubrick

Since launching #if debug in November 2007, I have been using the default WordPress theme.

Initially I didn’t change the theme because I thought that it was sufficient and after not chaning it for so long – I had unfortunately become used to it. I have nothing against the default WordPress theme, but it is used on thousands of different blogs around the world and as a by product – gives the impression that the owner of the site doesn’t care a whole lot for their site.

Today I am changing that for good and I vow never to go back to the default WordPress theme again.

Firefox Software Upgrade Process Inefficient

I’m using Firefox for the first time on my notebook in quite some time and I noticed that it was downloading an update.

Curiously, I checked to see what version I was currently running and it was 3.0.10 and I assumed that it was going to update Firefox to the latest 3.5 series but I was mistaken. Instead, it upgraded to 3.0.11 which I thought was odd. As soon as it had completed, I checked for updates again and it said that another was available – surely this time it’ll get to Firefox 3.5, no it upgraded to 3.0.12. Checked again and another update was available and finally, it managed to upgrade Firefox to the latest and greatest version.

I’m sure there is a reason for doing an inline upgrade, however you’d think if you were going from 3.0 series into 3.5 series of an upgrade that it’d just make the jump and be done with it.

Hicksdesign Redesigns Without Any Fanfare

Jon Hicks, of Hicksdesign fame, has recently redesigned his unique and always creative web site and it appears to have gone unnoticed thus far.

Likes

  • The texture applied to the main circular logo, it makes it feel like a heavy weight cardboard
  • Fixed sidebar navigation, not unique but uncommon enough to make it interesting
  • Hickensian is on debut
  • That the little tree has still made its way into the design, even if it is in a less lavish nature

Dislikes

  • Compared to previous versions, the footer of the site now feels bare and unloved.

Overall I really like the new design, it is really different in style compared to previous versions of the site however still unmistakably Hicksdesign.

How To Get Your Google Profile Indexed

In December 2007, Google released the first incarnation of the Google Profile. This was the beginning of a continued effort from Google to refactor numerous services to have a more modular architecture, so that key pieces of information were held in one place only.

In a recent upgrade to Google Profiles, the vanity URL was introduced. A vanity URL is a label or string that a user can associate to their account so that other people can find them more easily. Some services allow a user to enter anything they like, other services derive the vanity URL from the account user name – which is the tact that Google have taken.

While a user can provide quite a bit of information about themselves within their Google Profile and also link or consume data from other services within it – it did not automatically mean that the profile would be visible within Google Search. Users are required to check a box, with the label “Display my full name so I can be found in search” – before the profile is visible within search engines.

After checking that box quite some time ago, I was confused that no matter how many pages I went back through the search results for a vanity search – that I couldn’t find my Google profile listed. I had assumed that by checking that box, that it’d trigger Googlebot to crawl the profile and place it into the search index. Failing that, I had thought that since Google were publishing the Google Profiles into XML sitemaps, that would have also sufficed to get my profile within Google Search – both of which were incorrect assumptions.

It would appear that Google Profiles are subject to all of the same indexation restrictions and issues that a normal web page is. If you’re struggling to get your Google Profile indexed, the sure fire way is to link to it from a page already indexed or somewhere that you know will get crawled by search engines shortly.

YouTube Subscriptions & Unexpected Notification Behaviour

I use the YouTube subscription feature to try and keep on top of a swarm of excellent video content being provided through YouTube.

In my account settings, under the Email Options section I have all of the default options selected – which equates to email me whenever something in my account or channel changes and also send me a weekly email regarding my subscriptions.

The Google Webmaster Central team have a Google Webmaster Central YouTube Channel which I’m subscribed to. I’m not the kind of person that will login to a site, such as YouTube, just to check on things – such as a subscription. For this very reason, I was happy to see that YouTube support email notifications for subscriptions.

Over the last couple of months, I’d assumed that the Google Webmaster Central channel was largely inactive as the weekly email was showing only a handful of publications over that period. It wasn’t until today that I clicked through to the channel and noticed a plethora of fantastic question and answer style content from Matt Cutts.

I had expected that when new videos were published into a channel I’m subscribed to, that the weekly email notification would essentially be a digest of the changes from the week.

This serves as a simple warning for the uninitiated, check the videos tab against each of your subscriptions from time to time or you could be missing out on great video content.