Google just unveiled its new project Google Instant. As you start typing into the search box, Google tries to predict what you are searching for (most likely using the Google Suggest algorithm), and instantly displays results for that prediction. So it’s not really displaying results as you type but kind of before you type. For now, this feature is only available to logged in Google users and is therefore also the next step of personalized search.
When I opened Google Mail this morning (the first thing I do on a work day), it greeted me with a new look and some info about the visual changes. The GMail team has moved “Contacts” and “Tasks” further into the forefront. I haven’t had to use these features in the past, mainly because of GMail’s automcompletion when typing the recipient’s address. This might be a huge improvement for some users but not for me, as of yet. I might look deeper into what “Contacts” could do for me but because I mainly use “Things”, I have no need for “Tasks” in Google Mail.
They also decreased the size of the header and thereby moved the list of messages up by *drumroll* 16 pixels. Should I care about this? I’m not sure.
But what I really like is that they shed (most) rounded corners. Although such a visual feature is nice, it’s nothing more than pure eye candy with no practical use whatsoever. I assume that the Google Mail team threw these rounded corners overboard in favor of overall performance and I congratulate them for this step.
No, this is not about a ride down memory lane to join Karl Malden and Michael Douglas but rather about Microsoft’s new feature over at Windows Live Local, called Street-Side. Yesterday the team pulled the curtain off their technology preview.
So what’s Street-Side all about? For that I would like to quote what Microsoft has to say about it:
Historically, maps give you a perspective of geographical information about a place. In Windows Live™ Local, powered by Virtual Earth™, you’ve seen road, aerial, and hybrid maps. Then, we introduced bird’s eye views to give you a perspective from above. Now, we want you to be there, right in front of the pizza shop you are searching for, in the street-side views offered by Windows Live Local. Even though you haven’t left the comfort of your computer chair, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
At first glance virtually driving or walking around San Francisco or Seattle doesn’t sound very appealing to me because I’m more for the real life experience. But it might be a nice tool for getting in depth driving directions. That way you have the possibility to memorize landmarks, which usually are not part of “traditional” driving directions tools. At second glance it stresses Microsoft’s growing eagerness to grab a large slice of the web 2.0 cake. In my opinion this new feature together will Microsoft’s other new web based services also shows that there are quite a few creative heads in Redmond who do their best to help Bill Gates take a look outside the desktop box. But I don’t quite agree with Michael Arrington’s when he titles his post abou this new service “Killer New Live.com Service: Street-Side“. It’s just taking another step along the maps/satellite path. Of course now the perspective has changed to street level but I think it’s not as innovative as for example the introduction of Google maps was. But that’s just my two cents.
The arms race between the three giants, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! continues and we, the users, are the real winners.
Wednesday saw the launch of Yahoo! Maps Beta, competing with Google Maps and MSN Virtual Earth. Surprisingly Yahoo! didn’t jump on the AJAX train with their new service but rather use Flash, although AJAX may of course be used by developers using Yahoo! Maps API. I just found one fault with that new service. Their “world” is pretty limited and it doesn’t contain Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe or South America and blurs on the edges, so that you can’t zoom in north of Denali National Park in Alaska. Being beta doesn’t justify this North-America-centric worldview in my opinion. Their competitors have at least some data for the rest of the world available. For further descriptions, check out Yahoo! Maps: drag ‘em, search ‘em, hack ‘em on Yahoo! Search blog.
Yesterday Google announced the release of Google Desktop 2 and Google Desktop 2 for Enterprise, the latest release of their tool marrying their desktop search with third party plug-ins like up-to-date news, weather and the like. A tool I won’t be able to use on my primary computer, for it’s a Mac.
In German there is the saying “Konkurrenz belebt das Geschäft”, which would translate into something like “competition animates business”. This is true of the developments we are currently seeing in the Web 2.0 game. I think that Google’s Gmail and Maps was kind of the “wake up call” for all the other companies to get moving again. So we, the users, really profit from this arms race since those big players started and will keep developing new services and improving old services for our good, eg. an improved user experience of the web.