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May 22, 2015

Discontinued Service in Google's App Launcher

For some reason, Google's app launcher doesn't let you remove Google services. You can add Google products, change their order, move them to the "More" section, but you can't delete them.

Helpouts was discontinued last month, but it's still included in Google's navigation menu. If you've added the Helpouts shortcut to your navigation menu, you can still click it and find that "Helpouts is no longer available."

Fortunately, there's a Chrome extension that lets you add almost any Google service to the app launcher and also remove shortcuts.

From Google Webmaster Tools to Google Search Console

Google Webmaster Tools has a new name: it's now called Google Search Console. Why change the name? "It turns out that the traditional idea of the 'webmaster' reflects only some of you. We have all kinds of Webmaster Tools fans: hobbyists, small business owners, SEO experts, marketers, programmers, designers, app developers, and, of course, webmasters as well," explains Google.

Google Search Console will continue to offer the same features, including Google Search analytics, information about external and internal links, mobile usability issues, crawling and indexing issues, security and spam.

There are some other consoles for Google services: Google Play Developer Console for Android, Google Developers Console for projects that use Google APIs and Google Cloud, Google Admin Console for Google Apps.

{ Thanks, Mukil Elango. }

May 21, 2015

Google Tone

Google Tone is an experimental Chrome extension for sharing the URL of the current tab with other computers. It doesn't use Bluetooth, NFC or WiFi: it only sends audio tones. "Google Tone turns on your computer's microphone (while the extension is on) and uses your computer's speakers to exchange URLs with nearby computers connected to the Internet."

For some reason, Google requires to be logged in to a Google account and to be online. Your Google Profile name and picture are displayed next to the notification. I'm not sure why this feature isn't optional.

Google Research Blog has more information about this experiment. "Tone provides an easy-to-understand broadcast mechanism that behaves like the human voice — it doesn't pass through walls like radio or require pairing or addressing. The initial prototype used an efficient audio transmission scheme that sounded terrible, so we played it beyond the range of human hearing. However, because many laptop microphones and nearly all video conferencing systems are optimized for voice, it improved reliability considerably to also include a minimal DTMF-based audible codec. The combination is reliable for short distances in the majority of audio environments even at low volumes, and it even works over Hangouts."

The extension doesn't work all the time, so make sure to turn up your volume, turn on your computer's microphone and unplug your headphones. When it works, it's a cool way to share the current tab with all the computers around you, assuming that they use Chrome and this extension is installed.

Fast Is Slow in the New Google Maps

Sometimes even Google makes mistakes. The new version of the desktop Google Maps has an updated interface for layers like traffic, transit, bicycling and terrain. If you enable the traffic layer, Google shows a legend at the bottom of the page and claims that red = fast-moving cars and green = slow-moving cars. Obviously, the labels are reversed.

Here's the previous interface, which uses the proper labels:

This mistake was spotted by Ken Drori, a reader of this blog. Fortunately, it's quite easy to fix.

{ Thanks, Ken. }

May 20, 2015

Tweets in Google Search: the End of the Google+ Era

Google announced that it will start to display tweets in Google Search for mobile. "When you're searching on the Google app or any browser on your phone or tablet, you can find real-time content from Twitter right in the search results," informs Google.

There are two Twitter-related cards. One of them shows popular tweets related to your query and it's only displayed for news-related searches.

The second card enhances Twitter results with recent tweets. For example, when you search for [nasa twitter], Google displays the most recent tweets, including those that were posted a few seconds ago.

Basically, Google has access to Twitter's Firehose API once again, 4 years after Google Real-Time Search was discontinued and Google+ was launched.

Twitter's blog says that "the desktop web version is coming shortly, and we have plans to bring this feature to more countries in the coming months." Right now, this feature only works in the US. "By deeply integrating Twitter’s real-time content into Google search, we hope you find it easier than ever to explore your interests across both Twitter and Google."

It's the end of the Google+ era. Even if Google+ will continue to exist in one way or another, Google will stop promoting it aggressively and will probably use it as a backend service. Bloomberg reports that Google "is set to reveal an online picture sharing and storage service that will no longer be part of the Google+ social network" and "will let users post images to Facebook and Twitter".

More Related News in Google's Mobile App

I'm not sure if this is a new feature, but Google's search app for Android shows a list of recent articles from a news site below some search results. The list uses big thumbnails and you can swipe right to find more articles.

For examples, searches for [sports], [weather], [obama] trigger the visual list of recent articles.

Google shows related news articles.

This feature also works for news-related YouTube videos.

May 17, 2015

Material Design Update for Google Product Forums

Google Product Forums have a new interface that uses Material Design. "Our new design is focused on making it easier for you to find the answers you need and ask questions across all Google Product Forums," informs Google.

The new interface has removed display density settings and topic list options. Unfortunately, the new interface for topic lists uses a lot more space, so you'll see fewer topics in the same space. Here's a screenshot that compares the old UI with the new one: 12 topics vs 3 topics using the same window size. The compact view is no longer available and Google now shows the entire title of the topic, followed by a snippet from the first post and some information about the author, the number of posts and views.

To star a topic from the list view, you need to select it and use the Actions menu (or you can use the 's' keyboard shortcut). Now you can select multiple posts and star them or mark them as read.

Topic pages use more white space, bigger thumbnails and have some new buttons that let you jump forward or backward a few posts and go to the top or bottom of the page.

Many features from the old interface have been removed. I couldn't find a way to switch to the tree view or paginated view, to collapse or expand all the posts. You can only vote up a post, the downvote feature has been removed.

Google uses a funny message which lets you know that you can go back to the old interface: "Welcome to the new version of Google Product Forums! You can switch to the old design if you'd like (but really why?)."

{ Thanks, Mukil Elango. }

May 14, 2015

Google Play Music for Desktop Has a New Interface

Google Play Music's web app switched to Material Design and has a new interface that closely resembles the mobile UI. The left sidebar is now a hamburger-style menu, photos are bigger, there's more white space and everything looks like a mobile app stretched out to fit a much bigger screen.

"We're moving towards making the web feel more like an app and less like a series of web pages strung together by links," said Google UX designer Bryan Rea. "The new header, the slick transition as you scroll, the collapsible nav, new animations, these all feel like things you expect in an app not on the web. For the increased focus on big, immersive artwork, when you're listening to music, you can get lost in it (in a good way). With the new album and playlist pages, you enter an immersive world focused on the music you're enjoying."

YouTube Discontinues Collections

YouTube had a feature that allowed you to group subscriptions and create collections. This feature will soon be removed: "on 5/20/15, we'll discontinue Collections, as we'll focus on other efforts to make your subscriptions more enjoyable."

"A collection is a group of subscriptions you can create to help you organize and view content from the channels you're subscribed to. Collections can be created by themes (like 'basketball' or 'music')," explains YouTube.

Collections could be created, deleted and edited from the subscription manager. In many ways, YouTube collections were just like folders in a feed reader.

If you want to use a feed reader to manage your YouTube subscriptions, you can export them to OPML and import the file into your favorite feed reader. Open the subscriptions manager, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click "Export subscriptions". Another options is to use this link.

YouTube Switches to Roboto

After a few months of experiments, YouTube changed its font from Arial to Roboto. In addition to Android, many other Google apps and services use Roboto, a typeface designed in-house at Google by Christian Robertson.

Here are some screenshots from Firefox for Windows:

I've switched back to Arial and got this GIF animation:

Here's a screenshot from Chrome for Windows: it looks quite different.

Browsers like Firefox and Chrome show a lot of information about fonts: you can select some text, right-click, pick "inspect element", switch to the Fonts or Computed tab and find the fonts that are used. says that "the font comes in several weights, but the one Google has gone with is slightly lighter than what users may be used to compared to the Arial font. This will surely lead to some complaints about it being harder to read".