Will “Gmail Custom Time” become reality!

On 3/31, I noticed this new “New! Gmail Custom Time” notice on Gmail. Curious to know what it was, I clicked on it but the link didn’t work at that time. I was surprised that a Google link was not working, but didn’t take much notice beyond that.

Turns out this was an April Fool’s joke (The link started working on 4/1). I didn’t fall for it, because I heard about the joke before I got to the link on 4/1 (shown below), but I didn’t realize the joke on 3/31 either.

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Google Custom Search will Kill the Competition

Google unveiled a custom search tool, dubbed “Google Custom Search Business Edition”, aimed at small and medium-size businesses (SMB). This is a hosted search service that provides powerful indexing and customized-search capabilities.

Now customers, vendors, and others can easily search your company web site and get relevant search results, without requiring an IT system (people, software, or hardware). The service is $100 per year for up to 5,000 web pages, and $500 per year for up to 50,000 pages. There is a free version, but it displays Google advertisements (much like search results on www.google.com). The only issue is that you cannot search the intranet behind the firewall. Then again, Intranet searching is not a requirement for a lot of SMBs.

Salient features of this service are:

  1. Ad-free search results with the paid version (free version includes ads).
  2. Customizable look and feel allows including the company logo and preferred colors in search results.
  3. Advanced customization of search results via the XML API. The XML feed includes the individual results of the search query, allowing the URL and description text to be displayed in a custom style. This feature requires an IT system to process the XML into HTML format.
  4. Categorize search results applying “Refinements” or labels to pages. These categories appear as links before the search results. When a user clicks on a category, pages tagged with the category are displayed first.
  5. Subscribed links that always show up at the top of search results for specified keywords. These links appear where Google ads normally would.
  6. Reporting of how often and what was searched for.
  7. Multiple language support. Specify the language for the Search Engine or specify “All Languages,” to use the language associated with the user’s browser. Bulgarian, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish are supported.
  8. Email and Phone technical support.
  9. Easy enough to get up and running in 10 minutes!

Google Custom Search is based off the general search index, so it doesn’t guarantee it will index a web site or a certain page, while competitors specifically index each customer site. Nonetheless, Google Custom Search is much cheaper than the competition. The Google OS blog provides a price comparison of hosted search services (* indicates configurable crawling frequency, ** indicates password-protected pages are indexed):

Product Price for a year (5,000 documents)
FusionBot** $2,400
Spiderline** $1,200
Freefind* $948
SiteLevel* $863.78
FindinSite* $720
PicoSearch** $498 (6,000 documents)
Mysitesearch* $239.40
Innerprise* $228
Google Custom Search $100

This is also much cheaper and more convenient than an in-house search engine such as Google Search Appliance or Microsoft’s SharePoint Server for Search, because it doesn’t require any IT investment. The Google Mini Search Appliance costs $1,995 for 50,000 web pages and the The Google Search Appliance starts at $30,000.

This is a perfect example of a function that a customer can outsource. First, enhancements to search technology are immediately available, rather than having to wait for IT system upgrades. And a perfect example of an unbeatable strategy (never say never) of leveraging an existing system to provide a new service. That is why Google is able to provide this at minimal cost.

The first reason makes hosted search better than in-house search. The second reason makes Google invincible and put other hosted search providers out of business. Only the Microsoft’s and Yahoo!s stand in the way of Google’s total domination.

Furthermore, looks like Google’s game plan is to make it convenient and cost effective for businesses to outsource search, and leverage this to sell Google Apps. Nice Strategy!

GOOG-411 now has maps

Remember the 411 service 1-800-GOOG-411 that Google launched a few months back! It’s a toll free service in the U.S. that uses speech recognition to search for businesses such as ATMs, grocery stores, gas stations etc. Now, GOOG-411 allows you to say “map it” when the search results are being spoken out to get a SMS message with a link to a map of the results (the map works with mobiles only duh!).

GOOG-411 had some difficulty understanding me (perhaps its just me!), but having worked on Speech Recognition systems, I know that speech recognition still has some ways to go, especially in the presence of background noise.

I found it a little difficult to use as the URL as it wasn’t clickable and it’s difficult to type in the hard-to-remember URL into the web browser. Of course, it wont send an SMS if you call from a landline phones (but it still says “sending map”). Also, one has to input a location of interest to get information on businesses. That would require integrating with the wireless operators positioning service.

Nice but I won’t be using this unless I’m in a real-bad situation. I’ve always had the need for a service like this, but it’s much easier to call my wife at home and ask her to find directions online!

What could GrandCentral do for Google?

News is flying around the blogosphere and tech news sites, after TechCrunch broke the news that Google is in talks to acquire or has already acquired GrandCentral, the “one number for life for all your phones” telephony company.

The basic idea around GrandCentral is to give everyone one single number so that your business and personal associates don’t have to know all your numbers. Calls to the single number can be routed to a variety of phones, depending on rules set by the user. These rules can be set depending upon your relationship to the caller and the time of day. This concept is also called ‘one-number reachability”.

There are several strategic areas where GrandCentral fits within Google’s strategy.

  1. Connect to the Telephone Network: Google Talk doesn’t have connectivity to telephone numbers. In other words, Google Talk is a PC-to-PC calling application that only works with GTalk clients and other XMPP-based VoIP services. Enter GrandCentral, and voila! Google can terminate calls to telephone numbers.
  2. Collect User Information: Google knows your email address from Gmail or iGoogle, search habits from Web History, locations of interest from Google Maps, your locations from weather information… You get the picture – Google knows a lot about you. But Google doesn’t have a key ingredient to creating a full and complete profile about you; your phone numbers and who calls you. Incidentally, this is also one of the most private of all public information that people have. For example, I will almost-freely give away my email address (see my LinkedIn profile) but will almost never give my phone numbers unless I know the person well. With GrandCentral, Google has the opportunity to get all your numbers! Why does Google need this? so that one day Google can precisely target ads to you and customize search results not just to the context, but to your profile as well.
  3. Store voicemails and recorded calls forever: Getting a voicemail in your email inbox is easy stuff these days. GrandCentral allows you to record calls too. With GrandCentral, Google can store voicemail and recorded calls forever. Google may be able to transcribe these audio recordings and use it to serve customized ads and to enhance what Google knows about you.
  4. Call from a Web page: Google already has the store front, purchasing, payment, checkout available. All it needs is a way for customers to embed a call button on a web page and Google can take the fight to Skype and eBay.

PS. Although TechCrunch says “We are trying to nail down the acquisition price.”, the title of the post implies that Google is paying $50 million for GrandCentral. See http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/06/24/google-to-acquire-grand-central-for-50-million/.

Why Google should purchase Zvents or Eventful

A few days ago, Google Calendar introduced a new feature called Calendar ‘Galley’ that contains a variety of event listings from the likes of Atlantic Records, Cordless Recordings, Disney, Eventful, JamBase, Orbitz, the NBA, Netflix, The New York Times, TLC, Wcities, and Zvents. This makes it easy for one to find an event and add it to the Google calendar. This includes events such as NBA games (hot right now), Netflix DVD rental availability dates, events related to the US 2008 elections, as well as events from eventful and Zvents.

Thomas Claburn in Google Introduces Calendar ‘Galley’ points out that Google characterizes its event listings as “as an incredibly plugged-in friend who helps you remember all the hottest events, or that personal concierge you always dreamed of hiring.” Thomas notes that, according to Hitwise, Google Calendar gets the highest U.S. visitor market share. Also, Google is the leading online calendar, writes Elinor Mills in a rather long-winded Google Calendar colors a CNET reporter’s day.

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Backlash on “Street View” is great publicity for Google Maps

Google maps has a new “Street View” that shows a street-level view of a location. It currently has panoramic views of miles of streets around San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami and Denver.

These pictures were taken in real-life, so people that were nearby when the camera was passing by are also captured in the photo (pictures are static and are not updated usually). Some of these pictures are damning (see below photo of a man entering an Adult Book Store)

Google Maps Street Views

 

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