Harry Potter website adds Google magic

harry potter thumb Harry Potter website adds Google magicAuthor JK Rowling’s website devoted to fictional wizard Harry Potter will feature a bit of Google magic when it debuts later this year in the United States, according to the internet titan.

Rowling’s beloved Potter titles will be available on Google eBooks platform at Pottermore.com and Google Checkout will be the preferred payment system, according to Larissa Fontaine of Google Books new business development.

‘When you buy a Harry Potter e-book from Pottermore, you will be able to choose to keep it in your Google Books library in-the-cloud, as well as on other e-reading platforms,’ Fontaine said on Wednesday in a blog post.

The Pottermore team reportedly plans to use Google-owned video sharing service YouTube for online broadcasts.

‘Pottermore and Google are teaming up to integrate Pottermore with a number of Google products,’ Fontaine said. ‘Stay tuned for more Pottermore and Google wizardry on the web.’

In June, Rowling unveiled an interactive website featuring new material about the boy wizard’s world, while his adventures will also now be sold as e-books for the first time.

The free website, www.pottermore.com, will go live from July 31 for one million Potter fans who pass a special online challenge, and to the general public from October.

The seven e-books will be available through the website from October in partnership with Sony.

Rowling said Potter fans will be able to register on the free website using one of the young sorcerers from the books as their online identity, then play games and interact with elements of the fictional world.

The site will also have previously unpublished material that she has written on the backgrounds to the characters and their lives at Hogwarts Academy, a fictional school for young wizards.

The author laid down her pen – and Harry’s magic wand – when she finished the seventh book in 2007, with a stunning record of 400 million copies of the series sold around the world.

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Google goes social with Facebook rival


google logo thumb1 Google goes social with Facebook rivalGoogle, the king of internet search but not on the social front, has launched its rival to Facebook, a social networking service called Google+.

“Online sharing is awkward. Even broken. And we aim to fix it,” Google’s senior vice president for engineering Vic Gundotra on Tuesday said in a blog post about the long-awaited social networking initiative from the internet giant.

Unveiling Google+, Gundotra stressed the ability it gives users to separate online friends and family into different “Circles,” or networks, and to share information only with members of a particular circle.

“We’d like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software,” he said.

“We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships and your interests.”

One of the criticisms of Facebook is that updates are shared with all of one’s friends unless a user has gone through a relatively complicated process to create separate Facebook Groups.

“Not all relationships are created equal,” Gundotra said.

“So in life we share one thing with college buddies, another with parents, and almost nothing with our boss.

“The problem is that today’s online services turn friendship into fast food – wrapping everyone in ‘friend’ paper – and sharing really suffers,” he said.

Google+, located at plus.google.com, is currently being tested by a small number of people or is available by invitation only.

But Google said in a message on the site that it “won’t be long before the Google+ project is ready for everyone”.

Google unveiled several new tools integrated into Google+, including “Hangouts”, which allows for video chatting among friends, “Mobile” for location-sharing and “Huddle” for group text messaging.

Photos and video can be uploaded and shared among Circles using a feature known as “Instant Upload”, while an online sharing engine called “Sparks” delivers content from the web into a user’s feed.

Google dominates internet search but the Mountain View, California, company has failed to make inroads on the social networking front, where Facebook has accumulated nearly 700 million users and Twitter about 200 million.

Former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, speaking at the AllThingsD technology conference last month, took responsibility for the company missing the wave when it came to making services social, saying “I screwed up”.

Google’s last major foray into social networking – Google Buzz, launched in February 2010 – spawned a slew of privacy complaints and led to a slap on the wrist from the US Federal Trade Commission.

Under a settlement between the US regulator and Google announced in March, Google is required to implement a comprehensive privacy program and will be subject to independent privacy audits every two years for the next 20 years.

Google+ makes its debut as Google and Facebook wage a fierce battle over online advertising dollars and how people navigate the internet.

Google does not send people to Facebook and vice versa, and both companies are seeking to become the chief gateway to the internet.

In May, Facebook was left red-faced after acknowledging it had hired a prominent public relations firm to draw attention to privacy practices at Google.

Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of technology blog SearchEngineLand.com, said in a blog post it was “anyone’s guess” as to whether Google+ would be successful.

“If you’re happy using Facebook, there seems relatively little to make you want to switch over to Google Plus, at the moment,” said Sullivan, who received an early glimpse of the new service from Google.

“Perhaps if there are people who want a Facebook alternative, Google’s now got a core to build on for them.”

Story by Chris Lefkow www.ninemsn.com.au

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Google ‘faces major US antitrust probe’


Google 1 thumb Google faces major US antitrust probeThe US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is poised to open a formal antitrust probe into whether internet search giant Google has abused its dominance on the web, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The newspaper, citing ‘people familiar with the matter,’ said the FTC is preparing to serve Google with civil subpoenas ‘signalling the start of a wide-ranging, formal antitrust investigation’.

The Journal said the five-member commission will send Google the formal demands for information ‘within days’ and other companies were likely to receive requests for information about their dealings with Google.

The FTC declined to comment on the report and there was no immediate response to a request for comment from the Mountain View, California-based Google.

Google, which controls around 65 per cent of the lucrative US internet search market, has been the target of numerous antitrust investigations by the FTC and the US Department of Justice in recent years.

But the Journal said the FTC’s probe ‘is the most serious to date’ in the United States because it will examine ‘fundamental issues relating to Google’s core search advertising business’.

Google makes most of its money from search-related advertising.

The Journal said the probe will look at whether Google ‘unfairly channels users to its own growing network of services at the expense of rivals’.

European Union competition watchdogs opened an investigation into similar allegations in November.

Google has faced increasing scrutiny from US and European regulators as it has grown over the years from a scrappy startup into an internet powerhouse.

In April, the US Justice Department approved Google’s entry into the online travel sector with its $US700 million ($A665 million) purchase of flight data firm ITA Software but it insisted on a number of concessions from Google.

Several online travel sites, including Expedia, Kayak and Travelocity, had sought to block the Google-ITA deal, claiming it would give Google too much control over the lucrative online travel market and lead to higher prices.

In late March, the FTC reached a settlement with Google over Google Buzz, the social networking tool rolled out last year which spawned a slew of privacy complaints.

Under the settlement announced by the US regulator, Google is required to implement a comprehensive privacy program and will be subject to independent privacy audits every two years for the next 20 years.

Also in March, a US judge dealt a setback to Google’s plans for a vast digital library and online bookstore, rejecting a copyright settlement hammered out by the internet giant with authors and publishers.

In 2008, Google abandoned a plan to forge a joint search advertising partnership with Yahoo!, citing a desire to avert a ‘protracted legal battle’ with US regulators.

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Google search tracks down assault victim


google logo thumb Google search tracks down assault victimA Google search has helped tracked down an Australian girl US police believe was one of many young victims of alleged child predator Stephen Vosilla.

US Authorities recognised a logo on a video of one of Vosilla’s victims and logged on to the internet search engine, Google, tapped in the logo, and within seconds he was able to identify the logo was Australian and the young victim was likely from Australia.

Officers tracked the girl down in Australia, who then provided a statement for Tennessee investigators.

An investigation was launched that led investigators to Vosilla’s residence in Talbott, Tennessee,

A grand jury in Tennessee has indicted Vosilla on two counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. He remains in Tennessee’s Hamblen County jail in lieu of $US100,000 bail.

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Google logo turns into dancing animation


google thumb Google logo turns into dancing animationGoogle has paid tribute to US dance pioneer Martha Graham by transforming the celebrated logo on its homepage into a dancing animation.

Instead of the usual colourful logo, the internet search giant’s homepage features an animated dancer who spells out the word “Google” in a series of elegant dance moves made famous by Graham.

Graham, founder of the Martha Graham Dance Company, was born on May 11, 1894 and died on April 1, 1991.

The Mountain View, California-based Google frequently changes the “doodle” on its famously spartan homepage to mark anniversaries or significant events or pay tribute to artists, scientists, statesmen and others.

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Google keeps tweaking search formula


Google thumb Google keeps tweaking search formulaSoftware engineers reverently refine Google’s search algorithm so consistently that it often ends a day a tad different from when it started.

Scott Huffman’s team tested ‘many more than’ 6,000 changes to its search engine in 2010, with 500 of them passing the grade to become permanent.

‘We have changed engines on a flying plane so many times it has become second nature to us,’ Google fellow Amit Singhal said, referring to how internet firms modify services while they are live online.

‘Alongside changing the engines, the plane has become quieter, the ride got more comfortable, and we even changed your seat while you were sleeping,’ he continued.

‘We just do it in small steps that go unnoticed.’

Singhal said Google’s search is tweaked, on average, twice in a working day.

‘On the one hand, we want to be moving quickly and we want to make great changes,’ Huffman told AFP.

‘On the other hand, we don’t want people to come to Google and say they don’t recognise it.’

Google in February took the unusual step of spotlighting an improvement to its secret search formula in the United States.

The move was part of an ongoing duel between the search titan and low-quality websites that feature only content copied from elsewhere on the internet or use techniques to trick their way to scoring high in results.

‘The feedback has been tremendously positive from users,’ Singhal told AFP at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

‘Overwhelmingly, the change raised ranks of high-quality sites and dropped ranks of low-quality sites.’

Huffman’s team is responsible for ensuring that ideas for improving Google search results do just that.

‘People are not just expecting a search engine to return every document that has most of the words typed in a query box,’ Huffman said.

‘They want the context understood; there are a lot of nuances hidden within that.’

For example, someone searching with the word ‘Japan’ is likely interested in real-time news about the tsunami tragedy there as well as other information about the nation.

One of Huffman’s favourite ‘broken queries’ from a couple of years ago was the term ‘Thai restaurant.’

General web searches kept giving top rank to a Thai restaurant in the upstate New York city of Schenectady.

‘I used to go complain to the ranking people,’ Huffman recalled with a laugh.

‘I’m in Mountain View. It might be a great Thai restaurant but I’m not going to Schenectady to get Pad Thai.’

Google began letting users set locations so the search engine could factor proximity into results when appropriate.

Proposed changes to Google’s formula are first tested on a separate set of computers that imitate real-world search.

Those deemed worthy are next sent to evaluators around the world who act as online searchers and rate the relevance of results in various languages and regions.

Google then does live testing, with promising algorithm enhancements carefully blended into results served up by the main search engine.

‘At any given time, some percentage of our users is actually seeing experiments,’ Huffman said.

‘It is interesting because users don’t know what is happening,’ he continued.

‘Of course, we don’t put things out there that are terrible; we have filters to know when something is bad.’

Plenty of improvements are ahead, particularly regarding the ability to understand and derive inferences from the world’s many languages, according to Huffman.

He bristles at any suggestion by Google critics that results are tampered with to favour advertisers or achieve other business goals.

‘If you think of the scale of what we are talking about, it is almost absurd to say we could rig results,’ Huffman said, noting that Google handles more than a billion searches daily.

For five and a half years he has run weekly meetings at which changes to Google’s search algorithm are decided.

Revenue implications of changes have never been brought up at those meetings, according to Huffman.

‘Not only do we not make decisions that way, we don’t even look at those numbers,’ Huffman said.

Google believes that delivering the most relevant search results to people as fast as possible is best for the California company’s bottom line and, by extension, steers away from useless ‘spam’ websites and ‘content farms.’

‘If we care about our users – don’t care about money – everything else just falls in line,’ Singhal said.

‘A healthy Web and happy users are key to our future.’

Singhal pictured a day when search engines understand users so well that they predict what people wanted to know and cue them with messages on smartphones.

‘That is the ultimate dream,’ Singhal said.

‘We are nowhere close to that yet.’

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Google, Facebook Users Skew Young, Affluent, and Educated


 Google, Facebook Users Skew Young, Affluent, and EducatedBoth Google and Facebook attract young, affluent, and educated Americans in large numbers, according to results of a new USA Today/Gallup poll. Each counts more than half of those under 50, those with college degrees, and those making more than $90,000 a year among their users.

Gallup data indicates men (42%) are about as likely as women (45%) to have a Facebook page. However, men (63%) are 12.5% more likely than women (56%) to say they visit Google in a given week. Overall, 40% more US adults say they use Google in a typical week (60%) than have a Facebook page (43%).

However, as mentioned above, both sites have substantially higher usage rates with younger, wealthier and educated Americans. For example, among 18-to-29-year-olds, 83% use Google in a typical week and 73% have a Facebook page. Those respective figures drop to 34% and 17% among Americans age 65 and older.

Similar trends can be observed when looking at disparities in income and education. Among Americans earning $90,000 or more annually, 85% use Google in a typical week and 55% have a Facebook page. Those respective figures are 56% and 41% for Americans earning less than $90,000 annually.

Usage rates among postgraduates (87% for Google and 53% for Facebook) and college graduates (85% and 58%, respectively) do not greatly differ. However, among those with a high school degree or less, the respective figures drop to 35% and 28%.

All Demographics More Likely to Use Google

Currently, US adults in all key demographic groups are more likely to visit Google in a given week than to say they have a Facebook page. Google attracts a significantly larger share of college graduates, postgraduates, and those making at least $90,000 per year. Both sites have yet to reach a majority of those with a high school education or less, or those who are at least 65 years old.

 Google, Facebook Users Skew Young, Affluent, and EducatedThe majority of users of both sites say they are very or somewhat concerned about invasion of privacy and internet viruses, and about half are concerned about spam e-mail. Facebook users about 20% more likely than Google users to say they are concerned about invasion of privacy and internet viruses, and about 10% more likely to say they are concerned about spam.

Gallup data indicates older and less affluent users of these sites are in some cases more concerned about these issues than other groups, but Gallup says the patterns are not uniform and because of small sample sizes, the results by group are too small to report.

Social networking category leader Facebook continued its momentum as it amassed millions of new users and people spent more and more of their time on the site, according to a new white paper from comScore. “The 2010 US Digital Year in Review” indicates that Facebook accounted for 10% of US page views in 2010, while three out of every 10 US internet sessions included a visit to the site.

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Google Loses YOY Search Activity


In addition, Google saw its year-over-year query volume decline 0.6%, from 10.52 billion to 10.47 billion; and its year-over-year market share drop 11%, from 73.9% to 65.7%. On a month-over-month basis, Google actually experienced a 4.8% rise in unique visitors and 0.2% increase in query volume, although market share declined 1%.

Search activity across the five engines saw more activity in December, with an 11.8% increase in overall query volume from December 2009 and 1.3% increase from November 2010.

Microsoft search, primarily reflecting usage of the Bing search engine, has dramatically grown year-over-year. Unique visitors increased 35.2%, from 62 million to 84 million, query volume grew 69.4%, from 1.4 billion to 2.37 billion, and market share grew 52%, from 9.8% to 14.9%. Month-over-month growth was healthy but much smaller, likely indicating Bing is reaching maturity now it has been generally available since June 2009.

Interestingly, Yahoo’s search query volume dramatically rose 22.7% year-over-year, from 1.94 billion to 2.38 billion, but its year-over-year growth in market share was much more modest (a still healthy 9.5%), and its unique visitor total dropped 3.1%, from 89 million to 86 million. On a month-over-month basis, Yahoo showed modest growth in all three areas.

Bing Powered engines (including both Bing and Yahoo) as a whole grew 4.1% month-over-month in query volume, driving its total market share up almost 3%. Bing-powered engines took a combined 29.8% of the total search market. Compete does not compile year-over-year or unique visitor statistics for Bing-powered search engines.

While Ask.com’s query volume total in December 2010 was a comparatively low 595 million, this was 100.3% more than 297 million a year earlier. Unique visitors grew 79.5 % in that time frame, from 47 million to 85 million.

AOL recorded a 34.4% increase in search query volume between December 2009 and December 2010, jumping from 84 million to 113 million queries. Neither Ask.com nor AOL reported any other exceptional month-over-month or year-over-year growth figures.

Microsoft, which saw its total core search engine query volume drop 4% month-over-month in November 2010, rebounded strongly in December 2010 with a 9% gain, according to recent comScore qSearch data. As tabulated by comScore, Microsoft’s core search queries grew from about 2.01 billion to 2.18 billion, placing it third overall.

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Google Drops Real Estate Search on Google Maps


Google thumb2 Google Drops Real Estate Search on Google MapsAt Google one of our key philosophies is to take risks and to experiment. To that end, in July 2009 we announced the ability to find property for sale or rent directly on Google Maps. This is one of the “search options” next to the search box on Google Maps, and is currently available in the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Japan.

In part due to low usage, the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate websites, and the infrastructure challenge posed by the impending retirement of the Google Base API (used by listing providers to submit listings), we’ve decided to discontinue the real estate feature within Google Maps on February 10, 2011.

We’ve learned a lot and been excited to see real estate companies use Google Maps in innovative ways to help people find places to live, such as Coldwell Banker’s use of Google Maps and YouTube, or Realtor.com’s Android app that lets you draw a shape on a map to find all properties you’re interested in.

Yet we recognize that there might be better, more effective ways to help people find local real estate information than the current feature makes possible. We’ll continue to explore this area, but in the meantime, Google offers other options to home-seekers: you can still access other information in Maps such as local businesses, directions and transit times, as well as aerial and Street View imagery to explore where you might want to move, and also use Google search results to find helpful real estate information and websites.

Real estate companies can also continue to use tools from Google to help connect with buyers and renters who use the Internet to research properties. For example, companies can use the Google Maps API to embed customized maps that are useful to potential clients right on their own web pages. Our Google for real estate professionals site contains various methods for generating leads and improving real estate business operations.

Posted by Brian McClendon, VP, Google Earth and Maps

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