Google Translating Search Queries on the Fly

The most popular post on this blog, by far, is Where Does Google Chrome Store User History, Profile and Bookmarks. I had the good luck to be the first person on the Internet to post an answer to this question (even before Google did so in their documentation), just a few days into the original Chrome Beta release. The vast majority of hits come from Google searches that include one or more of the following keywords: Chrome, History, Profile, Bookmarks, Cookies, Save.

I mention this because I saw something very interesting in my site stats today. Someone got to this page by searching for “שמירת סימניות בכרום”. This is Hebrew for “Save Bookmarks in Chrome”. If you searched for this term in English you would see a link to my post on the subject somewhere in the range of the 5th-10th link. However, they searched in Hebrew, and even so, a link to this post showed up (number 8 in the results when I tried it).

So they must be taking the Hebrew, and while they are processing results in Hebrew, the search algorithm also translates it on the fly, searches on the term translated into English, and integrates relevant English results into the result set. This is very cool, and in a world where the bulk of technical literature and answers to questions like this are in English, it is very smart. There is a good chance that someone searching for this in Hebrew will still find an answer in English to be useful. Looks like the Google Search team still has a few tricks up their collective sleeve.

Handling SSN Input Properly

I just logged into my Google Adsense account. After 5+ years, I finally earned enough to get a payment. Only to discover that I had forgotten to update my mailing address, and that the check was sent a month ago to an address to which I no longer have access (if you find yourself in this situation, just cancel the check, and set up electronic funds transfer – much easier). In the process of updating my Adsense account, I put in my social security number so that the proper tax forms can be filed. I just entered it in the format of 123456789, since after all, a social security number is nine digits long. When I submitted the form, I got the following validation error:

So they want me to insert dashes into the SSN so that it is in the format of XXX-XX-XXXX (the format in which a social security number is normally written). That is not so hard for me to do. But why should I have to do that? They are already validating that I have the proper number of digits. So once they know that I entered nine digits, why can’t they just enter the dashes for me? No reason to bother the user with inanities like this. (One could also ask why they need to store the SSN in this format – storing them as nine digits in an int field is probably more efficient than storing them in a text field.)

Where Does Google Chrome Store User History, Profile & Bookmarks?

I have been using and enjoying Google Chrome for the past couple of days. So as I am setting up my new computer, I am installing Chrome there as well. While doing this, I would like to bring over my saved browsing history and bookmarks so that I don’t have to build it from scratch on the new machine. The only problem is that while Chrome makes it very easy to import existing settings from Firefox, it does not display any visible option to export current settings.

After a bit of digging, I found the location where Chrome stored user data:

  • On XP – C:\Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\User Data
  • On Vista - C:\Users\<User Name>\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data

The User Data folder contains three files: Local State, Safe Browsing and Safe Browsing Filter, along with a folder called Default. Default in turn contains your browser cache, plugin data, and all of your cookies and history data. To move my profile over to my new computer, I copied all of the files and folders under User Data on my XP machine, and moved them into the User Data on my new Vista machine (all of the files were nearly 100mb after only four days of use, which will give you some kind of idea about the amount of indexing going on in the background). When I next started Chrome on my Vista machine, it was identical to the app on my XP machine, down to most popular sites, history and cookies. I even started writing this post on my XP machine, and then continued it on my Vista machine without having to log in again into my WordPress admin.

In the end this was pretty easy to do. Though the ease of profile transfer could in turn make it easy for someone to steal someone else’s identity – after all, the cookies file (presumably a sqllite db or something similar) was only 256KB, and merely dropping it in the new User Data allowed a complete transfer of identity (perhaps a good security feature would be to allow the \User Data\Default\Cookies file to work only on the originally installed instance).

Google Chrome – Likes and Dislikes

I just downloaded Google Chrome and am going to try using it for some of my day-to-day web browsing over the next few days. Here are my initial reactions:

Likes

  • Fast. Very fast, and small memory footprint.
  • Each tab is a different process. This will make it very easy to any single tab that is using lots of memory, without having to close the browser (unlike in FF).
  • Tab positioning over the address bar (as oppossed to underneath in FF) seems more natural.
  • No header or footer bars. Do we really need to waste vertical screen space just to tell me the name of the program and reserve space for status messages? Nope. Here there is no header bar (functions like close/minimize are squeezed to the right side of the tab area), and status messages and urls in links appear in a temporary popup box fixed to the bottom left corner of the browser window, when necessary. Seems like a very good use of screen space.
  • Address bar has the domain name of the site appear in regular type, with the rest of the url appearing in a lighter type. It highlights the domain, which very quickly highlights where you are.
  • Real warnings for potentially problematic domains. In IE and FF, you just get a small red box in your address bar. In Chrome, when you go to a page that is potentially troublesome (example: loads resources from a domain associated with malware) you have to go through a confirmation screen before loading the site. Seems like a much better way of implementing this than the halfway solution in IE and FF that everyone will tend to ignore.
  • Useful built-in developer extensions (View Source, Debug Javascript, Javascript Console, Task Manager).
  • In-page search is slick and improves on FF’s implementation. You now see all occurences of the search term highlighted on the page at once, while maintaining the ability to enumerate through the bunch.

Dislikes

  • Non-existent bookmarking. I like my delicious add-on and bookmarks toolbar in Firefox as well as my different bookmarklets (Note in Google Reader, delicious, Seed Newsvine). It gives me easy access to the pages that I use frequently (I know that they are stored in the Chrome history, but often just clicking on my bookmark link is more efficient than going to remember the title or url, typing it into the address bar and sorting through the results to find the one that I want). I take it back. Ctrl-B attaches a bookmark bar to the bottom of the address bar. 
  • No page titles. Since there is no header bar, the page title is squeezed into the tab for that browser window, which in almost all cases is too small to see the page title. 
  • Clicking my mouse scroll bar doesn’t bring up the scroll pointer like it does in almost every other application.
  • I like having the search box separated from the address bar like it is in FF. 
  • No FF add-ons. No Firebug, Greasemonkey, Adblock, FireFTP or IE Tab).
  • No built-in support for RSS. I would at least have expected them to include an auto-subscribe to Google Reader.

This is what I can come up with after using Chrome for 3 hours. So I like it better than IE7 (haven’t tried 8 beta yet), though it does not beat out FF3 (yet).

Google Reader Search has Arrived

I switched from Bloglines to Google Reader a while back (along with thousands of others) when they made their big UI switch. Ever since day one, the feature that I (along with others) have been looking forward to most is a search through my subscriptions. After all, Google is primarily a search company, how could they have a product without a good working search (and think of all the lost Adsense revenue)!

Well, the day has come:

Google Reader Search

(I actually read about this in my Google Reader, looked up and had to refresh my page in order to see a search bar. So it was really a fresh feature).

You can now search through your subscriptions, All items, Starred and Shared items, or any of your folders (!). Although one could say that it is about time, just try to think of the engineering nightmare that this feature must have caused. Every time you are adding or changing your subscriptions, you are changing the field of possible search domains. And although the goal is very similar to Co-op (select the domains to which you would like to limit your custom search) you are not searching through webpages, rather through XML-based RSS feeds (in different formats), so it was not as simple as just copying the same old search engine and results. (I am assuming that the search is going through the RSS feeds, and is not indexing the pages themselves. If this is indeed the case, it is one more point in favor of full feeds instead of partial feeds).

Thanks for the feature and good work!

Low Usage Numbers Not so Alarming for Google

Techcrunch is reporting on the low usage numbers Google products (specifically their Google Talk IM program) have compared to some of their competitors. Here are some more numbers regarding Google and their competition, from the NY Times. Though Michael notes that the scores given do not include usage of the program through the embedded client-software in Gmail, the numbers are still pretty shabby. He recommends that Google “roll some heads and figure out a real product strategy.”

While “rolling some heads” every once in a while is not such a bad idea, I do not think that the Google product line is in as much danger as one might think. The New York Times story referenced earlier (In the Race With Google, It�s Consistency vs. �Wow�) hints at the reason: Although Google might be losing the footrace in terms of numbers when it comes to news, email and IM, they are making up for it in terms of quality and most importantly, the “Wow” factor. They use the type of technology that the techies and Slashdot crowd like (compare Google Finance with Yahoo Finance to see what I mean), and this most-important sector of the market is the ones who are driving tomorrows technology trends. Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL have had years to build up huge subscriber bases with Email and IM, so it is understandable that Google has a long way to go. However, their growth is stagnating and their products are not so attractive compared to what Google (and other similar companies) have to offer. Put it this way: whenever I hear from a friend or acquaintance that they set up a new email account for personal use, 99% of the time it is a gmail account. That is why these numbers don’t really seem to me to be such bad news for Google int he long-term. They do not capture the overall market trend, especially among the market-movers.