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I'm Daniel Russell, and I'm responsible for “user happiness” on Google's Search Quality team. My team conducts user experience research to try and get the inside story on what people do when they search. We're constantly asking: What works and doesn't work for them? What are they looking for? What DO they want?

To understand the full richness and variety of what people do when searching on Google, we spend many hours in the field, observing as people search. We hear it when they're happy, and when they're terribly frustrated. And perhaps most importantly, we also pay attention to the things they don't say -- the inexpressible "gotchas" that get in the way of their search.

One of the ways I do this kind of work is to teach classes on Internet search skills. I’ve found that while everyone can use Google, some seem to be better at it than others. I try to capture those skills and pass them along to classrooms of students, teachers and librarians. I throughly enjoy showing folks how to search more effectively, and learning new tricks and ideas along the way from them!

I’ll be posting here over the next several weeks with tips and techniques that will let you use Google more efficiently and reflect a bit on the way search changes the way we research, study, write and think.

To start, it’s worth knowing that we’ve made a bunch of recent changes in the way you can search images, and I’d like to show you a couple examples.

Understanding a name: In today’s world, you sometimes only “meet” people virtually. If someone has a name that’s not common in your culture, you may not know if they’re male or female. Here’s a trick: just look for the name in Google Images, like [Nikhil], and you should get a pretty good idea. Here are a few other name queries you might try: [Xiaomei], [Aislan], or one that I had to look up, [Pelin].

It's simple enough, but if you haven't seen this kind of trick before, it's well worth knowing. And as these examples point out, what the image search results show you is a sampling of the possibilities, not a definitive answer.

Finding a book by its cover color: If you’re a visual type, you may find it easier to find a book by its color rather than its exact title. Suppose you want to find a book about Rosa Parks. You don't remember the title, just that it had a green cover. Try searching for [Rosa Parks book] in Google Images - adding the word "book" to the query will limit the searches to images related just to books.

Then, using the color filter tool in the left-hand panel, you can select the green filter and find only books about Rosa Parks that have a green color. Voila! You've found your green-covered book about Rosa Parks.

You can experiment with any query, even those that don’t obviously seem to have a visual component. Give it a try, and check back later for other tips!

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(Cross-posted on the Google Mobile Blog)

As part of our effort to evolve the Google design and experience, we’ve improved the www.google.com search experience on tablets. We’ve simplified the layout of search results pages and increased the size of page contents like text, buttons and other touch targets to make it faster and easier to browse and interact with search results in portrait or landscape view.

The search button located below the search box provides quick access to specific types of results like Images, Videos, Places, Shopping and more. Just tap to open the search menu and select an option to see results in one category.




For image results, we focused on improvements that enhance the viewing experience such as enlarged image previews, continuous scroll, and faster loading of image thumbnails.




This improved search experience is rolling out in the coming days to iPad and Android 3.1+ tablets across 36 languages. Give it a try by going to www.google.com in your tablet’s browser.

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Finding the right hotel can make or break your vacation, so with this in mind, we’re introducing Hotel Finder, a new experimental search tool specifically designed to help you find that perfect hotel. Google Hotel Finder makes it easy to narrow down the options:
  • Figure out where to stay: To help you figure out where the action is, Hotel Finder shines a "tourist spotlight" on the most visited areas of U.S. cities. We select an initial shape for you based on what’s most popular or you can draw a shape around the area where you want to stay, e.g. on the ocean or along Sunset Boulevard.
  • Get a good deal: In the “Compared to typical” section, you can see how each hotel’s price compares to its historical average, so you can tell if it’s good value for your stay.
  • Compare fast: You no longer need to open a new browser tab for each hotel result, and then go hunting around for pictures. When you select a hotel in Hotel Finder, we show you a collage of images, Google Places reviews, and key information right within the list. You can even use keyboard shortcuts (“J” and “K”) to flip through the results quickly, just like in Google Reader and News.
  • Keep a shortlist: As you flip through the results, add the hotels you like to a shortlist to easily keep track of the ones that interest you.

When you’re ready to book a hotel, you’ll find a selection of booking options from a range of available partners or directly from the hotel.

Since this tool is an early experiment, it’s currently only available for locations in the U.S. If you’re planning a trip in the U.S. anytime soon, be sure to give Hotel Finder a spin -- and let us know what you think through the “Send Feedback” link right at the top. You can try Hotel Finder by visiting www.google.com/hotelfinder/.

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It can be difficult keeping track of the dates of national holidays when it’s hard enough to remember special anniversaries and loved ones’ birthdays. Starting today, for certain searches where you’re looking for the date of a particular holiday or celebration, you’ll be able to quickly find out the answer right on your search results page, whether it’s Labor Day or National Popcorn Day.


This currently works for certain future and past national and religious holidays, internationally recognized days such as World AIDS Day, and designated days to celebrate fun things like popcorn and cookies in the U.S.

Speaking of which, it’s time to start looking for great cheesecake recipes, as National Cheesecake Day is just around the corner!

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(Cross-posted on the Lat Long Blog)

With the fourth major storm of the 2011 Pacific Hurricane season, Category 5 Hurricane Dora, churning off of Mexico’s Pacific coast, it’s looking like 2011 will be an active year for tropical storms. Today we’d like to introduce some new tools for tracking tropical storms across Google products.

The first new way to get information about current tropical storms is on Google Search, where you can enter “hurricane” (or related terms such as “tropical storm”) and get the latest Atlantic and Pacific tropical storm information courtesy of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. From the list of results associated with Hurricane Center, you’ll find the storm name, the storm type, latest speed and storm direction. Clicking the “Details” link will take you directly to the National Hurricane Center’s page for a specific storm.


You can also keep track of the current tropical storms through Google Earth, where we’ve made tropical storms part of the “default-on” Earth experience (just make sure “Places” is checked in the left Layers panel).

In addition to presenting National Hurricane Center storm data for the the Atlantic and Pacific, we’re also displaying tropical storm information (typhoons, cyclones, etc.) for several other storm-prone water bodies, such as the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea with data courtesy of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Hurricane Dora in Google Earth

In Google Earth, you’ll find information on a storm’s intensity, heading, as well as the latest news and advisory information. Where available, we also provide links to download the historical and forecasted storm positions as a KML file. Be sure to turn on the “Clouds” layer under the “Weather” menu in the left Layers panel to visualize the magnitude of each storm.

The latest storm information for Hurricane Dora in Google Earth.

Historical and forecasted storm positions for Hurricane Dora in Google Earth.

We hope these new hurricane tracking tools will keep you informed about the latest storms in your area and around the world.

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Last month, we announced Search by Image, which allows you to search using a picture instead of typing in words. Today, we’re giving you a look under the hood at how Search by Image uses computer vision technology to analyze your image, determine what it is, and return relevant results to you.

Computer vision technology is an active area of computer science research because it’s difficult for a computer to match a person’s ability to see and understand. Search by Image uses computer vision techniques to “see” what is in the image. Computer vision technology doesn’t look at the image filename or where the image came from -- rather, it looks at the content of the image itself to determine what that image is.

When you upload an image to Search by Image, the algorithms analyze the content of the image and break it down into smaller pieces called “features”. These features try to capture specific, distinct characteristics of the image - like textures, colors, and shapes. Features and their geometric configuration represent the computer’s understanding of what the image looks like.

These features are then sent to our backend servers and compared against the billions of images in our index to see if a good match exists. When the algorithm is very confident that it’s found a matching image, you’ll see a “best guess” of what your image is on the results page. Whether or not we have a best guess, you’ll also see results for images that are visually similar -- though they may not be related to your original image.

Check out this video below for an animated look at how Search by Image works.


Because our algorithm sees the world through the “features” that are extracted from images, those define what it can “see” well and what it can’t. We’re more likely to find a good match if your image query has a unique appearance, so landmarks like the Eiffel Tower work really well. Other things that lack distinctive features or a consistent shape, like a crumpled blanket or a puppy, don’t result in confident matches, but will return images which are visually similar in appearance. You can refine your results in those cases by giving the algorithm a hint. Add a word or two into the search box that describes the image, and the results may display better “Similar Images” results.

The results page summarizes a variety of information that we can match for your query image, including our best guess for the image, related web results, and images that are visually similar to the one you’ve uploaded.


To try out Search by Image go to images.google.com and click the camera icon, or download the extension for Chrome or Firefox.

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Back in April, we introduced Google Images with date annotations, a change that added dates on image thumbnails to help you see which images are most recent. Now, you can use the new date filter in the left-hand set of tools to narrow your search to just images from the previous week.

For example, if you search for [space shuttle], you'll see images for shuttle launches throughout the years. If you want to see just recent images, like ones of Atlantis, the most recent NASA shuttle to launch, you can click "Past week" in the left-hand panel of tools to see images from the last seven days.



To find other recent images, try searches for [women’s world cup], [mlb all star game] or [harry potter premiere].

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In April, we released Google Toolbar 7 for Internet Explorer with the ability for you to opt-in to Toolbar Instant. Since then we’ve been working to improve its speed and reliability, and starting today we’ll be gradually updating all Google Toolbars on Internet Explorer and turning on Toolbar Instant everywhere that Google Instant is available.


With Toolbar Instant, you can see search results as you type from the comfort of your browser without having to go to google.com. If you’re already a Google Toolbar user, you’ll start seeing Toolbar Instant search results over the next couple weeks.

You can install the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer at http://google.com/toolbar and adjust your Instant settings by clicking the Toolbar wrench icon. Toolbar Instant is available on IE8 and IE9; if you’re on an older browser, you can upgrade your Internet Explorer version.

Learn more about using Toolbar Instant and other new features of Toolbar in our help center, including how to enable or disable Instant.