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(Cross-posted on the Google LatLong Blog)

Searches can become stories. Some are inspiring, some change the way we see the world, and some just put a smile on our face. Today we continue our series of posts about people who have used Google to discover or do something extraordinary. Have a story? Share it. - Ed.

I’ve surfed all my life. And every summer I spend a couple weeks with my family on a small island called Hornby just east of Vancouver Island. I always think that area would be paradise if only it had great surf. It turns out it does... And with the help of Google Maps and Search, local pro surfer Sepp Bruhwiler is well on his way to finding that perfect wave that breaks somewhere off Vancouver's west coast.

 

Vancouver Island has a large, beautiful coastline. Before Google, local fishermen would tell Sepp about these enormous waves they found along some remote part of the coast. Sepp would run down to the dock, hop in a boat, and try his luck tracking down those elusive "breaks". It was an imprecise science with mixed results.

Sepp’s quest then led him to pull up the satellite layer in Google Maps, where he scanned the coastline near his hometown of Tofino. What, exactly, was he was searching for? That tell-tale image of a line of curling white swells -- waves.

Just like Google Maps lets you zoom in to explore your city, your street and your house, that same viewing experience extends to Canada's rugged coastlines. As Sepp put it, "we navigated the entire coastline by dragging my finger across my phone." When he found what he was looking for, he zoomed in and put a virtual pin in the location of the waves. Sepp and his surfing pro friends then pulled up the weather conditions and a swell report from nearby buoys on Google Search. And, just like that, it was on!

They found great waves that had possibly never been ridden before. In the words of Sepp’s friend, Pete Devries: "To go to a spot that few people have surfed ever before, that's been breaking for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, keeps you wondering what else is out there and what else we could possibly find."

I’m inspired. Next summer when I head up north, I plan to bring my surfboard, a smartphone, and a really warm wetsuit. I can’t wait to join Sepp in the never ending search for great new waves.

Surf on...

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In addition to some recent changes to the look and feel of search, today we’re making it even easier to see Instant Previews of your search results. Sometimes you’re searching for a page with a specific type of visual - like a seating chart when you want to buy baseball tickets - but can’t tell from the results page which one will have exactly what you’re looking for. Or you’ve already seen a specific page and would recognize it in an instant if you saw it again. You can now quickly glance at a preview of the page without having to click and see if it’s the page you want.

Instant Previews have been around since last year, allowing you to click on the magnifying glass to the right of the result to see a visual overview of a page. Now these previews are no longer even a click away: if you move your mouse over a search result, arrows will appear. Hover over them to see a visual preview of that result.


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Searches can become stories. Some are inspiring, some change the way we see the world, and some just put a smile on our face. This is the first in a series of posts about people who have used Google to discover or do something extraordinary. Have a story? Share it. - Ed.

Discovering stories about amazing people who use our products to do interesting (and often entertaining) things is one of the best parts of working on search at Google. Sometimes what people find changes their lives - and sometimes it changes their community or the world. It’s always fun to hear these stories, so we decided to share a few of our favorites with you.

Up first: Dave Strenski, whose curiosity about solar energy has driven the transformation of a small Michigan town. Dave is an engineer in Ypsilanti, near Detroit, who didn’t know a thing about solar technology six years ago. What began as a search for solar grants, turned into a search for ways to help his hometown turn increasingly solar and become the place to come for solar information. Now, Ypsilanti is a model for other communities and Dave has become a “solar guru.”


Dave began searching online when the manager of the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative expressed interest in putting solar panels on the roof of her store. Dave quickly found that all the information he needed was already on the Internet: grants available for solar installations, how to design a system, where to buy panels and the best way to put it all together.

As soon as they won their first grant, volunteers and friends rallied to help, and four solar panels were quickly mounted on the Coop’s roof. Since then, Dave has designed installations for Ypsilanti’s City Hall, River Street Bakery and the Adams School. To help monitor the economic impact of these installations, Dave and his volunteers invented an open-sourced program to track and visualize energy patterns.

Dave also began giving talks to educate the public on how solar power works, how it compares to other energy sources, metering, and the importance of efficiency. At every talk, he would be asked questions about topics he hadn’t yet explored. He would note them, go back to find the answers online, and be more knowledgeable for his next presentation.

When Dave began searching for all topics solar, the content he needed was spread across various sites. He has since collated and shared much of this information on SolarYpsi.com - creating a single source for others to discover and use. His wildest dream is to have a hundred locations in Ypsilanti running on solar power - all connected to SolarYpsi where their energy consumption is visualized in real-time. Because of Dave’s curiosity and determination to help his town, a snowy, cloudy corner of Michigan is becoming a solar destination.

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(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

Time to sharpen those pencils: now that the back-to-school season is winding down and students are back at their desks, we thought we’d take a look at some popular searches from the last few weeks. Students across the U.S. are hitting the books—although, as we found, not all their back-to-school searches are academically inclined. Overall, search interest in [back to school] is up about 10 percent from last year.


After a three-month hiatus, everyone wants to make a great impression on the first day of school. Searches related to starting fresh—like [kids shoes], [kids haircuts] and [healthy school lunches]—jump during the back-to-school season. People are also eager to sport just the right look—searches for [first day of school outfit] have increased 20 percent since the 2010 season. A well-stocked locker is also top of mind for many at the start of the school year. Search interest for back-to-school staples like pencils, notebooks and backpacks routinely peaks during the season, as kids compare colors, styles and designs online. But tech-savvy students are seeking new essentials for the classroom. Searches for [tablet] exceeded searches for [backpack] for the first time in a July-September period. And with [etextbook] searches up 50 percent from September 2010, look for ereaders to slip into more backpacks in the future.


Crossing items off the back-to-school list is rewarding, but it’s a lot more satisfying when there’s a bargain involved. This year is no exception with shoppers scanning for deals before heading to stores. Searches for [back to school coupons] and [back to school sales] increased 10 and 25 percent, and searches for [printable coupons] jumped 45 percent from last year’s season.


College-bound freshmen seem to be looking for ways to take charge of their finances. Searches for [bank account] and [open bank account] peak in August, and were up about 20 percent from last year’s back-to-school season. Searches for [student credit card] are also highest during this time of year, along with searches for the means to pay a credit card bill: [campus jobs]. In recent years, securing a steady source of income has trumped on-the-spot spending. While searches for [student credit card] have decreased 30 percent since 2004, searches for [campus jobs] have steadily increased, up 50 percent in the same period.


Finally, we’ll leave you with a few back-to-school essentials that might not have made your list. To avoid using the modern version of the old “my dog ate my homework” excuse, protect your computer with a [laptop lock]—searches regularly spike in in August. If you’ve been thinking about picking up an instrument, now’s the time to jump on the bandwagon (pun intended), as searches for [flute], [cello], [violin] and [clarinet] jump every September. And for your mother’s sake (and your roommate’s), find a good [laundry service] on campus. Search interest peaks in September, though the clothes-washing learning curve lasts the entire year.


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We’re happy to let you sports fans out there know that today you’ll start seeing more baseball information on google.com, in addition to the sports information we’ve started providing recently with NFL live results and baseball information from ESPN.

From now on, when you get results for MLB.com, you will see the latest scores, schedules and team standings. There will also be direct links to game previews, live updates, recaps and box scores on MLB.com, making it easier for you to get to more baseball information.


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We've previously introduced rich snippets for reviews, video, events, and most recently music, to help people determine more quickly if a particular webpage has the information they're interested in.

Before you install a software application, you may want to check out what others think about it and how much it costs. Starting today, you’ll be able to get information about the applications, including review and price information, right in your search results.

Here's an example of what the snippets look like:


You can see application snippets from several marketplaces and review sites, including Android Market, Apple iTunes, and CNET. If you’re a webmaster and would like more information about how to add the application rich snippets markup to your site, please refer to our Help Center article and send any questions to our discussion forum.

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In March, we introduced the option for you to block sites from your search results that you might not find useful. Sometimes you’ll click on a result, find that it’s not what you wanted, and head right back to the search results page. It could be that the result wasn’t quite right for your query, but other times you may be generally dissatisfied with a particular site appearing in your search results. Starting today, you can now block sites on most Google domains.

 
If you’re searching on google.fr and come back to the results page after viewing Matt’s blog, you’ll see an option to block this site. 

You can manage your list of blocked sites from the dashboard, which can be found in your Search Settings. You’ll see when you blocked a site and the reason that you did so, and you can unblock sites if you choose.

The German version of the Blocked Sites dashboard

We’re happy to be helping users all over the world to take control of their search experience and personalize their results in this manner. We’ve also started incorporating data about sites people have blocked into our general search ranking algorithms to help users find more high quality sites. In the future, we may experiment with data from non-US users’ blocked sites. As always, we look forward to your suggestions on how to continue improving your search experience.

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Just over five months ago, we welcomed ITA Software to the Google family. Since then, our engineering teams have been working closely together to build new travel tools that provide faster, more flexible, and more useful results to online travel searches. We wanted to give you an early look at some of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.

Starting today, when you search for flight information on Google, for example “flights from Chicago to Denver,” you will see a “Flights” link in the left-hand panel. This link leads to our new Flight Search feature, and is offered in addition to the flight schedules which have been available since May. You can also access the Flight Search feature directly at google.com/flights.


With this first step in flight search that combines ITA’s expertise with Google’s technology, you will be able to:
  • Get super-fast results. Speed is critical to all the things we love on the web, and travel planning should be no exception. Making changes to dates, destinations, and filters should be as fast as we hope you’ve come to expect from Google. 
  • See a simple list of the most relevant flights. Flight Search shows you an easy-to-scan list to help you get to your destination quickly and inexpensively. 
  • Figure out when to travel. Quickly see which travel dates are least expensive by dragging the date selector forward or backward, or check out the bar chart to compare lots of dates at once. 
  • Consider your destination options. Flight Search helps you explore possible destinations, letting you filter them by airline, flight time and price. For example, you can use the map and filters to see where you can go from San Francisco within 3 hours for less than $300. 
Flights are chosen primarily based on cost and total travel time, while covering a variety of departure times and airlines. We automatically set the filters to focus on options which are reasonable in both price and duration, and you can always adjust the filters to show even more flights.

The selection of flight results is not influenced by any paid relationships. Airlines control how their flights are marketed, so as with other flight search providers, our booking links point to airline websites only. We're working to create additional opportunities for our other partners in the travel industry to participate as well.

This is just an early look: the takeoff, not the final destination! You may notice that at the moment we include a limited number of U.S. cities and show results for round-trip economy-class flights only. We’re working hard to improve this feature and look forward to sharing more updates.

Don’t worry if you don’t see the Flight Search feature -- we’re rolling it out over the course of the day. To learn more, check out this video:



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Today, iGoogle jumped on the design refresh bandwagon and rolled out a sleek and simple new interface. We hope these changes will enhance your experience when navigating through iGoogle.

In addition to the visible design changes like new colors and spacing, we’ve made some changes to functionality to showcase the content that really matters to you: we’ve hidden buttons and navigation links until they're actually needed. Now you can collapse the left panel to give yourself room for more gadgets, or pop it back out when you want to chat with a friend.


For those of you using Google Chrome, you can now search simply by speaking out loud, right from your iGoogle homepage. Just click the microphone icon to get started.

We hope you enjoy the first in a series of updates to iGoogle that are on their way in the coming months. If you have any feedback on the new design, please let us know by filling out this form or joining us in the Web Search Forum.