Ever since we assembled a 1.6 MW solar panel installation at our headquarters in Mountain View in 2007, we've been wondering, "Does cleaning the solar panels make them more effective?" We thought it might, but we needed to be sure. So we analyzed the mountains of data that we collect about the energy that these panels produce — after rain, after cleaning and at different times of the year.

We have two different sets of solar panels on our campus — completely flat ones installed on carports, and rooftop ones that are tilted.

Since the carport solar panels have no tilt, rain doesn't do a good job of rinsing off the dirt they collect. (Also, our carports are situated across from a sand field, which doesn't help the situation.) We cleaned these panels for the first time after they had been in operation for 15 months, and their energy output doubled overnight. When we cleaned them again eight months later, their output instantly increased by 36 percent. In fact, we found that cleaning these panels is the #1 way to maximize the energy they produce. As a result, we've added the carport solar panels to our spring cleaning checklist.

The rooftop solar panels are a different story. Our data indicates that rain does a sufficient job of cleaning the tilted solar panels. Some dirt does accumulate in the corners, but the resulting reduction in energy output is fairly small — and cleaning tilted panels does not significantly increase their energy production. So for now, we'll let Mother Nature take care of cleaning our rooftop panels.

Accumulated dirt in the corners of a rooftop solar panel

We've also been crunching numbers on dollars-and-cents; the more energy our panels produce, the sooner we'll be paid back by our solar investment. Our analysis now predicts that Google's system will pay for itself in about six and a half years, which is even better than we initially expected.

If you want to learn more about our solar study, check out these slides showing the effects that seasonality, tilt, dirt, particulate matter, rain and cleaning have on Google's solar energy output. We hope you solar panel owners out there can tailor our analysis to the specifics of your own installation to produce some extra energy of your own!

A few months ago when we announced the Search Options panel, we promised that you would soon see similar functionality across our other search properties. Today we are rolling out Search Options for Google Images.

This new feature offers quick access to existing tools, including search by color and image type. Color search will find images that are only in color or only in black and white, or even images that contain a specific color, such as red, pink, or green. Type search is a great way to narrow down your results if you are looking for a specific kind of image, such as a photo, clip art, line drawing or face.

We've also revamped our size search. In addition to choosing from commonly searched-for sizes, now you can search for an exact image size or any image larger than a certain size. You can find images of practically any size, including 70 megapixels or more.

The new layout makes it faster and easier to combine and toggle between options. It also makes it easier for us to add additional image search options in the future, so keep your eyes peeled. Just click "Show options..." in the blue bar on the search results page to try out any of these tools.

(Cross-posted from the YouTube Biz Blog)

Last week the world watched in wonder as Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz's wedding party transformed a familiar and predictable tradition into something spontaneous and just flat-out fun. The video, set to R&B star Chris Brown's hypnotic dance jam "Forever," became an overnight sensation, accumulating more than 10 million views on YouTube in less than one week. But as with all great YouTube videos, there's more to this story than simple view counts.

At YouTube, we have sophisticated content management tools in place to help rights holders control their content on our site. The rights holders for "Forever" used these tools to claim and monetize the song, as well as to start running Click-to-Buy links over the video, giving viewers the opportunity to purchase the music track on Amazon and iTunes. As a result, the rights holders were able to capitalize on the massive wave of popularity generated by "JK Wedding Entrance Dance" — in the last week, searches for "Chris Brown Forever" on YouTube have skyrocketed, making it one of the most popular queries on the site:

This traffic is also very engaged — the click-through rate (CTR) on the "JK Wedding Entrance" video is 2x the average of other Click-to-Buy overlays on the site. And this newfound interest in downloading "Forever" goes beyond the viral video itself: "JK Wedding Entrance" also appears to have influenced the official "Forever" music video, which saw its Click-to-Buy CTR increase by 2.5x in the last week.

So, what does all of this mean? Despite compelling data and studies around consumer purchasing habits, many still question the promotional and bottom-line business value sites like YouTube provide artists. But in the last week, over a year after its release, Chris Brown's "Forever" has again rocketed up the charts, reaching as high as #4 on the iTunes singles chart and #3 on Amazon's best selling MP3 list. We've seen similar successes in the past with partners like Monty Python.

One of our main goals at YouTube is to help content creators effectively make money from the distribution of their content online. That they can do so in a way that brings artists and our community together to create fun, spontaneous and inspiring works, is one of the best and most exciting things about YouTube.

Which infamous book thief got caught stealing from the Chicago Public Library and was later acquitted on grounds of insanity? How many European cities are mentioned in Karen Fowler's "The Jane Austen Book Club?" And can you figure out what curious objects Dorothy is picking from a tree in this illustration from Frank Baum's "Ozma of Oz?"

Stumped? Find the answers to these and other fun questions in the 10 Days in Google Books game. Each day, we'll ask you five trivia questions on a different theme. Search Google Books to find the answers with hints to help you along the way. After you answer each day's questions, you can enter a contest to win a Sony Reader. If you enjoy the game, come back the next day for another set of questions — and another chance to win.

For official rules, including prize descriptions, visit (Please note: Some books may not be available in full view to those outside the United States.) The first 20,000 people to play the game will also receive commemorative Google Books laptop stickers. So all you bookworms out there, start playing now!

This year we held the second Google Online Marketing Challenge — a global university competition, launched last year, that gives undergraduate and post-graduate students hands-on exposure to online marketing. Working with their professors, teams receive the equivalent of US$200 to spend on Google AdWords advertising, then work with a local business to devise an effective online marketing campaign. Teams are given three weeks to mastermind the strategy before submitting a campaign report to an international judging panel of professors.

This year's Challenge was bigger and better in every way — more teams, more students, more universities and a significant improvement in the quality of campaigns and reports. We're thrilled to report that 2,187 teams took part from across 57 countries, representing a 36% increase in participation from last year. The Challenge continues to develop as one of the world’s biggest university competitions.

We're excited today to announce the results. Our global winners come from Deakin University, Australia and were taught by Chia Yao Lee and Bardo Fraunholz. The team of Andrew Kidd, Richard Blakely, Kevin Fung, Clinton Hinze, Katalin Kish and Howard Lien worked with a local kids play center,, to create a well-crafted campaign that highly impressed our judges.

Clockwise from top left: Richard Blakely, Chia Yao Lee (professor), Katalin Kish, Kevin Fung, Bardo Fraunholz (professor), Howard Lien, Andrew Kidd, Fiona and Mike (from Little Tigrrs), Clinton Hinze and Mick, The Big Hearted Tiger

Team spokesman Andrew Kidd gave us some insight into their winning campaign:
"After discussions with the business owners, we decided we needed to conduct three separate campaigns. One would promote the play center to customers outside a 10 kilometre geographic radius, another would attract more mothers' groups to the center, and the third one would attract more party and group event bookings. Visitors to their website more than doubled compared with the same period last year. We knew we had developed a strong campaign — but to win the global competition is outstanding."
The team and their professor are off to Mountain View, California for a tour of the Googleplex. To help in their ongoing studies, each team member will also receive an Apple MacBook Pro.

There were also three regional winners: for the Americas, the winning team comes from James Madison University in the U.S., while a team from the Warsaw School of Economics in Poland won for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In the Asia Pacific region, the winners come from the International College of Management in Sydney, Australia. Here are more details about our winners.

We developed the Challenge to benefit everyone involved. We're delighted that thousands of small businesses around the world have seen their online presence improved in just three weeks. Professors tell us that the Challenge has allowed them to deliver a unique, practical teaching and learning exercise. For those students that took part, we hope they have developed some useful online marketing skills which they can use when they graduate and enter the workforce.

For anyone interested in competing in the 2010 Challenge, formal registrations will open later this year, but in the meantime you can register your interest.

Earlier this year we announced Google Latitude, a service that lets you and your friends share your locations with each other. You control who gets to see your location and where on the map you appear to others. Today, we're releasing Google Latitude for iPhone and iPod touch, available in the Safari browser.

Visit from your device to start using Latitude. Add a bookmark to your home screen to quickly launch Latitude. Just open Latitude in Safari and tap the + icon > Add to Home Screen > Add. For more details, check out the Google Mobile Blog.

We have always been excited to introduce design flair and whimsy to our user experience, especially on our homepage. Be it through our special holiday logos or special themes for our iGoogle users, we like to open up our homepage as a canvas for artists to express themselves and reach their fans and Google users around the world. Today, I'm particularly excited to announce the new comics themes for iGoogle, just in time for Comic-Con's 40th anniversary.

The themes showcase the amazingly diverse world of comics. Browse our gallery ( to choose from nostalgic comic strips like Peanuts, iconic heroes like Batman and Iron Man, or alternative comics greats like Dan Clowes, author of the graphic novel, "Ghost World." The dozens of themes represent talented artists from around the world including Rumiko Takahashi from Japan and Lewis Trondheim of France.

To offer his unique perspective as one of the world's most accomplished comics artists, I'm pleased to introduce guest author Jim Lee. In addition to being a recognized industry veteran, he also drew today's beautiful homepage logo incorporating some of DC Comics' most famous characters.

During his 20 year career, Jim has worked with DC and Marvel Comics, co-founded Image Comics and also WildStorm Comics – one of our iGoogle themes. His Batman, Superman, X-Men, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and WildC.A.T.s issues have sold millions of copies. Jim is a recipient of the Harvey Award, Golden Panel Award and is widely respected for his contributions as an artist, a creator and a publisher of comics.

An artist's POV by Jim Lee

Even as the world of comics evolves and embraces a new digital era, it doesn't change the universal, international appeal of the unique art form that is created through the simple marriage of word and picture. I'm excited to have been chosen to help launch this wonderful project. But I'm more elated, both as a professional and as a fan, that so many different types of comics have been chosen to be part of the iGoogle comics themes launch. From the mainstream superhero world of DC that I work in to the mainstays of the newspaper funnies from my childhood, to the Tokyopop manga titles I collect with my teenage daughters to the esoteric and more literary works of Dan Clowes and Gene Yang, two of my favorites; I think the breadth of choices available demonstrates the amazing diversity and the fundamental vitality of the stories comics can tell.

(This is the second of a series of posts from YouTube's news and politics blog, Citizentube. -Ed.)

Activism today isn't limited to picket lines and marches on the Mall — people have taken their movements to the web, and YouTube has become an important platform for exposure. Every day, people use YouTube to fight for causes, whether they're hunger-striking celebrities like Mia Farrow, or 9-year-olds trying to save the neighborhood kickball lot from destruction. On Citizentube, our YouTube blog that chronicles the way people use video to change the world, we've seen digital activists use YouTube in three basic ways: to shine a light on issues that need more exposure, to drive action around causes they care about, and to create connections between people and organizations that share their desire to make a difference.

Some of the most compelling videos we see are those that spotlight important issues that aren't being covered in the mainstream media. Witness, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to document human rights abuses around the world through video, offers an excellent example — this video from their YouTube channel chronicles the clashes between the Burmese military and rural ethnic minorities., a relative newcomer to YouTube, is taking a similar approach by tackling a more domestic issue: homelessness. This summer, the group is traveling across America to document the real, unedited stories of people living on the streets, in tent communes and in cars — and posting all of the footage to their YouTube channel. And of course we've seen protesters in Iran, China and elsewhere use YouTube to amplify their causes far beyond national borders.

Other individuals and nonprofits are using YouTube as a direct advocacy tool, experimenting with ways to drive action from their videos to a particular cause. And we're building new products to make it even easier for them to do this effectively. For example, in March, we launched a tool called "Call to Action," which allows nonprofit organizations to drive traffic from an in-video overlay to an off-site page where they can collect donations, signatures or email addresses. Shortly after launch, to commemorate World Water Day, we featured a video from charity:water on the YouTube homepage that used a call-to-action overlay to encourage YouTube users to donate money to build wells and provide clean, safe drinking water for those who don't have it. Through YouTube, charity:water was able to raise over $10,000 in one day — enough to build two brand-new wells in the Central African Republic and give over 150 people clean drinking water for 20 years.

Yet some of the most innovative uses of YouTube for digital activism are those that leverage the communities that exist on YouTube around particular causes. YouTube is inherently a social experience and many of our users are hungry to partner and collaborate with others who share their passions. Last December, popular YouTube users the Vlogbrothers launched the "Project for Awesome," a campaign which asked fellow budding change-makers to make videos about their favorite charities. Over 1,200 people joined the effort to promote their cause of choice. And just a few weeks ago, in partnership with President Obama's launch of, we created "Video Volunteers", a new platform on YouTube which connects nonprofits that lack video resources with proven video-makers who want to use their skills to do good. There are already hundreds of posts from nonprofits seeking help on the Video Volunteers YouTube channel, so if you're interested in creating a video for an organization, head over to the channel now and find a cause you care about.

Activism is constantly evolving on YouTube, so we'll keep posting fresh accounts of how citizens and nonprofits are changing the world, one video at a time, on Citizentube.


[From time to time we invite guests to blog about initiatives of interest, and are very pleased to have Anousheh Ansari join us here. – Ed.]

Ever since I was a young girl, it has been a dream of mine to travel into space. In September of 2006, I was fortunate enough to make that dream a reality — I took off from the launch pad in Baikonur bound for the International Space Station and became the world's first private female space tourist. Since then, it's been my mission to help as many people as possible think ambitiously about ways to push the boundaries of exploration, both here on Earth and beyond. As a trustee of the X PRIZE Foundation, and the sponsor of the Ansari X PRIZE, I support Google's goal of opening up space through projects like the Google Lunar X PRIZE, which serve to educate the public about the global benefits of space exploration.

That's why I'm so excited about the release of Moon in Google Earth, which is launching today at the Newseum in Washington D.C. This tool will make it easier for millions of people to learn about space, our moon and some of the most significant and dazzling discoveries humanity has accomplished together. Moon in Google Earth enables you to explore lunar imagery as well as informational content about the Apollo landing sites, panoramic images shot by the Apollo astronauts, narrated tours and much more. I believe that this educational tool is a critical step into the future, a way to both develop the dreams of young people globally, and inspire new audacious goals.

With Google Earth, young explorers around the world can bounce around the galaxy in Sky, fly to Mars and now visit the moon from wherever they may be. To learn more watch the video below or visit the Lat Long Blog. Finally, outer space doesn't seem so far away anymore.

Do you have medical records gathering dust in a pile somewhere? As a doctor and nurse on the Google Health team, we've both had a lot of experience working directly in the healthcare system, with all the bills, insurance forms and other paper documents that come with it. We know from firsthand experience how burdensome all of these documents can be and we would like to reduce the unnecessary use of paper in patient care. As a step in that direction, Google Health recently added a feature which allows patients to upload scanned paper documents to their Google Health profile for safe storage and easy sharing.

One of the most important documents you may want to store and share in Google Health is an "advance directive." An advance directive allows you to determine your end-of-life wishes so that your family and doctor can honor them if you get sick and are unable to communicate. The decision to sign an advance directive is an important and personal one, and Google Health now makes it a little bit easier. Google Health is now working with a leading advance directive provider, Caring Connections, that provides a free, downloadable form customized for all 50 states. To complete your form, download it, print it out, complete it, scan it, and upload it to Google Health. Once you've uploaded the signed form, Google Health makes it easy to share it with your caregiver.

We hope someday we'll move beyond paper, but until then Google Health can help you store your paper medical records electronically, including an advance directive, in one safe place.

Have an idea for how to expand high-speed Internet access across the United States? Here's your chance to have your voice heard.

Under the terms of the recent economic stimulus package, the Federal Communications Commission must deliver to Congress a National Broadband Plan by February 2010. Several weeks ago, we laid out Google's vision for how to make broadband Internet available and affordable for every American — and hundreds of others have already submitted comments of their own.

The FCC has called for "maximum civic engagement" in developing a broadband strategy, and we're hoping to help them to achieve just that.

We've teamed up with the New America Foundation to launch a Google Moderator page where you can submit and vote on ideas for what you think the Commission should include in its National Broadband Plan. Two weeks from now we'll take the most popular and most innovative ideas and submit them to the official record at the FCC on your behalf.

Google and the New America Foundation agree that public participation in this process is critical. Expanding access to broadband has the potential to transform communities across the country, spark economic growth, and restore American competitiveness. Now that the Commission has officially opened this proceeding, and with a new Chairman at the helm, we think it's time to give people the opportunity to learn about the issue and to weigh in with their thoughts. And as the process continues to unfold at the FCC, we'll keep you informed of additional ways to share your views and voice your ideas to the agency.

So do you have any good ideas? Submit them today on Google Moderator — and you just might help change the face of broadband in the United States.

We on the Google Maps team are committed to organizing all the local places and businesses that can be found online, from a design shop in New York City, to an architectural bookstore in San Francisco, to a cabaret in London. To show you the range of all this interesting local information, we've teamed up with local experts around the world to share some of their favorite places.

Culinary expert and chef Alice Waters has shared her favorite places for organic and sustainable food in San Francisco and the Bay Area, including places like Blue Bottle Cafe, whose coffee Alice serves at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and Bi-Rite Creamery, where you can find salted caramel ice cream.

Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London, has shared her favorite places to experience art in London, from the Tate Modern for contemporary art to Curzon Soho cinema, where you can catch the latest independent film releases.

Vladimir Spivakov, artistic director and principal conductor of the State chamber orchestra Moscow Virtuosi and the National Philharmonic of Russia, has shared his favorite places to hear and appreciate theater and music in Moscow, from the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied, to the historic Maly Theater, the oldest theater in Moscow.

With this project we also hope to send a friendly message to local businesses — people are looking online for local information, and you should be here. Timothy Childs, Founder and Chief Chocolate Officer of TCHO in San Francisco, shares his perspective on using online tools to build and grow:

"TCHO is all about using appropriate technology, to make high quality chocolate and experiences for our customers. As our start-up moves to early growth stage, we are now using tools like Google Maps and the Local Business Center to reach customers and to continue building our business."

It's estimated that 80% of U.S. Internet users use web search to find restaurants, stores and other local businesses, and yet only about half of local businesses currently have a website. By working with local experts to highlight the power of the web, we're encouraging local business owners to build out their online presence. If you're a business owner looking to get online, have a look at the Google Local Business Center.

To browse the full collection of favorite local businesses and places, visit or from your phone's browser.

Special thanks to all the participants and partners around the world who helped to make this project possible, including United Airlines, NYC & Company, Time Out and Le Figaro.

It’s been an exciting few months since we announced Google Voice. The feedback from early users has been terrific, and the requests for invites have been flowing in. We started sending invites a few weeks ago and will keep sending them daily.

At the same time, we continue to improve the service and address your requests and feedback. Among the most requested features are tools to make placing outgoing calls from your Google Voice number easier. So today, we’re pleased to announce a Google Voice mobile app for Blackberry and Android.

Previously, to place a call using Google Voice, you had to dial your own Google Voice number from your cell phone or use the Quick Call button online. With this new mobile app, you can make calls and send SMS messages with your Google Voice number directly from your mobile phone. The app is fully integrated with each phone’s contacts, so you can call via Google Voice straight from your address book.

From the mobile app, you can:
  • Access your voicemail: read message transcripts, follow along with "karaoke-style" playback of messages, read SMS messages sent to your Google Voice number (even if your phone doesn't receive SMS messages) and access your call history
  • Place calls that display your Google Voice number from your address book, the app dialer (Blackberry) or the native dialer (Android)
  • Send SMS messages that display your Google Voice number
  • Place international calls at low rates
See how it works in the following video:

You can download the app from the Google Voice mobile site at It's also available in Android Market — just search for "Google Voice."

And for those of you who don't have a Blackberry or an Android-powered device, we have a mobile web version of the Google Voice site (accessible by typing into your mobile browser) that allows you to access Google Voice features.

You'll need a Google Voice account to use the mobile application. Currently, Google Voice is only available in the U.S. If you'd like to check it out, request an invite here.

We know that there are millions of sites using Google Friend Connect to build a community around their content and they come in a variety of languages. With site owners and visitors from all over the world, the integration of services like Netlog and orkut and the worldwide adoption of OpenSocial, supporting additional languages has been a priority for the team. Today, we're happy to announce that Friend Connect is now available in 47 new languages.

This means you'll start seeing Friend Connect gadgets in languages such as French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi and Portuguese. Site owners simply set the language of their site and Friend Connect will automatically render the gadgets in that language.

To learn more about this and other recent improvements to Friend Connect, visit our Social Web Blog.

Like lots of you, we've been drawn into Twitter this year. After all, we're all about frequent updates ourselves, and there's lots happening around here that we want to share with you. Of course, we enjoy watching, and contributing to, the tweetstream (we hope you find our tweets useful, too). Because there are many programs and initiatives across the company, we've got a number of active accounts. Here's a list of the current ones. We'll update this list from time to time. - our central account - our take on politics, policy & government* - for Blogger fans Books - Passages, quotes, images and product news* - user tips & updates - user tips for Google Contacts* - news, tips, tricks on our visual image search - latest headlines via Google News - latest headlines via Google News Japan* - from our feed reader team - updates & info on Google Voice* - news & notes from Google's personalized homepage - news of interest to students using Google - Updates on Google mobile apps* - for YouTube fans - en Espanol - solutions for IT and workplace productivity - Google Sites updates* - news & tips from the Toolbar team*

Geo-related - Google SketchUp news - SketchUp's 3D Warehouse - 3D modeling to build your favorite places - Earth & Maps tools for nonprofits & orgs - updates from the Google Earth team* - uses, tips, mashups -Android app for the night sky

Ads-related - for online publishers - looking out for AdWords questions and tech issues - Google Guide for AdWords Help Forum - insights for website effectiveness - re building display ads - info on managing online ads & inventory* - info for publishers from Google network advertisers* - news for auto advertisers* - news for financial services advertisers* - news for media & entertainment advertisers* - news for retail advertisers - news for tech advertisers* - news for travel advertisers* - info on our digital system for more measurable TV advertising* - for U.K. tech advertisers - for U.K. retail advertisers - for advertising agencies* - for German AdWords customers - for German ad agencies - info for Korean-language publishers* - info for Portuguese-language publishers - AdWords news & tips in Russian - Spanish updates from the Inside AdWords blog - for Latin American agencies*

Developer & technical - AdWords API tips* - from our research scientists - Google Webmaster Central - latest updates for Google developer products - Data APIs provide a standard protocol for reading and writing web data - web apps run on Google infrastructure - our initiative for complete import/export of all data - for Google developers in Asia-Pacific* - about using Google Maps embedded in websites - Google's largest annual developer event

Culture, People - notes from our @Google speaker series - the voice of Google recruiters

Country or Region - news from the Google Arabia Blog* - Google activities in Australia & New Zealand - News & info for Brasil* - News & notes from Google Canada* - Google in Germany - News & notes in Korean* - Latin America (en Espanol) - Notes on Google policy issues in Italy - Information in Russian on Google products & services*

Update: Additions indicated by *

Update April 14, 2010: This list is no longer being maintained. Find the most updated list of Google Twitter accounts in our directory.

Posted by Karen Wickre, Google Blog & Twitter Team

Summer has arrived, and that means graduation. Our hearty congratulations to the class of 2009! Now that you've packed up your dorm room and picked up your diploma, what's next? This transitional time between college and "the real world" can be a bit chaotic. Luckily, we have some tools that can help you get organized as you start the next chapter in your life. We're posting tips and tricks for newly graduated students in our summer series, Grad Tips, running on the Google for Students Blog. The series is a few posts in — look for more tips over the next couple of months!

This post is the latest in an ongoing series on how to stay safe online. - Ed.

As the designated tech support person for my immediate family, I'm used to getting calls about issues like browser crashes and confusing websites. But recently my mom called to ask about something she saw online that said Google would pay her thousands of dollars to work from home with no experience required. She didn't buy it, but she did want to ask — is this for real?

My mom was right to be skeptical. In the current economic downturn, a lot of people are looking for ways to make extra money. Unfortunately, some unsavory characters see this trend as an opportunity to trick unsuspecting people with scams and elaborate get-rich-quick schemes. We're seeing disturbing cases in which websites, emails and advertisements claim that you can make large amounts of money from home with very little effort using Google products and services. They're designed to look like they were written by a regular person, just like you, who stumbled across an amazing opportunity to make their monetary dreams come true. What they don't tell you clearly is that Google is not affiliated with these sites and that they may add extra charges to your credit card or misuse your personal information.

To be clear, we are proud to say that many companies and individuals do legitimately make money placing ads on their websites with Google AdSense or participating in programs like the Google Affiliate Network. Creating a successful website is hard work — successful sites earn their money by writing compelling content, developing useful applications and maintaining vibrant user communities. Any claim that you can skip all of that and make just as much money by posting links, using a secret system, or running a kit to generate websites should be treated with a heavy dose of skepticism.

Spammers attempt to reach users by generating hundreds of webpages and sending out a flood of spam emails, sometimes even buying advertisements on reputable websites. Their sites also target other popular Internet companies. They may include family photos pilfered from another site or a picture of a check they supposedly received. Spammers use a wide range of techniques that try to slip past automatic filters to get to you. At Google, we work hard to protect users from these schemes by using a combination of automated and manual tools that remove them from our search index and ad network. However, scams target many companies and appear in various places around the web, so we all need to work cooperatively. Google collaborates with various government and non-governmental consumer protection agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, that are investigating these types of schemes further.

How to identify scams and other schemes

In general, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some pointers on what to look out for:
  • Before you fill out a form or give someone a credit card, do a web search to see what other people are saying about the company and its practices.
  • Be wary of companies that ask for upfront charges for services that Google actually offers for free. Check out our business solutions page before writing a check.
  • Always read the fine print. Watch out for get-rich-quick schemes that charge a very low initial fee before sneaking in large reoccurring charges on your credit card or bank account.
  • Google never guarantees top placement in search results or AdWords — beware of companies that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a special relationship with Google, or advertise a "priority submit" to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or through the Sitemaps program — you can do these tasks yourself at no cost whatsoever.
  • Be wary of anything resembling a pyramid scheme, where you make commissions by recruiting more participants.
  • Some sales pitches use the word "Google" or other trademarks right in their name with targeted phrases like "cash," "pay day," "money," "secrets," "home business," etc. If you can't find it on our list of Google products or on the business solutions page, don't trust it.
  • Look for third party verification. Scammers can easily cut-and-paste images to plaster a site with "as seen on TV," "five-star reviews" and the logos of well-known news channels. Products that have really been recommended by experts and fellow users typically contain links from legitimate news sites and multiple user review sites.
  • Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about making money with Google AdWords as you do for "burn fat at night" diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators. In general, be wary of offers from firms that email you out of the blue. Amazingly, we get these spam emails too:
"I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories..."
  • Google is not running a lottery, and we have not picked your email address to win millions of dollars. Don't give out your bank account details via email in anticipation of a big jackpot.
What you can do
  • If you come across many sites with duplicate content or common templates intended to direct users to the same product or scheme, please let us know with a spam report.
  • If you've been contacted to place suspicious links on your site for money, let us know with the paid link report form. If you have your own website or are in charge of advertising on a site, think carefully before accepting ads or entering into affiliate programs that will lead your users to schemes like those mentioned above.
  • If your site's forums or comment sections have been spammed with fake offers of fabulous financial gain, you may need to take steps to fight comment spam. Spammers will take advantage of any user-generated content sections of your site, and will even generate thousands of fake user profiles to try to slip under the radar.

In recognition of President Obama's visit to Ghana, we've worked with the Ministry of Tourism in that country on a special site detailing his stops at cultural and historical landmarks using Google Earth and Maps. Read all about it on our Google Africa Blog.

Posted by Karen Wickre, Google Blog Team

As an avid traveler, I know how helpful it can be to see a map when searching for a location on Google. Using our Universal Search technology, we have provided maps in our search results for more than two years. However, as any traveler could tell you, knowing the geographical location of a place is only part of the story. It's often just as valuable to get a sense of what the place is like, and there's no better way to do that than by looking at images of some of its most important sights.

Now, when you search for locations using Google Search, you may see pictures from that place alongside a map. You can click on any of those images to go to the photos layer on Google Maps where you can browse many more geo-tagged photos.

So if you searched for [Paris], you'd see:

Here's [Yellowstone National Park]:

We think this is a great way to get a better sense of a location as well as get a taste of some of the great user-contributed photos that await on Google Maps. We hope you'll have a fun time exploring!

Let's say you're a blogger. You've just returned from a trip to New York City, and you're writing a post on New York landmarks. You want to illustrate your travel guide with an image — as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. It's easy to find images of New York online. But you want to make sure that you don't use images without the permission of their owners, and you can't afford licensing fees for professional photographers.

Today, we're launching a feature on Image Search to help you find images that you can use for free, while respecting the wishes of artists and creators. This feature allows you to restrict your Image Search results to images that have been tagged with licenses like Creative Commons, making it easier to discover images from across the web that you can share, use and even modify. Your search will also include works that have been tagged with other licenses, like GNU Free Documentation license, or are in the public domain.

This feature also helps artists who want their images to be discovered and reused across the web — on their own terms. Creative Commons licenses allow artists to specify the ways others may use their work. Artists can license their images for general reuse, or for noncommercial reuse only. They can also decide whether or not to grant people the right to modify or remix their images. Once they've chosen to make their work available online under these terms, Google Images helps people start to find and use it.

To enable this feature, go to our advanced image search page. Under the "Usage rights" section, you can select the type of license you'd like to search for, such as those marked for reuse or even for commercial reuse with modification. Your results will be restricted to images marked with CC or other licenses. Once you confirm the license of the image and make sure that your use will comply with the terms of the license (such as proper attribution to the image's owner), you can reuse the image. Some of you may already see these options, and we'll be rolling this feature out to everyone throughout the day.

"Red squirrel with pronounced winter ear tufts in the Dusseldorf Hofgarten", Ray Eye, Wikimedia Commons

There's some fine print, of course. This feature identifies images that are tagged with licenses that authorize reuse. You'll still have to verify that the licensing information is accurate. We can help you take the first step towards finding these images, but we can't guarantee that the content we linked to is actually in the public domain, or available under the license.

We believe that we've made it easier for people to find images they can use while helping artists who've made their images available under these licenses to gain exposure for their work. So try it out, and let us know what you think.

Last week, we announced a suite of SMS services in Uganda, a country where someone's first experience of the Internet is far more likely to be on a mobile device rather than a PC. We are really excited about this project in part because it is the result of more than a year of true user-centered research and design. We knew we wanted to build useful mobile services tailored to the needs of people in sub-Saharan Africa, but how could we find out what people want from the Internet when they don't have access to it already? What would people who had never used search before want to search for if we gave them a mobile phone and said "Ask any question you like"?

In early 2008 we set out with colleagues from, Grameen Applab and MTN (a network carrier in Uganda) with this challenge in mind. Our research needed to be able to assess the feasibility of delivering information via mobile in Uganda as well as evaluate the content "appetites" of local people. Since no search engine existed for testing, we did the next best thing: We decided to mimic the experience of using a search engine using human experts.

First, we trained a multilingual team to act as user researchers in 17 carefully selected locations across the country. In each place, they introduced themselves to a cross section of people they met and invited them to participate in a free study that would help create useful services for Ugandans. If the person agreed, the researcher handed them a mobile phone and encouraged them to write a text message containing a question they wanted to know the answer to. (If people had their own phone, we reimbursed them with phone credit.) The text message was then routed to a control room we'd set up in Kampala where a human expert read the text message, typed a response, and sent it back via SMS to the person who asked the question. In the meantime, the interviewer observed and recorded the participant's user experience. This allowed us to record rich qualitative data from hundreds of interviews in just a few days, and to collect quantitative data from hundreds of search queries.

Trying mobile search for the first time

Last week's launch of SMS services in Uganda is the direct result of this research — it's based on listening to what people want and finding a way to get it to them. Our research enabled us to observe first-hand how people instinctively wanted to interact with a mobile phone. We let people select the language they wanted to use. We gained deep insights into the way people formulate their questions and what questions really matter to them. On top of that, we saw the excitement on people's faces when they got their first-ever search results, and we realized that some of the information we could deliver to these users, such as health information, has the power to truly change lives. These new services in Uganda are just one step on the path to providing information to people who have little or no access to the web. This research will help us as we continue to develop more services to increase access to information all around the world.

It's been an exciting nine months since we launched the Google Chrome browser. Already, over 30 million people use it regularly. We designed Google Chrome for people who live on the web — searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends. However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we're announcing a new project that's a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It's our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we're already talking to partners about the project, and we'll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.

We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better. People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up. They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files. Even more importantly, they don't want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates. And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet.

We have a lot of work to do, and we're definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision. We're excited for what's to come and we hope you are too. Stay tuned for more updates in the fall and have a great summer.

Update on 7/8/2009: We have posted an FAQ on the Google Chrome Blog.

We're often asked why so many Google applications seem to be perpetually in beta. For example, Gmail has worn the beta tag more than five years. We realize this situation puzzles some people, particularly those who subscribe to the traditional definition of "beta" software as not being yet ready for prime time.

Ever since we launched the Google Apps suite for businesses two years ago, it's had a service level agreement, 24/7 support, and has met or exceeded all the other standards of non-beta software. More than 1.75 million companies around the world run their business on Google Apps, including Google. We've come to appreciate that the beta tag just doesn't fit for large enterprises that aren't keen to run their business on software that sounds like it's still in the trial phase. So we've focused our efforts on reaching our high bar for taking products out of beta, and all the applications in the Apps suite have now met that mark.

Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk — both enterprise and consumer versions — are now out of beta. "Beta" will be removed from the product logos today, but we'll continue to innovate and improve upon the applications whether or not there's a small "beta" beneath the logo. Indeed, today we're also announcing some other Google Apps features that we think will appeal to large enterprises: mail delegation, mail retention and ongoing enhancements to Apps reliability.

We have much more in store, and IT managers can read more about how to make the switch to Apps in our Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes resource centers. One more thing — for those who still like the look of "beta", we've made it easy to re-enable the beta label for Gmail from the Labs tab under Settings.

Ever since the new Google Blog Search homepage launched, we've been fielding requests for a myriad of different features. Today we're happy to announce the launch of our most requested feature: RSS and Atom feeds. Simply click on the links under "Subscribe" in the left-hand column of the Blog Search front page to subscribe to any topic or story in any feed reader, like Google Reader.

If you don't use a feed reader, we're also offering an iGoogle gadget that lets you embed the Blog Search front page right inside of your iGoogle page or any other page where iGoogle gadgets are accepted. You can browse topics and drill into stories from within the widget, and you can customize the gadget to choose which topics you want to follow.

With these new ways to read Blog Search stories, you might think our homepage was going unloved, but not to worry. We've also added two new features to the Blog Search homepage to better help you discover what people are talking about right now on the web: Hot Queries and Latest Posts.

Hot Queries lists searches currently popular in Blog Search — it's an easy way to quickly dive into the trending points of conversation on the web. Latest Posts, on the other hand, shows new posts from popular blogs. While Hot Queries highlights what people are looking for, Latest Posts lets you find out about stories even before people start searching for them.

There's a lot of great, fresh content being published in blogs every day. We hope these new features help you discover more of it, faster.

I love labels in Gmail. Most email programs use folders, which only let me put mail in one place at a time. With labels, I can organize mail in multiple ways. Combined with filters to automatically label incoming messages, Gmail offers powerful ways to organize email.

When I joined the Gmail team, I was surprised to learn that only 29% of Gmail users had created any labels. At first, I thought perhaps conversation threading and search made the need to organize our mail less important. But when we talked to people who use Gmail, we got a different story. People often asked us to add folders to Gmail, assuming no system of organization existed. As one person said in a usability study, "What are labels... and where are my folders?"

We realized that if you didn't know about labels, it would be easy to assume Gmail had no way to organize your mail. Not only were "labels" unfamiliar, they were kind of hidden. So, we set out to make labels more accessible, as well as more powerful. Most of the changes have been in Gmail for a while, but we're adding some new features today. We thought you'd enjoy a peek at the method to our madness.

The first thing we did was make labels look more like the sticky notes you use in real life. Making the interface mimic things you interact with outside the computer can sometimes improve ease of use.

We also made it easier to remove a label from an open conversation:

Then we worked on the actions you take to apply and remove labels. Before, to put a label on a message, you had to look under "More actions> Apply label." Not only was this option hidden in a generic menu, but the language wasn't what people are familiar with when it comes to organizing mail. We explored several alternatives:

We also learned that if we made labels sound too much like folders, people got confused. For instance, while "Copy to" and "Add to" were easy to use, these terms made people think they were creating multiple copies of a message. "Move to" was familiar but didn't lead people to think they were creating copies. And people seem to have picked it up fast! Since the launch of the new menu buttons in March, we're seeing a 50% increase in new Gmail users trying labels in their first 2 weeks. And overall usage of the "Move to" menu surpassed that of the "Labels" menu within 7 weeks of launching:

For our latest set of changes, we looked at how you access labels on the left side. In other email applications, folders get the royal treatment and are given a seat at the top near your inbox. But in Gmail, labels were stuck in a box below Chat — almost like we were telling people, "you don't want to use these." In testing, we discovered that it worked best to remove the terminology altogether and just place custom labels right under the system labels (e.g. "Inbox"):

The last step was to add drag-and-drop. Now, you can drag mail into a label, or even drag a label directly onto a message:

Making it easier to process and organize your mail requires more than just labels, but we hope these changes start to improve the process. We have much more in store, so stay tuned and keep the feedback coming.

Blended threats. Payload viruses. Spam. If you're one of the more than 15 million people whose work email is protected by Postini's email security products, we hope you don't spend a lot of time thinking about these things. And if we're doing our job right, they certainly shouldn't be showing up in your inboxes. But we process more than 3 billion business emails per day for our customers, culling the spam, viruses, and other threats out, so we do think about this stuff. A lot.

On occasion, we like to share some of what we've learned, so that those of you who are interested can see what spammers are up to. If you're one of those people, head over to our Enterprise Blog for an update on spam trends over the past few months.