Archives for November 2008

9 tips for the Google Mobile App for iPhone

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of Google’s new Mobile Application for the iPhone.

  1. To get Google Mobile App on your iPhone, go to the App Store and search for “Google Mobile App,” or click on this link to install from a computer. If you have an older version of Google Mobile App installed, you might want to uninstall the older version before installing the newer version.
  2. Voice recognition is turned off by default for non-U.S. users. To enable voice recognition, click on the “Settings” tab at the bottom of the screen and slide “Voice Search” to ON.
  3. If you hold the iPhone up to your ear and don’t hear the “baBUM” sound to start talking, swing the iPhone down and back up to your ear. Sometimes a little wrist flick helps to tell the iPhone you want to search.
  4. You can search things besides Google’s main web index. Do a regular query such as [daffodil pictures]:

    Daffodil pictures

    then press on the magnifying glass near the top left corner to bring up other options to search. By default you’re searching iPhone and Web, but you can also search Maps, Images, News, Shopping, or Wikipedia:

    Daffodil pictures

    Press an option like Images and the application will immediately redo the query:

    Daffodil pictures
  5. If you want to go straight to the onscreen keyboard, you can tap the “Search” tab at the bottom of the screen twice.
  6. Searching with the keyboard can be very handy. As you type, the application will suggest contacts, websites, previous searches, and related query suggestions:

    Outback Steakhouse

    and do you see those query suggestions in the middle of the screen? You can slide/flick them to get more suggestions:

    Outback Steakhouse
  7. The “Apps” tab at the bottom of the screen is a one-stop shop to get to all your Google services easily, including Google Apps versions of services:

    Apps tab
  8. You can use Google Mobile App with multiple Google Apps accounts. In the Settings tab, click on Domain. Then you can add multiple domains, separated by commas.
  9. Google has posted HTML documentation for Google Mobile App and also provides a Google Mobile Help discussion group.

Bonus tip #1: If the voice recognition is close, you can press on the green query in the search box to see other possible queries. For example, if you said [background gradients in css] and got this search query:

Refining query

Notice that the query was recognized as “gradient” instead of “gradients” with an ‘s’. So I pressed the green query and saw other possible queries:

Refining query

My desired query was the second choice. ๐Ÿ™‚

Bonus tip #2: If you want to understand what your cat is trying to say to you, start the voice recognition and just hold it up to their mouth as they meow. Then Google will try to convert the meow into regular English text. Thanks to Sean Harding for this tip.

Google Adds Voice Recognition to iPhone App

I have a very good feeling about Google’s new iPhone app that does voice recognition. I’ve been playing with this voice recognition application for several weeks and I have to say that I’m really impressed. First and foremost, the voice recognition works really well. Crazy long-tail specialized vocabulary is tricky (more on that later), but for queries with normal words in them, the voice recognition is really accurate and I think it will get even better. You can say “population of Troy, New York” and you’re pretty likely to get good search results:

Google Mobile App: [population of troy new york]

I like the slick interface, because all you have to do is start the app. When you want to do a search, just hold the iPhone to your ear. The iPhone’s accelerometer senses the movement and makes a “baBUM” noise to let you know when to talk. Then just say a query like [daffodil pictures] or whatever. It’s much smoother to experience than it is to write down. The net effect is as if you had some kind of Star Trek communicator device, except powered by Google instead of Spock and the rest of the crew.

I’m really impressed with the team that worked on this. They pulled this together in a very short time and they’ve produced an extremely polished application. Every time I’ve emailed someone with feedback or a question, they replied quickly, but also thoughtfully. It’s clear to me that this application is a labor of love and they want it to be outstanding. I can’t wait to see what they do next; maybe the application can start to learn your specific voice and its inflections?

Do you remember Battelle and O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0? At the risk of mangling it, they define Web 2.0 as “applications that harness collective intelligence (either implicitly or explicitly) to get better as people use them.” I expect the voice recognition of Google’s search app to get better as people use it, much in the same way that the intent of GOOG-411 was partially to improve our text-to-speech models.

The last thing I like is subtle. This app has changed the way that I do queries. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a huge search geek. I’m hyperaware of when my query habits change, and I notice myself much more likely to do off-the-cuff queries such as [what’s the average price per square foot for carpet?] or [how many miles per gallon do Audis get?] or [what is a softshell jacket?] or [what does the 11-99 foundation stand for?]. Marissa Mayer once kept a diary of all the searches she wanted to do during one day, and mentioned about 20 queries that came to mind. I feel like I had almost that many queries just driving into work. This app lowers the bar to doing searches. For a few days I was like a five-year-old just doing queries as they popped into my head. The easier/faster it is to search, the more I searched.

Not only have I started to do more queries, but I also say longer, more natural-language queries. Why? Because the more contextual clues I can give to the voice recognition engine, the better it will do. So a query like [mount everest elevation feet] might work, but [how high is mount everest] is more likely to be recognized (in my limited experience). The way you formulate queries is different when you’re speaking compared to when you type. I’m still pondering the implications of that.

Is the app perfect? Of course not. Right now it keeps a history of my last six queries. Personally, I’d like to keep all my queries so I can go back and find previous searches. And the voice recognition, while very solid, will continue to improve over time. I’d also love a way to add my own personal vocabulary of terms such as “PageRank” or “webspam” (which currently comes up as webcam). So the app will improve, but I still feel like I have K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider in my pocket a lot of the time.

The first time you hold a phone up to your ear and just say “18 percent of 33 dollars” and get a Google calculator answer back that it’s 5.94 dollars, it’s an epiphany. Now I don’t need a tip calculator application; I just talk to my phone and it tells me to leave a six dollar tip:

Google Mobile App: [population of troy new york]

You may have a similar epiphany when you say the phrase “miles per gallon” and the app knows to type “mpg” or you say “one hundred and seventy-six” and the app returns “176.”

That rocks, and it feels like just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential. Imagine if you had voice “bookmarks” like “Go to my email” or “Bring up today’s calendar” and you’d automatically see which room your next meeting was in. I think this will be a fun application. ๐Ÿ™‚ If you have an iPhone, take it for a test drive yourself: go to the App Store and search for “Google Mobile App,” then try it out. If you have iTunes installed, you can also click on this link to install from your computer. Oh, and if you’re a non-U.S. user, the app turns off voice search by default. To enable voice recognition, just click on “Settings” and slide the “Voice Search” setting to ON.

Read other people’s impressions of the new application over on Techmeme, if you’re interested.

A word about metrics, part III: market share of Google Docs?

I’m not sure what Google Docs market share is, but I thought it would be interesting to mention a couple data points and add a new data point.

Data point #1: Compete. Compete just estimated that 4.4M visitors stopped by Google Docs in September, which is just a hair below 2.4% of the U.S. online population, according to them. Compete buys data from ISPs, among other sources, but doesn’t reveal which ISPs sell their surfing data, so it’s hard to tell if those ISPs’ users tend toward tech-savvy vs. newbie or affluent vs. lower income. One other metrics service (Nielsen//NetRatings) has claimed that Google Docs users tend to skew toward higher-incomes and are more likely to be technology early adopters.

Data point #2: ClickStream. A recent press release from ClickStream Technologies that claims that 1% of internet surfers use Google Docs. Honestly, this felt a little low to me. So I read about how they collected their data, and I have a hunch why ClickStream might have come up with lower numbers. From the press release:

“From May to November 2008, ClickStream Technologies recruited 2,400 U.S. internet users over the age of 18 to complete a survey and install ClickSightยฎ …. Participants were recruited through a market research firm which awards cash and prizes in exchange for completing online surveys.

– Sample is self-reported (in initial recruitment survey) as 65.5% female, 34.5% male…

A few things come to mind:
– 2,400 users is not a ton of people.

– Tech-savvy, more affluent users are probably less likely to agree to click-monitoring in exchange for cash and prizes. I would go so far as to say most tech-savvy users would actively avoid such offers. If Google Docs users really do skew more toward affluent/tech-savvy (and I think that they do), that would result in fewer Google Docs users in ClickStream’s consumer panel.

– 65.5% female users sounds way too high. I think a more representative number is something like 52% of the online population. If ClickStream is getting 65%+ female users and not even in the 50% range, there could be all kinds of sampling errors in the data, e.g. if users were recruited from sites that didn’t represent the overall internet population.

I was thinking about ClickStream’s study and how it got a fair amount of coverage that implied Google Docs might be struggling, despite the fact that ClickStream recruited a relatively small number of users by offering cash/prizes to complete online surveys. And I asked myself: “Matt, are their any application monitoring services that tech-savvy people do use?” As soon as I asked that, I remembered that I signed up for Wakoopa recently. Wakoopa is a Web 2.0 website + client-side download that lets you track and share which applications you run. It’s the sort of service that tech-savvy users like Louis Gray are likely to use, and Wakoopa just recently started tracking web apps.

Datapoint #3: Wakoopa. Let’s see how many people are using various applications on Wakoopa. A little bit of searching turned up these stats:

Windows Explorer: 23,985 people
Finder: 6,254 people => 23,985 + 6,254 = estimate of 30,239 active users

Word: 14,985 people
OpenOffice: 3,762 people
Google Docs: 1,516 people
Corel WordPerfect: 80 people

I don’t think Wakoopa says how many active users they have, so I took one popular-but-Windows-only app (Windows Explorer) and one popular-but-Mac-only app (Finder) and added them to estimate that Wakoopa has about 23,985 + 6,254 = 30,239 active users. The reasoning is that if you’re running Windows or Mac, you’d expect that Wakoopa would see you running Windows Explorer or Finder at least once. Now let’s see how ClickStream and Wakoopa compare:

Application % of users (ClickStream) % of users (Wakoopa)
Word 51% 49.6%
OpenOffice 5% 12.4%
Google Docs 1% 5.0%
WordPerfect v.12 3% 0.3%

It’s easier to see this as a graph:

Google Docs Market share graphs

According to ClickStream, users are 3-5x more likely to use WordPerfect than Google Docs. But Wakoopa’s data suggests that Google Docs is about 20x more popular than WordPerfect. So who’s right? Well, both sources of data have self-selection bias. Wakoopa gives data on at least 10x as many users as ClickStream, but you have to bear in mind that Wakoopa’s users skew toward the tech-savvy. If you have friends that sign up for cash/prizes in online studies you might lean toward the ClickStream numbers. If you run with a more Web 2.0 crowd or don’t know anyone that runs WordPerfect, you might believe the Wakoopa data. If ClickStream disclosed their percentages of (say) IE vs. Firefox/Chrome/Safari/Opera, I suspect that would also help calibrate the differences. The correct answer is probably somewhere in between the 1% estimate from ClickStream and the 5% estimate from Wakoopa.

Google Docs is clearly the underdog in this area. But I’ve talked before about how Google’s tech-savvy user base can skew usage metrics. It would be a shame if people read the ClickStream Technologies press release and failed to consider some of the additional factors in estimating market share.

Pubcon/WebmasterWorld conference, here I come!

I arrive Wednesday afternoon for the 2008 Pubcon conference, and I’ll be staying until after the networking event on the last day, which is the heart of the event. It’s the heart because the networking event is held at a pub, and the original idea of Pubcon was that some of the best parts of a conference take place at the pub after the official conference is done.

If you see me, please come up and say hello! Tell me how you’re doing, or what you like or dislike about Google. I’ll be participating in the Search Engine Super Session that traditionally wraps up the formal part of the conference.

What are you likely to see if you head to Las Vegas? Well, here are some pictures that I’ve been meaning to post for a year. No joke, I’m that behind on things I want to blog. ๐Ÿ™‚ First off, you’ll meet lots of search engine optimizers (SEOs) and webmasters:

Webmaster wolrd audience

As you can see, they’re a very fun and friendly bunch of folks. And if you’re lucky, you might run across a celebrity. Last year, we saw David Caruso:

David Caruso

The rumor was that Caruso was there to record some promotional material for Microsoft, but I never saw anything. If anyone knows of a David Caruso/Microsoft commercial, please send me a pointer. ๐Ÿ™‚

WebmasterWorld is also a nice place to get a glimpse of what other smart people are doing. Last year was the first time I saw an Asus EEE:

Asus EEE

Nowadays this is known as a “netbook” and they’re getting pretty popular with the kids these days. It looked so cool that right after the conference I went right to Amazon and ordered one. Unfortunately, my order got delayed and delayed until I finally canceled it, so I never ended up getting a netbook. Maybe I’ll try again at some point.

What else do I like about Pubcon? It’s a great chance to connect with people and just talk. For example, remember when I did this post about how triple-tap power adapters should be branded as schwag? Well, at the conference last year both Topix and CareerBuilder surprised me by actually doing exactly that:

Topix power adapter


Careerbuilder power adapter

It’s pretty cool to see someone take your idea and just run with it. But the best reason to head to Pubcon is that lots of fun, smart people go, and it’s a chance to catch up with what’s happening in the world of search. Again, if you see me there, please say hello! ๐Ÿ™‚

Fun email

Every so often I get an email like this:

Dear Webmaster,

I have browsed your site and I’m interested in purchasing advertising space in it.
I am mainly interested in placing a new page on your site with content and links that I will supply.

Please let me know if you would like to discuss this further or if you have other ideas.

Kind Regards,

Normally I just delete junk like this, but I decided to reply. I wrote back “Can you show some other examples of stuff you’ve done before?” And usually at this point, the person realizes that I’m a webspam person at Google and shuts up. But I got a reply:

My offer is this:
I want you to create a new page on your site.
I will send you a gambling related article with my links on it that will be
on the new page.
I wish that this page will have only my links on it with no other external
Also I wish that this page will have a link from all the pages on the site.
Please let me know what you think and how much will it cost to me.
Best regards,

I wrote back and asked Rob for an example page; we’ll see if he bites. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Later: He did bite.

Update: You might also enjoy these other fun emails I’ve received in the past.