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Shining a Spotlight on Video News

Posted October 9th, 2010 by admin No Comments »

Posted by Natasha Mohanty, Google News Software Engineer

Today in the U.S. we’re launching a new section in Google News called “Spotlight Video” that showcases popular videos from news channels on YouTube like “NOVA: The Secret Life of Scientists: Jean Berko Gleason” from PBS.

Google News has always helped users find recent articles from a wide variety of sources. But we recognize there are other types of stories that our users are interested in. So last year, we created the Spotlight section to feature stories of more lasting interest. Like the rest of Google News, Spotlight articles are selected by our computer algorithms, but they aren’t your typical breaking news. Instead you’ll find stories of enduring appeal such as feature articles, investigative reporting and opinion pieces. In fact, Spotlight quickly became one of our most popular sections.

So now we’re shining the spotlight on videos too. In the right-hand column you can find the new Spotlight Video section and check out recently popular news clips, like “Singer-producer Bruno Mars Continues to Rise” from the Associated Press.

If your news organization isn’t already making its video content available on YouTube and Google News, we encourage you to get started. More information on how to submit your news videos to Google News can also be found in the News Publishers’ Help Center. And here are some additional tips on news search engine optimization.

Side note: today you may have noticed we also modified the left-hand navigation. Now, as you scroll down the page, the navigation menu will move with you. This way, you can always see the sectional and hot topic quick links.

Please tell us what you think and we’ll keep working to improve Google News for you.

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Google News turns eight

Posted October 9th, 2010 by admin No Comments »

Posted by Krishna Bharat, founder and engineering head, and Chris Beckmann, product manager, Google News
(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

Today we celebrate the eighth birthday of Google News. Not long after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, we started building and testing Google News with the aim of helping you find current events from a wide variety of global and political perspectives. On September 22, 2002, Google News rolled out to all English-language readers, with a dedicated News tab on

Over the years we’ve made thousands of changes to deliver more news to more users—faster, and with enhanced customization, sharing and serendipity. We’ve added video, local news, custom sections, scanned newspaper archives and a redesigned homepage. We’ve grown from 4,000 sources to more than 50,000, and from one English edition to 72 editions in 30 languages.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our loyal users and the news publishers working hard to keep you informed. Thousands of stories are made more discoverable through Google News each day. Based on the number of articles indexed by Google News, here are the largest news stories from each of the last eight years:

The 2008 election of President Obama takes the cake as the biggest news story since Google News was born.

This year, as we blow out our candles we’ll make one wish: that we serve you—our users and publishing partners—better than ever before in the years to come.

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Damn the W3C, HTML5 Is Already Here

Posted October 9th, 2010 by admin No Comments »
The W3C says HTML5 still needs its training wheels. Horse pucky, we say.

According to the web’s governing body, you shouldn’t be using HTML5, CSS3 or any of the HTML5-related APIs just yet. At least that’s the spin InfoWorld’s Paul Krill took from his sit-down with Philippe Le Hegaret, the interaction domain leader of the W3C.

In the InfoWorld article, Le Hegaret says, “The problem we’re facing right now is there is already a lot of excitement for HTML5, but it’s a little too early to deploy it because we’re running into interoperability issues.”

Of course, we’d argue otherwise.

Asking the W3C what code you should use is like asking the FCC to recommend some new music. The W3C is a standards organization, and it is careful to a fault. Le Hegaret is apparently unmoved by the amazing creativity already being displayed by developers around the world who are embracing these new methods to extend their web apps — in fact, he made the same “we’re not ready” argument to us last year.

You should in fact be using HTML5 and the technologies surrounding it — like CSS 3, or the various associated APIs like WebSockets — because it’s the future of the web and a good portion of the future is already here. After all, web leaders like Google, Apple and Microsoft are already backing HTML5, using it in their own websites and building extensive support into their browsers. The W3C may not be done with HTML5, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t all over the web.

I suspect Le Hegaret is being quoted rather selectively in the InfoWorld piece. He is certainly aware that “interoperability issues” are nothing new and don’t make a good litmus test of whether or not to adopt a new technology. If a lack of full browser support means avoiding technologies, then no one should be using CSS 2.1 either, since older versions of Internet Explorer don’t support it. But of course, CSS 2.1 is all over the web and has been for years.

The fact is HTML5 is here and you can use it today, you just need to use shims, fallbacks and workarounds for older browsers. Yes, that’s unfortunate, but that situation isn’t going to change any time soon. If IE8 — which lacks support for most of HTML5’s features — has even half the longevity of IE6, we’ll still need fallbacks even when 2022 rolls around and HTML5 is, in the W3C’s opinion, finally ready.

Fortunately, the web does not move at the pace of standards bodies, it moves at the pace of web browsers and innovative developers.

Part of the problem with the InfoWorld article is that it makes two big faulty assumptions: that HTML5 is a single thing and that it’s an all or nothing package.

What most people refer to as “HTML5? is in fact many things. The HTML5 markup language tends to get lumped in with CSS 3, JavaScript and a bunch of APIs into a single, easily-digestible buzz term. Developers need not embrace all of these components to take advantage of the features they need. As developer Remy Sharp points out in a response to Krill’s article, “HTML5 should not be considered as a whole… you should cherry pick the technology that suits the solution to your problem.”

You should also make sure that you provide a fallback for browsers that don’t support the features you cherry pick. That’s why all of the shims and fallback tools exist. The web is not perfect, and browsers are not always what they should be. Developers have to find the middle ground.

So don’t worry, just because the W3C doesn’t think HTML5 is ready for prime time doesn’t mean the web doesn’t have an entirely different story to tell.

Photo by weighn/Flickr/CC

See Also:

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Firefox 4 Adds Bing to List of Search Engines

Posted October 9th, 2010 by admin No Comments »

Mozilla has announced that Microsoft’s upstart Bing search engine will soon become a default part of Firefox’s search bar. When Firefox 4 arrives it will feature some slight changes to the list of included search engines, offering, in order: Google (default), Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, eBay and Wikipedia.

Bing is a new option, though savvy users have long been able to install a Bing search plugin on their own. Now, it will be much easier to access by clicking on the drop-down list in the browser’s built-in search box.

Microsoft’s search engine continues to make inroads against Google, and while Microsoft has had a search product for years, it’s taken a long time to make its way onto Firefox’s short list. Mozilla vice president of products Jay Sullivan says Bing’s inclusion now is based on its “significant rise in popularity over the past year.”

Google’s engine will still be the default option for Firefox users. Google remains a primary source of income for the Mozilla — the two companies share the revenue generated by Google searches typed from within Firefox’s search box.

The new search engine default list removes the and the Creative Commons search engine choices. is disappearing because, according to Mozilla, “we have heard from our users that Wikipedia is more useful as an included reference search engine.”

The Creative Commons search engine is being removed because the search tool itself has changed from something that searches just CC licensed materials to a more general search engine that duplicates what’s found in Google, Yahoo and others. Mozilla is careful to point that the foundation “will continue to actively support [the Creative Commons] organization and mission through grants and joint programs,” but not, apparently, its search engine.

Of course users are still free to install any of the thousands of search plugins for the sites they’d like — we’re fans of the Flickr CC search plugin and the Speckly torrent search plugin — but making the default plugins list means more traffic for those lucky sites.

In Bing’s case it also means an important new avenue to perhaps pull a few users away from Google.

See also:

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Personalize Your Map With a Custom Map Marker

Posted October 9th, 2010 by admin No Comments »

If you’re adding a map to your website, why settle for the vanilla design when you can customize it and leave your own personal mark?

This tutorial will show you how to create a custom map from scratch, then add a little unique flavor to it by replacing the standard “map pin” icon with a custom icon of your own design.

To do this, we’ll be using Mapstraction, a library that creates map code that can be reused across all the big mapping providers (Yahoo, Google, et al). Mapstraction also allows for multiple types of customization such as custom info bubbles and graphics like the one we’ll be dropping onto the map.

Note: This tutorial is adapted from the book Map Scripting 101 by Adam DuVander. Adam is a former Webmonkey contributor and executive editor of Programmable Web. In his book, he shows how to use all of the features of the most popular mapping APIs, and how to mash them up with data from other sources like events calendars, weather services and restaurant review sites to make a variety of custom maps.

This exercise comes from chapters 1 and 2 of Adam’s book, and it is reprinted here with his permission and that of the book’s publisher, No Starch Press. It isn’t a word-for-word excerpt. It has been slightly adapted to work as a web tutorial. You’ll find dozens of in-depth exercises — including the full version of this one — in the book itself.

Create a Mapstraction map

Mapstraction is a little different from Google Maps and Yahoo Maps. Mapstraction is an open source JavaScript library that ties into other mapping APIs. If you use Mapstraction, you can switch from one type of map to another with very little work, as opposed to rewriting your code completely.

Using Mapstraction limits your risk to changes being made to an API. For example, if your site’s traffic takes you beyond the limit for your chosen provider, or the provider begins placing ads on the map, Mapstraction lets you switch providers quickly and inexpensively.

To use Mapstraction, you must first choose a provider. In this example, I’m using Mapstraction to create a Google Map.

Open a new HTML file and type the following:

    <title>Basic Mapstraction Map</title>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="mxn.js?(googlev3)"></script>
    <style type="text/css">
      div#mymap {
        width: 400px;
        height: 350px;
    <script type="text/javascript">
      function create_map() {
           var mapstraction = new mxn.Mapstraction('mymap', 'googlev3');
          new mxn.LatLonPoint(37.7740486,-122.4101883), 15);
  <body onload="create_map()">
    <div id="mymap"></div>

Just like you would for a normal Google Map, we include Google’s JavaScript (line 4).

For this code to work, you also need to download the Mapstraction files. Go to or the project’s github page, and follow the instructions to save the files in the same directory as your HTML file. Best practices would dictate that you keep JavaScript files in their own directory, separate from your HTML, but I’m simplifying things for this example.

The Mapstraction files you should have, at minimum, are mxn.js, mxn.core.js and googlev3.core.js. You may also have files for other providers, such as yahoo.core.js. The only one we need to reference in our HTML code is mxn.js, which loads the other files that it needs, including those we pass it in the file name. Then, in the create_map function, we let it know which type of map we are creating.

Once you have your Mapstraction map, save your HTML file and load it in a browser. The result should look exactly like this.

This Google map, created via Mapstraction, should be centered on No Starch Press’s neighborhood in San Francisco.

As you can see, the HTML hooks are minimal. Some styling to determine the size of the map and an empty div tag with an id attribute are all that’s required. The JavaScript function create_map() takes over and makes calls to the API. This function can have any name you want.

The minimum amount of information needed within the create_map() function is a map type (googlev3), a center point (using a latitude/longitude pair) and a zoom level (Mapstraction’s tightest zoom level is 16, so I backed off one notch to 15, about six blocks across). Then, we pass those options and reference the div tag’s id to create a map.

Add a marker to your map

To add a simple marker to your map, you just need to use two Mapstraction functions. First, create the marker. Next, add it to the map. The reason for these two distinct steps will become clear in further projects when we start to use advanced options, such as custom marker icons.

Let’s see what creating the marker looks like in code. Start with the basic Mapstraction map you created and add these lines to the create_map() function:

marker = new mxn.Marker(new mxn.LatLonPoint(37.7740486,-122.4101883));
// marker options will go here

The first line creates a marker object, passing latitude/longitude coordinates for the No Starch Press offices in San Francisco. By drawing attention to the graphical marker, we are essentially marking that spot as important.

The second line is a placeholder for any marker options we want to add later. (Any JavaScript line that begins with two slashes is a comment, and the browser ignores them.) The marker options are where we tell Mapstraction which icon to use or add a message to be displayed when the marker is clicked.

Finally, the third line adds the marker to the map. Once this happens, no additional options can be added. The reason is that the marker object is used only by Mapstraction. Once the marker is added to the map, however, Mapstraction makes the appropriate calls to the mapping provider. Mapstraction plots the marker based on all options set beforehand. In this case, we don’t have options to add, but we’ll add to this map in future projects.

If you’re using Google as your mapping provider, your new map will look like the picture below. The default Google icon sits in the center of the map. Although the marker is clickable, this marker is very simple and nothing actually happens if you click it.

Create a custom icon marker

The quickest way to make a map feel like your own is to change the default icon used for markers. Mapstraction has simple marker options that make the technical process of using custom icons a cinch. The more laborious part may be creating the icon file itself. To avoid this, you can find icons others have made online for free. I list several resources on my website.

Still want to create your own? Read on.

To create your own marker icon, you just need to have a graphics program that can save a transparent .png file. The icon can be whatever size you want, but keeping each dimension between 20 and 50 pixels is probably best. If the icon is too small, clicking it becomes difficult; too big, and the icon obscures the location you’re attempting to call out. If you’re using Google as your mapping provider, you also want to create an image to use as your marker’s shadow. This step isn’t necessary if your marker is a similar shape to the Google default or if you’re using another provider.

Not much of an image magician? Use the free online Shadowmaker service to create a shadow.

Add your icon to the map

Now that you have an icon, the easy part is adding it to the marker options. All it takes is setting a few values to tell Mapstraction where the icon image files resides. Your best bet is to keep custom marker icons in a special directory on your server. If you’re testing locally, you can use local copies, accessed by their location relative to the page containing the map. For simplicity, I have the HTML file and the icon files in the same directory in this example. In reality, you might prefer to be more organized.

I decided to use a teensy No Starch Press logo for my custom icon. It’s 27 pixels wide by 31 pixels high. Like I said, the icon is teensy. Then, I used the Shadowmaker service to create a file that is 43×31 including the marker’s shadow.

Finally, it’s time to code. Add these lines as marker options. These lines are inserted after a marker has been created but before the marker has been added to the map:

marker.setIcon('nostarch-logo.png', [27,31]);
marker.setShadowIcon('nostarch-shadow.png', [43,31]);

The only parameter you need to include is the path to the image for both the icon and the shadow. Notice that the dimensions of each graphic get passed as an inline array. This parameter is optional but recommended. If you leave it out, some providers will assume the dimensions of the default marker, which could mean a poorly scaled graphic.

The results of the custom marker code are shown below.

The No Starch Press office is marked by the company’s logo, a little iron icon. Notice the shadow, as well, which makes the graphic pop out from the map.

Omit the shadow icon at your own risk. Some mapping providers will assume the default shadow, which might look silly with your icon. Not every mapping provider uses shadows, but planning for one is good. If you really don’t want a shadow, consider using a completely transparent graphic. I show an example of shadowless icons in the weather map example in chapter 10 of my book.

See also:

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This Week’s Best Apps [Apps]

Posted October 9th, 2010 by admin No Comments »

Click here to read This Week's Best Apps

In this week’s wacky wild app round up: UFOs, videotaped; photographs, shared; Google, goggled; your friends, all text messaged at once; first person shooting; assassinating real life opponents; recipes, collected; tranquil text editing, achieved for free, and more! More »

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8 Amazing Garage Inventions [Neighbors]

Posted October 9th, 2010 by admin No Comments »

Click here to read 8 Amazing Garage Inventions

Jets, spacecraft, and giant robots—some people build amazing things in their garages. Makes you feel a little self-conscious about that “cherry” 1981 Malibu and the stack of National Geographics you keep threatening to put on eBay, doesn’t it. More »

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