News > 2010

New in Labs: Smart mute and easier ways to unmute

Category: Gmail | Dec 1, 2010

Posted by Bruce DiBello, Software Engineer

If you subscribe to a lot of mailing lists and like to keep an empty inbox, muting (or preventing a conversation from re-entering your inbox) is an essential feature. We just made a few changes that should make muting even better.

First up is “Smart Mute,” a new Gmail Labs feature that helps solve the problem of conversations that just won’t die. You know the ones I’m talking about: those emails with 10+ people cc’d where everyone replies all, but you lost interest five emails ago. The current mute behavior doesn’t do well in these situations since the messages are addressed to you. You end up with muted messages in your inbox, and the only way to prevent these emails from coming back to your inbox has been to create a custom filter for a specific conversation.

If you enable “Smart Mute” from the Labs tab in Gmail Settings, muted conversations will only appear in your inbox if a new message in the conversation is addressed to you and no one else, or a new email in the conversation adds you to the “To” or “Cc” line. Once you enable Smart Mute, mute behavior will change across all versions of Gmail: web, mobile, Android, etc. Try it out and let us know what you think.

Since you’ll likely be muting more than ever, we also added easier ways to unmute muted conversations. Previously, the only way to unmute a conversation was to move it to your inbox — not super intuitive and useless if the conversation was already in your inbox. Now there are two new ways to unmute a conversation. The first is through an “Unmute” option in the “More actions” menu. You’ll see this when you view or select a muted conversation.

If you’re viewing a muted conversation, you’ll see the second new way to unmute: the “Muted” label next to the subject line now behaves just like all other labels. Clicking on the “X” will remove the Muted label and unmute the conversation.

Hopefully these changes will make it easier to mute and unmute conversations.


U.S. General Services Administration is going Google

Category: Google | Dec 1, 2010

(Cross-posted on the Google Enterprise Blog)

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) today announced its decision to move 17,000 employees and contractors to Google Apps for Government. GSA oversees the business of the U.S. federal government, providing real estate and building management services as well as acquisition and procurement assistance to other federal agencies.

GSA’s decision to switch to Google Apps resulted from a competitive request for proposal (RFP) process that took place over the past six months, during which the agency evaluated multiple proposals for replacing their existing on-premises email system. GSA selected Google partner Unisys as the prime contractor to migrate all employees in 17 locations around the world to an integrated, flexible and robust email and collaboration service in 2011.

By making this switch, GSA will benefit in a number of ways. Modern email and collaboration tools will help make employees more efficient and effective. Google Apps will bring GSA a continual stream of new and innovative features, helping the agency keep pace with advances in technology in the years ahead. And taxpayers will benefit too—by reducing the burden of in-house maintenance and eliminating the need to replace hardware to host its email systems, GSA expects to lower costs by 50 percent over the next five years.

Earlier this year, Google Apps became the first suite of cloud computing email and collaboration applications to receive Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification, enabling agencies to compare the security features of Google Apps to that of existing systems.

GSA is leading the way in embracing the federal government’s “cloud first” policy, under which agencies should opt for hosted applications when secure, reliable, cost-effective options are available. We are thrilled that GSA has chosen to move to the cloud with Google and look forward to expanding our productive partnership with them.

Posted by Mike Bradshaw, Director, Federal Enterprise team


Support World AIDS Day with Google Maps

Category: Google Maps | Dec 1, 2010

Turn Red

Today is World AIDS Day and (RED) have created a Google Map that will turn redder as people Tweet #turnred.

(RED) works with companies around the world to make (RED) products, donating up to 50% of the profits from their sales to invest in HIV and AIDS programmes in Africa. If you Tweet #turnred today you can help turn your location a little redder on the (RED) Turn Red Google Map.

The more activity there is at a location the deeper the colour of red is shown at that location on the map.



Being bad to your customers is bad for business

Category: Google | Dec 1, 2010

A recent article by the New York Times related a disturbing story. By treating your customers badly, one merchant told the paper, you can generate complaints and negative reviews that translate to more links to your site; which, in turn, make it more prominent in search engines. The main premise of the article was that being bad on the web can be good for business.

We were horrified to read about Ms. Rodriguez’s dreadful experience. Even though our initial analysis pointed to this being an edge case and not a widespread problem in our search results, we immediately convened a team that looked carefully at the issue. That team developed an initial algorithmic solution, implemented it, and the solution is already live. I am here to tell you that being bad is, and hopefully will always be, bad for business in Google’s search results.

As always, we learned a lot from this experience, and we wanted to share some of that with you. Consider the obvious responses we could have tried to fix the problem:

  • Block the particular offender. That would be easy and might solve the immediate problem for that specific business, but it wouldn’t solve the larger issue in a general way. Our first reaction in search quality is to look for ways to solve problems algorithmically.
  • Use sentiment analysis to identify negative remarks and turn negative comments into negative votes. While this proposal initially sounds promising, it turns out to be based on a misconception. First off, the terrible merchant in the story wasn’t really ranking because of links from customer complaint websites. In fact, many consumer community sites such as Get Satisfaction added a simple attribute called rel=nofollow to their links. The rel=nofollow attribute is a general mechanism that allows websites to tell search engines not to give weight to specific links, and it’s perfect for the situation when you want to link to a site without endorsing it. Ironically, some of the most reputable links to Decor My Eyes came from mainstream news websites such as the New York Times and Bloomberg. The Bloomberg article was about someone suing the company behind Decor My Eyes, but the language of the article was neutral, so sentiment analysis wouldn’t have helped here either.

    As it turns out, Google has a world-class sentiment analysis system (Large-Scale Sentiment Analysis for News and Blogs). But if we demoted web pages that have negative comments against them, you might not be able to find information about many elected officials, not to mention a lot of important but controversial concepts. So far we have not found an effective way to significantly improve search using sentiment analysis. Of course, we will continue trying.

  • Yet another option is to expose user reviews and ratings for various merchants alongside their results. Though still on the table, this would not demote poor quality merchants in our results and could still lead users to their websites.

Instead, in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.

We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said. We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search.

Posted by Amit Singhal, Google Fellow


Ready… set… track Santa!

Category: Google | Dec 1, 2010

From feasting on a turkey dinner to singing carols around the fire, there are certainly plenty of traditions to enjoy during the holiday season. Much to the delight of the child in each of us, the ritual of gift-giving continues today, and I know I still find cheer at the bottom of my stocking every Christmas morning.

Another tradition that brings joy to youngsters everywhere is the one started in 1955 by NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which every year counts down to Christmas Eve and tracks Santa’s whereabouts as he delivers presents across the globe. Google similarly started tracking Santa in 2004 and has been partnering with NORAD on this fun project since 2007. Keeping the tradition alive, today marks the kick-off of this year’s countdown at On the NORAD website, kids can play holiday-themed games (a new one is released each day) and get updates from the North Pole as Santa prepares for his big sleigh ride.

If you haven’t tracked Santa in years past, we hope this is the year you’ll start a new tradition of visiting and following Santa’s journey all around the world. Starting at 2 a.m. EST on December 24, you’ll be able to track him in real-time on Google Maps from your computer or phone as well as on Google Earth with the plug-in by searching for [santa].

So this year, along with my family’s usual tradition of gathering around to hear my mum read “Twas the night before Christmas,” we’ll gather around the computer to see when Santa might be coming to our neighborhood. In honor of the occasion, I wrote a new opening verse:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and Santa was near
According to NORAD, he would soon be right here
So we hopped into bed and dreamt of new toys
And awoke in the morning to much Christmas joy

Happy holidays to all, and to tide you over till Christmas Eve, enjoy this video with highlights from Santa’s journey last year!

Posted by Bruno Bowden, Software Engineer


25th Atlantic Rally on Google Maps

Category: Google Maps | Dec 1, 2010

25th Atlantic Rally for Cruisers

The 25th Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a race across the Atlantic from Gran Canaria to Saint Lucia, is currently underway. Every boat in the 25th ARC fleet is fitted with a Yellowbrick Iridium tracker and you can view all the participants on this Google Map.

The position of each craft is updated on the map every 6 hours, at 0000, 0600, 1200 and 1800 UTC. Using the map it is also possible to view the current wind direction along the route.

You can read more about Yellowbrick trackers and the rally here.



Plant trees for change with Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai

Category: Google | Dec 1, 2010

(Cross-posted from the LatLong Blog)

Occasionally, we invite distinguished guests to contribute to our blogs and we’re very happy to have Wangari Maathai share her perspective here. In collaboration with Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement and several other partners, the Google Earth Outreach team has created several narrated tours on the topic of climate change in preparation for the UNFCCC’s COP16 Climate Summit 2010 in Cancun, Mexico. Fly underwater to learn about the effects of ocean acidification on sea life with Oceana. Zoom around Mexican mangroves in 3D and learn about the importance of this biodiverse habitat… and what must be done to protect it for future generations. Visit to experience these tours. -Ed.

Ask most people what trees mean to them and the first thing that comes to mind is the tree outside their bedroom window or the forest where they played as a child. Trees do occupy a powerful place in our emotions, but the most powerful argument to protect our world’s trees is not based on sentiment. There is a vital interdependency between communities and the trees they rely on for survival. Trees are our watersheds, protectors of the natural environment, and sources of food. Remove the trees from the equation and the community feels the impact.

I came to this realization in the 1970s in Kenya. I was talking to women in my community about their problems: hunger, access to water, poverty, wood fuel. I saw a link between their needs and the condition of the land and thought, “Why not plant trees to address these issues?” Trees hold the soil to the ground so that we can grow food in it, they protect watersheds and facilitate harvesting of rain water, fruits trees supplement food and trees give us domestic energy and wood with which to build our shelters. So while still working at the University of Nairobi, I established a tree nursery in my backyard, planted seven trees at a public park and founded the Green Belt Movement. The organization works to empower communities, to build their capacity to restore Africa’s forests and put an end to the problems that deforestation and other forms of environmental degradation cause. As a result of this idea, more than 40 million trees have been planted to restore the environment and improve the lives of the people who are linked to the land.

When we were offered a unique opportunity to partner with the Google Earth Outreach team on a project using new Google Earth technology to visualize trees in 3D, we were thrilled. For accuracy and integrity we worked very closely with Google, advising them on the modeling of unique African trees like the broad-leaved Croton, the Nile tulip tree and the East African Cordia. These tree models illustrate the biodiversity in our tree planting sites, especially in the forests, and how we carefully select trees that are indigenous and sustainable to the natural surroundings.

Broad-leaved Croton, the Nile tulip tree and the East African Cordia (from left to right)

We then used data from real planting locations to “plant” the tree models in Google Earth and create 3D visualizations. Now, for the first time in Google Earth, people from all over the world will be able to virtually visit these planting sites, explore the 3D trees and connect with the work that we are doing.

Green Belt Movement planting site in 3D on Google Earth

Tree planting is a simple activity with tangible results, and anyone can participate. It helps people come together to address common problems and work collectively towards community improvement and sustainability. I hope that seeing our beautiful tree planting sites in 3D on Google Earth will be a source of inspiration for people to engage, plant trees and organize planting activities in their own communities. Taking charge of our lives and the environment around us can help ensure a lasting legacy and healthy future for our children.

Learn more about the Green Belt Movement and support our work at

Posted by Wangari Maathai, environmentalist, activist and founder of the Green Belt Movement


Action Sports Sharing with Google Maps

Category: Google Maps | Dec 1, 2010

Naturized Spots

Naturized Spots is a Google Maps based website for sharing action-driven nature-aware spots in the Alps and beyond.

The map displays a number of action-sports locations in the Alps. The markers are categorised into a number of activities, including climbing, caving, biking and skating.

It is possible to personalise Naturized Spots by signing in with a Facebook account. Once you are signed in you can add your own spots anywhere in the world. You can also share your saved spots with your Facebook friends and view spots saved by your friends.



Direct Marketing with Google Maps

Category: Google Maps | Dec 1, 2010, combines Google Maps with health care occupational data to help employers visualize the size and geography of their local talent market.

You can search the map by Occupation/Speciality and by location. will then return the micro-targeted sourcing options (e.g., direct mail, e-mail marketing and search engine marketing) that are available for that area.



Local Listings on Google Maps

Category: Google Maps | Nov 30, 2010

Tupalo is a social yellow pages community, connecting millions of businesses and customers via the internet.

Using Tupola it is not only possible to search for local businesses it is also possible to add a review, check-in and earn badges and share your favourite locations with all your friends. The Tupola website makes extensive use of Google Maps. If you search for a location on Tupola you can view Tupola listings for the area on a Google Map.

It is also possible to use Tupola from your smartphone, with applications available for the iPhone and Android phones.