More data, more transparency around government requests

How do governments affect access to information on the Internet? To help shed some light on that very question, last year we launched an online, interactive Transparency Report. All too often, policy that affects how information flows on the Internet is created in the absence of empirical data. But by showing traffic patterns and disruptions to our services, and by sharing how many government requests for content removal and user data we receive from around the world, we hope to offer up some metrics to contribute to a public conversation about the laws that influence how people communicate online.

Today we’re updating the Government Requests tool with numbers for requests that we received from January to June 2011. For the first time, we’re not only disclosing the number of requests for user data, but we’re showing the number of users or accounts that are specified in those requests too. We also recently released the raw data behind the requests. Interested developers and researchers can now take this data and revisualize it in different ways, or mash it up with information from other organizations to test and draw up new hypotheses about government behaviors online.

We believe that providing this level of detail highlights the need to modernize laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which regulates government access to user information and was written 25 years ago—long before the average person had ever heard of email. Yet at the end of the day, the information that we’re disclosing offers only a limited snapshot. We hope others join us in the effort to provide more transparency, so we’ll be better able to see the bigger picture of how regulatory environments affect the entire web.

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To pitch a perfect game, teach yourself online

My major league pitching career was anything but perfect. The closest I ever came was a seven-inning outing against Milwaukee while playing for the Cincinnati Reds, in which I gave up only four runs and earned the victory. In baseball, you can be successful without coming close to perfect. Just think about batting average: a .400 average is insanely good, but that means you strike out or get out in some other way more than half the time you’re at bat. Hall of Fame pitchers give up an average of more than two runs per game. Seldom does a pitcher throw a shutout. A perfect game—in which a pitcher does not allow a single player on base—is incredibly rare.

In the majors, setting your team up to win involves daily physical workouts, hours of practice and in-depth analysis of the opposing teams’ traits and tendencies. The idea that someone without this training and background could instead go online, gather and process the necessary information and use it to throw a perfect game is unfathomable. Yet that’s exactly what happened to Brian Kingrey.

Brian is a high school music teacher from Hammond, La. and not much of a sports fan. As one of his students put it, “I’ve never heard him say the word baseball.” But Brian is a gamer—so naturally, he was intrigued by the $1 million prize he saw in a TV commercial for a new baseball video game called MLB 2K11. He knew nothing about baseball, had never even played the real game in his life, but encouraged by his wife, he went out, bought the game and started playing. A few weeks later, Brian won the $1 million prize for pitching the first perfect game in MLB 2K11. And he learned how to do it entirely online.

“I had to figure out what baseball was, not just what a perfect game was,” Brian said. He found that everything he needed to know was online: he was able to search about batters, batting averages, the different kinds of pitches. He combined the information to figure out that he had the best odds in a match-up between the Phillies — with star pitcher Roy Halladay on the mound — and the Houston Astros. He also researched the weak spots of each player—for instance, the toughest batter Halladay would face was going to be Astro’s infielder Bill Hall. After that, Brian was ready to play.

And play he did. On his third try, Brian pitched the perfect game and became a millionaire. “Once I got past Bill Hall, I knew I had it,” he said. “Without online search, I would’ve been in deep trouble. If I had played like it was in my head, I would’ve done it all wrong.” Perhaps if I’d known that search was the answer when I was playing in the major leagues, I might have come a little closer to perfection more often.

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Accessing search query data for your sites

SSL encryption on the web has been growing by leaps and bounds. As part of our commitment to provide a more secure online experience, today we announced that SSL Search on will become the default experience for signed in users on This change will be rolling out over the next few weeks.

What is the impact of this change for webmasters? Today, a web site accessed through organic search results on (non-SSL) can see both that the user came from and their search query. (Technically speaking, the user’s browser passes this information via the HTTP referrer field.) However, for organic search results on SSL search, a web site will only know that the user came from

Webmasters can still access a wealth of search query data for their sites via Webmaster Tools. For sites which have been added and verified in Webmaster Tools, webmasters can do the following:

* View the top 1000 daily search queries and top 1000 daily landing pages for the past 30 days.
* View the impressions, clicks, clickthrough rate (CTR), and average position in search results for each query, and compare this to the previous 30 day period.
* Download this data in CSV format.

In addition, users of Google Analytics’ Search Engine Optimization reports have access to the same search query data available in Webmaster Tools and can take advantage of its rich reporting capabilities.

We will continue to look into further improvements to how search query data is surfaced through Webmaster Tools. If you have questions, feedback or suggestions, please let us know through the Webmaster Tools Help Forum.

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Honey harvest 2011: the sweetest time of year

The second year at the Google Hiveplex was a busy one, and two weeks ago, we harvested a delicious bounty from our wildly productive hives. But the sweetest part about having the four hives on campus is the Googlers from all departments who have gotten into beekeeping or become more aware of honeybees because of their presence on campus.

During the honey harvest, guided by Bill and Debbie Tomaszewski of Marin Bee Company, Googlers from all walks joined in with the Google Beekeepers and local beekeeping friends from the San Francisco Chronicle on the harvesting activities. We pulled frames of honeycomb out of the honey supers (the boxes stacked on the very top of the hives in which the bees store the honey), uncapped comb, worked the extractor and filled jars bound for our cafes and beyond.

We also participated in a tasting featuring nine honeys from around the country, including entries from Google beekeepers’ personal hives, the San Francisco Chronicle’s urban rooftop hive, the Marin Bee Company’s suburban hive and more. The colors, consistencies and flavors varied as much as their origins, and everyone got a chance to note their own impressions of these honeys during a “Silent Tasting” where participants added their guesses about the honeys’ flavors and origins to tasting sheets. Afterward, we revealed the honeys’ “hometowns” (one came from as far away as Illinois) and nectar sources, which ranged from pine and fennel to eucalyptus and mustard flower.

It’s tough to say how our harvest this year compares to last year, as we still haven’t devised an ideal method for weighing the honey harvests, but we did end up with more honey supers on the hives at harvest time this year than we did last year. After the harvest, the supers and their empty frames were returned to the hives to allow the bees to pick every cell clean as they get ready to settle in for a cozy winter.

Everyone who participated in the harvest walked away with a sweet reward and, we hope, a new appreciation for the work our tens of thousands of busy gals put in to make it happen.

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A fall sweep

We aspire to build great products that really change people’s lives, products they use two or three times a day. To succeed you need real focus and thought—thought about what you work on and, just as important, what you don’t work on. It’s why we recently decided to shut down some products, and turn others into features of existing products.

Here’s the latest update on what’s happening:

Code Search, which was designed to help people search for open source code all over the web, will be shut down along with the Code Search API on January 15, 2012.

In a few weeks we’ll shut down Google Buzz and the Buzz API, and focus instead on Google+. While people obviously won’t be able to create new posts after that, they will be able to view their existing content on their Google Profile, and download it using Google Takeout.

Jaiku, a product we acquired in 2007 that let users send updates to friends, will shut down on January 15, 2012. We’ll be working to enable users to export their data from Jaiku.

Several years ago, we gave people the ability to interact socially on iGoogle. With our new focus on Google+, we will remove iGoogle’s social features on January 15, 2012. iGoogle itself, and non-social iGoogle applications, will stay as they are.

The University Research Program for Google Search, which provides API access to our search results for a small number of approved academic researchers, will close on January 15, 2012.

In addition, later today the Google Labs site will shut down, and as previously announced, and the former websites will be replaced by Google Product Search.

Changing the world takes focus on the future, and honesty about the past. We learned a lot from products like Buzz, and are putting that learning to work every day in our vision for products like Google+. Our users expect great things from us; today’s announcements let us focus even more on giving them something truly awesome.

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Webmaster forums’ Top Contributors rock

The TC Summit was a blast! As we wrote in our announcement post, we recently invited more than 250 Top Contributors from all over the world to California to thank them for being so awesome and to give them the opportunity to meet some of our forum guides, engineers and product managers in person.

Our colleagues Adrianne and Brenna already published a recap post on the Official Google Blog. As for us, the search folks at Google, there’s not much left to say except that we enjoyed the event and meeting Top Contributors in real life, many of them for the first time. We got the feeling you guys had a great time, too. Let’s quote a few of the folks who make a huge difference on a daily basis:

Sasch Mayer on Google+ (Webmaster TC in English):
“For a number of reasons this event does hold a special place for me, and always will. It’s not because I was one of comparatively few people to be invited for a Jolly at the ‘Plex, but because this trip offered the world’s TCs a unique opportunity to finally meet each other in person.”

Herbert Sulzer, a.k.a. Luzie on Google+ (Webmaster TC in English, German and Spanish):
“Hehehe! Fun, fun fun, this was all fun Huhhh”
Aygul Zagidullina on Google+ (Web Search TC in English):

“It was a truly fantastic, amazing, and unforgettable experience meeting so many other TCs across product forums and having the chance to talk to and hear from so many Googlers across so many products!”

Of course we did receive lots of constructive feedback, too. Transparency and communication were on top of the list, and we’re looking into increasing our outreach efforts via Webmaster Tools, so stay tuned! By the way, if you haven’t done so yet, please remember to use the forwarding option in the Webmaster Tools Message Center to get the messages straight to your email inbox. In the meantime please keep an eye on our Webmaster Central Blog, and of course keep on contributing to discussions in the Google Webmaster Forum.

On behalf of all Google guides who participated in the 2011 Summit we want to thank you. You guys rock!

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Create and manage Custom Search Engines from within Webmaster Tools

Custom Search Engines (CSEs) enable you to create Google-powered customized search experiences for your sites. You can search over one or more sites customize the look and feel to match your site, and even make money with AdSense for Search. Now it’s even easier to get started directly from Webmaster Tools.

If you’ve never created a CSE, just click on the “Custom Search” link in the Labs section and we’ll automatically create a default CSE that searches just your site. You can do some basic configuring or immediately get the code snippet to add your new CSE to your site. You can always continue on to the full CSE control panel for more advanced settings.

Once you’ve created your CSE (or if you already had one), clicking the “Custom Search” link in Labs will allow you to manage your CSEs without leaving Webmaster Tools.

We hope these new features make it easier for you to help users search your site. If you have any questions, please post them in our Webmaster Help Forum or the Custom Search Help Forum.

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Two days in D.C. for the winners of the Google Science Fair

Adrenaline. I turned around as the brilliantly polished door behind me opened, and suddenly I was face to face with a man I’d seen so many times on television. The President of the United States calmly extended his hand to shake mine and those of Naomi and Lauren, the other two winners of Google’s first-ever Science Fair. He knew about our projects and was genuinely excited to talk with us.

The Oval Office is more than just a room. It has a palpable aura of grandeur, with the presidential seal in the center of the deep blue carpet and a portrait of George Washington hanging on the wall. The desk, where presidents of the past have contemplated some of the most important decisions in the world’s history, was polished to a gleam. President Obama leaned against it as he talked to us.

He asked us how we became interested in science, what our plans were for the future and which colleges we were interested in. Smiling, he told us to stick with science. We left the Oval Office feeling like our individual futures were important to the nation’s future; like we could change the world.

Our trip to Washington, D.C., also included visits to the National Institute of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over our two days, we were given the opportunity to sit down and talk with many of our country’s leaders who have not only been extraordinarily successful in the fields we wish to go into in the future, but who also encouraged us to follow our own dreams. It was more than just meetings; it was inspiration.

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