Google+ 'Photo Story' cards start popping up in Google Now


Google Now loves to drop in surprises on us from time to time.

The latest is a card alerting you to a new Photo Story, which is an automatically-generated mashup of images that typically appear after a vacation or other batch of pictures taken while out and about.

google plus photo story

If you backup your smartphone’s pictures to Google+ Photos, you may have seen some of these past creations. They’re rather neat, and can of course be shared with Google’s ever-evolving social network.

This is good evidence the Photo Story feature must be sticking around, even though Google is beginning to unbundle its photo service from Google+, recentlytying it closer to Google Drive.

The story behind the story: Google often tinkers with Google Now, throwing in new features from time-to-time like gas station locations or helpful travel tips. The service is a key part of Google’s always-connected strategy of tying its services closely together across any device you may be using

How to add a number row to the Google keyboard

google keyboard numbers 1

Typing in a series of numbers can be a cumbersome process on a touch-screen keyboard.

Fortunately, Google Keyboard lets you create a dedicated number row across the top of the keyboard so you can fly through your data entry.

If you’re using another keyboard, make sure you change your keyboard to Google Keyboard for this exercise.

Next, you’ll need to head to the Google Keyboard settings, which are found in the keyboard’s app icon. Or you can go to the Settings app > Language & Input > Google Keyboard.

google keyboard switch numbers
With a few steps in the settings you can set up a dedicated number row at the top of the Google Keyboard.

From here, go to Appearance & layouts > Custom input styles. Then touch the plus icon. Choose English (US) as the language and PC as the layout. Then touch Add.

Now launch the keyboard from an app. Hold down on the space bar to switch to your new creation, which will be labeled English (US) (PC).

You’ll have an extra top row, which is now full of numbers. It takes up a little extra screen real estate, but it’s well worth it if you’re working with Excel, Google sheets, or doing another task that requires typing in a lot of numbers

Photos now available in Google Drive, making Google+ even less relevant


We’re all patiently waiting to figure out what exactly Google is going to do with its frail social network, Google+, and today’s news isn’t looking to good for it.

In a blog entry, Google announced that you can now access all those photos you backed up with Google+ through Google Drive. Its intended to make it easier for you to use photos in your documents, but frankly, there’s probably more to the announcement happening behind the scenes.

The story behind the story: It’s slightly redundant to have your photos on both Google+ and Google Drive, though Google suggests this will make it easier to organize them as you see fit and add other file types to a Drive folder. That makes sense for sticking photos in your docs, but it also sort of hints at something major on the horizon. This update may the first step in a plan to separate Google’s photo service from Google+ entirely.

Is this the beginning of end of Google+? Or is this Google’s attempt at dethroning Evernote? Perhaps even Google doesn’t know what it’s doing with its own social network. For now, you can get the Google Drive update directly from the Google Play store or wait for it to hit your device.

Google Chrome's data-saving compression feature hits PCs

Google recently added another way to reduce your PC’s bandwidth demands when you’re tethering, or any other situation where every megabyte counts.

Chrome users can now add a new extension called Data Saver (Beta) from the Chrome Web Store that compresses web pages on Google servers before delivering them to your PC, a feature that mobile Chrome has offered since 2013. The new extension does notwork when Chrome is in incognito mode or when you connect to a site using SSL (HTTPS) encryption.

Why this matters: Reducing bandwidth demands is a common feature on mobile devices with browsers such as Silk and Opera, as well as the app Opera Max. Data compression on PCs, however, hasn’t had nearly as much attention since PCs are typically connected to Wi-Fi or Ethernet and bandwidth constraints are less of an issue. Opera was really the only major browser to tackle data compression with its Turbo feature introduced in 2009. With laptops becoming lighter and more mobile by the month and Chrome OS growing in popularity, focusing on data compression for web-centric PCs is long overdue.

Hands-on with Data Saver (beta)


Using Data Saver is really easy. You just install it from the Chrome Web Store and the extension gets to work immediately. Data Saver places an icon in your browser to the right of the address bar. Click on it and you can see how much data you’ve saved, or turn Data Saver off.

For anyone who wants a detailed look at their data compression activity, Chrome evangelist François Beaufort provided this tip. Paste chrome:net-internals#bandwidth into your address bar and hit Enter. This will open a tab showing all your latest bandwidth activity as well as a table at the bottom with a live update of your total bandwidth usage with Data Saver enabled.

Data Saver is still in beta. As such, it may be prone to the occasional mishap and may not compress data as much as you’d like. Trying out the extension on my home set-up, for example, it seemed like a lot less data was compressed when I had Chrome on my 24-inch 1080p monitor versus my laptop’s 12-inch 1366-by-768 display

Safari users in the UK can sue Google over alleged privacy violations


The U.K. Court of Appeal won’t block a privacy lawsuit that alleges Google tracked Safari users without authorization, so the three plaintiffs can continue their legal fight against the search company.

“These claims raise serious issues which merit a trial. They concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature, as specified in the confidential schedules, about and associated with the claimants’ internet use, and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months,” reads the decision, released Friday. “The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

In a news release, the plaintiffs’ law firm Olswang LLP called it a landmark ruling.

The decision also potentially opens the door to litigation by millions of Britons who used Apple computers, iPhones, iPods and iPads during the relevant period in 2011 and 2012, said the Google Action Group, a not-for-profit company set up to manage the claims of consumers against Google.

Hidden cookies track users, suit alleges

The case against Google was filed in June 2013 by U.K. privacy activists and alleges that the search engine giant circumvented security settings in Apple’s browser to plant cookies in order to covertly track their online movements and target them with advertising. All this happened without the users’ consent and in violation of U.K. data protection law, they said.

In 2012, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission fined Google US$22.5 million to settle government charges that it violated privacy laws when it tracked Safari users. And in 2013, Google paid another $17 million to settle a U.S. court case over the same problem.

But the British privacy activists also wanted the company to be held accountable in the U.K for allegedly abusing people’s privacy. Google has argued that it cannot be sued in the U.K. because the country’s privacy laws don’t apply to it. Instead, Google wants the case brought to California, where it’s based.

The U.K. High Court ruled in January last year that U.K. citizens are allowed to sue Google as the case falls within the scope of the country’s jurisdiction. Google appealed that ruling, leading to Friday’s ruling from the Court of Appeal..

The appeals court also ruled that claimants may recover damages under the U.K. Data Protection Act, the law firm noted.

“This is a David and Goliath victory,” said Judith Vidal-Hall, one of the claimants, in an emailed statement, adding that the Court of Appeal has ensured Google cannot use its vast resources to evade English justice.

All Safari users eligible

Anyone who used Safari during the relevant period can now join the claim against Google, Olswang partner Dan Tench said in an emailed statement, adding that the law firm was looking forward to holding Google accountable.

A launcher overhaul adds Google Now


Some hefty changes are coming to Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, including a new app launcher with Google Now built in.

The new launcher is available now in the Chrome OS beta channel, and it’s a major departure from the existing version. Instead of a small pop-up that shows all your apps, the new launcher brings up a larger window in the center of the screen—one that looks kind of like Chrome’s “new tab” menu.

Here, you’ll see the Google logo on top, followed by a search box. Your four most recent apps appear below your search box, along with a button to show “all apps.” Beneath these apps, the launcher will show information cards from Google Now, similar to how they appear on phones and tablets.




To try the beta channel, head to Settings, then click “About Chrome OS” at the top of the window. Click “More info” and hit the “Change channel” button. Restart, and click the “Check for and apply updates” button in this same menu. If you’d rather stick with the stable channel, the beta features usually take about a month to make their way over

Google embraces Internet Explorer tech to help improve Chrome's scrolling

chrome logo


Google and Microsoft aren’t exactly friends, but the two companies are working closely to add some Microsoft magic to Chrome that could improve the browser’s scrolling issues—especially on mobile. Google recently said it would introduce Microsoft’s Pointer Events (a technology that controls mouse, touch, and stylus inputs) in Chrome.

Pointer Events is adopted by other major browsers, including Firefox and Internet Explorer, but Apple’s Safari does not support it. Google says it decided to support Microsoft’s tech after feedback from web developers, browser vendors, and others in the web community, as first reported by The Verge.

Google says Pointer Events should improve the initial scroll stuttering users sometime experience on mobile.  “Replacing all touch event handlers with pointer event handlers will address the main longstanding source of scroll-start jank we see on Android,” Google’s Rick Byers said on a Google Groups post.

The big win, however, is for developers who can take advantage of one input model technology across Chrome, Firefox, and IE.

Google’s decision to implement Pointer Events comes one month after the Microsoft technology was adopted as a standard by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

The impact on you at home: Don’t expect to see Pointer Events show up in the mainstream build of Chrome soon. Byers says implementation will take some time as it builds Pointer Events into Blink—the rendering engine that powers Chromium and Chrome. After that it will slowly filter down to alpha and beta builds of Chrome before hitting the stable versions most people use on their PCs and mobile devices.

Once implemented, Pointer Events will exist on all Chrome platforms, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Chrome OS, and Android.

Reversing course

The decision to embrace Pointer Events comes less than a year after Google’s Chromium team had decided against implementing Pointer Events. Instead, the Chromium team said it would stick with an alternative called Touch Events, which is supported by Apple’s Safari.

At the time, the Chromium team said it wouldn’t support Pointer Events because it didn’t believe Microsoft’s tech would ever be more widely supported than Touch Events, owing to Safari’s dominance on mobile devices. Google’s browser makers also cited performance drawbacks to adopting Pointer Events.

Despite its reversal, the Chromium team still believes that Pointer Events has some problems and hopes to work toward creating a standard that is interoperable between Chrome, Firefox, and IE

The U.S. FTC explains why it didn't sue Google


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The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said its decision not to prosecute Google over its search practices was in line with the recommendations of its staff.

The statement issued Wednesday by FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and Commissioners Julie Brill and Maureen Ohlhausen was in response to the leak of an internal document, which suggested that the agency’s staff had concluded that Google’s business tactics had caused “real harm to consumers and to innovation,” and had recommended a lawsuit against the company.

The FTC’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel, the three commissioners wrote, claiming that the document, which was inadvertently provided to The Wall Street Journal as part of a public records request, was only “a fraction” of the voluminous record and extensive internal analysis that was reviewed at the time.

“All five Commissioners (three Democrats and two Republicans) agreed that there was no legal basis for action with respect to the main focus of the investigation—search,” the three commissioners wrote. The other two commissioners, Joshua D. Wright and Terrell McSweeny, were not at the FTC at the time of the decision on the Google search investigation.

The FTC announced in January 2013 that Google had agreed to change some of its business practices to resolve the agency’s concerns.

Although some of the FTC’s staff attorneys on the search investigation had raised concerns about several other Google practices, the agency obtained commitments from Google regarding some of those practices, and the company has abided by them in the last two years, the commissioners wrote.

The leaked staff report painted an image of Google as a bully that boosted links to its own services, and copied content from rival websites and threatened them if they objected.

The commissioners said they regretted the inadvertent disclosure of the document and were taking measures to prevent such leaks in the future.

The agency also tried to distance itself from a WSJ report that Google may have benefited from access to the White House, and pointed out that the FTC had settled a complaint over Google’s conduct with regard to certain standard essential patents on the same day it closed the search investigation

Google may revamp YouTube live streaming as a games-focused Twitch competitor

youtube twitch

Remember when everyone thought YouTube was about to buy games-streaming service Twitch last year—like, really thought it was going to happen—and then the deal fell apart at the last second and somehow Amazon emerged with the big purple crown?

Apparently YouTube’s been busy since then. The Daily Dot reports that in the wake of its stymied buyout, YouTube has apparently decided to relaunch its own streaming-service YouTube Live as a games-oriented Twitch competitor. According to an anonymous source, “Gaming and e-sports in particular are going to be a big driving force for the new-look YouTube Live.”

And sure, you might say “Well wasn’t that what YouTube’s streaming service already tried to do?” to which I say…I thought so. But apparently Google thinks it just didn’t tryhard enough.

The power of competition

There are some interesting tidbits from The Daily Dot’s report though, like this quote from the same anonymous source:

“There’ll be huge opportunities for established streamers and organizations soon and I would say that the record numbers of e-sports viewers are only going to grow when Google start promoting and partnering with these events.”

It honestly wouldn’t be hard for YouTube to beat Twitch as far as infrastructure is concerned. Despite the nearly $1 billion Amazon buyout last year, Twitch is still (to put it generously) hit and miss as far as streaming quality and chat delay are concerned.

And forgetting the technical side of things for a moment, the fact remains that a criminally small percentage of Twitch’s total talent gets paid through the Twitch Partners program. There’s a reason most of the bigger names have stuck to uploading pre-recorded content to YouTube, even if that content is functionally similar to what could be accomplished on Twitch. Ad payments on YouTube are both reputedly higher-earning and accessible by a much broader cross-section of the userbase.

All that to say: a revamped YouTube potentially has a lot going for it. In fact, the biggest obstacle to YouTube catching on currently is Twitch’s marketing/presence at gaming events—people know Twitch does game video, so they keep using Twitch for game video.

Rumor has it that the relaunch will take place or at least be announced during this year’s E3 gaming expo, a.k.a. sometime between June 16-18. More information when we have it.

Try these 5 undiscovered Google Drive tricks

driveaddons3 primary

Google Drive and its attendant apps offer a wealth of tools to help you be more productive. Try these five for the biggest boost.

Work offline

Like it or not, there are times when you have to work without an Internet connection. Fortunately, Google Drive has an “offline” mode that lets you create, view, or edit documents in these situations.

gd work offline

You’ll need the Chrome browser to activate the offline feature. Go to your Google Drive account, click the gear icon in the upper right corner and select Settings. On the General tab, make sure the box labeled “Sync Google Doc, Sheets, Slides, & Drawings files to this computer so that you can edit offline” is checked. You’ll need to work in Google Drive in Chrome when you don’t have a connection, but all your changes will sync once you’re back online.

Search for links from within a document

Normally when you want to add links to a document, you have to go through the tedious process of opening a new browser tab, searching for the page you want to link to, copying the URL and going through the steps to link the text.

Google Search, however, is incorporated right into Google Docs so you never have to leave the page to add a link. Just highlight some text, select Insert > Link, and type your search into the link dialog box that appears. Google will display a list of matches. Click the one you want to add the link to your text.

Keep track of revision history

Keeping tabs on all the changes made to a document, particularly a collaborative effort, can get dizzying quickly. But Google Drive makes it easy to see all the changes you and others have made to any document, presentation, slideshow, or drawing. You can even revert to earlier versions of a file if need be.

gd revision history

To see the revision history of a Docs, Sheets, Slides, or Drawings file, click File > See revisions history. Then select a timestamp in the revision pane to see that version of the file. Below the timestamp you’ll see the names of each person who edited that file. The exact edits they made are shown in the document in the same color that appears next to their name.

By default, revisions are grouped into general time frames, but you can view more granular details by clicking Show more detailed revisions at the bottom of the revisions pane. To revert to the version you’re currently viewing, click Restore this revision.

Use the web clipboard

A little known feature of Google Drive is its web clipboard, which lets you copy and paste data across Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Unlike your operating system’s clipboard, it can hold multiple items at once, and because it’s associated with your Google account, its contents are accessible across all your devices.

gd web clipboard

To use the web clipboard, select some text, a drawing, or other data and go to Edit > Web clipboard > Copy to web clipboard. You’ll see that data added to the list of items on the web clipboard menu. When your menu starts to get too full, just select Clear all items.Items will automatically clear if they haven’t been accessed within 30 days.

Publish to the web

Google Drive’s sharing feature is great when you want to make a document available to a handful of people, but what if you want a wider viewing audience? For that, use Drive’s Publish feature.

To publish a document, spreadsheet, presentation, or drawing, open the file and click File > Publish to the Web. Certain file types have some customization options available on the menu: you can choose to publish an entire spreadsheet or just individual sheets, set the speed at which a presentation’s slides advance, and choose the image size of a drawing. When you’re ready, click Publish, then copy the link that appears and send it to everyone you want to view to file.

If you want the published file to update automatically when you make changes to the original, go to the File menu and select Publish to the Web > Published content & settings.Check the box labeled “Automatically republish when changes are made.” To remove the published file, select Stop publishing.