Google Flights Uses Material Design

Google Flights, one of the most underrated Google services, has a new interface powered by Material Design. There's a new hamburger-style menu that lets you quickly find your saved flights, explore a clever map with potential destinations, change currency and language.

Google shows the best flights at the top of the list of results. "We chose these itineraries to give you the best trade-off between price, duration, number of stops, and sometimes other factors such as amenities and baggage fees," informs Google.

This video from 2014 shows the old interface:

{ Thanks, Emanuele Bartolomucci. }

Classic Google Maps, Replaced by Lite Mode

If you're using the new Google Maps for desktop and you're trying to switch to the old version, Google now sends you to Google Maps Lite Mode. "To make Maps load faster, you can use a version of Google Maps called Lite mode. In Lite mode, some features are turned off so that Maps can run faster." Some examples of missing features: 3D imagery and Earth view, showing your computer's location, setting home and work, searching nearby, measuring distances, coordinates, draggable routes, embedding maps, My Maps integration.

If you're in Lite mode, you'll see a box in the bottom left with a lightning bolt and this message: "You're in Lite mode." You can click: "Switch back to full Maps" if your browser supports it.

The Lite interface uses a hamburger-style menu, just like the mobile apps.

For now, the old Google Maps is still available if you use this, but there's a message which says that "this version of Google Maps is updating soon".

Stats for Chrome's Compression Proxy

A few Google engineers wrote an interesting paper (PDF) about Flywheel, Google Chrome's data compression proxy. The paper only talks about the data compression feature from Chrome for Android and iOS and offers a lot of stats.

Flywheel focuses on the mobile web because mobile devices "are fast becoming the dominant mode of Internet access", while "web content is still predominantly designed for desktop browsers" and mobile data is expensive. Google's proxy compresses web content by 58% on average and relies on the SPDY protocol and the WebP image compression formats, which are used by a small percentage of the sites (0.8% of the images use WebP and 0.9% of the sites use SPDY). The most significant data reduction comes from image transcoding, which decreases the sizes of the images by 66.4%, on average.

Data compression is disabled by default and only 9% of the mobile Chrome users enabled it. "Segmented by access network, 78% of page loads are transferred via WiFi, 11% via 3G, 9% via 4G/LTE, and 1% via 2G." Flywheel is not enabled for HTTPS pages and for incognito tabs and it's interesting to notice that only 37% of the bytes downloaded by Chrome users who enabled the proxy are received from Flywheel, while 50% of the total received bytes are from HTTPS and 13% of the bytes are from incognito mode, bypassed URLs and protocols other than HTTP/HTTPS. For example, the proxy bypasses audio/video files and large file downloads.

"For most users and most page loads, Flywheel increases page load time. For the majority of page loads, the increase is modest: the median value increases by 6%. Flywheel improves page load time only when pages are large and users are close to a Google data center."

The paper mentions that the Opera Turbo feature provides comparable data reduction, while the old Opera Mini proxy uses more aggressive optimizations, but breaks pages that rely on JavaScript or modern web platform features. "Maintaining an alternative execution environment to support whole-page transcoding is not feasible for Flywheel given our design goal of remaining fully compatible with the modern mobile web."

{ via Hacker News }

Android Action Cards in Google Search

Google has a few search cards that let you send some information to an Android phone from your desktop computer. In addition to finding your device, you can send directions, send notes, set alarms and reminders.

Search for [send directions], set a destination and click "Send directions to your phone". When you unlock your phone, Google Maps will automatically open and show your destination.

When you search for [note to self] or [send a note], you can enter some text and you'll get a similar notification on your mobile device. Another option is to add the note to your query and search for things like [note to self buy some milk].

Another action card lets you set an alarm on your phone. Just search for [set an alarm] and enter the right time for your alarm. You can also search for [set an alarm for 9:00] or other similar queries.

"You can connect your Android phone to Google, which lets you send information from your computer to your phone," informs a help center article. To use this feature, you need the latest version of the Google app for Android, Google Now cards and notifications need to be enabled, Web & App Activity has to be enabled in Google Account History. Another requirement is to log in to your Google account.

Tip: if you're not in the US and you don't see the cards when you enter the queries listed above, add &gl=us to the URL. For example:

{ via +Google }

Google+ Notifications for YouTube Uploads

Ondřej Pokorný, a reader of this blog, noticed a Google+ notification about a video uploaded to one of his YouTube subscribed channels: It's Okay To Be Smart. It's a YouTube notification and it even has a special icon.

I don't remember seeing notifications like this. Google+ shows notifications when your own YouTube videos receive comments and you can disable this in the settings.

Danny Fratella, Top Contributor for the YouTube Help Center, explains that "the notifications that subscribers get in their Google+ Notifications are based on their previous engagement with your videos and your channel. If YouTube's algorithms notice that they're watching a lot of your content, they're more likely to receive notifications when you upload new videos. There isn't anything you can do to force this notification upon your subscribers."

{ Thanks, Ondřej. ]

YouTube Tests Borderless Search Box

YouTube tests a new search box. There are a few changes: YouTube no longer uses a search button, a small icon is placed next to the search box, there's a "Search YouTube" message inside the search box until you type a query and the search box doesn't have a border.

Here's the regular YouTube interface:

How to enable the experimental search box? If you use Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari or Internet Explorer:

1. open in a new tab

2. load your browser's developer console:

Chrome or Opera 15+ - press Ctrl+Shift+J for Windows/Linux/ChromeOS or Command-Option-J for Mac

Firefox - press Ctrl+Shift+K for Windows/Linux or Command-Option-K for Mac

Internet Explorer 8+ - press F12 and select the "Console" tab

Safari 6+ - if you haven't enabled the Develop menu, open Preferences from the Safari menu, go to the Advanced tab and check "Show Develop menu in menu bar". Close Preferences and then press Command-Option-C to show the console.

Opera 12 - press Ctrl+Shift+I for Windows/Linux or Command-Option-I for Mac, then click "Console".

3. paste the following code which changes a YouTube cookie:

document.cookie="VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE=0pBX9w1K8gk; path=/;";window.location.reload();

4. press Enter and close the console. 

To disable the experiment, use the same instructions, but replace the code from step 3 with this one:

document.cookie="VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE=; path=/;";window.location.reload();

{ Thanks, Matthew Bohr. }

Find 360-Degree YouTube Videos

Now you can quickly find 360-degree YouTube videos. Open YouTube's desktop site or YouTube's Android app, type a query, click the Filters button and select 360° from the Features section. Here's an example for [Finland].

In the Android app, tap the Filters button next to the search box and select 360°.

Here are the search results for [beach]:

For now, 360-degree spherical videos are only fully supported in Chrome for desktop and the YouTube app for Android.

Export Custom Maps, Helpouts and More

Google Takeout added support for some new services: Google Moderator, Google Groups, My Maps and Google Helpouts.

Google Helpouts has already been discontinued, while Google Moderator is shutting down on June 30. "Unfortunately, Google Moderator has not had the usage we had hoped, so we've made the difficult decision to close down the product," informed Google.

Google Groups and My Maps are still available, but Takeout lets you export your group members and custom maps.

Old YouTube Apps Will Stop Working

Yesterday YouTube retired the old version of its main API (Data API v2). Data API v3 was launched in 2012, bringing some new features like comment management, editing channel sections and retrieving user ratings. The old version was deprecated last year and developers were encouraged to migrate to the new API.

YouTube will start to show this warning video and next month "v2 API calls except for comments and captions will receive 410 Gone HTTP responses".

Unfortunately, there are still devices that won't be updated, so many people will no longer be able to use the built-in YouTube apps from Apple devices that run iOS 5 or earlier (iPhone 1st generation, iPhone 3G, iPad 1st generation), Apple TV (1st and 2nd generation), Google TV 2 or earlier, old Smart TVs and game consoles. Devices affected were "manufactured in 2012 and earlier, including Sony TVs & Blu-ray Discs, Panasonic TVs & Blu-ray Discs, older iOS devices, and devices running older versions of Google TV."

Mobile devices and smart TVs have browsers, so users can still watch videos at or For Apple TV 2, you can still watch YouTube videos using AirPlay.

Google Web History Removes Filters

Google Web History used to have a sidebar that allowed you to restrict search history to Google Images searches, Google Videos searches, Google AdWords clicks and also to results from Google Maps, Google Shopping, Google Finance, Google Travel, Google Books, Google Blog Search, Google News and Visual Search.

Unfortunately, the sidebar is no longer available. Activity stats are still placed at the top of the page, above the list of searches.

Here's a screenshot from 2012 that shows the old sidebar. This article has a more recent screenshot.

Export Google Search History

I've mentioned last year that Google tested a download feature for search history. It looks like this feature is available for everyone. Just go to Google Web History, click the gear button and select "Download".

"You can download all of your saved search history to see a list of the terms you've searched for. This gives you access to your data when and where you want," informs Google. "When you download your past searches, a copy of your history will be saved securely to the Takeout folder in Google Drive. You can download the files to your computer if you want a copy on your computer."

Google will send you an email when your archive is ready to download.

The download dialog is pretty unusual. It includes a warning message: "Please read this carefully, it's not the usual yada yada." It suggests users to enable 2-step verification and it informs them that the archive includes sensitive data. "If you have decided to take your data elsewhere, please research the data export policies of your destination. Otherwise, if you ever want to leave the service, you may have to leave your data behind."

Here's the email message you'll receive when "your Google search history archive is ready".

You'll get a ZIP archive with a lot of JSON files:

Chrome 42 Brings Better Integration With iOS 8

Chrome 42 for iOS brought a lot of new features. Some of them use the APIs introduced in iOS 8, while others make it easy to use Apple's bigger phones.

You can now reload a page, open a new tab or close a tab with one swipe. Go to the top of a page, pull down and you'll see three buttons: a reload button (pull straight down), a plus button for opening a new tab (pull down and left) and a button that closes the current tab (pull down and right).

Chrome for iOS 8 now has support for the Today View. You can open a new tab, use voice search or open copied links. For example, you can copy a link from Safari, open the Notification Center and tap "open copied link" to open the page in Chrome.

Chrome has its own app extension for the Today View, but it also supports third-party app extensions. For example, you can now use password managers like LastPass and 1Password right inside Chrome. Here are the instructions for LastPass. Basically, you need to tap the share button from Chrome's menu, enable LastPass in the extensions menu and then you can quickly log in using LastPass.

Another new feature allows you find answers more quickly. When you're searching from the address bar, Chrome now shows answers related to weather, stocks, unit conversions and more. Chrome also shows the latest URL copied to the clipboard.

Breadcrumbs in Google Mobile Search

Google's mobile search site replaced URLs for search results with breadcrumbs that reflect the structure of the URL. "To help mobile searchers understand your website better when we show it in the mobile search results, today we're updating the algorithms that display URLs in the search results to better reflect the names of websites, using the real-world name of the site instead of the domain name, and the URL structure of the sites in a breadcrumbs-like format," informs Google.

For example, instead of URLs like, you'll see something like this: Google > about > company > history.

Google added support for structured data for websites, so webmasters can include the site's name and the URL structure as breadcrumbs. You can include multiple site names, but they have to be unique and closely related to the domain name.

Breadcrumbs are already used in desktop SERPs. When they were released, you could click each link to navigate the site's hierarchy, but this feature is no longer available. Google also shows the site's name next to the URL and you can click it to find more information about the site.

Mobile SERPs will add a similar feature and the most important change is that Google will replace the domain name with the site's name. Regular users don't understand web addresses and that's why they use search engines to navigate to sites they visit often like Facebook or Amazon.

Mobile breadcrumbs will gradually roll out worldwide, but site names will only be displayed in the US. I assume that Google will use domain names outside the US, at least for now.

In my opinion, the war against URLs is a bad idea. More and more browser partially hide URLs, Google replaces search results URLs with breadcrumbs and even tests removing them. URLs may be meaningless for many people, but they're unique and they give some information about the site's identity. It's hard to come up with unique site names, especially when you consider that there are many companies, products and sites that have the same name.

Export Classic Custom Maps

The old My Maps is no longer available, even if you use the classic Google Maps interface. Your custom maps were upgraded to the new My Maps, which has more advanced features.

You can still download the original KML files for your custom maps until June 1st, just in case they weren't properly converted. To export a map, go to My Maps, click "open a map", pick the map you want to export and click "Download classic My Maps data" in the settings menu. If this feature is not available, then the map was created using the new My Maps. There's also an option to "export to KML", which downloads the current map.

"If you aren't happy with the way that your maps upgraded, you can download the original, pre-upgrade version of your maps as KML files from within the new My Maps. These files will be available only until June 1st, 2015. After June 1st, the pre-upgrade version of the KML files will be removed," informs Google.

Google Removes Search Filters for Visited Pages

One by one, Google's advanced search features disappear. Google's search tools menu used to include a lot of filters and now there are only 2 filters.

Google has quietly removed the features that allowed you to restrict results to visited pages and pages you haven't visited yet. "Visited pages" and "not yet visited" are no longer included in the search tools menu.

Here's a screenshot from 2013: 9 search tools.

A screenshot from 2014: 4 search tools.

And here's the same menu today: only 2 search tools left, at least for now.

I'm sure that Google will soon remove "reading level" and "verbatim", since they're probably used by a small percentage of Google users, just like all the other advanced search features. Google now focuses on answering questions and natural language understanding, so these features for power users are no longer important.

Here's a list of cool features removed by Google in the past 5 years:

* finding sites with images
* finding search results in foreign languages ("translated foreign pages")
restricting results to forums, reviews, blogs
finding recipes (the feature is still available here)
* removing shopping sites from the list of search results
blocking search results
quick view for PDF files and Office files
* timeline view for search results.