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Helping journalists experiment with 360 content

25 July[ —]

There’s already a huge amount of innovation in virtual reality and immersive storytelling—with many newsrooms experimenting and succeeding in the field—but for some, the ability to create 360 content can still be limited.

Perhaps predicting the rise of 360 technology, in 2014 Australian creative agency Grumpy Sailor worked with Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney on an experiment called Story Spheres, which stitches together photos and audio. It allows journalists, documentary makers and educators to tell powerful stories if they don’t have access to video.

Working with the same team behind the first prototype, the Google News Lab is now supporting the next iteration of the project. Today new features will help publishers—from individual journalists to large newsrooms—create and brand their immersive audio experiences. A new website will help journalists brand their creations with their own logos, help them credit their work and embed it on their own website. It’s now even simpler to upload a 360 image, edit the imagery, add an audio layer and navigate from one experience to another.

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In the UK, Trinity Mirror has already experimented with the new tool: The Liverpool Echo took their readers through the famous dockyards of the city, and the Manchester Evening News provided a snapshot of the flowers and balloons placed in St Ann’s Square as a tribute for the Manchester terrorist attacks. In Norway, Nettavisen has been experimenting with the tool by giving their readers a glimpse at the best podcasts for their readers this summer.

Emily McCartney, a coder and “techxplorer” at Grumpy Sailor, says the improved tool will help users, too: "There's so much news to consume, and people want to be able to jump between stories without losing any time, and Story Spheres help you do that."

Discover the tool for yourself, made by Grumpy Sailor with the support of Creative Lab in Sydney and the Google News Lab.


Helping people in a crisis

25 July[ —]

In times of crisis, access to timely, actionable information is crucial. Working alongside trained responders and volunteers on the ground, technology plays a vital role in providing information to help keep you and loved ones safe and informed. SOS alerts is a new set of features in Google Search and Maps to help you quickly understand what’s going on and decide what to do during a crisis.

How SOS Alerts Work

During a crisis, you may see an SOS Alert at the top of search results when searching for the incident or location. You’ll see maps, top stories and—when available—authoritative local information such as emergency phone numbers, websites, and translations of useful phrases. Depending on how close you are to the affected area, you may also get a notification on your mobile device that directs you to this information.

If you’re outside of the affected area, you may still want information about the crisis. Searches for relevant terms (like the name of the event or the location) will also show an SOS Alert that provides a timely overview of the situation, in addition to features such as donation opportunities.

searchsos

Google Maps on mobile can also show SOS Alerts. In Maps, you’ll see a specific icon on the map and a tappable card with more information about the crisis, such as helpful phone numbers and websites. The map will also include real-time updates, like road closures and traffic and transit updates.

mapssos

As we’ve developed our crisis response products, we’ve worked closely with organizations and government agencies that are on the front lines of relief efforts, including the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration and many others. "Radio and television were once the only channels to quickly provide information in an emergency, but the internet and mobile phones have become increasingly important,” said Robert Glenn, Director at FEMA.

In addition to SOS Alerts and other crisis response features—including Google Person Finder, Google Crisis Map and Google Public Alerts—our philanthropic arm Google.org provides grants and volunteers for communities impacted by crises. We hope you never need to use crisis response features, but if you do, they’re designed to help keep you, and those you love, safe and informed.


G4NP Around the Globe - Zooming in on Action Against Hunger

24 July[ —]

Every dollar and minute count to further your cause and focus on your mission. We’re pleased to highlight nonprofits who were able to make greater impact with fewer resources by using Google tools—from G Suite to Google Ad Grants–made available through Google for Nonprofits (G4NP) at no charge.

Varying in size, scope, and timezones, these nonprofits from around the world share one thing in common: utilizing the G4NP suite of tools to help their specific needs. G4NP offers nonprofit organizations across 50 countries access to Google tools like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Ad Grants and more at no cost. This week, we’ll take a look at how the nonprofit Action Against Hunger utilizes these tools to increase productivity, visibility, and donations,  in order to improve lives in  the communities they serve.

Action Against Hunger

In 2016 alone, Action Against Hunger provided nourishment to over 1.5 million starving children(1). In order to save lives with nutritional programs, Action Against Hunger looked to Google for aid—not for food, but for technology. Action Against Hunger now utilizes five Google technologies that have drastically improved their ability to save lives around the globe.

Raising Awareness with Google Ad Grants & Analytics

For major international emergencies, like the Ebola outbreak or the South Sudan famine, Action Against Hunger needs a way to inform people and recommend ways to get involved. With Ad Grants, the nonprofit activates targeted keywords relating to the crises to drive people to their page and empower them to take action. Google Analytics then allows them to track their effectiveness and adjust accordingly to increase engagement and improve their fundraising techniques. With this data-driven strategy and the tools’ ability to optimize campaigns, Action Against Hunger has nearly doubled funding year-over-year. In fact, Ad Grants brought 158,000 people to their website in the past year alone, raising $66,000 which is equal to treating 1,466 hungry children.

Ad Grants brought 158,000 people to their website in the past year alone, raising $66,000 which is equal to treating 1,466 hungry children.

Increasing Productivity with G Suite

When working with a global network and managing hundreds of programs abroad, collaboration and communication are key. After experiencing unnecessary latencies in their operations, Action Against Hunger has since adopted G Suite which streamlined their workflow. The nonprofit is especially fond of Gmail, Hangouts, and Drive where Action Against Hunger employees can message each other quickly, share files securely, and collaborate on Docs in real-time—avoiding duplication of efforts and saving time.

Fundraising with One Today & YouTube

To drive donations and expand awareness to broad audiences, Action Against Hunger uses One Today, a Google app that allows users to easily donate $1 or more towards causes they care about. Campaigning on One Today on World Food Day in 2016,  Action Against Hunger raised more than $1,200 in support of their cause with each dollar going directly helping those in need—the equivalent of feeding 1,000 hungry children. Additionally, Action Against Hunger creates and shares content on YouTube to reach their global audience, and is  beginning to use the YouTube donation cards to further increase donations. The large exposure and website referrals from both YouTube and Google+ helped Action Against Hunger raise over $20,000.

Using Google products Action Against Hunger gained extra time and energy to focus on what really matters: feeding the hungry.

To read more about Action Against Hunger’s story and learn how they used Google tools so effectively, visit our Google for Nonprofits Community Stories page. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more inspirational stories about nonprofits using technology to help their cause.

To see if your nonprofit is eligible to participate, review the Google for Nonprofits eligibility guidelines. Google for Nonprofits offers organizations like yours free access to Google tools like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Ad Grants, YouTube for Nonprofits and more. These tools can help you reach new donors and volunteers, work more efficiently, and tell your nonprofit’s story. Learn more and enroll here.

Footnote:  Statements are provided by Nonprofits that received products as part of the Google for Nonprofits program, which offers products at no charge to qualified nonprofits.



Experience Tunisia’s rich culture with Street View Imagery

24 July[ —]

My Street View journey took me to Tunisia, home to beautiful sun soaked beaches, ancient Roman ruins, and Islamic monuments. And now you can explore Tunisia on Street view too.

The first stop is the Amphitheatre of El Djem, the largest Roman amphitheatre in North Africa, located in the heart of Tunisia. This beautiful monument stands in the midst of a lively and vibrant town—El Djem—-previously known as “Thysdrus,” a prosperous town during the reign of the Roman Empire.

As you walk through the arena, imagine 35,000 cheering spectators gathered in the auditorium to watch gladiators and lions raised and lowered from cells to meet their fate. As the cheering crowd fades, you are brought back to the present, and the crowd’s roars are replaced with sound of birds chirping and leaves rustling in the cornerstone of El Djem.

Then I went on to explore the massive city of Carthage, founded in the 9th Century B.C and home to an iconic civilization. It is also the hometown of the famed warrior and military leader, Hannibal, who grew to lead victorious battles. Today, Tunisians regard Carthage and the memory of Hannibal with a strong sense of pride. Use Street View to take a stroll through the Theatre of Carthage, Cisterns of La Malaga, Basilica of Damus al-Karita and the Baths of Antoninus which face the stunning view of the Mediterranean.

Next we visited Dougga, an ancient Roman Town that was built on a hill and flourished during the Roman and Byzantine times. Take a walk through its beautiful ruins which have been around for more than six centuries, and envision the daily life of people in a typical Roman town. Let the monuments left behind give you a glimpse into the Numidian, Punic, Hellenistic, and Roman cultures. Stroll around the site with Street View and stop to gaze up at The Capitol, a Roman Temple dedicated to Rome’s protective triad; Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.

To delve into some of Tunisia’s beautiful Islamic architecture during the early centuries, we stopped by Sousse. This gorgeous city lies on the Tunisian Sahel with monuments to admire such as the Ribat of Sousse as well as the city’s Great Mosque. Take a walk through the vast courtyard of the mosque, the stairs will lead you to the watchtowers where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the mosque and its surroundings.

Finally,  my favorite part of the journey was going to the different Museums spread across Tunisia. Some of these include The National Bardo Museum, Sbeïtla Archaeological Museum, Utique Museum and The National Museum of Carthage. The rich collection of artifacts displayed tell their own stories, especially the beautiful collection of Roman Mosaics in The Bardo. Make sure to take a tour of your own.

We hope that we have inspired you to take a moment to step into the wonder that is Tunisia. For more highlights from Tunisia Street View collection, visit Tunisia Highlights


Chatting with the National Spelling Bee champ on her success and what’s next

21 July[ —]

Last month, Ananya Vinay clinched the National Spelling Bee with the word “marocain.” (I’m guessing she has never needed to use the "Did you mean" feature in Google Search.) When we ascertained that Ananya endeavored to visit the Googleplex, we invited her for lunch and a peregrination around campus. I had the chance to confabulate with her about her predilection for spelling, her multifarious approach to practicing a preponderance of words, how Google Hangouts helped her maintain equanimity at the Bee, and which venture she plans to vanquish next.

Ananya at Google

Keyword: What was your favorite part of the tour at Google?

Ananya: I really liked seeing the first server (known as the “corkboard server”) at the Visitors Center. Then I got to use Google Earth, and zoomed in on my grandmother’s house in Kerala, India.

If you could work at Google one day, what kind of job would you want to do?

I’d like to work in the division where they do research on AI and medicine. I’d want to diagnose diseases. This summer I went to a camp called “mini medical school” where I got to do a bunch of dissections—I really like that stuff.

We heard you used Google Hangouts to practice for the spelling bee, can you tell us more about that?

There’s a spellers chat on Hangouts, and when you make it to the National Spelling Bee, another speller will add you to the chat. People use the chat to share resources on how to study and quiz each other, which helped expand my knowledge of words. When we used Hangouts Chat (instead of video), autocorrect got in the way of spelling, which is really hilarious. The words are so strange that autocorrect doesn’t recognize them. I’ve beaten autocorrect a lot.

Is there a word that always trips you up? Or does that only happen to me?

When I was younger I always messed up “mozzarella.” Now it’s easier for me to guess words because I go off of language patterns and word rules, so I can figure out a word based on language of origin. There’s a lower chance I’ll miss a word because I have a larger word base.

What’s next? Are you going to keep doing spelling bees?

I can’t compete again because I already won the national competition, but next year I get to open up the Bee. Now I’m going deep into math and science. I’m going into seventh grade, and my new hobby is going to be debate.

If you could have a dress made of marocain, what color would it be?

I’m going to use a spelling bee word: cerulean* (which means sky blue).

*Editor’s Note: While I was taking notes during the interview, Ananya immediately called me out on my misspelling of cerulean (not cirulian, as I thought). She’s good.



The High Five: Live every week like you’ll discover a dinosaur fossil

21 July[ —]

This week a human races a shark, and a dinosaur was discovered a million years after it walked the Earth. It’s a whole new world out there. Here’s what people are searching for this week:

shark_grey.gif

Phelps has the gold, now he’s going for the White

Shark Week returns Sunday night on the Discovery Channel, and this year it’s going to the next level with a “race” between Olympian Michael Phelps and a great white shark. So far Phelps is beating “great white shark” in search traffic, but all bets are off in the water. Delaware, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are the regions with the most searches for “Shark Week,” but people are also interested in Amity Island’s resident killer “Jaws,” which was the top searched shark movie of the week.

Stumbling on history

This week’s excavation of a million-year old Stegomastadon is making news after a boy tripped over its fossilized skull while hiking with his family in New Mexico. Search interest in Stegomastadon went up than 700 percent with queries like, “What does a stegomastodon look like?” and “How long ago did dinosaurs live?” Even with its moment in the limelight this week, Stegomastadon was searched less than Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor.

Get those people a croissant

After 23 days, 21 stages, and more than 2,000 miles, cyclists will cross the Tour de France finish line in Paris this weekend. Curious about how that is physically possible, people are searching: “How many rest days are there in the Tour de France?” and “How long is a stage in the Tour de France?” Search interest in “yellow jersey” (worn by the leader of the race and ultimately presented to the winner) spiked 200 percent this week.

O.J. stirs things up

After serving an eight-year prison sentence for armed robbery, O.J. Simpson was released on parole this week. Leading up to the hearing, people searched: “What did O.J. Simpson do?” “What time is OJ’s parole hearing?” and “What is a parole hearing?” Search interest in O.J. spiked 350 percent this week, and interest in his now-deceased attorney Robert Kardashian—yup that Kardashian, father of Kim, Khloe and Kourtney—went up 200 percent.

Harry goes in a new direction

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated movie about the World War II battle in which 300,000 troops were evacuated from a French beach, opened in theaters this week. This month search interest in “Dunkirk evacuation” reached its highest since 2004, and it spiked more than 200 percent this week alone. People are also looking for info on one cast member in particular: One Direction frontman Harry Styles, who makes his acting debut in the movie. Search interest in “Harry Styles Dunkirk” was searched 900 percent more than “Harry Styles songs.”



Your swimming-with-the-sharks Assistant

21 July[ —]

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

I don’t know about you, but we’ve been hearing a lot about sharks this week. So grab your Assistant and let’s sink our teeth into summer—or at least learn some fun shark facts.

sharkgif
  • Let’s start with the basics: “Ok Google, tell me a shark fact.”
  • The more you know: “What’s the fastest shark?” And follow up with “how fast can it swim?” (That would be the shortfin mako shark at 60 MPH.)
  • Don’t forget your show! Just say “Ok Google, remind me to tune into my favorite show on Sunday” to your Assistant on your phone. 
  • Fish are friends … and sometimes food. To prepare for your watch party: say “Ok Google, add fish gummies to my shopping list.”
  • Look for the real thing: “Ok Google, where’s the closest beach?”

Duuunnnn dunnnn. Duuunnnnn duunnn… well, you get the point. b

P.S. In case you missed it, the Assistant on Google Home is now available in Australia—home to 180 shark speciessaying G’Day to a whole new set of fins friends.


Around the world with #teampixel

20 July[ —]

With vacation mode in full swing, #teampixel members are steadily trekking into the far corners of the globe. This week’s picks range from a peaceful afternoon in a Beijing temple to the windy roads of the Great St. Bernard Pass. Take a look at our summer faves in this week’s #pixelperfect slideshow, and don’t forget to pack the sunscreen.

Have a Pixel? Tag your photos with #teampixel, and you might get featured on the ‘gram.


Daydream Labs: Teaching Skills in VR

20 July[ —]

You can read every recipe, but to really learn how to cook, you need time in the kitchen. Wouldn't it be great if you could slip on a VR headset and have a famous chef walk you through the basics step by step? In the future, you might be able to learn how to cook a delicious five-course meal—all in VR. In fact, virtual reality could help people learn all kinds of skills.

At Daydream Labs, we tried to better understand how interactive learning might work in VR. So we set up an experiment, which aimed at teaching coffee making. We built a training prototype featuring a 3D model of an espresso machine which reacts like a real one would when you press the buttons, turn the knobs or drop the milk. We also added a detailed tutorial. Then, we tasked one group of people to learn how to pull espresso shots by doing it in VR. (At the end, we gave people a detailed report on how they’d done, including an analysis of the quality of their coffee.) For the purpose of comparison, another group learned by watching YouTube videos. Both groups were able to train for as long as they liked before trying to make a coffee in the real world; people assigned to watch the YouTube tutorial normally did so three times, and people who took the VR training normally went through it twice.

othercoffeegif
A scene from our coffee training prototype

We were excited to find out that people learned faster and better in VR. Both the number of mistakes made and the time to complete an espresso were significantly lower for those trained in VR (although, in fairness, our tasting panel wasn't terribly impressed with the espressos made by either group!) It's impossible to tell from one experiment, of course, but these early results are promising. We also learned a lot of about how to design future experiments. Here's a glimpse at some of those insights.

othercoffeegif2
Another scene from our coffee training prototype

First, milk coffee was a bad choice. The physical sensation of tamping simply can't be replicated with a haptic buzz. And no matter what warning we flashed if someone virtually touched a hot steam nozzle, they frequently got too close to it in the real world, and we needed a chaperone at the ready to grab their hand away. This suggests that VR technology isn’t quite there when it comes to learning some skills. Until gloves with much better tracking and haptics are mainstream, VR training will be limited to inputs like moving things around or pressing buttons. And if the digital analog is too far removed from the thing it's simulating, it probably won’t help all that much with actually learning the skill.

We also learned that people don’t follow instructions. We see this in all of the prototypes made in Daydream Labs, but it was especially problematic in the trainer. Instructions on controllers? People left their hands by their sides. Written on a backboard? They were too busy with what was right in front of them. Delivered as a voiceover? They rushed ahead without waiting. We even added a “hint” button, but people thought that it was cheating—and forgot about it after a step or two anyways. We ended up needing to combine all of these methods and add in-scene markers, too. Large green arrows pointing at whatever the user was supposed to interact with next worked well enough to allow us to run the test. But we’ve by no means solved this problem, and we learned that lots more work needs to be done about incorporating instructions effectively.

Finally, we discovered that it was too difficult to track all the steps a person took. Every choice we gave a user led to an exponential growth in the number of paths through the tutorial. Worse, people didn't always follow our linear “railroad-style” path, so we had to model all kinds of situations; for example, letting the user steam the milk before grinding the coffee. In the end, it was much easier to model the trainer like a video game, where every object has its own state. So instead of the trainer keeping track of all the steps the user did in order ("user has added milk to cup", we had it track whether a key step had been achieved ("cup contains milk").

Despite these challenges, we consider this prototype a success: people learned something new in VR and enjoyed the process. Some of them even came back to use the espresso trainer again after they’d tried to make a real coffee. In fact, once they had the real-world experience, the virtual training had more context and was more meaningful to them. It may be that VR is a useful way to introduce people to a new skill, and then can help them practice and consolidate once they’ve tried it in the real world. One thing’s for sure—there’s a lot more to learn about learning in VR!


How we’re collaborating with Citrix to deliver cloud-based desktop apps

20 July[ —]

Businesses of all types are accelerating their transition to the cloud, and for many, desktop infrastructure and applications are part of this journey. Customers often tell us they want to be able to use their current desktop applications from any device and any place just as easily and securely as they can use G Suite.

That’s why today, we’re announcing a collaboration with Citrix to help deliver desktop applications running in a cloud-hosted environment.

Managing and delivering hosted desktop applications requires several pieces of technology: Google brings highly scalable and reliable infrastructure, a global network to reach customers and employees wherever they may be, and a team of security engineers who work to keep Google Cloud customers secure. Citrix brings the application management, backup and redundancy from XenApp, its desktop virtualization suite, and application delivery with Netscaler. Finally, Google Chromebooks and Android devices together with Citrix XenApp offer a highly secure, managed end-point that provide users a safe and user friendly experience on which to use applications.

All this requires close partnership and excellence in engineering. Google and Citrix have collaborated for years and we're expanding that relationship today in a few key ways:

  • Simplifying the path for customers to more securely transition to the cloud by bringing Citrix Cloud to Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

  • Bringing the application load balancing expertise of Netscaler to the world of containers via Netscaler CPX on GCP

  • Integrating Sharefile with G Suite to use Gmail and edit and store Google Docs natively.

  • Expanding use of secure devices with Citrix Receiver for Chrome and Android link

This collaboration helps address key challenges faced by enterprises moving to the cloud quickly and securely. Both Google and Citrix look forward to making our products work together and to delivering a great combined experience for our customers.


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