Hover Zoom Chrome Extension

Hover Zoom Chrome Extension

I’ve been using the Hover Zoom Chrome extension for a couple weeks now. I am completely hooked. The most obvious benefit is for image searches. I’m constantly putting together reference boards for new designs, so this has been a big benefit. However, as you use it you start to get hooked onto other elements of functionality. For instance, on Facebook I can hover over someone’s tiny profile thumbnail image and see their full profile picture. It’s very handy for comments and posts, so I can get a refresher on who the person is without having to click through to a profile page.

If you’re running Chrome, check it out at the Google Extensions site.

Google Wave Dev Halted

So one of the big tech news stories today is that Google has ceased any future development of Wave, and will be shutting the service down entirely sometime near the end of the year.

The response I’ve seen the most is “duh” or “about time,” citing how few people used, or even understood how to use, the system. Personally, I always figured it was more of a test-bed for Google to develop tools and features that would find their way into other products like Docs, Gmail, Voice, and so on. I never expected it to gain a healthy base of users beyond developers and tech geeks who wanted to see a hint of the latest and greatest coming from the Google campus.

Apparently my conception of Wave was pretty different from that of whoever writes the checks at Google, since they’re shutting it down. They did say that existing Wave technologies will find their way into other products, but it will not continue to serve as an incubator for future technologies.

You can read the official announcement at the Official Google Blog and see plenty of 140 character opinions with the #googlewave Twitter tag.

Google Maps Navigation

We all saw this coming… but I didn’t think it would be this feature rich right out of the gate. Google has launched a beta of Google Maps Navigation on the new Verizon Droid Android phone. It has a ton of great features, like using streetview to show you what turns look like as well as what your destination looks like. It is only on the Droid right now, and will be released for other Android handsets in time. Whether it makes its way to other platforms like the iPhone, Windows Mobile, or Blackberry… I don’t know. It is certainly a strong selling point for the Android platform if it stays exclusive.

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Google Traffic Aggregates User Data

Dash ExpressA couple years ago a new dedicated GPS device hit the market called the Dash Express. Dash planned to crowdsource their traffic data. Each Dash Express GPS unit reported location and speed back to the service. Dash then aggregated this data and pushed the results back to every Dash unit. In theory, users would get extremely current and accurate traffic data. In reality, the concept requires a large install base in your area to be effective. If I remember correctly, the Dash unit was nearly $400 at launch, and required a $14/month service plan. In November of 2008 Dash must have seen the writing on the wall, because they quit being a hardware company and started focusing on pushing their system of aggregating traffic data to other platforms and devices.

The concept has been revisited from time to time, and rightfully so, because it’s a solid concept. There is currently a mobile application called Waze that combines geolocation of friends/family, driving directions, maps, traffic data, and accident reporting into one app. The company claims to have a healthy install base in Europe but adoption in the US is still very low. Waze has taken a step in the right direction by being a cross platform application, so the potential install base is much higher than software tied to a single piece of hardware like the Dash Express. As far as execution though, Waze doesn’t cut it for me. At least on the iPhone, the UI is poorly implimented, service is slow, and the previously mentioned small install base keeps the true benefits of crowdsourced traffic from being realized.

gmm_arterials_z15This is where Google comes in. They have reached this space from the opposite direction. Google Maps for mobile devices already has an overwhelmingly large install base… a perfect source of information to build traffic data. The Google Blog recently laid out how they are using location data from mobile devices using Google services to build real-time data information for Google Maps users. Google Maps traffic data was recently expanded to secondary roads thanks to the abundance of information gathered from user data. The software that makes this happen comes bundled on Android devices and the Palm Pre, and is an easy download for Blackberry and Windows Mobile. I’m sure most people didn’t even realize they were contributing to the project. The Google Maps application on the iPhone doesn’t have the location reporting feature unfortunately, but I hope it will get added in a firmware update soon. Fortunately for iPhone users though, you don’t have to report data to benefit from it. iPhone users and desktop browser users alike will see the results of crowdsourced traffic data when they use Google Maps.

I know one of the big concerns you’re probably having right now: privacy. Of course there’s always a conversation about how much you should trust a large corporation like Google, but Dave Barth goes to great length to explain how Google is protecting user privacy in the Google Blog post, so please read through the last two paragraphs for sure.

If it’s not obvious by how much I’ve rambled about the subject in this blog post, I’ve had crowdsourced traffic data on my mind for years now, and I’m extremely excited to see it reaching the point where it can benefit a ton of users whether they’re aware of what’s going on behind the scenes or not. And really, I think the best applications of technology are those that don’t require attention or effort from the users in order for them to see the benefits.

Links: The Official Google Blog – The bright side of sitting in traffic: Crowdsourcing road congestion data, Waze, Dash

New Gmail Attachments Interface

I was writing an e-mail with some attachments and noticed that Gmail has made some nice tweaks to how attachment uploads are handled. Before, you’d click “add an attachment” which would give a blank form field for filename, and a browse button. Clicking “add another attachment” would give you another blank filename field. Once you hit browse and chose your file the browser would start uploading the attachment in the background. There wasn’t any progress indication though, but you would be able to tell when it was done. Of course, nothing stopped you from hitting send before uploads were done, you’d just have to wait for them to finish before you could move on.

Now, as soon as you hit “add attachment” you get a file browsing box from your OS, without having to click a browse button in Gmail. Once you choose your file, you now get a nice real-time progress bar showing upload progress.

Gmail Attachment Uploads

It’s a small change, but I know it will be welcomed by anyone who deals with attachments frequently. Even when I was a bit confused by the changed behavior, the whole operation still felt quicker and simplier. I love small tweaks like this.

[Update] So I was a couple weeks late on this… check out the Official Gmail Blog post for more details, like how you can select more than one file to attach at once now.