CloudCourse: An Enterprise Application in the Cloud – Love it

It would be silly to say i’m jealous but its like they know what’s on my mind. To paraphrase a known commercial… This was my idea 🙂

Provide educators a personalized way to prepare course material for their class and students. I think this is now possible with CloudCourse: An Enterprise Application in the Cloud

via CloudCourse: An Enterprise Application in the Cloud – Google Open Source Blog.

Congrats Google!!

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OCR – Reading into images – Google

In scientific publishing, customers have been asking us to provide features that will read images like graphs and derive data from them.

This is not a revolutionary new concept. Optical character recognition has been around for ages. We use it to read from images of historic documents but why can’t we do simple applications like what Google has done?

Google uses optical character recognition, or OCR, to turn the image into words, and then uses its translation services to turn those words into a language you recognize.

via Goggles turns Android into pocket translator – Google 24/7 – Fortune Tech.

Simple ideas lead to useful solutions

Sometimes the simplest of solutions can be most useful. For example, if you are out looking for a house and want to calculate how much mortgage you can afford, one simple solution would be look up a mortgage calculator online. I’ve used this tool from Bankrate in the past and found it useful.

Anyway – my point is – sometimes simple tools that focus on a niche area can be very helpful. We are always looking for the next killer app, the next ‘cool’ idea that will solve problems for a lot of people. While we’re trying to build that one solution fits all, we can often get lost in complexity.

Twitter, in my opinion, is a really simple app. I remember years ago, i built a silly little VB client app to post updates on tasks I was working on for this dot com startup. My team mates could also get on the same app running on their machines and post their updates. None of the updates were lost since we stored them in a central dB. Didn’t think too much of it and it got lost in time as we all moved on with our careers. Goodness me… if only I knew.

Here’s another example of a simple app that will have its uses. Kevin Marks is a former Google employee (Read news about his departure). Brilliant guy who worked on all kinds of stuff – Orkut, OpenSocial, Microformats, what have you. You can check out his blog (Epeus’ epigone) for more gory details.

A couple of days ago he put together this application in 12 hours. Amatwit. Using Amazon’s API and the Twitter’s API users can search Amazon for items (currently defaulting to books) and from the search results you can tweet links to those books. Nice.. simple.. useful.

Do you have any simple and useful solutions? Maybe you already have something and just don’t realize it.

Google Books and the man

Many people love to read books online. I’m not much of an online book reader. I prefer my books to be made of paper. But maybe that’s because i haven’t really tried. If and when Kindle comes out with support for color, I’ll probably jump in. Anyway, I digress.

To date i have not paid too much attention to Google Books.  That is until i got this article in my feed today.

Google Books Just Got Better: Better Search Within Books, Embedding, & More.

I feel like i’ve come late to the party but probably just in time when the fun begins. If your experience reading books online has been getting a PDF version and scrolling through the pages or perhaps downloading a chapter at a time, then prepare to be amazed.

Here’s what I found most intriguing –

First the left hand pane.

A book's left hand pane

A book's left hand pane

Three very good and important features

1. An overview page: Its not clear to me where they pulled all this from but it looks like there is a brief abstract about the book, keywords and phrases (I don’t believe these are author supplied so they must have pulled out key terms/topics), reviews (that’s ok) and a slew of other information.

2. Search in this book: Its not just a simple search feature. Search within this book. The results as stated in commentary linked above –

appear in their context in a list of short snippets from the text

Good gracious almighty… how can you not be swept off your feet by that?

3. I also love the Related books feature but i haven’t tested it enough to see if they are truly relevant.

There are other features like page turners that don’t necessarily turn me on but its these simple things that add sweetness to the user experience. The fact that they care enough about the user to add that little feature will bring me back to Google Books.

And apparently you can embed the book in your blog. I tried but haven’t been able to get it to work. I’ll work on that.

Sure Amazon does a mighty fine job as well. If you compare what Amazon and Google do for the same book you’ll probably find both search within book features are nice. I prefer the Google version though, where we get small paragraph snippets within the results page instead of the entire page. That’s just me. Related books appeared to be similar except that Amazon points out 5 instead of 3 by default (hardly a differentiation).

All said, they are both kind of similar. I feel like i prefer Google’s layout better maybe because I’m just familiar with it or maybe it feels cleaner… just can’t lay my finger on it.

Both are definitely waaaaay better than some of the interfaces i have seen with more traditional publishers.

OK… i’m hooked. When’s Kindle color coming out?

[Update June 20, 2009: For a detailed summary of the latest Google Books feature – read this post from Brandon Badger on the Google Book Search blog]

All about data

In an earlier post (Researchers need data) I referred to Cameron Neylon’s call to build infrastructure and services that could capture the output of any research, i.e the research data.

Add to that, with Google Wave coming out the playing field appears to have changed – to enhance research collaboration, the publishing process and management of research data. Again Cameron does a wonderful job of thinking through the usage scenarios. First is the process of publishing a paper, and the second scenario is the process of adding an interface to the lab record. Very nice read and in many ways it helps me understand the research workflow process at a high level.

So is this the beginning of the end for traditional publishing houses?

I don’t think so but it does mean that publishers need to adapt to this new reality. If they ignore it then they will go the way of the newspapers. The only option is to acknowledge and accept the changing workflow. The changing workflow is, people searching Google for information, people collaborating on Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc. People soon relying on workflow tools like Wave for additional collaboration and publishing (and i’m sure there will be competing products that will soon arrive).

The option for publishinig houses are to either build their own competing solution OR integrate with existing online tools. My bets are on the former, especially for large publishing houses. Regardless, the question is how much are you going to open up your interface to the rest of the world. What tools are you going to provide your users to be more productive. The traditional model of offering a search engine one top of a repository of documents is not going to cut it. It is really important to understand how your users use the information you have and how they apply it to their workspace.

Recent technology trends will bode well for customers. I have a feeeling this is only the beginning for lots more exciting new things to come.

At Google’s Searchology event, executives give search ‘state of the union’

This is brilliant. I can see this kind of feature applicable to scientific research like searching through topics or when looking at an article visually representing the article against its references and cited by articles.

Marissa Mayer and her team are introducing new features to Google’s search results.

Via a tool called “search options,” users can now quickly “slice and dice” their search results in a variety of new ways.

Solar-ovensOn the results page, you can click “show options,” for example, on a search of “solar ovens.” You can then quickly filter the results to see video entries, entries from discussion forums and even user reviews that have undergone “sentiment analysis” — that is, whether the reviewer liked the product (a solar oven) or not.

Also included on the search options is a feature called “wonder wheel,” where Google will draw a simple topic diagram that connects your search query to similar topics. For “solar oven,” you might be given the option to search “how solar ovens work,” or “homemade solar ovens.”

from –http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/05/google-searchology-search-marissa-mayer-udi-manber.html

gpeerreview – Google Code

What is GPeerReview?

Traditional journals provide two services:

1. Find capable reviewers who give feedback, and recommend whether or not the journal should endorse a paper.

2. Publish papers by making them easily accessible to other researchers.

With modern technology, it is no longer necessary for these two services to be tied together. Authors should be able to:

1. Publish now and seek endorsements later.

2. Seek any number of endorsements.

GPeerReview attempts to makes it easy for authors to seek post-publication endorsements of their works. We provide the following tools:

* A command-line tool to digitally sign endorsements (done and available).

* A web-based version of the signing tool (about 70% done).

* Client tools for analyzing endorsement graphs to establish credibility (in planning stages).

* Additional tools to facilitate the running of endorsement organizations (in the brain-storming stages).

* Tools for analyzing citation graphs (in the brain-storming stages).

via gpeerreview – Google Code.