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It's that time again, the end of a year - time to tote up Google's blogging activity for the last 365 days. First, a few bits of data about this particular blog:
  • Number of posts this year: 300
  • New product announcements: 15 (not counting our April 1 release)
  • News about upgrades and additions to products: 87
  • Announcing products in more languages and countries: 30
  • Acquisitions: 12
  • Unique visitors: 6,738,830 (for 8,655,830 visits)
  • Languages: 511 (preferred language configured on computers)
  • Top non-Google referrers: Yahoo, Digg, Slashdot, Fark
Beyond these basics, this year saw many more posts on privacy (9), accessibility (10), and energy and the environment (11). We blogged a good deal about Google's people and culture, our various offices around the world, and the pastimes and passions of Googlers (26, including 2 recipes). We talked about healthcare issues that challenge consumers (5). There were competitions including Google Code Jam and events for developers, educators and others (29). Through YouTube, there has been much political activity (7) in the U.S. as well as in Australia.

The posts that elicited the most reaction in terms of views and linkbacks include:

- the much-discussed "Gphone" news
- our thinking about the upcoming FCC spectrum auction
- what the OpenSocial APIs could mean
- how a black screen might not save energy
- announcing the Knol test project
- building your own Google homepage

Of course, there's more than business to write about. We celebrated National Gorilla Suit Day, deconstructed the Valentine's Day doodle, and then a snake went missing.

As for the Google family of blogs, there's been lots of growth this year: 42 new ones launched, for a total to 83 active company blogs. Increasingly, Googlers want to quickly and regularly convey product news and updates to various constituents, and blogs are a great way to do that. Among the most popular of this newest crop are the Gmail blog (nearly 1.5 million unique visitors), the Orkut blogs (in English - 3.5 million uniques; and Portuguese - 8.8 million), and Google Lat Long, with 824,000 unique visitors, which covers everything geographical. In addition, readers can now turn to new product blogs including those for Google Finance, Google News, and Mobile. Reflecting keen interest in activity outside the U.S., the YouTube blog had the greatest number of comments for its June post about the fact that YouTube is available in 9 more countries, followed by the August post announcing InVideo ads.

On the ads side: there are now 6 more non-English blogs for AdSense publishers (French, Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Chinese). The AdWords team opened blogs for Brasil and the Netherlands, Japan now has its own Analytics blog, and there are now German and Chinese versions of the popular Webmaster Central. (The most popular ads-related blog is the one for Analytics, with nearly half a million unique visitors, followed by closely Inside AdSense and then Inside AdWords.)

To keep current and share their work, developers got a raft of new blogs, too, including those focused on APIs for YouTube, Checkout, Gears, Mashup, and Gadgets. Needless to say, there are now also blogs for Android and OpenSocial.

Two new country blogs, for the Czech Republic and Australia, went public, to talk about all things Google in their regions. Yet more readers congregated around the new Public Policy and Google.org blogs, as well as one dedicated to online security and malware.

Despite all this activity, and the fact that a growing number of companies also host corporate blogs, the Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki (a collaborative project begun by Wired Magazine and SocialText) indicates that even today, just 46 of the Fortune 500 companies (about 9%), have active public blogs produced by company employees that focus on the company and its products. Let's hope in 2008 that number goes up. We think such blogs can serve users, journalists, critics, investors, and fans more effectively and directly than more traditional approaches. Apparently, so do 41,395,926 people around the world - the number of visitors to all of our blogs this year.

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From time to time we highlight the non-work interests and pastimes of individual Googlers. - Ed.

I have been working with chainmail, and metal working in general, for nearly 5 years now. I picked it up when I started college. My first major in college was history, and I was going to focus on the Middle Ages because of my fascination with the medieval period. After I changed majors to Computer Science, my hobby remained medievalism.

I have apprenticed under a blacksmith and learned some general metal working techniques. But I could not build my own forge then, so I turned to chainmail, which is a "cold" metal craft. Now I can take a bag of rings with me anywhere I go, and any time I have free time, I can work on whatever my current project is.

The crafting of chainmail is a relatively inexpensive hobby -- for the cost of a single videogame I can have enough chainmail supplies to last me months. The best part is that is requires very little thought most of the time, so you can multitask; watch TV, or movies, or even browse the web while working on chainmail.

A while back I was wanting to try my hand a chainmail inlay, but I did not have a design in mind. Most people make a chainmail shirt that has some dragon, or rampant lion design on it. I wanted to make something more unique. After a few weeks of thinking about this, I realized that I could use the Google logo.

I started construction in late April 2007, my plan was to only work on it while on my lunch break, or other downtimes. But I soon realized it would take me years at that pace. And the opening of our new office area was going to happen later in the summer. So I began to work on it whenever I was not actually doing my job. I spent around 4 to 5 hours a day every weekday weaving the banner.

Four months later, I had a completed banner, which now hangs in our office.



For the numbers-minded, here are some details:
  • The entire project is exactly 25,829 rings.
  • Dimensions: 67 units by 44 units (c. 66" x 27")
  • Rings: 1/4" 16-gauge aluminum; the silver is bright aluminum and the inlay uses colored anodized aluminum.
  • The entire thing is the traditional 4 in 1 pattern turned 90 degrees.

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Candidates caught singing on camera. Dorm-room presidential interviews. A martial arts master endorsing a presidential candidate. Citizen-created campaign commercials. And two presidential primary debates. 2007 was quite a year for YouTube Politics.

At this time last year, YouTube had developed a reputation as a place where "gotcha!" videos posted by citizens were changing the political landscape. Some even called the 2006 U.S. midterm elections "the YouTube election" after several candidates were caught on camera saying things they probably shouldn't have. But in 2007, that changed. Seizing the YouTube opportunity, presidential candidates came rushing to the platform themselves, setting up official campaign channels on our You Choose '08 platform. Seven of the 16 presidential candidates even announced their candidacies on YouTube.

Candidates and voters now speak to each other through video. At their best, campaigns use YouTube not as a shrunken TV screen through which to distribute their soundbites, but as a window through which to have a dialogue with the American people. YouTube's leveling effect is this: anyone can upload a video with their political message, and the best content rises to the top through community view counts, rankings, linkages, and embeds. Any voter with a video camera and access to the Internet has the opportunity to be seen and heard.

Our two presidential debates with CNN highlighted this phenomenon. Eight thousand video questions were submitted for the two record-setting debates, which opened up a traditionally closed event to the rest of the world via YouTube. Time was, you had to be in New Hampshire, Iowa, or Florida to get access to candidates at a debate. With questions coming directly from voters via video, our YouTube debates helped to break down some of the geographical barriers that have so sharply defined American politics in the past.



So what's ahead in 2008? Things are only going to get more exciting. As Congressional and Senate races heat up, you'll see more and more candidates coming to YouTube. And as the presidential races narrows down to two candidates, YouTube will be a critical battlefront in the general election. With voters, candidates, issue groups, media companies, trade associations, lobbyists and activists all interacting on the same level platform, 2008 promises to be a true "YouTube Election."

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Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!

We're counting down the hours until Santa's flight around the world. On Monday, December 24th, starting at 1 am PST, visit noradsanta.org to track Santa with NORAD on his annual trip.

NORAD will use Google Maps to track several hundred of Santa's stops in over 200 countries and territories, and will embed videos of Santa's stops captured on their Santa Cams on the Google Map and post the videos on the NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube channel.

Want to see more of Santa? NORAD will also provide a downloadable Santa Tracker file to track several thousand of Santa's stops in Google Earth. Santa's visits are only a few seconds long, and then -- poof, he's off to the next location. Click on the gift icons in Google Maps or Google Earth to learn more about the cities that Santa visits.

Happy holidays from all of us at Google!

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1957 was a very special year for the British Monarchy. It had already become an annual tradition for the monarch to issue a Christmas message to people in the United Kingdom and around the world. But fifty years ago this Christmas, Queen Elizabeth II's message was televised for the first time.

In her broadcast, the Queen spoke about the technological developments that allowed her image to appear in people's homes around the nation, saying that "I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct. That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us."

This Christmas, fifty years later, we are thrilled to say that the British Monarchy is embracing another new technology by launching The Royal Channel on YouTube. By setting up the first ever channel from a monarchy, the Queen joins other world leaders including the French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the British Government in using online video to communicate with people around the globe.

Right now, you can visit The Royal Channel to see that first 1957 broadcast, along with other rare and previously unreleased archive footage. And at around 3pm BST on Christmas Day, this year's Christmas broadcast from the Queen appeared on YouTube as well as on television.

We're delighted to welcome the Queen to the YouTube community, and hope that you enjoy the unseen treasures on her channel as much as we have.

Update: Linked directly to the 2007 Christmas Broadcast.

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Here's a suggestion for everyone to save energy over the holidays (and at other times!): turn off your computer and monitor or put them into "sleep" mode when you're not using them.

Why? The typical desktop PC uses 100-200 watts even when it's idle. That's the equivalent of 1-2 bright incandescent (read: inefficient) light bulbs. (Note: new PCs that comply with the latest Energy Star specifications consume less than 50-60 watts when idle.)

You wouldn't leave your car running for hours when it's just sitting there. Most of us wouldn't leave a bright light bulb burning for hours when no one is nearby to need the light. So why leave your computer on?

If you're leaving your office for the holidays, turn off your PC. If it consumes 100 watts, that will save 2.4 kWh/day, or over 25 kWh for the next 11 days through January 1st. In California, that will stop about 40 kg of CO2 from being put into the air, and save about $2.50. For every 1 million people who do this, that will stop 40,000 tonnes (metric tons) of CO2 from being emitted, and save $2.5 million. In many areas, it will reduce emissions even further, and save even more money.

The same issue applies at home: turn off your computer or put it to sleep when you're not using it. The automatic power management settings on most computers will put them to sleep automatically after a specified idle period.

If you use a screensaver, set it to "blank" the screen and put the monitor in sleep mode after a few minutes. Screensavers don't have any benefit (other than being nice to look at) on modern displays, and they consume as much or more energy as just about anything else you could ask your computer to do.

You might be thinking, "why now?" This isn't just an issue for the holidays, but this is a good time to remind people. In general, when you're not using your computer, turn it off or put it to sleep. Most computers can go to sleep quickly, and then wake up with all your work exactly as it was when you put it to sleep -- so there's no downside.

If you want to do even more to save energy with your computers and to help the entire IT industry move to higher energy efficiency, check out the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, which we co-founded last June to create a positive "virtuous circle" between the supply of and demand for energy-efficient computers. More than 140 companies, universities, governments, and nonprofits, along with thousands of individuals, have pledged to buy energy-efficient computers and to use automatic power management tools to save energy. As more people make the same commitments, the volume of energy-efficient computers sold will increase, and the very modest price premium they demand today should drop.

Have a great holiday season!

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The holiday season is a time for reuniting with friends and family, reveling in stories and sentimentalities, cozying up to a cup of warm cocoa, listening to a fire slowly pop and fizzle. It's a time when we ease ourselves out of our routines, and have a moment to share our joys with those who are nearest to us. And the season affords us a unique opportunity to step back and empathize with people who face hardships throughout the world.

This season, Googlers everywhere are not only celebrating the joys of the holidays; quite a few of us have joined together to give back to our local communities. Whether it's helping kids craft public service announcements, contributing to toy drives, gathering donations for food banks, working with high schoolers on their college apps, writing get-well cards for sick children, or pitting teams of chefs against one another for charity, Googlers have made it a point to get creative.

We've assembled pictures from these events in this album, and encourage you to find a way to give back in your own community.



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The tools used for navigation and exploration are fraught with metaphorical possibility. A compass or telescope can be a powerful symbol for search, discovery, and the fearless embrace of the unknown. A map can tell you where you are, give you an idea of what lies ahead, and even better, give scale and breadth to your location. Maps connect us with the world in a way that is tangible, visual and now, even interactive.

And for any of the myriad places you can point to on a map, there are traditions, stories, pictures and memories -- each is as unique and fascinating as its teller. For this year's holiday season we've created a My Map for you to customize.


View Larger Map

Mark your place in the world with photos, video and stories that illuminate something about how you celebrate. Your stories can make for a considerably bigger map than any featuring geopolitical boundaries and highway markers; they can mark a human space of Chanukah candles, Christmas trees, family feasts and reunions great and small. We look forward to seeing how you make your mark.

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Last week Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer launched version 5 as a public beta. This version introduces a number of exciting features, such as making your Toolbar settings available from any computer that you log into with your Google Account, improved suggestions for broken links, as well as important changes that make Toolbar more accessible for assistive technology users.

This release adds support for Windows Accessibility APIs (used by screen readers, etc.) and enables keyboard navigation and access. From inside a browser with Toolbar installed, the global shortcut Alt+G places your cursor in the Google Toolbar search box. If you're using a screen reader, you'll hear "Google Toolbar Search". Pressing the Tab key brings keyboard focus to the button placed immediately after the search box, and right and left arrow keys move focus between buttons. More information on keyboard access is documented in the Toolbar Help Center (query 'accessibility').

Version 5 comes as a part of our ongoing efforts to enhance accessibility in our client-side and web applications, which is a matter I hardly need to mention is very important. Personally, I see my work that went into the Toolbar as an important step forward, as the product reaches a very large number of users and enables everyone to gain quick access to a multitude of useful features, through a unified UI. Adding keyboard navigation and other features that enhance the ease of access to these features benefit everyone.

We look forward to making further improvements to accessibility (including the installation process) in future releases. You can download the new Google Toolbar at http://toolbar.google.com/T5.

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This is the time of year when People Who Love to Decorate — you know who you are — can go all out. And while you're festooning your home and office, don't forget your computer desktop!

The Inside Google Desktop Blog has a guide to the latest holiday gadgets, with a picture of each one and tips on how you might use it. You can decorate a Christmas tree, listen to music, exchange ornaments with a friend, count down to the New Year, and more. They look right at home on your desktop, or you can put them in the Google Desktop sidebar or your iGoogle home page.

Take the Christmas Tree gadget, for instance. When you start it up, it's a simple tree with gently falling snow. With a few clicks you can add ornaments wherever you like. If you find the animated precipitation distracting, you can hide the snowflakes.

We hope you enjoy these gadgets. And happy holidays from the Google Desktop Team!

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Around Google we look to add value for our users in various ways. One way to do this is through our 20% time (engineers can spend one day a week working on projects that are not necessarily part of their current job responsibilities -- an integral part of our philosophy). So the two of us decided to use our 20% time for something near to the hearts of many.

If you know what a silly mid-on is and what LBW stands for, chances are you're one of the tens of millions of cricket fans that just can't get enough of the latest scores. Well, we have good news: you can now get the latest cricket scores when you visit Google News India. There's more detail about this new feature on the Google News Blog.

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Earlier today, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cleared our acquisition of DoubleClick. This is obviously excellent news for both companies, and I would like to comment on its significance and what it means for us going forward.

Perhaps most importantly, the FTC’s decision publicly affirms what we and numerous independent analysts have been saying for months: our acquisition does not threaten competition in what is a robust, innovative, and quickly evolving online advertising space. In fact, we firmly believe the transaction will increase competition and bring substantial benefits to consumers, web publishers, and online advertisers.

Looking at the FTC's clearance statement, a few key points jump out as noteworthy:
  • Transaction was cleared with no conditions. The FTC cleared the acquisition unconditionally, without demanding any changes in or commitments concerning the companies’ business practices. This will allow us to remain flexible as we continue to innovate and provide the best services to our customers and users.

  • Google and DoubleClick are not competitors. The FTC stated that its "thorough analysis of the evidence showed that the companies are not direct competitors in any relevant antitrust market." Furthermore, the FTC concluded that the merger would not eliminate beneficial potential competition, writing that "it is unlikely that the elimination of Google as a potential competitor in the third party ad serving markets would have a significant impact on competition." We agree with both of these findings. Google and DoubleClick provide complementary services, and competition between the companies was not necessary to create benefits for consumers. To the contrary, consumers will benefit from the two companies working together and combining our resources.

  • Third party ad serving markets are highly competitive. The FTC noted that "the evidence shows that the third party ad serving markets are competitive," and said that "the evidence also shows that firms can and do switch ad serving firms when it is in their self-interest to do so." This is an important finding, because it means that ad serving customers will continue to benefit from innovation and product development by the many players in this space, and that they can always select the ad serving provider that offers them the best services.

  • Privacy not a part of the merger review. Though we strongly believe in protecting our users' privacy, the FTC clearance decision reaffirmed the law by noting that privacy concerns played no role in its merger review. This is an important principle, as privacy issues need to be addressed on an industry-wide basis, and not on a company-by-company basis. The FTC wrote, "although such issues may present important policy questions for the Nation, the sole purpose of federal antitrust review of mergers and acquisitions is to identify and remedy transactions that harm competition. Not only does the Commission lack legal authority to require conditions to this merger that do not relate to antitrust, regulating the privacy requirements of just one company could itself pose a serious detriment to competition in this vast and rapidly evolving industry." The FTC also noted, however, "that the evidence does not support a conclusion" that this particular transaction will harm consumer privacy.

  • Data combination wouldn't pose problems. The FTC rejected the suggestion from competitors that Google would combine user information with DoubleClick's customers' data to obtain an advantage in the market, writing that the data is owned by DoubleClick’s customers and that "at bottom, the concerns raised by Google’s competitors regarding the integration of these two data sets -- should privacy concerns not prevent such integration -- really amount to a fear that the transaction will lead to Google offering a superior product to its customers." Moreover, "a number of Google’s competitors have at their disposal valuable stores of data not available to Google. For instance, Google’s most significant competitors in the ad intermediation market, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Time Warner have access to their own unique data stores."

  • Advertisers and publishers aren't concerned. The FTC noted that "the clear majority of third parties expressing [competitive] concerns [about the deal] were Google’s current or potential competitors." Additionally, Commissioner Jon Liebowitz noted in his concurring opinion that "my staff and I independently spoke with publishers and advertisers potentially affected by this deal and, somewhat surprisingly, they raised few anticompetitive concerns. In fact, many seem unruffled by the alternatives in the post-merger market." It is telling that while our competitors tried hard to come up with theories of how our customers and partners could be harmed by the deal, those customers and partners themselves did not agree with those theories. In fact, we know that many of these advertisers and publishers are excited about the transaction and look forward to benefiting from it.
But as I said at the outset, perhaps the most important aspect of the clearance decision is its recognition of the fact that both Google and DoubleClick do business in a competitive and rapidly evolving arena. Indeed, as the FTC noted, all of the recent acquisitions that have occurred in the online advertising space have confirmed this. "The entry and expansion of...well-financed competitors has transformed the ad intermediation marketplace over the last six months," the FTC wrote. "All of these firms are vertically integrated, and all appear to be well-positioned to compete vigorously against Google in this new marketplace."

I should also note that, separate from its clearance decision, the FTC this morning released some suggested principles to guide online companies engaging in online advertising. We support the FTC's effort to develop industry-wide standards in this area, and we are studying these proposals carefully.

Receiving clearance from the FTC is of course an important step forward, but it does not mean that we can now close the acquisition. For that, we must also receive clearance from European Commission (EC), which is still conducting its review. We are cooperating fully with the EC and are hopeful that they will soon reach the same conclusion as their U.S. counterparts.

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From time to time, our own T.V. Raman shares his tips on how to use Google from his perspective as a technologist who cannot see -- tips that sighted people, among others, may also find useful.

Earlier this year, I blogged about the potential presented by accessibility mashups with respect to delivering web interfaces that are optimized to a user's special needs. More recently, my office-mate Charles Chen and I blogged about our work on AxsJAX as a framework for leveraging Web-2.0 for injecting accessibility enhancements into web applications.

As we head into the holiday season, we decided it was time to have some fun and generate a few laughs based on what we've worked on during the year. As chance would have it, Randall Munroe, the creator of the XKCD comic strip, visited our Mountain View campus to give an extremely entertaining talk. He even made a reference to blind hacker geeks! So the temptation was too hard to resist. We had to speech-enable his comic strip.

The XKCD comics are highly visual, with a short comment from the author accompanying many of the episodes. Having a detailed written description that is visible to everyone would spoil the comic for the average user; part of the fun is to understand the jokes purely from the sketches. At the same time, notice that indexing and searching online comics runs into the same challenge that blind users face: to be able to locate past episodes, one needs access to textual transcripts that capture the essence of each sketch. To help with the latter, fans of online comics like XKCD have created a search engine devoted to indexing comic strips, replete with full text transcriptions. This is an example of a social Web application where fans can transcribe their favorite comics including XKCD.

In the Web 1.0 world, I would have to pull up an XKCD episode, then go to the site containing the transcripts, and finally find the associated transcript in order to make sense of the comic. But this is exactly where Web 2.0 mashups excel; mashups are all about bringing data from multiple Web sources into a single integrated view. Once we realized this, we were able to AxsJAX the XKCD site with a small amount of code. Now, I can browse to the XKCD comic site, and listen to each episode -- with the underlying AxsJAX-based mashup taking care of the minutiae of retrieving the relevant transcript and integrating it into the comic strip.

This approach leverages all that is powerful about web-based applications:

  • Distributed accessibility --- the XKCD author does not need to create the transcripts.
  • Transcripts can be integrated from across the web.
  • The accessibility enhancements do not spoil the fun for XKCD readers in general.
  • And with Open Source self-voicing plugins like Fire Vox, every XKCD user can listen to the strip when desired.

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In order to give you the best possible information about the privacy settings for our products, we asked the engineers and product managers who actually designed them to explain how they work in a series of new videos we released today on our YouTube Privacy Channel. These videos feature Googlers sharing privacy tips, like how to use Google Chat’s “Off the Record” feature, how to limit the number of people who can view your Picasa photos, how to unlist your phone number from Google search results, and how to make the details of your Google Calendar entries private.

Just as we’re dedicated to innovation when it comes to making better, more useful products, we’re also committed to finding new ways to educate you about how to control what information you share when using our products, and with whom. This series, along with the other videos on our YouTube Privacy Channel, are part of this awareness-raising effort. So watch the videos (including our very own blooper reel) and tell us what you think. And we'll be adding new videos to the Privacy Channel now and again, so be sure to check back.

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Nothing evokes the spirit of the holidays more than the traditional foods that mark the season. Whether your holiday include latkes, a delicious butternut squash souffle, or even a deathless fruitcake, Googlers love to commemorate the occasion with food.

Last week I spent the afternoon baking Christmas cookies with a group of culinary-minded Googlers. Traditionally, this cookie is not just a festive holiday snack; it also makes a great homemade gift and an absorbing arts and crafts project. Our little get-together not only resulted in some melt-in-your mouth treats, but also allowed us to roll up our sleeves and get creative. Check out the photo album from our baking session, and try my recipe for buttery shortbread cookies.


Buttery Shortbread Cookies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix the following ingredients until smooth:
1-½ sticks unsalted butter (must be soft)
2-3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Then add the following ingredients and mix until smooth:
8 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon +1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add:
8 cups all-purpose flour.

Mix everything thoroughly until dough comes together. Gather to a ball and flatten to a disc.

Chill the dough until firm. You might want to prepare the dough in the evening before you plan on baking and chill it overnight.

When chilled, roll to ¼-inch thickness, and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Sprinkle tops with assorted sugars, jimmies and sprinkles.

Bake at 325 degrees F for 10-12 minutes on either a sheet greased with vegetable oil spray or a cookie sheet pan with parchment paper. Edges will be golden when they are done.

You may also bake the cookies plain, cool them, and then brush with icing sugar. Cover the whole surface of the cookie.

Serves: 4 dozen.

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The holiday season is upon us, and we know that many amongst you are traveling to be with family and friends. To make sure you spend more time celebrating and less time waiting at the airport, we're introducing a new flight status feature that we hope will make your travels easier.

For the latest information on a flight's status, simply search for an airline and flight number, and the first result will tell you whether your flight is on time or delayed as well as the estimated departure and arrival times. Here's a quick example for a specific flight [American Airlines 123]:



Hopefully this makes your travels a little smoother. Happy holidays from the Google Search team.

P.S. We're still working on building a search feature that will find your lost luggage ;-)

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Every year, many of the world's top leaders from politics, business and the global community -- including some of our own -- attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss how to make the world a better place. This year, we wanted to give people around the world the chance to join them, and help them, by submitting their own answers to "the Davos Question," which is: "What one thing do you think that countries, companies or individuals must do to make the world a better place in 2008?"

So that's the question, but we all agree that it's finding the answer which will be tough.

You may be familiar with the CNN-YouTube U.S. presidential debates, which have made an enormous impact on interactive politics as we know it. The interactive component here is similar, but this is a global initiative where we are using the magic of YouTube to create an ongoing conversation between people in positions of authority, and those whose lives their decisions affect every day. Before the success of the CNN-YouTube initiative, such a conversation would never have been thought possible. And now we're trying to take it to an even more ambitious level.

We see the Davos Question as a means to let people everywhere get close to, and influence, leaders whom they would never otherwise have a chance to reach. Equally, however, we want to show the actual participants at Davos the muscle with which YouTube is able to make a difference. It's kind of a two-way street: we can let everyday people into Davos, and at the same time we can show Davos the views of everyday people. And this is where it gets interesting. The YouTube community gets to vote and rank the submitted videos, and the highest-ranked ones will be featured at Davos. They will be used by the World Economic Forum to introduce topics in the plenary sessions, and we will be showing them directly to world leaders in the YouTube booth we are running onsite at Davos. The ongoing video blogs from some of the most influential people in the world which stem from the Davos Question will, we hope, kickstart a mechanism to really make a difference.

Can you help? You bet. Spend some time over the holiday season thinking about your own answer to the Davos Question, and post a response through the cool gadget we've developed. Then vote, rank, and encourage your friends and colleagues to get involved.

Around here, we often talk about doing things which genuinely help the world. We think this is one way we can truly make the world sit up and take notice of what its people think about the most pressing issues of our time. But this time, instead of having it lost in the ether, we want to take it, wrap it up, and present it to some of the most important leaders we have, when the whole world is watching on YouTube.

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We've heard from many of you that you'd like to know which organizations accept donations through our recently launched Google Checkout for Non-Profits. We put together a holiday page that highlights some of these great organizations, including AmeriCares, Direct Relief and the March of Dimes, to name a few. Visit our Checkout blog for more ideas around ways to give back this season. And remember, when you give through Google Checkout, the organization gets 100% of your donation.

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The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reached agreement in Bali on Saturday on a roadmap to reach a new international climate change agreement. Several Google.org team members attended and have shared their thoughts on some of the themes of the conference: putting the Bali roadmap in context, climate change and economic development, local government actions, and an introduction to the negotiations. We hope you find these writeups informative.

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Many of us are familiar with Batman or Spiderman and their super attributes from multiple film and comic book incarnations. But you might not be as familiar with a superhero swathed in aquamarine Lycra, sporting appropriately heroic pecs emblazoned with an iconic 'G.' Yes, that's Googleman, who manifested in various colorful forms at last week's 'Superhero' day at our London office.

While Google is usually a fun place to work, last Friday was especially fun -- with a purpose. London Googlers donned costumes and partook in themed activities to raise money for two local charities: Kids Company establishes educational and therapeutic programs for at-risk children, and Refuge offers shelter, support and counseling for those affected by domestic violence.

Although many of our Londoners arrived at work in hero attire (and we can just imagine the reaction of fellow commuters on the Tube), those without a superhero alter-ego could select underwear (to be worn over their pants, naturally), masks and other paraphernalia, and transform themselves at the office. Please note that not everyone defined "superhero" as a masked, caped and Spandexed defender of justice; the entire cast of Scooby Doo, Inspector Gadget, and even Jesus were on hand. And to commemorate their heroic personas, there was an improvised blue screen for 'flying' photo ops.

Googlers dined on superfoods -- antioxidant-rich eats that include salmon, spinach and broccoli -- and donated money based on the cost of such a lunch. Book and T-shirt vendors were on hand for those wishing to do a little holiday shopping, with 10 to 20% of the proceeds earmarked for the charities. Those wishing to move their own undesirable gifts along participated in a re-gifting sale, in which re-gifts were sold with all proceeds going to the chosen causes. A bike auction rounded out the day's fundraising events to bring the grand total for the charities to £1200 or more. Scroll through this photo album to have a giggle, and perhaps to be inspired for your own fun with giving.

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The web contains an enormous amount of information, and Google has helped to make that information more easily accessible by providing pretty good search facilities. But not everything is written nor is everything well organized to make it easily discoverable. There are millions of people who possess useful knowledge that they would love to share, and there are billions of people who can benefit from it. We believe that many do not share that knowledge today simply because it is not easy enough to do that. The challenge posed to us by Larry, Sergey and Eric was to find a way to help people share their knowledge. This is our main goal.

Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling "knol", which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. But we wanted to share with everyone the basic premises and goals behind this project.

The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content. At the heart, a knol is just a web page; we use the word "knol" as the name of the project and as an instance of an article interchangeably. It is well-organized, nicely presented, and has a distinct look and feel, but it is still just a web page. Google will provide easy-to-use tools for writing, editing, and so on, and it will provide free hosting of the content. Writers only need to write; we'll do the rest.

A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content. All editorial responsibilities and control will rest with the authors. We hope that knols will include the opinions and points of view of the authors who will put their reputation on the line. Anyone will be free to write. For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. Competition of ideas is a good thing.

Knols will include strong community tools. People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it. Knols will also include references and links to additional information. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.

Once testing is completed, participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality. Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge. We are very excited by the potential to substantially increase the dissemination of knowledge.

We do not want to build a walled garden of content; we want to disseminate it as widely as possible. Google will not ask for any exclusivity on any of this content and will make that content available to any other search engine.

As always, a picture is worth a thousands words, so an example of a knol is below (double-click on the image to see the page in full). The main content is real, and we encourage you to read it (you may sleep better afterwards!), but most of the meta-data -- like reviews, ratings, and comments -- are not real, because, of course, this has not been in the public eye as yet. Again, this is a preliminary version.

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Every year we put out the Year-End Zeitgeist, a look at the most popular and fastest-rising search terms in hopes of telling us something about what's been on our (collective) mind. This was my first year working on this project, and I'm here to report I was pleasantly surprised by many of the findings. Yes, 2007 was a big year for U.S. politics, and, of course, there were several peaks coinciding with the indiscretions of a few starlets -- but what I found particularly interesting were some of the timeless themes that surfaced: what is love, who is god and how to kiss, to name a few. No matter how much changes over time, these questions seem to be constants. I don't know about you, but I hope we never get to the bottom of them. Searching for an answer is half the fun.

If you haven't already done so, be sure to check out our complete list for 2007.

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For years now, anti-spam efforts have been like a game of checkers played at night. The bad guys make their move, Postini responds, and the majority of our customers are pleasantly oblivious to the fact that as much as 90 percent of their incoming mail is spam. This year, it became a game of chess. Data from Postini data centers shows that virus attacks hit record levels, spam percentages in Europe are catching up with global trends, and the volume of spam became more volatile as spammers dramatically varied their tactics, as seen in this graph:



To find out what made 2007 really different from any earlier year, and to see some forecasts for 2008, check out the the Google Enterprise blog.

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I've started to notice something peculiar about the Toolbar team, and that's this: we literally can't seem to stop carrying the Toolbar around with us. When we moved to a new space in our Mountain View campus, we brought along a hallway-sized printout of it. For Halloween, eighteen of us dressed up as the different parts of the Toolbar itself.



And now with the latest beta release of the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer, my fellow product manager Avni and I couldn't wait to point out the new features.



Maybe it's on our minds, because with the latest version of Toolbar, you can save your settings online, and then get all of your bookmarks, custom buttons and AutoFill information from your different computers -- like when you're at home, or at work, or if you get a new computer for the holidays. It's kind of like carrying your Toolbar with you, but without the hassle of cardboard and string, and a lot more useful.

And, yes, there are some new reasons for you to carry your Toolbar with you, too.

You can accessorize with Google Gadgets: We first released custom buttons with search and feed functionality, and now we've added support for many Google Gadgets. In Toolbar, gadgets can even interact with the pages you're on, like with the Google Product Search gadget, you can just highlight the name of something you'd like to buy on any page and do a quick price comparison right there.

Google Notebook is built in:
We realized that saving links as bookmarks to come back to is great, but not quite enough. So now you can collect text and images, too and put them into notebooks right from the Toolbar.

You'll get suggestions instead of error pages:
If you mistype a URL or a page is down, now the Toolbar will give you that familiar "Did you mean" with alternatives, like when you do a Google search.

We still have the original Toolbar features, like automatic form filling, pop-up blocking and spelling correction, too, so give it a try and let us know what you think at http://toolbar.google.com/T5.

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Today we're pleased to announce the full launch of Google Maps in New Zealand. Although we've offered basic mapping in New Zealand for some time, today we're unveiling a localised and customised site for our users in New Zealand. We've added full local business search capabilities, plus the Local Business Centre, so that any Kiwi business can get a free listing.

While we know New Zealanders care about a lot more than rugby, racing and beer, we're pleased that now Google Maps can help you find the nearest place to do any of those things. Plus, you can find a cafe in Ponsonby, an Indian restaurant in Wellington , a plumber in Dunedin, or a great hotel for your next holiday. All available on a PC or mobile phone near you!

And of course, Kiwis can also use Google Maps to look up an address, get driving directions (and the ability to drag them around), browse our satellite imagery, and even create custom maps that you can share with friends, all using the simple interface.

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French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand's beautiful images of the planet have become a coffee table favorite across the world. Today we are excited to present a new Google Earth layer of nearly 500 of his images, many taken from hot air balloons and all taken from above the earth. Each image is paired with thought-provoking statistics about the current environmental situation they depict. The facts and figures were put together by GoodPlanet.org, Yann's non-profit organization established to promote environmental awareness and sustainable development.


In June this year, we launched Google Earth Outreach, a program to empower non-profit groups with resources and tools to use Google Earth to promote their cause. Today's new "Earth From Above" layer (located in the Global Awareness folder in Google Earth) is an excellent example of what such groups can accomplish.

Not only can you enjoy these stunning new photographs on Google Earth -- we're also launching an iGoogle gadget you can add to your personalized Google homepage to see a different image each day. You can find the iGoogle gadget and a YouTube interview with Yann here. We hope you enjoy them!

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During your searches you've most likely noticed Sitelinks, the set of links below some search results that lets you jump directly to useful pages deeper in the site. They've been so popular that we've decided to give you more: our algorithms have been working overtime and we've recently started showing up to eight Sitelinks per site instead of just four. These extra links let you quickly access even more areas of the top site, and all eight sitelinks together give a good overview of a site's content.

Previously:


And now:
We've also been tweaking things here and there so that Sitelinks will appear for many more websites, and with more descriptive names. These improvements should help get you to the specific page you're looking for even more quickly.

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Our lives are a fabric of overlapping stories: stories that are entirely unique, stories that are richly specific, stories that define who we are, where we have come from, what we believe in. And while each story is ultimately personal, we find across them the common themes of love and loss, adversity and triumph. Listening to others’ stories, we can better appreciate our shared humanity, and recognize that the stories and lives of everyone, everywhere matter.

In the U.S., the StoryCorps effort seeks to capture, preserve, and share the stories of ordinary people. These can be heard on Friday mornings on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” Earlier this year, a number of interested Googlers met with Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, and also with leaders of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) and UNICEF. We realized that collectively, we had a unique and very real opportunity to leverage our respective strengths to take this idea global and to build together an ability to preserve and share online millions of personal stories from around the world.

With the good efforts of many people from each of the partners, we brought this inspiration to fruition over the last six months, and are excited to launch the Our Stories project and the www.ourstories.org site today. From the Google side, this grows out of our passion and commitment to make the experience and wisdom of these personal stories universally accessible to users around the world.

One Laptop per Child (www.laptop.org) is a heroic effort to help bring laptops to children in developing countries around the globe. (Google is a founding supporter of OLPC.) The distribution of OLPC laptops provides us with a platform to help preserve and extend the histories and identities of these traditional cultures. Children receive training on the Our Stories activity on the laptops, and record in their native languages the stories of their elders, their family members, and friends. These stories are then uploaded and shared through the website, where they can be found on a Google Map.

For this project, UNICEF’s in-country communications teams are working with the schools using OLPC laptops, and also with children using other recording devices, computers, and mobile phones to preserve and share stories online. An enthusiastic team of Google volunteers, including me, developed the laptop application, the interview guides based on the work of StoryCorps, and the website.

In the coming years, we hope to capture and share millions of stories, which we believe will help to preserve a truly global, multi-lingual history of humanity in the 21st century. We also hope that, in some small measure, the ability to listen to the voices of others, to hear first hand about their hopes and challenges, contributes to a better understanding of our shared humanity across the many lines which often divide us.

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We know that technologies like the "v-chip" can be used to keep kids from seeing inappropriate content on TV. And while technology has an important role to play in protecting kids online, it's as important that parents implant a symbolic "v-chip" in their children's minds to guide them when it comes to deciding what online content is and is not appropriate.

That was one of the observations I shared this week at the Family Online Safety Institute's conference in Washington, D.C. The Internet provides an amazing opportunity for young people to express themselves creatively and access immense quantities of useful information. Kids are using geospatial, mobile and social networking technologies, for example, to learn in new, interactive ways. The Internet also provides unparalleled opportunities for free expression, enabling kids and adults alike to deliver tremendous benefit to society by voicing sometimes unpopular, inconvenient, or controversial opinions.

At the same time, there is some online content and activity that is unsuitable for younger users. Google is dedicated to supporting parents' efforts to educate and protect their children when they go online. We've invested in developing family safety tools that empower parents to limit what online content their children can discover. Our SafeSearch filter, which users can adjust to block explicit content from their search results, is an example of this type of technology.

On YouTube, where we host user-generated content, we aim to offer a community for free expression that is suitable for children and protects them from exploitation. Our work to keep YouTube safe for children includes clear policies about what is and is not acceptable on the site; robust mechanisms to enforce these policies, such as easy tools for users to police the content by flagging inappropriate videos; innovative product features that enable safe behavior; and YouTube safety tips.

We've also partnered with child safety organizations, including CommonSense Media, i-Safe, iKeepSafe, NetFamilyNews, and, of course, the Family Online Safety Institute to increase awareness about online child safety. In addition, we cooperate with law enforcement and industry partners to combat child exploitation and help minimize the uploading of illegal content, offering training and technical assistance to law enforcement officials and providing groups like the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children with technology tools to help them be more effective in their work.

Keeping children safe on the Web is the shared responsibility of parents and families, educators, industry, and government. We have a shared responsibility to help teach children the media literacy skills they need to become savvy online and offline information consumers and, working together, we believe this goal is attainable.

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Millions of users chat on the Google Talk network every day, and chatting via Gmail chat is by far the most popular way. People tell us they love the convenience and simplicity of having access to their buddies right within the Gmail interface. In fact, for many users, Gmail chat was their first introduction to the world of instant messaging.

We've been working with AOL on ways to let our users talk to their buddies on the AIM network, and I'm delighted to announce that the fruits of that labor are live. Starting today, Gmail users can sign into their AIM accounts via Gmail chat and talk with AIM buddies just as they do with their Google Talk friends. Best of all, the features you love most about Gmail chat, such as chat history and automatic sorting of your buddies based on frequency of communication, work seamlessly across your Google and AIM buddies. This is rolling out in the newest English version of Gmail today and will be available in other languages soon.

A big thank you to our friends at AOL who worked closely with our engineering team to make this possible--and who we can now chat with while in Gmail. :)