June 26, 2003 1:17 PM PDT
Google tweaks toolbar to block pop-ups
Google's Toolbar 2.0, set to be officially announced late Thursday, is the first publicly available software that incorporates the technology Google gained when it acquired Blogger creator Pyra in February.
The Google toolbar is a strip of function buttons that sits at the top of a Web browser and lets people access features such as search without going directly to Google's home page. Other companies, including Lycos and AskJeeves, offer their own such toolbars for download.
The new features of Google's Toolbar 2.0 include Popup Blocker, which stops pop-up ads, and AutoFill, which automatically fills out Web forms with information stored locally on a user's computer.
Another new feature is BlogThis, which lets people immediately create a posting on their blog about a site they are visiting. By clicking the BlogThis button on the toolbar, bloggers can automatically insert a link and highlighted text into their blog instead of having to move back and forth and cut and paste between the Web page and the blogging tools. Blogs are Web diaries that let people share their personal and professional lives through words, links, photos and so on.
Chris Sherman, associate editor at SearchEngineWatch.com, a site that tracks happenings in the industry, said Google's Toolbar 2.0 bucks a trend among search engines, which for the most part are stripping down and refocusing on search. Not Google, he noted. "Most of the features they've added really have nothing to do with search," said Sherman, who nevertheless said he liked many of the features, particularly the ability to block pop-ups.
Google said the features are in line with the company's goal to organize information on the Web. Tom Nielsen, the lead developer on the Toolbar 2.0 project, said the development team does a lot of what he called "soul searching" before it decides what new features to add. He said developers look at what types of features people are searching for on download sites and examine activities that will enhance browsing. He's excited about the BlogThis button. "A lot of people don't know what blogging is, and we thought it would be neat to introduce people to it," Nielsen said.
When Google bought Pyra, many people wondered how the company planned to incorporate the technology. BlogThis offers an early glimpse. The company is also testing its AdSense technology, which analyzes the content of a page to determine the best ad to serve up on that page, on pages created by Blogger members.
In addition, Google has offered Blogger technology internally to its employees, who've used it to share information about their projects as well as weave stories about their personal lives.
The new toolbar features are designed to complement those offered in earlier versions of the toolbar. The upgrade still includes buttons that send people directly to Google's search and news pages without having to type in the URL. And it will also allow users to retrieve information about a certain page and pages that are similar to it, and it will translate information into English. Toolbar 2.0 is in the beta, or test, phase, meaning the company is not offering technical support but is looking for feedback from testers. It is currently available only to users of Microsoft Windows.
Google's new toolbar features are sure to pique the interest of privacy advocates, who in the past have worried about Google's data-collection capabilities.
Google outlines its privacy practices regarding Toolbar 2.0 through several screens that pop up during the download process. Under a headline that says "not the usual yada yada yada," the privacy warning advises users that one feature of the toolbar technology, called PageRank, could send "information about the sites you visit to Google." However, the company said it would not trace the surfing information back to individual names and addresses. People who are apprehensive about using PageRank can turn the feature off, and they won't be tracked.