Google on Thursday introduced Toolbar Labs, a mechanism to let users of the browser add-on try experimental new features--including the first two, a locator service and support for simplified Chinese.
The move is the newest demonstration--and the second in a week after the relaunch of Google Labs--of the company's beta-testing philosophy. The company uses labs experiments to launch products rapidly even if they're still half-baked, to get early feedback on products it needs to steer in the right direction, and to draw attention to its technology.
"A few things to keep in mind as you check out Toolbar Labs: It's a forum to test out new ideas, so some of these ideas will make it into the standard Toolbar, but others may not. Also, labs versions are not as well-tested as beta versions, so they may be slightly more unstable," toolbar team members Aseem Sood and Susan Taing said in a blog post Thursday.
The new toolbars must be downloaded and installed, and currently only work with Internet Explorer. Although toolbars take up valuable screen real estate, they're important as a way for companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google to drive traffic to their search engines and encourage use of other online services.
It's too bad for experimentalists that the labs version of the Google toolbars aren't some option available through existing instances of the Google Toolbar, which would make it easier to test new technology. Gmail Labs, introduced in 2008, has the virtue of this easy testing.
The second, the Google Simplified Chinese Toolbar, is tailored to use the small slice of real estate more effectively for the language and has built-in translation features.