Sunday, May 25, 2008

Whats new on Google

A need for speed: the path to a faster loading sequence

Great performance has always been an obsession at Google and it's something that we think about and work on everyday. We want Gmail to be really fast, and we keep working on ways to make it faster. Gmail's architecture eliminates many of the delays in reading mail by employing techniques like prefetching, but recently we decided to take a close look at some other key parts of Gmail to see if we could speed things up.

One of the areas we worked on was the initial loading sequence: everything that happens behind the scenes between the time you press the "Sign in" button on the login page and the moment you land in your inbox. While the improvements we made won't resolve every "This is taking longer than usual..." message you might see when loading Gmail over a slow connection, we've seen a real reduction (up to 20%) in overall load time compared to when we started.

First, we listed every transaction between the web browser and Google's servers, starting with the moment the "Sign in" button is pressed. To do this, we used a lot of different web development tools, like Httpwatch, WireShark, and Fiddler, plus our own performance measuring systems. These tools all have useful features, although some are limited to working only with certain browsers. The Httpwatch plug-in for Internet Explorer was one that proved easy to use and provided us with most of the information we needed. It really helps that we can capture and save browser traces with it too.

We spent hours poring over these traces to see exactly what was happening between the browser and Gmail during the sign-in sequence, and we found that there were between fourteen and twenty-four HTTP requests required to load an inbox and display it. To put these numbers in perspective, a popular network news site's home page required about a 180 requests to fully load when I checked it yesterday. But when we examined our requests, we realized that we could do better. We decided to attack the problem from several directions at once: reduce the number of overall requests, make more of the requests cacheable by the browser, and reduce the overhead of each request.

We made good progress on every front. We reduced the weight of each request itself by eliminating or narrowing the scope of some of our cookies. We made sure that all our images were cacheable by the browser, and we consolidated small icon images into single meta-images, a technique known as spriting. We combined several requests into a single combined request and response. The result is that it now takes as few as four requests from the click of the "Sign in" button to the display of your inbox.

We hope that some of you have felt the change, but performance improvements often go unnoticed, and that's okay. We'll keep working to make Gmail faster -- there's a lot we're doing right now -- and we'll give periodic updates as we get improvements out. (And hopefully you'll notice some of them too.)

How to find any email with Gmail search

The sight of someone scrolling through hundreds of email messages trying to find a specific one is like fingers on a chalkboard for me. With a few tricks, you can use Gmail to find the exact message you're looking for, without all the scrolling.

If you don't get a ton of mail, just typing in the words you're looking for usually does the trick. I can just type lisa in the search box and get all of the messages from my friend Lisa, southwest to bring up my ticket confirmations, or "bank statement" to help get my finances in order.

But the real power of Gmail search lies in search operators -- words that help modify your queries. Search operators work pretty much the same way within Gmail as they do for Google. So, if I want the email Lisa sent me with her flight information so I know when to pick her up at the airport, I type from:lisa SFO. Likewise:
  • A link from my co-worker Michael: from:michael http
  • A photo from my mom: from:mom has:attachment
  • That last chat I had with one of the Gmail product managers: keith is:chat
  • All messages from ebay that aren't outbid notices: ebay -outbid (the hyphen tells Gmail to return all of the messages that don't contain the word that follows it)
  • The messages in my inbox sent directly to me that I haven't read yet: to:me is:unread in:inbox
You can limit the scope of your search to a particular subject (subject:) or label (label:) as well. And you can get pretty fancy. Recently, I was trying to remember the date of my friend's April birthday. I always send her a birthday email, so I searched to:maya (birthday OR bday) after:2007/4/1 before:2007/5/1. It's the 19th.

If remembering operators isn't really your thing, that's ok. There's a "Show search options" link to the right of the search bar at the top of your inbox.

Clicking that provides you with text fields you can fill in to get the precision of advanced search. Start there, but after a while you'll probably find that using operators is a lot faster.

Tip: Edit contacts right from your chat list

When I add a new friend to Gmail chat, sometimes my friend's email address is added as their contact name, such as I personally like to have the name of all my chat friends in my chat list so I don't get too confused as to who's who. To change this, I used to go into contacts, select the contact profile, add the name of my friend, and then save it.

But now with the new version of Gmail (launched for Firefox 2 and IE7) you can make edits to Gmail contacts directly from the chat list. I find it to be a great time saver. All you have to do is hover your mouse over one of your contacts to prompt a pop-up with contact details. If you just click on the contact name, it will automatically become an editable field. Simply type in the desired name and hit "enter." Your changes will save the name in your chat list as well as in your contacts.

Calendar Sync updated

Thanks for all the feedback you have sent us about Google Calendar Sync. We're rolling out an update that should make it a lot more useful.

Previously, your Google Calendar email address needed to be the organizer or an attendee of your Microsoft Outlook events for the Outlook events to sync to your Google Calendar. Now, when you choose to do a 2-way sync or a 1-way sync from Outlook calendar to Google Calendar, all of your Outlook events will be synced to your Google Calendar.

If you haven't been auto-updated to Google Calendar Sync and you don't want to wait for the update, you can download it here.

9 reasons to archive

We hear reports that many users don't archive their email. If you don't regularly click on the "archive" button or never even thought about it, here are some reasons you might want to get in the habit. Archiving just means moving mail out of your inbox and storing it for safekeeping. Your messages will be waiting for you when you click All Mail or search for them.

9. Phone numbers and addresses
You never know when you'll need a phone number someone emailed you or an address that was in a signature.

8. Procrastination
Sometimes you want to get a message out of your inbox, but you don't want to deal with organization, and you don't want to trash it.

7. Posterity

Just because you’re not famous now doesn’t mean that in forty years (or fifteen minutes) you won’t want to write your memoir.

6. Winning arguments
“But on May 5, 2005 at 8:43pm EDT you said….”

5. Mailing lists
Do you really need to know what Clintobamccain is doing every day? Auto-archive* their messages until you want to donate again.

4. Birthdays

Search for “grandma birthday” and voila, find the message you sent her last April. Aren't you glad you archived instead of deleted?

3. That guy
Remember that guy you thought you’d never need to get in touch with ever again?

2. Because you can
May as well use the free storage space. Plus, clean inbox = clean mind.

1. Fate-tempting is bad. You just never know
Thirty-one days after you send that message to the Trash and it gets permanently deleted, you're going to need it. Don't tempt the fates.

*To auto-archive, create a filter with the action "Skip the Inbox (Archive it)."

We're hiring

Despite our best efforts, Gmail doesn't yet build itself. So we're looking for good people to keep making it better and better. It's fun and rewarding to work on a product that you, your friends, other people you know (and tens of millions of people someone else knows) use all the time. And if that's something you want to do, now you can learn more about what goes on behind the scenes and apply on our new hiring page.

It's hard to do on a static web page, but we wanted to give you a sense of what it's like to work on the team. Gmail was one of Google's first experimental forays outside of search, so boundary-pushing is part of our nature. We've developed new storage systems (Google never stored large amounts of user data before), new anti-spam systems (using machine learning technologies developed for search), and a new fast, modular, reusable Javascript architecture (Google never ran an AJAX app of this scale before). We try to push product boundaries, too, with lots of storage, integrated chat, and free IMAP -- stuff that just makes things better for users, even if it means an untraditional approach to business. And one of the best parts is that when you go out, people you actually know say, "Hey, I used [that thing you built]. It's cool." (And then they ask you why Gmail doesn't have folders.)

Much more is in the works, and we're looking for help, so check out our jobs page and send in your resume।

Making more housecalls

All of us with Webmaster Central share one passion: a serious love for improving the Internet.

If you're organizing an event with an audience that would benefit from our discussing building search-engine friendly sites and maximizing the resources of Webmaster Central -- such as our Webmaster Tools, Help Center and Discussion Group -- please submit a speaker request. We'll work with our Corporate Communications team to see if we can add your event to our schedule.

With the intention of helping people make great content accessible on the web, we attended over 15 events this year -- including search conferences, business schools and marketing expos. We feel that we can be most helpful to:
  • Site owners/webmasters/bloggers who feature original, compelling content or tools, such as their...
    • Neighborhood store, restaurant, dentist office, etc.
    • Service or product (e.g. freelance photographer or online wizard for house decorating)
    • Passion, hobby, opinion (latest from the San Francisco music scene, perspectives on the upcoming election)
  • Web developers, web designers, SEOs/SEMs who build sites for others
Submitting a speaking request does not guarantee our attendance, but we'll definitely review each submission with our Communications team. Also, if we can't attend your event this time around, but we feel we could make a positive impact in the future, we'll keep the event on our radar.

Now I'd love to introduce two of our newest speakers who have been active in the Webmaster Help Group for some time: Michael Wyszomierski and Reid Yokoyama.

Hi, I'm Michael, but I go by "Wysz" in the Webmaster Help Group. When I'm not talking to webmasters or doing other search-related work, I like to tinker with my personal blog, take photos, and edit videos. Blogs, videos, podcasts, and other online media often come to my rescue when I'm searching for information online, so I'd love to talk to fellow content providers about how to make sure their sites can be understood by Google.
Hi, I'm Reid. I'm originally from St. Louis, Missouri, but have fallen in love with the weather, biking trails, and culture of the Bay Area. I studied to be a historian and even wrote a Senior honors thesis on Japanese American resettlement in San Francisco after WWII, but as an avid blogger, found myself increasingly interested in the transaction of knowledge and information through the Internet. I'm particularly passionate about helping small businesses build out high quality websites and helping them understand how Google's tools can help them in the process.

Webmaster Tools now in 26 languages

Webmasters come from all corners of the world and we are working hard to reach each and everyone of you. A few months back we introduced you to Googlers who help monitor our Webmaster Help Groups in fifteen languages. Since then, that number has grown to sixteen with the addition of the Chinese Help Group. Today, we're happy to announce that Webmaster Tools is now available in four more languages:
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew
  • Hindi
  • Thai
Webmaster Tools is already available in 22 other languages: British English, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, and US English.

We're thrilled to be engaging with such a diverse community of webmasters. Thank you again for your feedback and support!