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A Week in Google: The Beginning of the End of the JPEG

On this week's list: Features in Gmail and Docs that we never knew we couldn't live without (turning off conversation view, tracking document changes), a new tool that will surely toss those like it to the wayside (URL-shortener), and an attempt to disrupt a practice we've been true to since the dawn of Web (typical, Google, typical). 

Reinventing the Image

This morning, Google proposed we scrap the JPEG format. Sounds crazy, right? JPEGs have been a part of our Web experience since the beginning. Asking us to do away with them would be like asking us to forget about Netscape and AOL! 

Oh, wait. 

Let's be real: The JPEG format is kind of a dinosaur. If you think about it, what slows down your Web experience the most? Loading images? Yeah…

"Images and photos make up about 65% of the bytes transmitted per web page today," wrote Richard Rabbat, Product Manager at Google. "They can significantly slow down a user’s web experience, especially on bandwidth-constrained networks such as a mobile network. Images on the web consist primarily of lossy formats such as JPEG, and to a lesser extent lossless formats such as PNG and GIF. Our team focused on improving compression of the lossy images, which constitute the larger percentage of images on the web today."

Enter WebP, Google's JPEG replacement. Derived from WebM, Google's open-source and royalty-free video encoding technology,  WebP can reportedly cut image file sizes by 40 percent compared to today's JPEG file format. Adoption would mean faster file transfers as well as a lower network burden. (Check some of Google's samples here to see the difference in quality.)

On the down side, it takes about eight times longer to encode than JPEG does, and roughly twice as long to decode. 

Microsoft has also tried its hand at this endeavor with little success. Both their JPEG 2000 and JPEG XR formats failed to make so much as a dent in the Web. 

"The challenges are tremendous," Rabbat said. "We foresee it's going to be a very long conversation."

Disabling Google Conversation View

Here's something potentially even crazier: Turning off the conversation view option in your Gmail account. Doing this would mean every message in a conversation thread would come through as its own message in your inbox. As in, no more thread. No thread at all. 

If you're like me (suffering from inbox overload, responding to an offensive number of e-mails per day), turning off this feature is a laughable option. Just look at this mess:

Gmail_threaded.jpg 

Gmail threaded vs. non-threaded conversation 

On the other hand, maybe you're one of those crazy people who doesn't like cilantro. (A metaphor used by Google's Technical Lead Wiltse Carpenter in the official announcement. Also, no offense. My mom doesn't like cilantro and she's still fine by me.) If so, you can turn of threaded conversations simply by going to the main Settings page in your Gmail account and clicking "Conversation view off."

Goo.gl

Behold! A new URL shortener from Google:

google_url_shortener.jpg

The new Goo.gl abbreviates links, stores them for later use, and reportedly uses special provisions to prevent blind links from leading to malware or dangerous websites. Also living in this arena: TinyURL, Bit.ly, and Ow.ly, as well as individually branded shorteners from Twitter (t.co) and The New York Times (nyti.ms). 

"I guess Oscar Wilde was right, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery," said Bit.ly's John Borthwick to ReadWriteWeb. "They took all the basic features and copied from bit.ly."

But wait, Goo.gl also offers a breakdown of link clickers, and an auto-generated QR code for every link shortened:

google_shortener_stats.jpg

It's a cool option now, but should Google decide to integrate data from this tool with, say, Google Analytics, then we'd have something extra interesting on our hands. 

Tracking Changes in Docs

Speaking of copying. Like Microsoft Word, Google Docs now offers an easier way to see changes made to documents. A new revision history interface (File > See revision history) shows users who changed what and at what time they changed it:

google_track_changes.jpg

According to the official announcement by Software Engineer Vance Vagell, “This is just a first step for the new revision interface for Google Docs. We’re looking forward to more revision improvements in the future.”

 
 
 
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