Spoke with Google product chief Marissa Mayer yesterday, who told me that Google is launching its third rev of its toolbar today. It’s Windows only, and it’s a beta: Google is not planning to auto-update current toolbar users until the bugs are worked out.
I asked Marissa what the deal was with all the beta stuff at Google. More than 75% of their offerings are in beta, some have been there more than a year. She responded that Google was getting close to lifting beta from on a number of key products – Froogle and News were two she mentioned. But that beta means different things at Google. For client software like Desktop or Toolbar, beta is used more strictly, as in, this software ain’t ready for primetime, and we want some feedback to be sure it doesn’t bork your machine, and we intend to fix bugs and get it into general release as soon as possible.
For web apps, beta means something quite different. “We have a list of features we’d like to see in a product,” Mayer told me. Once that list is complete, the beta tag is taken off, even if the product is quite robust without them. As an example, she mentioned Froogle, which was launched without a “sort by price” feature. The product was simply not complete. When Mayer and Google feels it is complete, the beta tag will disappear.
So, Toolbar, as a client side piece of software, is in beta in the more strict sense of the term. It’ll be out of beta relatively quickly, Mayer told me. The new release has three main new features:
1. SpellChecker. This feature moves Google’s “Did you mean” concept from search results to the toolbar. For any web form (ie Hotmail, or any web-based input) you can now get spell checking courtesy Google’s algorithms. Cool.
2. AutoLink.The Toolbar will not automatically make US addresses appearing on web pages into URLs which are linked to Google Maps. Again, cool.
3. WordTranslator. This nifty feature translates any English word on a page into any of 8 other languages. Mayer said this would be a sought after feature for international users who use English as a second language.
I’ve often thought about Google’s Toolbar, and I’ve heard through reasonably well connected sources that the company is not pleased with the scope of its Toolbar downloads. This release should certainly increase Google’s user base. I asked Mayer how many folks are currently using Google’s Toolbar, and she said – true to Google’s stated policy of numeric vagueness – “in the millions.”
My guess is that means “in the low millions,” and that Google would very much like it to mean “in the high millions.” (This brings up the marketing issue, which I wrote about here.) In any case, this toolbar release points to something of a new trend for Google, that of surfacing its inherent search features – spell checker, word translation, maps – into more visible and user friendly formats. Expect to see more of this going forward.
PS – Gary over at SEW speculates that perhaps this might offer a new revenue stream for Google.