Google Research Blog
The latest news from Research at Google
Users love simple and familiar designs – Why websites need to make a great first impression
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Posted by Javier Bargas-Avila, Senior User Experience Researcher at YouTube UX Research
I’m sure you’ve experienced this at some point: You click on a link to a website, and after a quick glance you already know you’re not interested, so you click ‘back’ and head elsewhere. How did you make that snap judgment? Did you really read and process enough information to know that this website wasn’t what you were looking for? Or was it something more immediate?
We form first impressions of the people and things we encounter in our daily lives in an extraordinarily short timeframe. We know the first impression a website’s design creates
in capturing users’ interest. In less than 50 milliseconds, users build an initial “gut feeling” that helps them decide whether they’ll stay or leave. This first impression depends on many factors: structure, colors, spacing, symmetry, amount of text, fonts, and more.
we investigated how users' first impressions of websites are influenced by two design factors:
Visual complexity -- how complex the visual design of a website looks
Prototypicality -- how representative a design looks for a certain category of websites
We presented screenshots of existing websites that varied in both of these factors -- visual complexity and prototypicality -- and asked users to rate their beauty.
The results show that both visual complexity and prototypicality play crucial roles in the process of forming an aesthetic judgment. It happens within incredibly short timeframes between 17 and 50 milliseconds. By comparison, the average blink of an eye takes 100 to 400 milliseconds.
And these two factors are interrelated: if the visual complexity of a website is high, users perceive it as less beautiful, even if the design is familiar. And if the design is unfamiliar -- i.e., the site has low prototypicality -- users judge it as uglier, even if it’s simple.
In other words, users strongly prefer website designs that look both
(low complexity) and
(high prototypicality). That means if you’re designing a website, you’ll want to consider both factors. Designs that contradict what users typically expect of a website may hurt users’ first impression and damage their expectations.
shows that negative product expectations lead to lower satisfaction in product interaction -- a downward spiral you’ll want to avoid. Go for simple and familiar if you want to appeal to your users’ sense of beauty.
Google at UAI 2012
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Posted by Kevin Murphy, Research Scientist
The conference on
Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence
(UAI) is one of the premier venues for research related to probabilistic models and reasoning under uncertainty. This year's conference (the 28th) set several new records: the largest number of submissions (304 papers, last year 285), the largest number of participants (216, last year 191), the largest number of tutorials (4, last year 3), and the largest number of workshops (4, last year 1). We interpret this as a sign that the conference is growing, perhaps as part of the larger trend of increasing interest in machine learning and data analysis.
There were many interesting presentations. A couple of my favorites included:
Video In Sentences Out
," by Andrei Barbu et al. This demonstrated an impressive system that is able to create grammatically correct sentences describing the objects and actions occurring in a variety of different videos.
Exploiting Compositionality to Explore a Large Space of Model Structures
," by Roger Grosse et al. This paper (which won the Best Student Paper Award) proposed a way to view many different latent variable models for matrix decomposition - including PCA, ICA, NMF, Co-Clustering, etc. - as special cases of a general grammar. The paper then showed ways to automatically select the right kind of model for a dataset by performing greedy search over grammar productions, combined with Bayesian inference for model fitting.
A strong theme this year was causality. In fact, we had an
on the topic by
, winner of the 2011 Turing Award, in addition to a one-day workshop. Although causality is sometimes regarded as something of an academic curiosity, its relevance to important practical problems (e.g., to medicine, advertising, social policy, etc.) is becoming more clear. There is still a large gap between theory and practice when it comes to making causal predictions, but it was pleasing to see that researchers in the UAI community are making steady progress on this problem.
There were two presentations at UAI by Googlers. The first, "
Latent Structured Ranking
," by Jason Weston and John Blitzer, described an extension to a ranking model called Wsabie, that was published at ICML in 2011, and is widely used within Google. The Wsabie model embeds a pair of items (say a query and a document) into a low dimensional space, and uses distance in that space as a measure of semantic similarity. The UAI paper extends this to the setting where there are multiple candidate documents in response to a given query. In such a context, we can get improved performance by leveraging similarities between documents in the set.
The second paper by Googlers, "
Hokusai - Sketching Streams in Real Time
," was presented by Sergiy Matusevych, Alex Smola and Amr Ahmed. (Amr recently joined Google from Yahoo, and Alex is a visiting faculty member at Google.) This paper extends the Count-Min sketch method for storing approximate counts to the streaming context. This extension allows one to compute approximate counts of events (such as the number of visitors to a particular website) aggregated over different temporal extents. The method can also be extended to store approximate n-gram statistics in a very compact way.
In addition to these presentations, Google was involved in UAI in several other ways: I held a program co-chair position on the
, several of the referees and attendees work at Google, and Google provided some sponsorship for the conference.
Overall, this was a very successful conference, in an idyllic setting (Catalina Island, an hour off the coast of Los Angeles). We believe UAI and its techniques will grow in importance as various organizations -- including Google -- start combining structured, prior knowledge with raw, noisy unstructured data.
Better table search through Machine Learning and Knowledge
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Posted By Johnny Chen, Product Manager, Google Research
The Web offers a trove of structured data in the form of tables. Organizing this collection of information and helping users find the most useful tables is a key mission of
from Google Research. While we are still a long way away from the perfect table search, we made a few steps forward recently by revamping how we determine which tables are "good" (one that contains meaningful structured data) and which ones are "bad" (for example, a table that hold the layout of a Web page). In particular, we switched from a rule-based system to a machine learning classifier that can tease out subtleties from the table features and enables rapid quality improvement iterations. This new classifier is a
support vector machine
(SVM) that makes use of multiple
which are automatically combined and optimized using training examples. Several of these kernel combining techniques were in fact studied and developed within Google Research [1,2].
We are also able to achieve a better understanding of the tables by leveraging the
. In particular, we improved our algorithms for identifying the context and topics of each table, the entities represented in the table and the properties they have. This knowledge not only helps our classifier make a better decision on the quality of the table, but also enables better matching of the table to the user query.
Finally, you will notice that we added an easy way for our users to import Web tables found through Table Search into their
. Now that we can better identify good tables, the import feature enables our users to further explore the data. Once in Fusion Tables, the data can be visualized, updated, and accessed programmatically using the
Fusion Tables API
These enhancements are just the start. We are continually updating the quality of our Table Search and adding features to it.
Stay tuned for more from Boulos Harb, Afshin Rostamizadeh, Fei Wu, Cong Yu and the rest of the Structured Data Team.
Algorithms for Learning Kernels Based on Centered Alignment
Generalization Bounds for Learning Kernels
Machine Learning Book for Students and Researchers
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Posted by Afshin Rostamizadeh, Google Research
Our machine learning book,
The Foundations of Machine Learning
, is now published! The book, with authors from both Google Research and academia, covers a large variety of fundamental machine learning topics in depth, including the theoretical basis of many learning algorithms and key aspects of their applications. The material presented takes its origin in a machine learning graduate course, "Foundations of Machine Learning", taught by
over the past seven years and has considerably benefited from comments and suggestions from students and colleagues at Google.
The book can serve as a textbook for both graduate students and advanced undergraduate students and a reference manual for researchers in machine learning, statistics, and many other related areas. It includes as a supplement introductory material to topics such as linear algebra and optimization and other useful conceptual tools, as well as a large number of exercises at the end of each chapter whose full solutions are provided online.
Faculty Summit 2012: Online Education Panel
Monday, August 20, 2012
, Director of Research
On July 26th, Google's 2012
hosted computer science professors from around the world for a chance to talk and hear about some of the work done by Google and by our faculty partners. One of the sessions was a panel on Online Education. Daphne Koller's presentation on "
Education at Scale
" describes how a talk about YouTube at the 2009 Google Faculty Summit was an early inspiration for her, as she was formulating her approach that led to the founding of
. Koller started with the goal of allowing Stanford professors to have more time for meaningful interaction with their students, rather than just lecturing, and ended up with a model based on the flipped classroom, where students watch videos out of class, and then come together to discuss what they have learned. She then refined the flipped classroom to work when there is no classroom, when the interactions occur in online discussion forums rather than in person. She described some fascinating experiments that allow for more flexible types of questions (beyond multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank) by using peer grading of exercises.
, I describe how I arrived at a similar approach but starting with a different motivation: I wanted a textbook that was more interactive and engaging than a static paper-based book, so I too incorporated short videos and frequent interactions for the
Intro to AI class
I taught with Sebastian Thrun.
Finally, Bradley Horowitz, Vice President of Product Management for Google+ gave a
describing the goals of Google+. It is not to build the largest social network; rather it is to understand our users better, so that we can serve them better, while respecting their privacy, and keeping each of their conversations within the appropriate circle of friends. This allows people to have more meaningful conversations, within a limited context, and turns out to be very appropriate to education.
By bringing people together at events like the Faculty Summit, we hope to spark the conversations and ideas that will lead to the next breakthroughs, perhaps in online education, or perhaps in other fields. We'll find out a few years from now what ideas took root at this year's Summit.
Improving Google Patents with European Patent Office patents and the Prior Art Finder
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Posted by Jon Orwant, Engineering Manager
Cross-posted with the
US Public Policy Blog
European Public Policy Blog
Inside Search Blog
At Google, we're constantly trying to make important collections of information more useful to the world. Since 2006, we’ve let people discover, search, and read United States patents online. Starting this week, you can do the same for the millions of ideas that have been submitted to the European Patent Office, such as
Typically, patents are granted only if an invention is new and not obvious. To explain why an invention is new, inventors will usually cite prior art such as earlier patent applications or journal articles. Determining the novelty of a patent can be difficult, requiring a laborious search through many sources, and so we’ve built a Prior Art Finder to make this process easier. With a single click, it searches multiple sources for related content that existed at the time the patent was filed.
Patent pages now feature a “Find prior art” button that instantly pulls together information relevant to the patent application.
The Prior Art Finder identifies key phrases from the text of the patent, combines them into a search query, and displays relevant results from Google Patents, Google Scholar, Google Books, and the rest of the web. You’ll start to see the blue “Find prior art” button on individual patent pages starting today.
Our hope is that this tool will give patent searchers another way to discover information relevant to a patent application, supplementing the search techniques they use today. We’ll be refining and extending the Prior Art Finder as we develop a better understanding of how to analyze patent claims and how to integrate the results into the workflow of patent searchers.
These are small steps toward making this collection of important but complex documents better understood. Sometimes language can be a barrier to understanding, which is why earlier this year we
released an update to Google Translate
that incorporates the European Patent Office’s parallel patent texts, allowing the EPO to provide translation between English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Swedish, with more languages scheduled for the future. And with the help of the United States Patent & Trademark Office, we’ve continued to add to
our repository of USPTO bulk data
, making it easier for researchers and law firms to analyze the entire corpus of US patents. More to come!
Teaching the World to Search
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
Posted by Maggie Johnson, Director of Education and University Relations
For two weeks in July, we ran Power Searching with Google, a
(Massive Open Online Course) similar to those
pioneered by Stanford and MIT
. We blended this format with our social and communication tools to create a community learning experience around search. The course covered tips and tricks for Google Search, like using the search box as a calculator, or color filtering to find images.
The course had interactive activities to practice new skills and reinforce learning, and many opportunities to connect with other students using tools such as Google Groups, Moderator and Google+. Two of our search experts, Dan Russell and Matt Cutts, moderated Hangouts on Air, answering dozens of questions from students in the course. There were pre-, mid- and post-class assessments that students were required to pass to receive a certificate of completion. The
is still available.
We had 155,000 students register for the course, from 196 countries. Of these, 29% of those who completed the first assessment passed the course and received a certificate. What was especially surprising was 96% of the students who completed the course liked the format and would be interested in taking other MOOCs.
This learning format is not new, as anyone who has worked in eLearning over the past 20 years knows. But what makes it different now is the large, global cohort of students who go through the class together. The discussion forums and Google+ streams were very active with students asking and answering questions, and providing additional ideas and content beyond what’s offered by the instructor. This learning interaction enabled by a massive “classroom”, is truly a new experience for students and teachers in an online environment.
Going forward, we will be offering Power Searching with Google again, so if you missed the first opportunity to get your certificate, you’ll have a second chance. Watch here for news about Power Searching as well as some educational ideas that we are exploring.
Speech Recognition and Deep Learning
Monday, August 06, 2012
Posted by Vincent Vanhoucke, Research Scientist, Speech Team
The New York Times recently published
about Google’s large scale deep learning project, which learns to discover patterns in large datasets, including... cats on YouTube!
What’s the point of building a gigantic cat detector you might ask? When you combine large amounts of data, large-scale distributed computing and powerful machine learning algorithms, you can apply the technology to address a large variety of practical problems.
With the launch of the latest Android platform release, Jelly Bean, we’ve taken a significant step towards making that technology useful: when you speak to your Android phone, chances are, you are talking to a neural network trained to recognize your speech.
Using neural networks for speech recognition is nothing new: the first proofs of concept were developed in the late 1980s
, and after what can only be described as a 20-year dry-spell, evidence that the technology could scale to modern computing resources has recently begun to emerge
. What changed? Access to larger and larger databases of speech, advances in computing power, including GPUs and fast distributed computing clusters such as the
Google Compute Engine
, unveiled at
this year, and a better understanding of how to scale the algorithms to make them effective learners.
The research, which reduces the error rate by over 20%, will be presented
at a conference this September, but true to our
philosophy of integrated research
, we’re delighted to bring the bleeding edge to our users first.
1 Phoneme recognition using time-delay neural networks, A. Waibel, T. Hanazawa, G. Hinton, K. Shikano and K.J. Lang. IEEE Transactions on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, vol.37, no.3, pp.328-339, Mar 1989.
2 Acoustic Modeling using Deep Belief Networks, A. Mohamed, G. Dahl and G. Hinton. Accepted for publication in IEEE Transactions on Audio, Speech and Language Processing.
3 Application Of Pretrained Deep Neural Networks To Large Vocabulary Speech Recognition, N. Jaitly, P. Nguyen, A. Senior and V. Vanhoucke, Accepted for publication in the Proceedings of Interspeech 2012.
Reflections on Digital Interactions: Thoughts from the 2012 NA Faculty Summit
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Posted by Alfred Spector, Vice President of Research and Special Initiatives
Last week, we held our eighth annual North America
Computer Science Faculty Summit
at our headquarters in Mountain View. Over 100 leading faculty joined us from 65 universities located in North America, Asia Pacific and Latin America to attend the two-day Summit, which focused on new interactions in our increasingly digital world.
In my introductory remarks, I shared some themes that are shaping our research agenda. The first relates to the amazing scale of systems we now can contemplate. How can we get to computational clouds of, perhaps, a billion cores (or processing elements)? How can such clouds be efficient and manageable, and what will they be capable of? Google is actively working on most aspects of large scale systems, and we continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with our academic colleagues. I note that we announced a cloud-based
to support Education based on Google App Engine technology.
Another theme in my introduction was semantic understanding. With the introduction of our
and other work, we are making great progress toward data-driven analysis of the meaning of information. Users, who provide a continual stream of subtle feedback, drive continuous improvement in the quality of our systems, whether about a celebrity, the meaning of a word in context, or a historical event. In addition, we have found that the combination of information from multiple sources helps us understand meaning more efficiently. When multiple signals are aggregated, particularly with different types of analysis, we have fewer errors and improved semantic understanding. Applying the “combination hypothesis,” makes systems more intelligent.
Finally, I talked about User Experience. Our field is developing ever more creative user interfaces (which both present information to users, and accept information from them), partially due to the revolution in mobile computing but also due in-part to the availability of large-scale processing in the cloud and deeper semantic understanding. There is no doubt that our interactions with computers will be vastly different 10 years from now, and they will be significantly more fluid, or natural.
lists the Googler and Faculty presentations at the summit.
One of the highest intensity sessions we had was the panel on online learning with Daphne Koller from Stanford/Coursera, and Peter Norvig and Bradley Horowitz from Google. While there is a long way to go, I am so pleased that academicians are now thinking seriously about how information technology can be used to make education more effective and efficient. The infrastructure and user-device building blocks are there, and I think the community can now quickly get creative and provide the experiences we want for our students. Certainly, our own recent experience with our online
Power Searching Course
shows that the baseline approach works, but it also illustrates how much more can be done.
I asked Elliot Solloway (University of Michigan) and Cathleen Norris (University of North Texas), two faculty attendees, to provide their perspective on the panel and they have posted their reflections on
The digital era is changing the human experience. The summit talks and sessions exemplified the new ways in which we interact with devices, each other, and the world around us, and revealed the vast potential for further innovation in this space. Events such as these keep ideas flowing and it’s immensely fun to be part of very broadly-based, computer science community.
Adaptive Data Analysis
Automatic Speech Recognition
Electronic Commerce and Algorithms
Google Cloud Platform
Google Play Apps
Google Science Fair
Google Voice Search
High Dynamic Range Imaging
Internet of Things
Natural Language Processing
Natural Language Understanding
Optical Character Recognition
Public Data Explorer
Security and Privacy
Site Reliability Engineering
Give us feedback in our
Official Google Blog
Public Policy Blog
Lat Long Blog
Ads Developer Blog
Android Developers Blog