Google bolsters local Web content with Places search

Google’s search engine can deliver Web pages from every corner of the world, but the Internet company is increasingly interested in getting you information about the pizza parlor around the corner.

Google introduced a new feature on Wednesday called “Places” that allows users to narrow their search results to include only information about real-world establishments that are nearby.

A search for “bocce,” the Italian outdoor bowling game, for example, can be refined so that results show actual bocce courts in San Francisco (or wherever Google determines the user is located) instead of Web pages about the sport of bocce.GoogPlaces

Google has also fleshed out the lists of local businesses, like restaurants, that it already serves up alongside an online map, so that the results now include more details about the various establishments, like address and links to online reviews.

According to Google, more than 20 percent of searches on its site are related to location. And Google has increasingly been taking steps to incorporate more local businesses into its massive index of online information.

Yahoo revamps email with social sheen

Social networking services like Facebook have become a key form of communication, but Yahoo believes there’s plenty of room left to improve good old email.

On Tuesday, Yahoo Inc <YHOO.O> began to roll out a new version of its Web-based Yahoo mail product that boasts faster performance, new capabilities, and yes, even more social networking features.

Yahoo had provided a sneak peek at its improved email product at the company’s “Product Runway” event last month. Beginning on Tuesday, you can try out a beta YHOOMailNewtest version of the new Yahoo Mail for yourself.

Google gives $5 million to fund journalism innovation

GOOGLE/Google has granted $5 million to non-profit organizations to be used toward journalism innovation programs.  The Knight Foundation is the recipient of $2 million of that coffer, while Google is looking to invest the other $3 million in similar organizations outside the United States.

The Knight Foundation will use $1 million of Google money toward the News Challenge and the other $1 million for grants. On average, the Knight Foundation invests $35 million annually from its trust  in new projects and initiatives and the Google gift adds to the purse.

“Clearly journalism is fundamental to a functioning society and democracy,” said Chris Gaither senior manager of news industry relations at Google.  ”We have been doing lots of things working directly with news publishers to try and figure out ways to ease the transition to digital.”

Did Google inspire Facebook Groups?

ZuckGroupsIt’s no secret that Google has struggled to make its mark in the fast-growing social networking market. (Witness Google’s string of stumbles, including Buzz, Orkut and the recently-euthanized Wave).

So you wouldn’t expect Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla of social networking, to take any cues from Google when it comes to product development.

But in the wake of Facebook’s newly-unveiled Groups feature, some are pointing to an interesting presentation this summer by Google’s Paul Adams, who focuses on user experience research and social networking.

Yahoo unfurls accordion to revamp search

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz once played in an accordion band, so perhaps it’s fitting that the ole squeezebox has figured in to Yahoo’s products as the central motif in a revamped Internet search experience.

Yahoo has unveiled a snazzy new search interface that lets users flip between a stack of vertical tabs to view different types of results. Search on the rapper Lil Wayne for example, and you can quickly tab between groups of results like albums, videos and Twitter messages.

YahooAccordion1The new search interface, which the tech blogs have nicknamed ‘the accordion’, represents Yahoo’s first big overhaul of its search product since partnering with Microsoft.

Bing takes slight lead over Yahoo, still waaaaay behind Google

US-MICROSOFT-BING-JULYFor the first time ever in the search world, Microsoft’s Bing overtook Yahoo in August search share,  according to the latest data from Nielsen. Bing’s 13.9%  share edged out ever- so-slightly Yahoo’s 13.1%.

It should be noted that Microsoft and Yahoo have a partnership that kicked off in August that involves Bing powering Yahoo’s search. If Nielsen combined Bing-powered search it would represent a 26% share of search.

While Bing and Yahoo scrap for second place, Google blows everyone out of the water with a 65% share of all U.S. searches.

Google’s Brin: Make smartphone apps searchable

For more than a decade, GOOGLE/Google has reigned supreme as the main gateway to online information.

But with consumers increasingly accessing the Internet through specialized apps on smartphones like Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Web search engine could be at risk of playing a smaller role in the Internet’s next phase.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has an answer: Make apps searchable.

On the sidelines of the press event in San Francisco to unveil Google Instant on Wednesday, Brin offered some thoughts on the future of apps and search.

War of Words: Google’s Android sharpens speech-recognition in duel with Apple’s iPhone

Google fired the latest salvo in the smartphone war with Apple on Thursday, jazzing up the allure of its Android phones with new voice recognition capabilities.

Google’s new Voice Actions feature lets users of Android phones quickly send text messages, play online music or find a restaurant’s phone number by barking commands into the handset.

SAMSUNG-PHONES/Anyone who’s ever been behind the wheel on a long drive, or running through an airport carrying multiple bags, will recognize the appeal of firing off a quick missive by saying something like “send text to Marlo, I’m running ten minutes late,” instead of stopping to type everything out.

Nielsen Says – In: social networking; Out: email

INTERNET-SOCIALMEDIA/PRIVACYAnyone with a Facebook account knows how addictive social networking can be. But a new report by analytics firm Nielsen illustrates just how central social networking has become in the Average Joe’s day-to-day life.

Nearly a quarter of Americans’ online time is now spent on social networks, according to Nielsen. And all that time spent on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter is coming at the expense of traditionally popular Web activities, particularly email.

Email accounted for 8.3 percent of Americans’ online time in June, down from 11.5 percent a year earlier.

Forget about Google Me, Facebook unveils its Google rival

For weeks, techies have speculated about Google Me, the company’s secret project to take on social networking king Facebook.

But Google isn’t the only one that can play that game.

On Wednesday, Facebook unveiled a new question-and-answer service for the 500 million users of its Internet social network that could have serious implications for Google.

FBQuestionsThe new service isn’t a traditional search engine, per se, but it addresses many of the same needs that a search engine does, and thus could pose a threat to Google’s lucrative search empire.