Google launches WDYL, Takeout, and design pledge

While Google's planned social sharing service - Google+ - grabbed the headlines this morning, it wasn't the only change to be going on with the advertising giant's product portfolio. We take a look at the changes that are in store for the company's users.

Google+ is, of course, the big one: a social sharing service based on the rumoured Google Circles concept, it promises to take the fight to Facebook with a range of features familiar to those who have used social networking services within the last few years.

Design
There are more fundamental changes afoot, too. The company has announced the start of a brand-new design overhaul which aims to refresh the look and feel of the company's entire portfolio in the hopes of making them more accessible.

It's possible you've already spotted the first change: the bar across the top of Google's various websites has changed colour to black. It's a basic yet fundamental change, and heralds a clean sweep of the company's services.

"The way people use and experience the web is evolving, and our goal is to give you a more seamless and consistent online experience - one that works no matter which Google product you’re using or what device you’re using it on," Google's creative director of digital Chris Wiggins explains in a post on the Official Google Blog. "We want to keep our look simple and clean, but behind the seemingly simple design, use new technologies like HTML5, WebGL and the latest, fastest browsers to make sure you have all the power of the web behind you."

Based on three design principles - 'focus, elasticity, and effortlessness' - the design will be changing over the next few months. "Constant revision and improvement is part of our overarching philosophy," Wiggins explains. "With the design changes in the coming weeks and months, we’re bringing forward the stuff that matters to you and getting all the other clutter out of your way. The new design will soon allow you to seamlessly transition from one device to another and have a consistent visual experience."

What Do You Love
Launched with no fanfare whatsoever - presumably so as not to detract from the Google+ hype - WDYL.com is a new Google service which appears to provide a showcase of the company's multitudinous product portfolio.

The concept is simple: the site presents a text input box and asks the user: "What do you love?" Type in a subject, hit the button, and you're away: boxes appear containing results from almost every Google service open to the public.

From a single interface, users are able to see pictures via Image Search, track popularity via Trends, view videos via YouTube, view 3D models created in SketchUp, and even make phone calls via Google Voice. In total, there are twenty different products showcased on the site - including the inevitable advert for Google Chrome, the company's web browser - with more promised soon.

So far, Google hasn't explained what the site is or why it exists. While an impressive way of showing the breadth of the company's product offering, many of the boxes - such as the e-mail box - are little more than static adverts. Whether it will evolve into something more useful in the future remains to be seen.

Google Takeout
The last major revelation from Google today is Takeout, a data portability service which aims to make it easy to keep copies of your personal data on-hand for backup purposes or for transferring to a competing service.

Tying in to Google's major products - including the as-yet unavailable-to-the-public Google+ - Takeout offers a one-button system for downloading an archive of data stored about you on Google's various services.

Currently supporting data held in Buzz, Contacts, Circles, Picasa, Google Profile, and Stream, support for additional services such as YouTube is promised to appear over time. Once downloaded, the data can be taken and imported into rival services to ensure nothing is lost.

So far, no sites have trumpeted support for Google Takeout archives, but as the format is analysed that is likely to change. Facebook in particular will be among the first to add support, if only to gain some ground back from the Google+ launch.

Unlike WDYL.com, Google Takeout offers a truly useful service. During our brief testing, it worked well in Chromium - the open-source project behind Google's Chrome browser - but failed to generate the archive in Mozilla's Firefox.

To demonstrate the potential behind Takeout, Google has released a spoof video from the 'Data Liberation Front,' reproduced below.

UPDATE 14:52:
It looks like Google has been saving its creations for today, as we've just been sent a few more items that have quietly launched in the shadow of Google+.

Google Mobilize
Google Mobilize - or, to give it its full name, Google Sites Mobile Templates - is designed to make it easier for business to create a mobile landing page for their customers to visit.

Designed for those who lack the time, skill, or talent to code a mobile website from scratch, Mobilize allows businesses to quickly create a site based on a variety of templates: Restaurant, with sections for special offers and menus; Local Business, which includes an in-built Google Map and a click-to-call button; Lead Generation, which includes a Google Docs-powered form for lead capture; Social, which links out to services like Facebook and Twitter; and eCommerce, with integrated Google Checkout support.

The service also includes a custom template, for those with businesses that don't quite fit into any of the above - quite comprehensive - categories. Impressively, Google is providing its Mobilize service free of charge.

Google Swiffy
Designed to break the stranglehold of Adobe Flash on dynamic web content, Swiffy is a beta service which attempts to convert an SWF file into an HTML5 powered version. While it doesn't work with all content, the demonstration versions available on the site are convincing as to its potential.

Currently available through Google Labs - the company's testing ground for as-yet unreleased products - Swiffy relies on Scalable Vector Graphics to do its magic, meaning that a standard HTML5-compatible browser isn't enough to run the content. Instead, a Webkit-based browser is recommended. While that means Chrome, Chromium, and Safari users can play, Firefox and Internet Explorer are left out in the cold.

"A SWF file is converted in two phases," the FAQ explains. "The Swiffy compiler - which you can use on this website - processes the SWF file and generates a JSON file. A client-side JavaScript runtime loads that JSON file and renders it using HTML, SVG, and CSS."

Although clearly in the early stages of functionality, Swiffy is surprisingly adept at conversion. Thanks to its support of Safari, the resultant files will even work on an iOS device such as the iPad. You can give the service a whirl yourself over at Google Labs.