15 cool projects from the labs of Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Yahoo

One of the best things about technology is the way in which bright ideas become indispensable in a very short time - even the mighty Google is just ten years old, for example, and Firefox is barely four.

Bright ideas become everyday essentials in the blink of an eye, and what's being tested today could well be tasty tomorrow.

So what do Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Mozilla have up their shiny digital sleeves?

Let's hit the labs and find out.

From Google's labs

1. Experimental Search

Google does a great job, but it often produces results you don't care about. With Experimental Search you can add sites you trust - Techradar, say, or MetaCritic, as well as blogs or local information sites - and results from those sites will be given higher priority. Other options include better accessibility and different ways of viewing search results.

2. Product Search for Mobile
Guaranteed to annoy your friendly neighbourhood retail chain, Product Search for Mobile enables you to check online prices to see if you're bagging a bargain or about to get stiffed.

3. Gaudi
Google Audio Indexing, or Gaudi for short, looks beyond the basic data of an audio or video file - its name, user tags and so on - and actually indexes the words people say. For now it's only available for US political speeches, but in the long term it could potentially index any audio content from YouTube clips to MP3s.

4. Google Mars
Fancy looking for Martians or discovering whether The Watchmen really do have a base on the Red Planet? Google Mars brings the power of Google Maps to nearby planets. Sadly Street View and Local Search aren't yet available, so if you're trying to find a kebab shop you're out of luck.

From Yahoo's labs

5. Garcon
Essentially a smarter StumbleUpon, Garcon analyses your del.icio.us bookmarks, analyses other users' bookmarks and tries to come up with new sites that you might find interesting. It works based on recent activity, so if you haven't bookmarked anything Garcon doesn't have any sites to start from, but give it enough data and the results are interesting.

6. TagExplorer
It's really ugly, but Tag Explorer is a nifty way of building complex queries to search Flickr for photos. Each time you choose a tag, related ones appear, enabling you to refine your search to very specific criteria.

7. Pictcha
Pictcha is inspired. Not only does it make spammers' jobs harder by getting visitors to tag an image that will baffle any computer, but the results could also help to classify images for Yahoo's Image Search.

8. MapChat
Planning a get-together or an event? MapChat combines instant messaging and mapping so you can explore potential locations with your friends, share notes and discuss the possibilities.

From Microsoft's labs

9. Infinite Canvas
Infinite Canvas is our kind of technology: online comic books from the likes of Neil Gaiman and Scott McCloud, delivered in a fast, strip-friendly format inside your web browser. We could spend weeks on this one.

10. Seadragon
Seadragon wants to change the way we use screens from mobiles to wall-sized monsters, and to do that it delivers seamless image zooming, with data streaming as you get closer. If you're as impressed as we are you can easily stick Seadragon on your own site.

11. Thumbtack
Wouldn't it be great if we could use the internet instead of our brains? Thumbtack is designed to help with that. It's a one-stop shop for storing anything interesting you spot online, from sites to media clips to blocks of text. Best of all, you can share your collections with friends or colleagues.

12. Social Desktop
This one's a long way from becoming an everyday technology, but the potential is fascinating. Social Desktop combines your PC desktop with cloud computing and social networking so you can share local files in much the same way you'd share a link or a video clip online.

From Mozilla's labs

13. Bespin
Forget Dreamweaver: when Bespin grows up, it's going to deliver fully featured, browser based web editing via cloud computing, so your code is available from any browser. Version 0.1 is basic, but it's enough to get us excited about Bespin's potential.

14. Ubiquity
Mozilla's own description of Ubiquity nails it: "With search, users type what they want to find. With Ubiquity, they type what they want to do." Want to see a table of data in a map? Bring up Ubiquity and type "map these" for an instant map. Essentially it brings mashup-making to anybody, with data from one service quickly and easily sent to another.

15. Weave
With more and more of us accessing the web from multiple devices and multiple locations, Weave could be very handy: the idea is to ensure that anything you've got in Firefox - bookmarks, history, customisation options, RSS feeds - is available wherever you happen to be.


Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.