This week in Google: Planes, parties, and patents

Summary:The week ending September 17, 2011 saw Google unveil Google Flights, throw its community volunteers a party, and add new accessibility features to Google Apps.

While ZDNet and Googling Google were largely focused on the biggest Google stories of the week - namely, Intel's partnership for Google Android optimization and the continuing saga of the search giant's hunt for patents - Google had a lot more going on. I want to highlight the launch of Google Flights, the Googleplex throwing a party for its top web community volunteers, and accessibility improvements for Google Sites, Google Docs, and Google Calendar.

Google Flights

Google Flights, based on the company's acquisition of ITA earlier this year, launched without much fanfare. But it has the potential to shake up the entire travel search market. It has similar functionality to sites like Orbitz and Priceline, but Google Flights' interface is far simpler and intuitive. It also lets you do wildcard searches like "flights less than five hours from New York City for less than $500."

The search results aren't influenced by any paid relationships, according to the Google Search blog, but it's looking into working with its "other partners in the travel industry." Read: hotel and rental car searches are probably coming soon.

There are some limitations to Google Flights as it exists today: not every US city is listed, and it only shows economy-class seats. But Google says that it's going to continue building up Google Flights, and it's a travel search simplification effort well worth keeping an eye on.

Top Contributors Party

Google threw the so-called "Top Contributors" to its user-led help forums a party, gathering 250 of them from across the globe in the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. According to the relevant blog entry, the consolidated base of contributors represented 40 forums across 20 languages.

Invitees got to meet with Google development teams, getting an inside peek into the process and an opportunity to provide feedback. It's an interesting way for Google to reward users fanatical enough to give up their time answering questions for other users, and it speaks to Google's growing global entrenchment.

Accessibility Improvements

Google Docs, Google Sites, and Google Calendar all received increased accessibility features, enhancing support for screen readers and improved keyboard shortcuts.

Google says that the timing of this announcement is meant to coincide with the back-to-school season, as an increasing number of schools are adopting Google Apps, and vision-impaired students need additional functionality to make up for not being able to see the screen or move a cursor.

But these accessibility improvements are also coming to consumers and enterprise customers.

As Google writes in its blog:

"In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll continue to improve our products for blind users. We believe that people who depend on assistive technologies deserve as rich and as productive an experience on the web as sighted users, and we’re working to help that become a reality."

Other Google stories you may have missed this week:

Topics: Intel, Banking, Google

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