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Google Labs Projects Left Hanging

With Google ending the “Labs” section of its website, we take a look at some of the cooler projects that now have an uncertain future.

Google recently announced that it was ending Google Labs, a corner of its website where the public could test out early-stage projects. Some of those projects—like Google Maps and Gmail—have become key Google features. Others, such as the recently deceased Google Health, fell by the wayside.

Of the 56 projects still on the Google Labs site, many will likely fade away, while others might continue to be developed in other ways. Here’s a look at eight of the more interesting projects.

Julia Map

While the Julia Map project isn’t as practical as some others in this list, it’s engaging, innovative, and a bit addictive. The Julia Map generates fractals—geometric figures whose parts repeat the characteristics of the whole—and runs on the Google Maps application programming interface. It lets users browse, zoom, and pan through fractals. The developers encourage testers to post their most artistic fractal discoveries.

Google Body

The Google Body project gives users immersive 3-D access to the human (at this point, just female) form. Users can peel away anatomical layers, and, with a click, identify what they’re looking at. As with the Julia Map, the body is fully navigable with zooms and pans.

Art Project

This project from Google engineers is for people who can’t travel the world to see the great works of art. The Art Project gives users a virtual tour through a few museums, allowing them to closely inspect particular artworks. Among the few participating museums are the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and London’s National Gallery.

Shared Spaces

Shared Spaces is a collaborative platform: users can sign in, invite friends, and participate in various activities together. Among the many offerings are a drawing board (pictured), chess and other games, planning maps, and magnetic poetry. Some of these “gadgets,” as the Shared Spaces developers call them, are leftovers from the failed Google Wave technology. Several others, such as the collaborative YouTube gadget, seem to have made their way into Google+.  

Image Swirl

Image Swirl takes search results from Google Images and sorts them into groups and subgroups based on logical and visual similarity. The results are intuitive and visually exciting; as seen with the pictured robot search, Image Swirl turns search results into a map of like images, which can be useful if your search is potentially ambiguous, as with “apple” or “fly.”

Public Data Explorer

This project lets users manipulate huge data sets and visualize the information however they choose. The charts can be animated, which draws attention to changes and trends over time. Among the data sets currently available are “Infectious Disease Outbreaks” from Harvard Medical School and the “OECD Factbook 2010,” which includes information on education, energy, and populations.

Books Ngram

Would you like to see how frequently the words “robot” and “electric” appear over the past 200 years of books in American English? We wanted to, and we could, thanks to the Google Books Ngram viewer. Phrases up to five words long can be queried from Google Books, which has scanned a little more than 10 percent of the world’s books (from the year 1400 on). This tool is useful for students and literature researchers, but it still has a lot of room to grow; it supports only a few languages, including English, American English, simplified Chinese, Russian, and Spanish.

Google Scribe

Google Scribe beefs up the Google Docs application by allowing for surprisingly intuitive automatic text completion. It bases its completions on what you’ve already typed, and alerts you to punctuation mishaps, spelling problems, and incorrect phrases. That’s similar to the grammar correction in Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages, but Google Scribe bases its corrections on current Web searches. In other words, when you type “Antonio Banderas” into Word, the last name is marked with red squiggles. Scribe knows better, and fills in the rest of the name for you once you get it started.

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