An Austrian star of European computing

Google started as a graduate school project. So it’s apt that the next film in our computing heritage series pays homage to the work of another student team, nearly 60 years ago in Austria.

In the mid 1950’s, computer design was in the midst of a major transition, going from vacuum tubes to transistors. Transistors performed a similar function electronically, but generated less heat and were a fraction of the size, allowing machines to be made that were both smaller and more powerful.

Heinz Zemanek, then an assistant professor at the Vienna University of Technology, had long been interested in computers. In 1956, he enlisted a team of students to build one based on this new transistor technology.

Zemanek’s project didn’t have university backing, so the team relied on donations. One student’s work was sponsored by Konrad Zuse, the German computer pioneer, on the understanding he would join Zuse’s company after completing his doctorate. Additional money came from an Austrian bankers association, thanks to connections Zemanek had made through his role leading Austria’s Boy Scouts. Overall more than 35 companies contributed materials, in particular Philips, who donated all the transistors and diodes. The only drawback was the transistors were relatively slow, originally designed for hearing aids.

At the time, leading U.S. machines were named after types of wind, such as MIT’s Whirlwind and RCA Laboratory’s Typhoon. In a gentle nod to this, Zemanek nicknamed his computer Mailüfterl, meaning “May Breeze.” As he joked (PDF): "We are not going to produce… any of those big American storms, but we will have a very nice little Viennese spring breeze!”

On May 27, 1958 the Mailüfterl ran its first calculation and became mainland Europe’s first fully transistorized computer—and one of the earliest in the world. It remained at the university for its first few years, financed in part by the European Research Office of the American Army. In 1960 Zemanek signed a contract with IBM, and in September 1961 the Mailüfterl was moved to a new research laboratory in Vienna that IBM created for Zemanek and his team.

Today the Mailüfterl is on display at the Technical Museum in Vienna—a fitting reminder of Austria’s time at the vanguard of European computing.

What is the State of the European Union? #askbarroso

Is Europe really emerging from the financial crisis? What’s going to happen to Europe’s 5 million unemployed young people? Does the rise of euro-sceptic politics spell the end of the EU as we know it? Will Europe act on Syria?

Now’s your chance to put these questions and others to the man in charge of the European Commission, President José Manuel Barroso, in a special, live State of the European Union Hangout interview, hosted by the euronews Global Conversation team, but driven by you.

The Hangout on Air takes place on Thursday, September 12 at 20:50 CET / 11:50 PDT, one day after President Barroso’s 2013 State of the European Union address.

euronews is soliciting questions, comments and ideas for the interview until 12:00 CET / 03:00 PDT on Wednesday, September 11. No topic is too big or too small—all you need to do is submit your question (text or video) on Google+, Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #askbarroso. The authors of the best questions—as chosen by euronews editors—will be invited to interview the President in person, live, in the Google+ Hangout.

To tune in, visit the European Commission’s Google+ page Thursday, September 12 at 20:50 CET / 11:50 PDT. And of course, you can keep commenting up to and after the interview using the hashtags #askbarroso and #SOTEU.

A new way to experience the 100th Tour de France

This year, the Tour de France is celebrating its 100th edition with a special route, from Corsica to Les Champs-Elysées, giving people around the world the chance to admire beautiful sights as well as amazing athletic feats.

Our recent Doodle celebrating the 100th edition of the Tour de France

The Tour de France is using a variety of Google products to help you experience the race like never before, including a YouTube channel, a Google+ page and an Android app where you can keep up with this 100th edition. We’ve also used Google Maps and Street View to create a new interactive experience that lets you feel what it’s like to pedal alongside the greats. Put on your helmet and cycle along at

So what are you waiting for? Line up and get started!

Powering our Finnish data center with Swedish wind energy

What do a Swedish wind farm developer, a German insurance company and Google’s Finnish data center have in common? As of today, a lot. We’ve just inked agreements with O2 and Allianz to supply our Finnish data center with renewable energy for the next 10 years—our fourth long-term agreement to power our data centers with renewable energy worldwide, and our first in Europe.

Here’s how it works: O2, the wind farm developer, has obtained planning approval to build a new 72MW wind farm at Maevaara, in Övertorneå and Pajala municipality in northern Sweden, using highly efficient 3MW wind turbines. We’ve committed to buying the entire output of that wind farm for 10 years so that we can power our Finnish data center with renewable energy. That agreement has helped O2 to secure 100% financing for the construction of the wind farm from the investment arm of German insurance company Allianz, which will assume ownership when the wind farm becomes operational in early 2015.

This arrangement is possible thanks to Scandinavia’s integrated electricity market and grid system, Nord Pool. It enables us to buy the wind farm’s output in Sweden with Guarantee of Origin certification and consume an equivalent amount of power at our data center in Finland. We then “retire” the Guarantee of Origin certificates to show that we’ve actually used the energy.

As a carbon neutral company, our goal is to use as much renewable energy as possible—and by doing so, stimulate further production. The Maevaara wind farm not only allows us to make our already highly energy-efficient Finnish data center even more sustainable, it also meets our goal of adding new renewable energy generation capacity to the grid.

Of course, using renewable energy is good for the environment, but it also makes long term financial sense. That’s why, in addition to protecting ourselves against future increases in power prices through long-term purchasing for our operations, we also invest in new renewable energy projects that will deliver a return for our money. In recent years we’ve committed more than $1 billion to such projects in the U.S., Germany and, just last week, South Africa. We’ll continue to look for similar opportunities around the globe.

Sharing stories of Bletchley Park: home of the code-breakers

For decades, the World War II codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park was one of the U.K.’s most closely guarded secrets. Today, it’s a poignant place to visit and reflect on the achievements of those who worked there. Their outstanding feats of intellect, coupled with breakthrough engineering and dogged determination, were crucial to the Allied victory—and in parallel, helped kickstart the computing age.

We’ve long been keen to help preserve and promote the importance of Bletchley Park. Today we’re announcing two new initiatives that we hope will bring its story to a wider online audience.

First, we’re welcoming the Bletchley Park Trust as the latest partner to join Google’s Cultural Institute. Their digital exhibit features material from Bletchley’s archives, providing a vivid snapshot of the work that went on cracking secret messages and the role this played in shortening the war. Included are images of the Bombe machines that helped crack the Enigma code; and of Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, used to crack the German High Command code—including this message showing the Germans had been successfully duped about the location for the D-Day invasion.

Second, as a followup to our film about Colossus, we’re pleased to share a personal story of the Bombe, as told by one of its original operators, Jean Valentine. Women like Jean made up the majority of Bletchley Park’s personnel—ranging from cryptographers, to machine operators, to clerks. In her role operating the Bombe, Jean directly helped to decipher messages encoded by Enigma. In this film Jean gives us a firsthand account of life at Bletchley Park during the war, and demonstrates how the Bombe worked using a replica machine now on show at the museum.

We hope you enjoy learning more about Bletchley Park and its fundamental wartime role and legacy. For more glimpses of history, explore the Cultural Institute’s other exhibitions on

Google creates €60m Digital Publishing Innovation Fund to support transformative French digital publishing initiatives

Google has worked with news publishers around the globe for years to help them make the most of the web. Our search engine generates billions of clicks each month, and our advertising solutions (in which we have invested billions of dollars) help them make money from that traffic. And last year, we launched Google Play, which offers new opportunities for publishers to make money—including through paid subscriptions. A healthy news industry is important for Google and our partners, and it is essential to a free society.

Today I announced with President Hollande of France two new initiatives to help stimulate innovation and increase revenues for French publishers. First, Google has agreed to create a €60 million Digital Publishing Innovation Fund to help support transformative digital publishing initiatives for French readers. Second, Google will deepen our partnership with French publishers to help increase their online revenues using our advertising technology.

This exciting announcement builds on the commitments we made in 2011 to increase our investment in France—including our Cultural Institute in Paris to help preserve amazing cultural treasures such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These agreements show that through business and technology partnerships we can help stimulate digital innovation for the benefit of consumers, our partners and the wider web.

Explore Spain's Jewish heritage online

You can now discover Spain’s Jewish heritage on a new site powered by comprehensive and accurate Google Maps:

Using the Google Maps API, Red de Juderías de España has built a site where you can explore more than 500 landmarks that shed light on Spain’s Jewish population throughout history. By clicking on a landmark, you can get historical information, pictures or texts, and a 360º view of the location, thanks to Street View technology. You can also use the search panel on the top of the page to filter the locations by category, type, geographic zone or date.

Toledo, Synagogue Santamaría la Blanca

Information is included on each landmark

This project is just one of our efforts to bring important cultural content online. This week, we worked with the Israel Antiquities Authority to launch the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, an online collection of more than 5,000 scroll fragments, and last year we announced a project to digitize and make available the Yad Vashem Museum’s Holocaust archives. With the Google Art Project, people around the world can also view and explore more than 35,000 works of art in 180 museums.

Read more about this project on the Europe Blog. We hope this new site will inspire you to learn more about Spain’s Jewish history, and perhaps to visit these cities in person.

Data Journalism Awards now accepting submissions

Last November, we announced our support for a new Data Journalism competition, organized by the Global Editors Network. The competition is now open to submissions and today we hosted an event at our offices in London to share details on how to compete and win a total of six prizes worth EUR 45,000. The European Journalism Centre is running the contest and Google is sponsoring.

Journalism is going through an exciting—if sometimes wrenching—transition from off to online. Google is keen to help. We see exciting possibilities of leveraging data to produce award-winning journalism. “Data journalism is a new, exciting part of the media industry, with at present only a small number of practitioners,” said Peter Barron, Google’s Director of External Relations. “We hope to see the number grow.”

In data journalism, reporters leverage numerical data and databases to gather, organize and produce news. Bertrand Pecquerie, the Global Editor Network’s CEO, believes the use of data will, in particular, revolutionize investigative reporting. “We are convinced that there is a bright future for journalism,” he said at the London event. “This is not just about developing new hardware like tablets. It is above all about producing exciting new content.”

The European Journalism Centre, a non-profit based in Maastricht, has been running data training workshops for several years. It is producing the Data Journalism Awards website and administering the prize. “This new initiative should help convince editors around the world that data journalism is not a crazy idea, but a viable part of the industry,” says Wilfried Ruetten, Director of the center.

Projects should be submitted to The deadline is April 10, 2012. Entries should have been published or aired between April 11, 2011 and April 10, 2012. Media companies, non-profit organisations, freelancers and individuals are eligible.

Submissions are welcomed in three categories: data-driven investigative journalism, data-driven applications and data visualisation and storytelling. National and international projects will be judged separately from local and regional ones. “We wanted to encourage not only the New York Times’s of the world to participate, but media outlets of all sizes,” says Pecquerie. “Journalism students are also invited to enter, provided their work has been published.”

An all-star jury has been assembled of journalists from prestigious international media companies including the New York Times, the Guardian and Les Echos. Paul Steiger, the former editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal and founder of the Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica, will serve as president.

Winners will be announced at the Global News Network’s World Summit in Paris on May 31, 2012.

(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog)

Remembering a remarkable Soviet computing pioneer

In many parts of the world, today is Christmas—but in Russia and Eastern Europe, which use the Orthodox calendar, December 25 is just an ordinary day. Little known to most, however, it’s also a day that marks the anniversary of a key development in European computer history.

Sixty years ago today, in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the Soviet Academy of Sciences finally granted formal recognition to Sergey Lebedev’s pioneering MESM project. MESM, a Russian abbreviation for “Small Electronic Calculating Machine,” is regarded as the earliest, fully operational electronic computer in the Soviet Union—and indeed continental Europe.

Recently we were privileged to get a first-hand account of Lebedev’s achievements from Boris Malinovsky, who worked on MESM and is now a leading expert on Soviet-era computing.

Turn on captions for the English translation.

Described by some as the “Soviet Alan Turing,” Sergey Lebedev had been thinking about computing as far back as the 1930’s, until interrupted by war. In 1946 he was made director of Kyiv’s Institute of Electrical Engineering. Soon after, stories of “electronic brains” in the West began to circulate and his interest in computing revived.

Sergey Lebedev*

Initially, Lebedev’s superiors were skeptical, and some in his team felt working on a “calculator”—how they thought of a computer—was a step backward compared to electrical and space systems research. Lebedev pressed on regardless, eventually finding funding from the Rocketry department and space to work in a derelict former monastery in Feofania, on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Work on MESM got going properly at the end of 1948 and, considering the challenges, the rate of progress was remarkable. Ukraine was still struggling to recover from the devastation of its occupation during WWII, and many of Kyiv’s buildings lay in ruins. The monastery in Feofania was among the buildings destroyed during the war, so the MESM team had to build their working quarters from scratch—the laboratory, metalworking shop, even the power station that would provide electricity. Although small—just 20 people—the team was extraordinarily committed. They worked in shifts 24 hours a day, and many lived in rooms above the laboratory. (You can listen to a lively account of this time in programme 3 of the BBC’s ”Electronic brains” series.)

MESM and team members in 1951. From left to right: Lev Dashevsky, Zoya Zorina-Rapota, Lidiya Abalyshnikova, Tamara Petsukh, Evgeniy Dedeshko

MESM ran its first program on November 6, 1950, and went into full-time operation in 1951. In 1952, MESM was used for top-secret calculations relating to rocketry and nuclear bombs, and continued to aid the Institute’s research right up to 1957. By then, Lebedev had moved to Moscow to lead the construction of the next generation of Soviet supercomputers, cementing his place as a giant of European computing. As for MESM, it met a more prosaic fate—broken into parts and studied by engineering students in the labs at Kyiv’s Polytechnic Institute.

*All photos thanks to

Saluting Europe’s eTowns

It’s often assumed that big cities benefit the most from the Internet, but we believe the net offers giant opportunities to everyone from urbanites to small town residents, farmers and nature lovers in the far-flung countryside. We recently tested this thesis in our first-ever European Google eTown awards, which recognize those areas that had most embraced the web’s potential over the last year.

The results were fascinating—and surprising. Smaller, quirky and plucky towns came out ahead. Scunthorpe, a steel town in the north of England, topped the U.K.’s list. Caen, a town in rural Normandy not far from the D-Day beaches and famed as the home of camembert cheese, came first in France. Salerno, nestled between the Amalfi and the Cilento Coast led the way in Italy and Elbląg, a remote northern town located in the region of 1,000 lakes won in Poland. In all four participating countries, eTown lists included towns of all sizes.

How did we determine our eTown awards? We broke down the U.K., France, Italy and Poland into all of their thousands of towns and then ranked local areas according to the growth in small businesses using AdWords over the last year. The top towns in each country won Google eTown awards.

The results back up recent research identifying the Internet as a main force driving growth throughout Europe. For example, a recent McKinsey report Internet Matters states that 2.6 Internet jobs are created globally for every job destroyed. Separately, the Boston Consulting Group estimates that by 2015 the web will account for 7.3 percent of Denmark’s GDP, 10 percent of the U.K.’s GDP and 5.5 percent of France’s GDP. The net drives growth of both big and small businesses—indeed another BCG report called “Turning Local” (PDF) makes clear that small businesses with a website grow faster than businesses without a web presence.

We’ve seen this ourselves, in the businesses of all shapes and sizes that we encountered as part of our eTown awards. An entrepreneur in Hartlepool in the U.K. sells golf balls online. A Polish programmer runs a data recovery business from Piaseczno. An plumber directs a heating systems company from Vicenza, Italy and a French retailer has reached new scooter customers online in Reims. Online advertising has helped them grow and reach more customers than ever before. When it comes to the Internet, our eTown awards show that anybody, almost anywhere, can boost a business by going online.

Inaugurating our new French headquarters

Last year, our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt promised to open a research and development and culture centre in France. Today, Eric returned to Paris to inaugurate our new 10,000-square meter office in a refurbished 19th century Second Empire building near the St. Lazare Train Station.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy honored us with his presence. “Why as President, do I make this symbolic move and come to Google?" he asked rhetorically to a packed courtyard auditorium. “I love the United States, and its motto that everything is possible whatever your origins.” President Sarkozy also officially launched the Elysee Palace’s YouTube channel and his visit was shown on YouTube Live, the section of the site where we list all live streamed events.

The President participated in a Google+ Hangout, taking questions from French-speaking Googlers around the world. (“What time is it there?” he asked someone dialing in from California.) On a serious note, he expressed his gratification for how Google has moved to dig deep roots in France. “When I first met Eric, we had a frank conversation,” he recalled, saying his message was clear. “I asked him how long Google was preparing to make money in France without investing here. I told him that Google must have its feet in France.”

Our new Paris office is emblematic of our commitment to one of Europe’s fastest-growing Internet economies. According to a recent McKinsey study that we helped sponsor, the web contributed to 3.2 percent of the French GDP in 2009 and created more than 700,000 jobs during the past 15 years. Between now and 2015, McKinsey estimates that the digital contribution will grow to 5.5 percent of GDP, and 450,000 additional jobs will be created. In order to help accelerate the French digital engine, we’ve launched a Startup Café, an online platform offering information and tools.

Our investment plan for France is ambitious, and extends far beyond buildings. We’re expanding our engineering presence to take advantage of France’s strong engineering talent pool and are making significant academic investments, including a partnership with the French national research center CNRS.

France is a global cultural leader and we’re working hard to partner with French writers, filmmakers and musicians. Over the past year, we've reached an agreement with the biggest French publisher Hachette to scan and sell digital versions of out-of-print books and are providing payment systems for French news publishers from Hachette. YouTube has signed royalty-collection agreements with music copyright societies and our new Cultural Institute will be located in the Paris headquarters. It will aim at driving innovation in cultural preservation, creation and access, not just in France, but across the world.

Just before the President left, he asked to say a few final words. He praised our “dynamism” and wished well our expanded operations, before making a parting promise. “I hope this inauguration is one of a long series,” he said. “If you invite me to another building opening, I will come.”

(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog)

Celebrating innovation in digital journalism

Journalism is changing fast as media businesses adapt and experiment with ways of gathering and reporting the news in the digital age. Here’s news of two contests we’re sponsoring to help stimulate innovation in digital reporting.

IPI News Innovation Contest
We’re pleased to congratulate the first three winners selected by the Vienna-based International Press Institute in its News Innovation Contest. The prizes are part of a $5 million global contest launched by Google last year.

Today’s winners, who will receive grants totalling $600,000, are:
  • World Wide Web Foundation for its Voice-based Citizen Journalism project in France, the Netherlands and Mali. The project will enable voice-based citizen journalists to gather and deliver news in rural areas through community radio and mobile phones.
  • Internews Europe for its crowd-sourced journalism project in five African countries. The project aims to promote expertise in crowd-sourced journalism techniques to contribute to press freedom.
  • Journalism Leaders Programme at the University of Central Lancashire, for its digital media training programme for the U.K. and Turkey. The project will focus on training in data journalism skills and the fundamentals of digital business aimed at disseminating learning to the wider news industry.
This is just the first round of the contest. In 2012, the IPI will consider a new set of proposals and award the remainder of the grant. More details are available at

GEN Data Journalism Awards
In Hong Kong, at the News World Summit hosted by the Global Editors Network, we're announcing a partnership on a new data journalism contest. GEN’s Data Journalism Awards will celebrate the best examples of this new form of journalism from established news organisations and newcomers.

The winners will be chosen by an international jury and prizes awarded at the next GEN conference in Paris next year. Details on how to take part are at

We look forward to seeing the impact these initiatives will have on digital journalism and hope they will encourage continued experimentation at every level of the media.

(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog)

DatenDialog - Big Tent goes to Berlin

In May, we held our first Big Tent conference near London, where we debated some of the hot issues relating to the Internet and society with policy-makers, academics and NGOs. The term "big tent” not only described the marquee venue but also our aim to include diverse points of view.

After the U.K. success, we decided to export the concept. Yesterday we welcomed more than 200 guests in Berlin, Germany to the second Big Tent event, entitled DatenDialog.

This dialogue about data tackled the issue of online privacy from a variety of angles. It was appropriate to hold it in Germany, which is a pacesetter both in its concern about privacy and its ideas for safeguarding personal data. During the one-day event, we debated questions such as: what does responsible collaboration between the tech industry and the data protection authorities look like? Do we need new regulation to manage the Internet and the large amount of data produced in the online world? Who is responsible for educating users and how does the tech industry make sure it builds privacy controls into its products?

Speakers included the German State Secretary for the Interior Cornelia Rogall-Grothe and the Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar, alongside international authors and bloggers Cory Doctorow and Jeff Jarvis who appeared via live video chat from the U.S.

The debate was always lively, sometimes polarised—Cory likened amalgamated data to nuclear waste while Jeff appealed to governments not to regulate for the worst case—but all seemed to agree that it was a worthwhile and timely exercise to explore these important issues.

You can watch the highlights soon on our Big Tent YouTube channel, and stay tuned for more Big Tents on a range of topics around the world in the coming months.

(Cross-posted from the European Public Policy Blog)

Celebrating LEO, the world’s first business computer

This year marks the 60th anniversary of LEO, the world’s first business computer—built by J.Lyons & Co, a leading British food manufacturer at the time that also ran a famous chain of tea shops.

Lyons management had long been keen to streamline their back-office operations. In 1947, two Lyons managers visited the U.S. to learn about the latest business processes, including whether the electronic computers they’d heard about during their wartime service, like ENIAC, might be useful. (At the time, the closer-to-home advances at Bletchley Park were still a well-kept military secret.)

They returned inspired by the possibilities and keen to build a machine of their own. After several years of development, LEO, a.k.a. Lyons Electronic Office, took on its first office job on November 17, 1951—weekly valuations for the bakery division, calculating margins on Lyon’s output of bread, cakes and pies.

Until LEO, computing in a work setting was treated like a specialist bit of kit on a factory production line. Each machine was dedicated to a single task. In essence, they were narrowly defined calculating machines. The vision for LEO, in contrast, was bravely broad. LEO was a single computer capable of handling a whole swathe of accounting and bookkeeping tasks, as well as producing daily management reports.

LEO was such a success that Lyons set up a commercial subsidiary to sell spare time on LEO to other businesses, including the Ford Motor Company, which used it to process the payroll for the thousands of workers at its U.K. plant. Later, Lyons also built entirely new LEOs and sold them to other blue-chip companies of the era. In total, more than 70 LEO’s were built, with the last remaining in service until the 1980’s (not bad for a computer that took up an entire room!).

Today we view IT as critical to any enterprise, but in the 1950s, this was by no means a given, as evidenced by a quote from a 1954 issue of The Economist: “There are those who do not believe in the desirability of introducing anything as esoteric as electronics into business routine.” Things certainly have changed, and in a sense, all modern day businesses owe a debt to the LEO team.

Last week at the Science Museum in London, we were delighted to sponsor a small gathering of early LEO programmers  to celebrate their accomplishments and reminisce about their pioneering work. Today, on this 60th anniversary, we invite you to have a cup of tea and join us in toasting LEO—a remarkable ancestor in IT’s family tree.