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(Cross-posted on the Google for Education Blog.)

What if students and teachers from around the world could work on projects together in real-time without ever leaving their classrooms? Pope Francis recently joined students in Australia, Cameron, Israel, Turkey and South Africa for a Hangout on Air to celebrate the launch of Scholas―a new education initiative sponsored by the Vatican that aims to connect 500,000 schools across the world to enable e-learning and remote teaching using Google tools.

A social component of the platform uses Google Hangouts to connect students and teachers globally, so if students at a middle school in Ghana want to learn what it’s like to be a student their age in Peru, they can teach each other through an open and collaborative environment. Schools can also post shared projects on the platform, like the “40 Days of Hope” project by Seton Catholic High School, which aims to raise $3,000 to provide parasite medication and feed 40 people for a year in Nicaragua.

Later this year, Scholas will integrate more tools through Google Apps for Education and Classroom to create an even more personalized learning experience for each student. The Scholas platform aims to foster education through dialogue because when students can share and communicate openly, there’s no limit to what they can learn.

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Editor's note: Today’s guest blogger is Dawn Santone, Manager of Workflow and Technology Integration at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). CBC is Canada’s national public broadcaster and provides a range of radio, television, internet and satellite-based services. See how other forward-thinking organizations are investing in mapping technology and transforming their business: Maps are Going Google.

Canada didn't have a national team at the 2014 World Cup, but our crew at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation knew that wouldn’t stop Canadians from wanting to experience the tournament alongside the rest of the world. Who did our viewers root for? We created a SuperFan Map to spotlight our fans’ unique experiences as they enjoyed the frenzy and excitement in Brazil.

The idea for the SuperFan Map began with a Google Form that we used to survey our fans about their favorite teams. As we looked at their responses, we noticed the diversity of fans — across Canada and across the world. We used this geolocation data to drop pins on a map and visualize where our fans were located when they enjoyed games. We made the map even richer by pulling in photos and videos from Google+, Instagram and Twitter, curated using our #cbcworldcup hashtag.

We knew we wanted to use Google to create the SuperFan Map. The turnaround was quick — we started using Google Maps Engine in the beginning of June and had our map up and running before the first game was played on June 12. It worked consistently, even during major matches and other spikes in traffic.

 The map also connected our fans in a way that went far beyond sport alone: it created a sense of community, from coast to coast to coast in Canada, from Australia to Norway, and dozens of countries in between. We saw an incredible diversity of teams, geographies and faces surface on a single Google Map.

 The SuperFan Map has helped us take engagement further by connecting with fans in real time. A cross-promotion with CBC Music connected our SuperFans with The Beetle Roadtrip Sessions traveling across Canada. We used the map to see where people were cheering, then invited them to celebrate with us. For instance, we held a giant party in Montreal after seeing a high concentration of fans in the area.

We’ve seen how Google Maps can help us better inform our organization and inform our fans about the events that matter to them, no matter where they happen in the world. Beyond helping us connect with our fans, Google Maps helped connect fans with one another.

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Your local hardware store offers something for everyone, just like the Google Apps Marketplace, which features hundreds of third-party apps that complement the suite of tools in Google Apps for Work.

Starting today, employees can install these apps without involving their administrator. Previously, only administrators could install these apps within an organization. So if you work at an organization that uses Google Apps for Work, Google Apps for Education or Google Apps for Government, you now have greater access to apps that help you work faster, more efficiently and collaboratively.

To find and add third-party apps for Google Apps, click the app launcher icon, click More, and click More from Apps Marketplace.

Administrators can adjust the settings that filter and show which third-party apps are available to their organizations from the Admin console (learn more). By default, any user can now install apps from the Google Apps Marketplace—excluding K-12 EDU domains that are defaulted off.

The Google Apps Marketplace has a wide-variety of options, no matter your taste, including Smartsheet for online project management, Freshbooks for accounting, Zoho for customer support, GQueues for to-do lists and more. To find a solution that fits your needs, visit the Google Apps Marketplace. For additional information regarding end user installations, visit our Help Center.

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Editor's note: Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Anderson, SVP of product at DogVacay. Based in Santa Monica, Calif., DogVacay is a service that connects dog owners with local pet sitters. Learn how the company partnered with Google Maps to deliver localized pet sitting services.

At DogVacay, we help people find the perfect home away from home for their dogs while they are away. People across the U.S. spend billions of dollars on boarding for their furry friends, and we want to offer a better solution than current commercial options. The way we see it, dogs are happier in a loving home where they receive customized care, rather than sitting in a crate at a kennel with limited human contact.

Our business has struck a nerve — we have more than 15,000 hosts in 3,000 cities across the U.S. and Canada since we launched in 2012. To help pet owners find the best host nearby for their pooches, we use Google Maps.

With Google Maps, which we integrated with the help of SADA Systems, DogVacay allows pet owners to locate hosts nearby simply by typing in a zip code or street address. Potential hosts are pinpointed on an interactive map linking to profiles that detail the pet sitter’s experience, certifications, price and other details. Many of our guests have told us they like the ability to quickly find sitters nearby — sometimes only blocks away. Our Concierge Team has even helped people find dog sitters in their own buildings in New York City.
There’s an enormous number of dog lovers who want to provide excellent care and a loving home for animals while their owners are away. DogVacay and Google Maps makes it easier than ever to find these hosts right in the owner’s neighborhood. In addition, we’ve made the search options extremely customizable to our customer’s needs, offering services to elderly or sick dogs in need of special care.

We’re always looking for ways we can expand our offering, and Google Maps plays a big role in providing hyperlocal services that help keep dogs (and their owners) happy!

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Today at the Google for Entrepreneurs Global Partner Summit, Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President, Technical Infrastructure & Google Fellow announced Google Cloud Platform for Startups. This new program will help eligible early-stage startups take advantage of the cloud and get resources to quickly launch and scale their idea by receiving $100,000 in Cloud Platform credit, 24/7 support, and access to our technical solutions team.

This offer is available to startups around the world through top incubators, accelerators and investors. We are currently working with over 50 global partners to provide this offer to startups who have less than $5 million dollars in funding and have less than $500,000 in annual revenue. In addition, we will continue to add more partners over time.

This offer supports our core Google Cloud Platform philosophy: we want developers to focus on code; not worry about managing infrastructure. Starting today, startups can take advantage of this offer and begin using the same infrastructure platform we use at Google. For example, Headspace is helping millions of people keep their minds healthier and happier using Google Cloud Platform for Startups.

Thousands of startups have built successful applications on Google Cloud Platform and those applications have grown to serve tens of millions of users. It has been amazing to watch Snapchat send over 700 million photos and videos a day and Khan Academy teach millions of students. We look forward to helping the next generation of startups launch great products.

 For more information on Google Cloud Platform for Startups, visit http://cloud.google.com/startups.

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The workplace is undergoing a significant shift away from the old, isolated cubicle to an always connected, collaborative approach. More people than ever are working together from any device or place, with cloud-based tools that help them connect, collaborate and quickly bring ideas to life.

On October 1st, innovative business leaders and tech experts will explore this trend and the future of work at Google’s first Atmosphere Live event. In true digital fashion, we’re taking a fresh approach by hosting it entirely online, sparing attendees the travel and hassle of typical conferences. We’re turning a traditional in-person event into an any-person experience. You’ll get the chance to participate and interact by voting, asking questions and using our social media visualizer—all from the comfort of your desk, couch or anywhere else. The future is about working how you want, so we’re bringing you that freedom as you learn and take part with your peers.
The agenda includes Google’s Sundar Pichai talking about bringing game-changing products to market; Claire Hughes Johnson discussing Google [X] moonshot thinking for self-driving cars; Urs Hölzle on next-generation cloud technology; and Vivek Wadhwa talking about inspiring workplaces. Breakout sessions will focus on human resources, marketing, IT and product development, featuring the insights from forward-thinkers from Trulia, All Saints, Whirlpool, Avery Dennison and Chico’s. They’ll weigh in on subjects ranging from employee productivity to customer engagement to workplace technology in the age of Cloud Computing.

We hope you’ll join us for one of our biggest work events of the year. So charge your devices, mark your calendars for October 1st and share your thoughts, impressions and questions using #atmosphere14 on social media. Register today and we’ll see you there.

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(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog, Google Drive Blog and the Google for Education Blog.)

Imagine trying to keep track of another person’s real-time edits in a document—using only your ears. Or trying to create a table from spreadsheet data—without being able to clearly see the cells. Whether you’re backing up a file in Drive or crunching some numbers in Sheets, it should be easy to bring your ideas to life using Google’s tools. But if you’re blind or have low vision, you may need to rely on assistive technologies such as screen readers and Braille displays—and that can make working in the cloud challenging. While screen readers can parse static webpages (like this blog) relatively easily, it’s much harder for them to know what to say in interactive applications like Google Docs because the actions they need to describe are much more complex.

With these reasons in mind, today we’re announcing some improvements to Drive and all our editors—Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, and Forms—specifically designed with blind and low-vision users in mind.
Improved screen reader support in Drive and Docs 
In June, we introduced a new version of Drive that’s sleeker, easier to navigate and much faster. But just as importantly, the new Drive also includes better keyboard accessibility, support for zoom and high-contrast mode and improved usability with screen readers.

Across Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings and Forms, you’ll find that it’s now much easier to use a screen reader, with nicer text-to-voice verbalization and improvements to keyboard navigation. You’ll also notice other updates, including:

  • Support for alt text on images in Docs, so you can tell a screen reader what they should say to describe an image 
  • Better support for using a keyboard to edit charts and pivot tables in Sheets 
  • Additional screen reader improvements specifically for Docs, Sheets and Slides, including support for spelling suggestions, comments and revision history 
  • The ability to quickly search the menus and perform actions in Docs, Slides and Drawings (and soon Sheets and Forms)—even if you don’t know the action’s key sequence 
Collaborating with others is easier too: in Docs, Sheets, Slides or Drawings, screen readers announce when people enter or leave the document, and you’ll now also hear when others are editing alongside you.

Refreshable Braille display support 
If you use a Braille display, you can now use it to read and enter text in Docs, Slides and Drawings. Even if you don't use a Braille display, with Braille support, your screen reader’s settings for character echoing are automatically followed. Enabling Braille also dramatically reduces the lag between when you press a key and when it’s announced by your screen reader, and improves the announcements of punctuation and whitespace. Learn how to enable Braille support in our Help Center.

Get up and going faster
The first time you use a screen reader or a Braille display, getting up to speed can be a daunting task. But it’s simpler with new step-by-step guides for Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and Drawings.
You can also access the in-product “Help” menu at any time without interrupting your work, or use the updated shortcut help dialog to easily search through keyboard shortcuts if you don’t remember them.

Finally, we’re offering phone support for Google Drive accessibility questions. If you get stuck, visit support.google.com/drive to request a phone call and someone from our team will reach out to you.

What’s next
As Laura Patterson, CIO, University of Michigan puts it, "The latest improvements in Google Drive and Docs for users of assistive technology are a major step forward and exemplify Google's commitment to making their products available to all members of our community.” We’re pleased the community has welcomed these improvements, and will continue to work with organizations to make even more progress.

Everyone, regardless of ability, should be able to experience all that the web has to offer. To find out more about our commitment to a fully accessible web, visit the new Google Accessibility site at www.google.com/accessibility.