Google admires the Israeli ability to think out of the box: Meir Brand, CEO of Google.Google has made aliyah (immigration to Israel)- and it likes the country so much that it’s opened not one, but two research labs in the country.

“That’s an honor reserved for large countries, like Russia and China,” says Meir Brand, CEO of Google Israel, “so it’s an indication of just how advanced Israel’s high-tech capabilities are that the company would open two R&D centers here.”

Google, of course, is more than just a search engine these days. The ubiquitous Google logo is showing up on all sorts of on-line applications, such as mail (Gmail), word processors and spreadsheets (Google Docs) and even cell phones (Google Android). Always innovating, Google discovered years ago that Israel’s high-tech sector was a perfect fit for the creativity the company looks for in its developers. “We’ve found a huge pool of scientists, engineers and mathematicians full of innovative ideas. Israelis tend to think ‘out of the box,’ a trait highly valued at Google,” Brand says.

Google’s research and development centers in Haifa and Tel Aviv help convert Google products into Hebrew. One of the big English to Hebrew projects engineers are currently working on is Google Maps, which now includes street maps of many Israeli cities, with directory and driving instructions available in English and Hebrew. But Google Israel also develops products and services for Google around the world, Yossi Matias, head of Google’s Tel Aviv development center, tells ISRAEL21c. “Google Israel is proud to contribute to the company’s mission of helping to harness the world’s information, and make it useful.”

Who’s got flu?

Among the products developed in the R&D offices here, where about 100 people work, are Google Trends, which lets you see how often a search term is entered into the Google “omnibox” across various regions of the world, and in various languages.

In recent weeks, Google has set up Flu Trends highlighting trends technology; just in time for flu season, users can check to see how many people in their area are searching for information on flu symptoms and cures. The more searches, the likelier that the flu will strike a specific region. That technology, along with Trends has been a major project of the Google Haifa location, says Yoelle Mark, head of the development center there, “and it’s a project we’re very proud of,” she said at the recent Google Developers Day Conference in Israel.

Mattias, speaking at the same conference, described Insights for Search which analyzes Google searches and discovers how many times searches have been done for the terms you’re looking for, over time – with the information presented in an easy to understand graph.

“Both products are very useful for businesses interested in knowing what their target audiences are interested in, and how those interests change over time,” says Matias, who adds that they represent “an important contribution of the Israel staff to Google worldwide.”

And the winner is…

In addition, the Tel Aviv office has helped develop Contests and Annotations for YouTube, with the video site now a Google property. Contests for YouTube, of course, came into their own during the recent US presidential campaign, as the site sponsored contests for the best campaign videos for the Obama and McCain campaigns. Annotations allows users to attach text, information, and links to their videos – and even lets users choose different endings for videos.

Along with technology, Google is very involved in the community, and runs several educational and social projects. Among other educational programs, such as after-school computer classes for kids from disadvantage backgrounds, the company has developed, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, layers for its Google Earth that will help Israeli students learn history, geography, and other core subjects. “Giving back to the community is important for us,” says Google CEO Brand.

Besides educational activities, Google has developed an important program for Yad Vashem, enabling the organization to build a YouTube channel that contains testimonies of Holocaust survivors. The channel, in separate English and Arabic versions, have garnered well over a million views. “Working on this project was very moving for me personally, as a grandchild of survivors,” Brand said. “Very soon, there won’t be any survivors left to give testimony, so it’s important to record as many as possible. We will continue this program until we collect as many testimonies as possible. As a part of the global Google community, I’m proud that Google Israel is able to make important contributions to the company worldwide – and I’m proud of the contribution Google technology can make to Israeli life.”