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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
And did you get my message / On the People's Radio? I wrote it in Alberta /Across the prairie spine.
— Rheostatics, Northern Wish
January 28, 2007
Google’s Interface Single Mindedness

My Personalized Google Homepage

People praise Google for the simplicity of its interface, but in many cases this simplicity is taken to the extreme.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new features offered on Google’s personalized home page service.

Many people aren’t even aware that Google offers personalized home pages — yet another example of interface extremism. The standard Google home page does little to make visitors aware of the existence of the service.

In what I would suggest is a very good thing, Google offers the ability to add any standard RSS feed to your Google home page. This use of standards is something that needs to be supported.

There are a number of problems though.

Rearranging Items

Items can be moved around on your home page, but learning how can be difficult. The technology here is impressive — you simply grab the header bar (or title bar) of the content section you want to move and drag it.

The problem is that this is not how web applications have typically behaved…it’s dramatically different. Even with years of experience and an awareness that this type of thing could be done, it took me more than a few days to figure this one out.

There’s no help link either, which left me thrashing through the preferences section where I would have expected to find it.

Clicking on those titles to go to the souce sites’ home page is awkwards too. My mouse pointer changes to a move this item style of pointer, and I’m never sure if I’ve clicked.

No Information Hierarchy

With all those title bars scattered around the page, it’s virtually impossible to tell one from the other. There’s no way as a user that I can categorize or create an information hierarchy to the information.

Colour would be an easy one to implement — offering me a selection of colours (even a limited one such as those offered in Microsoft Word) would allow me to create a hierarchy. Being able to choose font sizes and styles would also be useful.

Tabs have been added (they’re very subtlely visible in the upper left hand corner) but this doesn’t create hierarchy it creates additional pages, resulting in multiple portals rather than a single, well organized portal.

Those Annoying Plus Signs

A recent addition to the page were those annoying plus signs beside each item in an RSS feed. Clicking the plus sign does exactly what I expect it too — expands the title to display a box containing the entry information (or whatever information is included in the RSS feed.) The plus sign converts to a minus, and clicking the minus closes the expanded information box.

The problem is that ths offers little value with some, and there’s no way to choose whether or not to have them active or not.

They don’t, for example, appear beside my gmail entries where they could be wonderfully useful. They do appear beside the RSS feed for SEED Magazine, where the magazine length articles are impossible to read.

Those annoying plus signs appeared one day, with no information. That’s bad user relationship.

Nine Items Maximum

Each section lists nine items max. No exceptions. When I was using my gmail address as my primary address, nine email messages just wasn’t enough to be useful.

Custom Widgets

Of course, there are a huge number of custom widgets provided that interrupt the monotony — these are equally inconsistent and offer little in the way of personalization. They’re existence doesn’t do much to solve the problem. As an experienced user, it just frustrates me more.

Personal Should Be Personal

Google is trying to do something noble here by offering a standards compliant personalization system. Unfortunately, their rigid adherence to interface minimalism has resulted in a personalized service that’s incredibly impersonal.

Posted by skooter at 6:58 PM This entry is filed under Technology.
This entry is tagged: Google, Information Architecture

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