Google's iGoogle Goes From Portal To Platform

The Web site represents Google's attempt to improve search through personalization and to encourage users to spend more time on Google sites.

The New iGoogle

The New iGoogle
(click for larger image)

Google on Thursday revamped its personalized home page, better known as iGoogle, to provide a better experience for users and a better platform for publishers and developers.

Introduced in May 2007, iGoogle represented Google's attempt to improve search through personalization and to encourage users to spend more time on Google sites. It requires a Google Account, which allows Google to track user actions across its Web properties and to leverage that information to improve services and enhance revenue.

From the outset, Google has seen Google Gadgets, small applications that can be embedded in iGoogle pages, as an advertising medium. "We actually think of gadgets as a new unique form of advertising," said Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience, during the iGoogle launch event last year.

The new iGoogle is to the old version as display advertising is to text advertising: The former is much more graphically rich and more engaging than the latter.

The new iGoogle provides what Google is calling a canvas view. Like the maximize button in Windows or the "+" button in Max OS X, it expands a small Gadget window to take up most of the available browser window space.

"Any gadget on your page can now maximize to full-screen real estate," explained Jessica Ewing, iGoogle's senior product manager. "Now we have full, rich applications in iGoogle."

For example, Gmail users can now access Gmail from their iGoogle page. Previously, the iGoogle Gmail Gadget provided a preview, but not complete application access.

For online content publishers and developers, this represents a dramatic improvement. Instead of cramming content into a tiny window surrounded by other windows that compete for attention, publishers and developers can deliver something much closer to the user experience they could offer visitors to their Web site, albeit with Google's banner and search box at the top of the page and the iGoogle menu bar on the left-hand side of the page.

The revenue possibilities also look better for iGoogle Gadget developers. Unlike the old model where traffic was the reward, the new iGoogle allows Gadget creators to place ads in the iGoogle canvas view -- any ads, not just ads served by Google.

"Canvas view allows developers to deliver richer content, games, and UI to users on iGoogle as well as the opportunity to monetize," said Google engineer Jake Quist in a blog post.

Google isn't demanding a revenue share either. "It's up to individual developer to figure out a monetization strategy," said Ewing. "Developers are obviously really, really excited about this."

Ewing said that the iGoogle changes were driven by feedback from both users and developers. Google tests its online services extensively and she said that the "happiness metrics" Google uses to measure how changes to its site are received are better using this new model.

Google is less than forthcoming about iGoogle's usage metrics however. Ewing said that iGoogle has "tens of millions of users." In 2007, when introducing iGoogle to the world, Mayer also said that "tens of millions" of Google users had set up iGoogle pages.

Google's auto-complete search suggestion function may provide the specificity that Ewing would not. Using the iGoogle Add a Tab option and typing the letter "H" returns a number of auto-complete suggestions, the first of which is "Home," the default iGoogle tab name. It shows 21,070,900 instances of the "Home" tab. This is probably close to the actual number of iGoogle users, if you accept the assumption that relatively few users would bother renaming their "Home" tab.

It's also a pretty respectable number given that Facebook claims to have 110 million users. And once iGoogle implements OpenSocial, as it plans to do, it may start looking much more like a social network.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer