The new iGoogle
(click for larger image)
Google insists that its revised iGoogle personalized home page generates better "happiness metrics" than the old design, but a vocal group of users isn't happy about the changes.
"I despise it," complains someone posting under the name Alexander Brown on the InformationWeek article about the new iGoogle. "...It's ugly, it's impractical, and it puts the entire rest of the page off center. It makes me uneasy just looking at it."
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 the company to track user actions across its Web properties and to tap into that information to improve services and enhance revenue.
Almost all of the 80 comments posted on InformationWeek since Thursday express unhappiness about the new iGoogle.
The situation is similar on other sites. Almost all of the 149 comments posted on the Google Operating System blog express displeasure with the iGoogle changes. "I HATE the TABS!!!!!" laments someone under the name Mark. "It infuriates me so much I am SERIOUSLY considering changing my home page to Yahoo."
It should be said that iGoogle users who are happy with the changes may not feel the need to express their support, thereby making the discontent seem more widespread than it really is. There are something like 20 million iGoogle users worldwide, and most have raised no objection to the revisions.
On TechCrunch, there are many negative comments as well, but also many positive ones.
As far as Google is concerned, its user feedback process works just fine.
"We're constantly thinking about how to improve our products for our users," said Jessica Ewing, iGoogle's senior product manager, in an e-mail. "Then we take our ideas, prototype them, and put them through a vigorous set of usability tests and experiments to make sure we are doing the right thing for users. The iGoogle features we launched yesterday [Oct. 16] went through this exact process, and we've made changes along the way based on feedback from users and developers."
One change that users dislike is the addition of a navigation bar on the left-hand side of the iGoogle page. Many of the discontented believe the navigation bar wastes space.
"Please give us a way to disable the side navigation bar," asks an anonymous user posting to the Google Operating System blog. "The top tabs worked fine."
"The left navigation allows users to go from canvas view to canvas view of the new gadgets with one click, which we think is important as we see more and more great canvas view gadgets that require a scalable navigation model," Ewing said in her e-mail. "We realize it does take up some screen real estate, particularly on small monitors. One change we made was to narrow the left navigation from the initial experiments. We'll continue to monitor user feedback and usage and adjust accordingly."
It may be, however, that change itself is the issue. Some users want the option to keep iGoogle the way it was, to not be forced to accept changes.
"You want to make changes?" says someone posting under the name "Moon T" on Google Groups. "Fine. Give users some warning. Then give us a CHOICE."
And therein lies the difference between software that runs on the user's local computer, under the user's control, and software that runs in the cloud, under the service provider's control.