Google Fixes Google News Redesign

Inundated with complaints from unhappy users, Google has restored a two-column viewing option.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

July 16, 2010

4 Min Read

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Two weeks after redesigning Google News, Google has revisited its improvements to address persistent complaints about the service's reduced utility and diminished flexibility.

In a post on the Google News blog announcing the redesigned redesign, Google product manager Chris Beckmann emphasizes that the initial changes had both supporters and detractors.

"The positive usage data we saw during our months-long tests of the redesign has continued since we introduced it to all users of the U.S. English edition, and hundreds of thousands of you have already customized your Google News homepages," he said. "But some of you wrote in to say you missed certain aspects of the previous design, such as the ability to see results grouped by section (U.S., Business, etc.) in two columns."

A Google moderator in the Google News support forum concedes more readily that this latest revision was introduced in response to user dissatisfaction.

"We've been reading these forums and following all of your feedback closely," writes a Google employee identified as 'Fred S.' "In large part because of the feedback we've received here and elsewhere, Google News has just launched a 'Two-column' view in the 'News for you' stream."

Using a check box accessed though the Edit link, Google News readers can also reclaim some screen real estate by removing the Weather box in the local news section, situated in the right-hand column. Section drag-and-drop has also been enabled in the "Edit personalization" box.

The addition of a two-column view addresses one of the major complaints voiced by dissatisfied users, which is that the new format makes it more difficult to scan a large number of headlines quickly. Some users, however, continue to object to the updated redesign and want the right-hand column removed completely.

Google says it redesigned Google News, the first major change since 2002, to promote personalization. The company maintains that it tested the changes and that the majority of users approve of the changes.

"A small subset of users who loved the old version wrote in to us, which is great because it means they have a passion for the product," a company spokesperson explained in an e-mail. "Some users wanted to see more headlines, so we added the 'Two column' option to the 'News for you' section."

Among this small but passionate subset of disaffected users, however, Google promoted a different sort of personalization: some began using the Canadian version of Google News, where the redesign had not yet been implemented; some switched to Yahoo News or other aggregation news services; and at least one user recreated a semblance of Google News' old two-column format on a new Web site,

Google may be its own worst enemy here, by offering partial rather than complete personalization. And if Google chooses not to pursue full personalization -- the argument against it is that society benefits from forcing readers to confront viewpoints other than their own -- there appear to be competitors that will. A start-up founded by ex-Google News and Bing engineers called Hawthorne Labs is offering an iPad app that it describes as, "The world's first fully personalized newspaper."

But Google already does offer a service suited to more comprehensive personalization, its iGoogle personalized homepage. The company clearly is aiming for a mix of personalization and editorial authority, in the form of a fixed top news section and expanded emphasis on the Spotlight section, which tries to highlight quality journalism.

In the end there, may be no way for a company with Google's scale to avoid upsetting a portion of its users if it chooses not to maintain legacy versions of its services.

"This is a common occurrence when major redesigns take place on the Web," Google's spokesperson explained. "Some resistance to change was expected given that it was the biggest redesign of Google News since 2002. We always welcome feedback and will continue to use it to improve Google News for our users."

The question that Google and other companies face is whether there's a better way to diffuse the inevitable dissatisfaction.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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