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, breakingnewsfeeds.com.
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.