Its clear why Google is doing this. Personalization is the next stage in the evolution of many products. It helps develop a closer relationship with users and get to know more about them. And most importantly, it provides a clear reason for Google to collect data and link it one individual. People do not want their web searches to be logged – partly because it does not provide any value for them. But we are fine with Amazon knowing a lot about us because there is a direct benefit in Amazon having our history. Google now wants the same type of relationship with you – its dear user. There are many business reasons for Google to pursue personalization.
I just spent some time with GoogleBase and was amazed at just how deeply Google has embraced standard information architecture concepts and trends. We have categories, facets, tags. I kid you not. Google of the simple search box with a go button has come a long way indeed.
A few top level categories
12 top-level categories (e.g., course schedules, Events & Activities) show up when you post a piece of content. Interestingly they do not get exposed directly in the search interface, but get used indirectly. Google uses your initial query to place you in a particular category, and show the relevant facets. For example, the facets presented when you search for a vehicle name are different than when you search for a recipe. This is a good approach, but it does mean that Google needs to guess the right category to present the appropriate set of facets. Google Product Manager explains that “Google Base suggests attributes and item types based on popularity, which you can use to define and attach your own labels and attributes to each data item.” So there is some magic going on behind the scene to decide what sets of facets to show.
So the city I live and work in is going to get free wi-fi from Google. Google had made this proposal a while back. The Mountain View city Council just approved the deal. So, by June we might have city-wide free wi-fi. (As a note, between the planned NASA campus and free wi-fi, Google is increasingly making its presence felt in Mountain View).
Apparently, Google already has a test center for their wi-fi at Kapp’s Pizza Bar & Grill on Castro Street in Mountain View. IMO, a better choice would be Dana Street Cafe. Its really the best place to get a cup of coffee and hang-out in this area (its also right next to our office!). They already have free wi-fi (courtesy Live555), but the connection can be spotty. If I did not have to charge up my laptop periodically, I would probably never leave (weirdly they don’t let you power up, even though they have free wifi).
I was just looking up something on Technorati and realized just how distracting I find the cute visual design – especially, the images to the left the search bar. Every time I go to that page, I find that my eyes go to those cartoonish figures. They are cute, but I am there to find something, not for the cute visual design.
And what’s with such a busy page? Seems like every possible option (Technorati Blog, Get Indexed, Personalize, Tour, Developer Center) has a place on the main page. Developer Center? Surely that does not need a link on the front page. It’s a search, not a browse page. I counted: there are more than 35 links on that front page.
Reminds me of something recounted by Marissa Mayer (from Google) at a BayCHI talk. They used to receive an email from a user once in a while. And everytime it would just have a number. Sometimes, the number would be high, and this user would express his displeasure. Later they realized that the number was the number of letters on the Google Home Page.
Word is Yahoo will soon be coming out with its OddPost inspired version. Ethan Diamond, one of the Oddpost founders, now working on Yahoo mail thinks that users are more likely to use folders than tags to organize emails. I tend to agree. I like the controlled messiness of del.icio.us tags for my bookmarked urls. And the social discovery of others’ bookmarks is very compelling. But for something as personal and important as my email archive – I prefer either a combination of folders and robust search.
I just spent a few days watching people use a search interface for a site (lets call it Site X for now). What stuck with me the most was how different the design challenge was if the user was of the “Google generation”. Everyone showed the Google carry over effect – expectancy of high relevance, fast searches. But for undergraduates who had grown up with Google, it was as if that was the only experience they could deal with. Anything else was too complex, too slow, too not Google.
Take Participant Y (Lets call her Susanne). Susanne is an undergraduate in a California University. She needs to find some information on Site X – she knows it houses some special types of information, not found anywhere else. She does not know much about this topic.