Friday, July 09, 2010

Big redesign at Google News

It has been widely reported that Google News has done a major redesign -- its first since 2002 apparently -- to more prominently feature personalization and customization.

Before I comment on it, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I am absurdly biased on this particular topic, having run Findory and talked at length over the years with Google, their partners, and their competitors about news personalization.

That said, I don't like what they've done. And I'm not the only one. Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek catalogs the complaints he is seeing at InformationWeek and elsewhere, summarizing it all by comparing it to the "New Coke" flop.

I think what the Google team has done is a lovely example of personalization done poorly, by people who really should know better. They change navigation links based on personalization even when confidence is low (one of my links in the left hand nav is for "Lindsay Lohan", which is hard to stomach). The article recommendations are often off, cannot be corrected, do not change in real time as you read articles, and there is no explanation of why something was recommended. There is no ability to see, edit, or rate your reading history. The ability to exclude or favor sources appears to be hacked on; the only way to do it is to manually type in the names of sources.

Under the surface, there appears still to be a lot of implicit personalization based on past behavior, but, from what someone using it sees, the focus is entirely on customization. I can "edit personalization" and "add sections" to put categories on my page. And that is about the limit of my control and the limit of the explanations of why articles are appearing. People like to be in control. They like to understand why something happens, especially if they don't agree with it. And Google News offers very little control or explanations.

Adding to the other problems, the design seems really busy and confused to me, like the Googlers can't decide what they are doing and -- in a fashion more typical of Microsoft -- just keep adding features. Hey, look, it's your fast flipping, clustered, personalized, customizable, widget-complete newspaper! Love it, it's Googly! C'mon, Google, what happened to keeping it clean, simple, and relevant?

11 comments:

sc0ttbeardsley said...

whew I thought I was the only one that hated the redesign...

Daniel Lemire said...

I never could use Google news. Sometimes, I use it as a search engine. For example, if you want to know what is happening with company X, you might "google news" company X.

Otherwise, for news, I rely on Twitter. Anyhow, it seems to be what journalists rely upon these days, so why not cut the middle man?

[People] like to understand why something happens, (...). And Google News offers very little control or explanations.

That is partly why I like using Twitter. I can control (to some extend) what I read by who I follow. I'm in charge.

(Of course, you might notice that I follow very few people on Twitter...)

jeremy said...

The article recommendations are often off, cannot be corrected, do not change in real time as you read articles, and there is no explanation of why something was recommended. There is no ability to see, edit, or rate your reading history.

I am so on your side here. But we've known that for years, that to offer the user more control and feedback tools is simply "not Googly".

Look at some of our discussions from over four years ago:

http://glinden.blogspot.com/2006/03/designing-for-geeks-and-missing.html?showComment=1143241709206#c114324170920429754

From my March 2006 comment: "Google...show[s] you none of the tools, but instead make all the decisions for you, based on what they think you want. The tools are all there. They just do not give you direct control over them."

And http://glinden.blogspot.com/2006/08/talk-on-fast-autocompletion.html?showComment=1155940525570#c115594052556827063

From that August 2006 comment:

"I feel that tools help the user do less work than the supposedly 'magic' one-shot, we-know-better-than-you Google approach...I've spoken with Google engineers about this.. and they're still philosophically very much against this approach."

This one-shot, we-know-better-than-you approach has pervaded their philosophy since the beginning, and while cracks are (thankfully) starting to appear, it still very much dominates.

What else would you expect? ;-)

Duff Clarity said...

I detest the redesign, I used to use google news just to see what the main headlines of the day were.

The new design is unusable. Anyone have suggestions on an alternative?

Anonymous said...

This is a really good analysis of new Google News design
http://asktog.com/columns/084Top10GoogleNewsSucks.html

Greg Linden said...

Thanks, Anonymous, that article was interesting. Here, let me repost that link as a clickable link:

http://asktog.com/columns/084Top10GoogleNewsSucks.html

Anonymous said...

What I hate is the liberal use of Ajax and javascript for page control -- without maintaining state. All too often programmers make the mistake of using non-HTML scripting to ruin simple navigation and the Google News designers have done just that. The old page you could choose how many stories you would like to see under each section and your click would "stick" meaning, once you said, "more stories" the page would remember your preference. Now, click on "more" and refresh the page -- your click is forgotten. Worse, do it a few times while looking at the page, then go visit one of the links, click on the back button to come back to Google News -- whoa! Where am I? In some other section entirely now.

Chris said...

(From the blog post):
>> They change navigation links
>> based on personalization even
>> when confidence is low (one of
>> my links in the left hand nav
>> is for "Lindsay Lohan", which
>> is hard to stomach).

I don't think the links on the left column are recommendations. They are more like "hot stories of the day" and are probably based on the number of news outlets covering the story. That feature existed even before the recent changes to Google News. It used to be on the right hand column. It's kind of like Twitter's "Trending Topics", but more news worthy.

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Chris. Mixing recommended and popular content is fine, but it should be done in a way that is useful, compelling, and understandable. The way Google News has done it is none of those.

At a minimum, if it is merely most popular topics, it should be labeled as such. That way, if it was irrelevant, people would understand why (and tend to be more forgiving).

The broader point is that Google apparently has failed to learn the lessons of all the other attempts to do personalized news over the last two decades. Hey, Google, 1996 called and it wants its My Yahoo back.

codingplayground said...

Apparently, they are changing their mind http://googlenewsblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/google-news-changes-reflect-your.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+GoogleNewsBlog+%28Google+News+Blog%29

rusty said...

The article by Tog is really good, especially his #1 reason, covering a topic that that you might not think a "UI guy" would be writing about:

Reason #1: Political drift introduced

This notion has drifted around in my head for a long time in a fuzzy way, but Tog has nailed it. One small snippet, to draw people's interest:

"Customizing sources is a very seductive feature. But consider this, if nothing else: It's those very propaganda outlets you disagree with that you need to keep an eye on the most, because, if they are truly propagandists, they are the biggest threat to our democracy. Then consider that, as you carve away on the left or the right with your customization, that you are moving your perceived center and, with it, yourself. You are inching toward a bubble."

Worthy of another repost of the link AskTog; Top 10 Reasons the New Google News Sucks