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?