UPDATE: It appears that the rotating backgrounds are here for one day only, to promote the ability to change your Google home page background – read this blog entry for more details.
Having used Google throughout today, I’m certainly glad it won’t be like this tomorrow – it’s extremely irritating!
Google is rolling out personalised backgrounds to its home page following Microsoft’s redesign of its re-branded search engine, Bing.
Traditionally Google’s website has been simple and sparse – is the search giant running scared of Bing?
Part of Google’s appeal has been the simplicity of its home page. Presented with a just a logo, search box and a couple of buttons, it was a triumph of utilitarian design – we weren’t bombarded with unnecessary choice or distraction.
Over the last year or so, Google has been experimenting with its user interface. Additional navigation to its vertical search properties – images, videos, maps and so on – have been added, as have pointers to additional services such as GMail and iGoogle.
Recently, Google sought to maintain the perceived simplicity of its home page by only showing this navigation when the user moved the mouse – extra features are “faded in”.
The new background images are an interesting development. The reason for the backgrounds are unclear; they certainly do not add any functionality. Indeed, the page looks busier, is less focused on the search box and the text – despite the text shadow effect – is difficult to read.
The Microsoft Way
Microsoft has implemented background images in a much better way. Using a soft focus and darker colours in areas behind text, text is more readable. They’ve even added a translucent dark black background to the navigation in the “Explore” area to add clarity. There is a sense of organised layout – compare the tight left navigation and the footer signposting to Google’s increasingly cluttered, unorganised links.
Google – a shrewd move or losing its way?
Google may be gambling that users will like the background images. They may also be looking for ways to entice users to upgrade from the antiquated Internet Explorer 6 software to a modern browser (ideally Google’s own Chrome, of course!) – this feature is not available to IE6 users.
Donning a paranoia hat, Google may be banking on users not liking the background images. The only (non-technical) way to change the image is to create a Google account, log in and change your preferences. Of course, you’ll need to stay logged in for the background image to remain changed, allowing Google to track your searches more closely.
(Conspiracy theorists may also think that the “fade in” navigation and busier layout are intended to draw attention away from the fact that you may still be logged in).
Alternatively, Google may be aware that Microsoft has built a good search product with Bing, and do not want to lose market share. Bing’s background image is the biggest visible difference between the two – by homogenising the search market, perhaps Google is expecting that users will stick with what they know.
Google has reduced the readability of text, its home page is increasingly cluttered and general usability has taken a hit.
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