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Is the Google News Redesign a Repeat of the New Coke Disaster?

jarboe-greg
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The Official Google Blog announced that the company was "revamping the Google News homepage" on Wednesday. It's only Saturday, but I already think the Google News redesign is a repeat of The Coca-Cola Company's New Coke disaster in 1985.

My first indication that Google was in trouble came from comments to my post on Thursday entitled, Google News Redesign Offers "News for You."

Brad said, "The new Google News blows! I want the old one back. I shouldn't need to log in each time I want to check the top news stories (I switch between 5 different computers during a normal day)."

Robert said, "Awful Awful Awful! I want my sections back with news by zip code along with other important headlines that aren't tailored to my existing interests." He later added, "Crap. That's all that needs to be said. Especially with no warning or (a) 'beta' period to try it out. I'm probably going to drop news.google.com as my home page now."

Kevin said, "The new look is terrible. Instead of the minimalist, clear, efficient look that made them a market leader they seem to be trying to have embraced the worst design elements of sites with less traffic, less loyalty and little appeal to users."

Muntz said, "At least you can change to 'sections' mode. But I liked the old view better because I could see more sections at a time. I try to avoid layouts that require me to scroll, scroll, scroll."

All I could do was respond with the lame observation, "Wow, I haven't seen this kind of reaction since ... Google's spring metamorphosis of its search results back on May 5. As Leonard McCoy says in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 'I know engineers. They love to change things.'"

Then, Em said, "You should check out the user reaction on the Google News Help Forum. Out of about 600+ posts, I have only seen 1 positive response. Most are asking for a way to revert to the old layout."

And Jerry said, "I detest the new design. The old design allowed me to do a quick scan of headlines and pursue stories of interest. The new design is a godawful mess that can not be easily scanned. The postings by Google employees in the Google News Help forum are basically non-responsive to objections to the new format. I've already switched to news.ask.com. The latter may not be ideal, but it's better that what's now available at news.google.com."

My second indication that Google was in trouble came from my wife, who normally doesn't comment on these kinds of things. Yesterday, she asked me to tell her where the undo or reset button was -- so she could revert to the old Google News design. When I told that there wasn't one, she asked where she could post a comment to let Google know what she thinks and I pointed her to http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/news/label.

There, you will find a variety of discussions. Here is an admittedly unscientific sample:


  • The problem with the new Google News format

  • Why did you ruin your news page? I used to have two columns of useful information in a well organized format

  • How to change news back to normal

  • This new site sucks, what is the timeframe for putting the old site back up?

  • Can the moron(s) responsible for changing my Google News page be fired?...Please???

  • Option to keep the good old (nonexperimental) version of Google News

  • HOW DO I GET BACK TO THE OLD GOOGLE NEWS FORMAT?

  • Can we have the option to use the old format, this new format is a pain to use

  • How are you going to FOOGLE us again?

  • PLEASE (!!!) give us a way to opt out from the new Google News experimental format!

  • I'm no techie, but wouldn't it be fairly easy to provide the old news format as an option?

  • WHY DO YOU THINK THEY ARE DOING THIS?


My third indication that Google was in trouble came from Thomas Claburn of InformationWeek, who wrote "Google News Redesign Likened To 'New Coke' Flop" on Thursday. Claburn quotes InformationWeek reader Christopher Buckingham, who said, "The original Google News was vastly superior. The new version is, as another commenter said, 'The New Coke.' Bring back the classic Google News and Fast Flip."

Claburn then quotes a Google spokesperson, who said, "It"s really too early to characterize the response. We've tested our latest design thoroughly, and we anticipate our users will really like it."

New Coke.jpg Now, it appears that many of the Google engineers are too young to remember the Coca-Cola New Coke disaster back in 1985. And it seems that far too few Google marketers studied the reformulation of Coca-Cola when they were in college. But when they return from their July 4th celebrations, I strongly urge all of them to read the New Coke listing in Wikipedia.

Here are some of the key parallels:

  • The company had conducted taste tests of the new flavor for Coke, code named "Project Kansas," and most tasters said they would buy and drink it. But about 10-12% felt angry and alienated at the very thought of changing the flavor of Coke, saying that they might stop drinking it altogether.

  • The company downplayed the opinions of this small minority.

  • New Coke was introduced on April 23, 1985. Production of the original formulation ended that same week.

  • Despite New Coke's acceptance with a large number of Coca-Cola drinkers, a vocal minority of them resented the change in formula and were not shy about making that known -- just as had happened in the focus groups.

  • Coca-Cola's director of corporate communications, Carlton Curtis, realized over time that they were more upset about the withdrawal of the old formula than the taste of the new one.

  • Coca-Cola executives announced the return of the original formula on July 10, less than three months after New Coke's introduction.

  • The subsequent reintroduction of Coke's original formula, re-branded as "Coca-Cola Classic," resulted in a significant gain in sales, leading to speculation that the introduction of the New Coke formula was just a marketing ploy.


  • Donald Keough, the company's president and chief operating officer, responded to this speculation by saying, "We're not that dumb, and we're not that smart."

    So, what other lessons can Google learn from the New Coke disaster? The new cola was a major marketing failure, not a major product failure. So, maybe it's time for Google adopt a more balanced relationship between engineers and marketers within the company. It wouldn't hurt to have a few more people at the table who are focused on doing the right things instead of just doing things right.


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