Google has unveiled a new service that allows people to consolidate various Google features they use, ranging from web search to email, into a personalized home page.
The new personalized home page service will no doubt make many people scream "Portal!" That's because despite the name, it is essentially a "My Google" feature, similar to the My Yahoo, My MSN and other My Whatever pages that portals created so their users could access the many features they offer.
Well, Google's already been a stealth portal as I've called it for some time, offering standard portal features such as email, search and the home pages of today, blogs. The new personalized home page is merely a visible acknowledgement of this.
But the feature is also welcomed. It makes sense for Google to offer a unified page for many of its services, and the page does this without impacting the regular Google site nor getting far away from the general Google feel at all.
Want to sign-up? Just visit the personalized home page area. You'll see a big image underneath the Google search box. Click on that, then choose whatever items you are interested in (more on these below). Don't worry too much about what you choose, because it's all easily altered later.
When you save your options, you'll either be asked to sign-in to your Google Account or create one if you haven't yet got one. And that's it -- you'll be personalized.
Once created, you'll see something that looks the same as the regular Google home page above the search box. But below that, you have the option to add a number of modules of your choosing. Here are some of the options:
- Stocks: Allows you to see major indexes or add any tickers of your choosing. Selecting one of the stock links shown on the personalized home page takes you to Google web search results for that ticker symbol.
- Weather: Enter a US ZIP code (the service is US-only for now, Google says), and you can have the weather for that area displayed. Click your city link, and you'll be taken to Google web search results with an extended forecast.
- Quote Of The Day: Appears to draw from what's featured on The Quotations Page for the day.
- Word Of The Day: Appears to draw from the current word of the day featured at Dictionary.com.
- Driving Directions: Allows you to enter addresses on your personal home page to get directions. However, there oddly is no way to save a set of directions or locations to your page, once generated.
- Movies: Provides a selection of movies showing near the US ZIP code you enter, and clicking on the "Showtimes" link brings up a page of extended show times for the area, as with this example.
Feeds, Headlines & The "Fusion" Strategy
Beyond the options listed, Google also allows you to have headline feeds from the following sources:
- Google News (top US stories)
- BBC News
- New York Times
- Wired News
That's it, for now. Within three months, Google is promising that you'll be able to add content from any feed you'd like, anywhere on the web.
Indeed, the personalized home page is just part of what Google has called its "Fusion" strategy, to bring all types of information from anywhere into the Google experience. So this page is seen as just one of potentially many "tools" Google expects to provide so people can organize and customize information.
Got a Gmail account? Then you can also add a Gmail module to your personalized home page, allowing you to see a preview of the latest emails you've received.
Don't have a Gmail account? You're out of luck. Gmail remains a closed beta, so even if you get the personalized home page, you don't magically get access to Gmail.
Got an email account elsewhere? Google said it expect to figure out a way for you to have non-Google accounts to be integrated in the future.
Customization & Ads
Once you've picked your modules, it's easy to alter them. Little edit links let you do things specific to each module, such as add further stock symbols, change ZIP codes or see more headlines. You can also drag and drop any module to where you like, within the three defined columns of the page.
At the moment, there are no ads. However, Google said it expect that some type of ad presentation will eventually come.
Portal Issues & Competition
It's important to keep in mind that the regular Google home page has not changed. That's a good thing.
When search engines became portals in the 1990s, home pages immediately became more complex. There was a "shove everything we've got out there" mentality that you still see today at Yahoo and MSN. And once it's all out there, it's hard to pull back.
Instead, Yahoo has to separately offer a "pure" search page that practically no one seems to know about. Meanwhile, MSN's standalone MSN Search site provides a similar solution, but one that's also probably not known to many MSN portal users.
With lessons learned, Google's clearly not tampering with what it now calls the "Classic Home" page, to those logged in and using the personal one. If you want more from the service, you can get it -- but it's not being shoved in your face, at least for now.
It's also important to understand that this at the moment isn't likely to draw significant users from the other portals. Yahoo and MSN have far more mature services, feature rich with things that still amaze me today. Both are also much farther ahead on the feedreading front. Most of the millions already using these services aren't going to find the new Google personalization compelling enough to depart, I'd say.
Ultimately, what the change does in my book is help Google perhaps better hang on to its existing users. Some people will want this from Google. And once personalized, they are even less likely to move away from the service.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.
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