Tonight, Google released a new service allowing developers the opportunity to create "modules" for the Google personalized homepage. Google software engineer, Adam Sah posts on the Google Blog in: Build your own Google homepage, that the Google Homepage API has been released. They even offer a collection of a few modules including a clock, a weather map, and a way to personalize the Google logo.
In other words, more tools for developers. Btw, this news comes on the same day that Yahoo renames their Konfabultor product, Yahoo Widgets. Widgets are small apps (calendars, image viewers, search tools, weather info, etc.) that are downloaded to the users desktop.
Since A9 and AOL use the Google web and images databases, they could be also might be considered as variations on what Google offers themselves. Of course, it's very clear that each of these Google database licensees offer their own unique and often useful features. With A9's OpenSearch, the options to add other databases and manipulate results page (expandable columns for example) might also be thought of as a form of personalization. AOL Search has also recently added some new features.
I've taught many classes where the discussion turns to Google's clean, clear, and uncluttered interface as a reason the student LOVES Google.
Even when the uncluttered and personalizable Yahoo interface or how Jeeves, MSN Search, Gigablast, AOL Search, Exalead, Clusty and other engine interfaces are just as clean and clear, it often doesn't matter. To see people react this way is amazing and speaks highly (a big understatment) of Google's branding. It's a clear example of people using what they know and not wanting to think that some other tool might also be of value to them. In my mind, the public's perception (right or wrong) that Google's interface is the only one that's clean and clear and the simplest to use, has played a role in getting the company to where it's today. It's worth mentioning that many people I've worked with feel the opposite way they do about Google's home page about Yahoo's main home page (too busy, too cluttered). That's why search.yahoo.com can be so powerful in showing that Yahoo offers an alternative.
Of course, with services like My Yahoo, MSN Live, My Jeeves, and Google Personalized (things that those of us in the search world know about but many others don't, exception My Yahoo) it's possible for the user to change the look of the page add mail, headlines, etc. Of course, at least at the present time, perhaps a bigger challenge at Google and elsewhere is informing the masses (not search geeks) about what they offer. That means image search, local search, etc. Personalization might be part of this learning curve but I'm not really sure if it comes before knowledge of what services are available in the first place. You have to teach a searcher to personalize I also have to mention (yes, I do it all the time) that a bit of training about how to best use what is already available might also be a good idea. Training for everyone? No, of course not. But training for certain user groups could be very useful.
While personalization and now the possibility of more modules for the personalized home page might be useful for some Google users (the 2-3% early adopter group), the company should remember where they came from. It's a clean and clear interface, simple and easy to use, that's the key component in many users mind.
"Tinkering" with this is something that Mountain View has to keep in at the least the back of its collective mind. As web search technology improves in terms of relevance, competitition gets tougher, more verticals comes online, etc, it's important that Google doesn't forget what got them to where they are today.
For many users (the ones that help make Google a verb) keeping it bare bones is one of the things that makes Google Google and makes simply gaining mindshare (forget marketshare) a challenge for others.