How social media killed iGoogle

November 2, 2013

Raise your hand if you have ever felt personally victimized by Google killing off a service you liked. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Google's personalized landing page service, iGoogle, died with very little fanfare Friday more than a year after its impending closure was announced. It wasn't nearly as popular as Google Reader, another recent addition to the Google graveyard, but its cause of death was the same: social media.

Essentially, iGoogle allowed people to create a customized Google search page incorporating news feeds, widgets and other information that they might want to glance over during the course of the day. Diehard personalized-homepage fans could still fall back on My Yahoo or My MSN, but it seems more likely they will join the the unwashed masses in using social media to fill most of their personalized news needs. Twitter is currently a standard for most journalists needing updates on breaking news. And of the two-thirds of Americans who use Facebook, half of them consume news through it -- even if that consumption is mostly incidental.

Customized portals like iGoogle really represented a sort of first step toward the highly personalized experience most us have online now due to the influence of social media. It seems almost quaint to rely on self-selection when you can use the hive-mind of your network to help deliver content to your stream. And with Google's push toward an all-encompassing social-driven Web experience, it's no surprise they decided to ax the service.

Answering a question on Quora, Brian Shih, a former Google Reader product manager, suggested that Reader was the victim of Google's quest to move into the social media market with various products -- including Google+. And leveraging how users already depend on Google products by integrating services into one login, Google is finding ways to get people engaged in that endeavor: They claim 300 million users "active in the Google+ stream" per month. But those users aren't all people who are actively visiting Google+, it counts anyone who might incidentally involve themselves by clicking the red notification bell in or using a widget from another site.

This integration isn't an accident: Google+ is not just a service meant to compete for a place in the social media market, it's a way for the company to create cohesive identities for users across all its services, including search, Gmail and YouTube, that can be used for improved ad targeting. But, like Reader, iGoogle didn't quite fit into that broadly interconnected vision of the Web that Google+ represents. And now it's dead.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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