Google Shows How To Get Personal in An Unobtrusive Way

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By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, October 2, 2005

I have always wondered why Google has such an empty search page. A snowfield of white space, dominated by a multi-colored nonsense word, one simple rectangular box and only two buttons. So simple, it reminded me of an HTML student's first page. Or maybe the computer screen in a Hollywood thriller where the hero types in a code to stop an A-bomb countdown.

Well, now we know. The albescent void was merely biding time and holding a place for Google's new personalized home page.

The Web search engine, which earlier this month rolled out a blog search function, now offers users a customizable home page for very little effort and precious little personal information.

You'll just have to find it.

Take a look high up in the right-hand corner of Google's search page. There, you'll see a link for "Personalized Home." There's a teensy-tiny little red speck next to it. If you look closely, you'll see it reads "New!" Maybe it's modesty, maybe it's all part of some nefarious plan to lull us into thinking Google is benevolent before they commandeer our thoughts (Gmail version 2.0?), but the omnipresent site seems opposed to using itself to promote itself.

After finding the link, users are directed to a version of the main Google page that has started to fill up. It consists of a basic template, including places for news headlines and weather. Also, a word and quote of the day, from your philosopher-kings, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

The page is self-explanatory: "Personalize your Google homepage," reads a prominent link. Clicking on the link shoves the main page to the right, exposing a left-hand rail of categories -- news, technology, lifestyle and so on, each with a handful of links to Web sites in the category. Links that doubtless do business with Google. (Disclosure: The Washington Post is one of the offered news sites.)

When clicked, the selected Web site appears on the main page to the right, with three top stories underneath. Each link can be dragged around your now-forming personal Google page and placed where desired. Thus, you assemble your page, block by block.

The page also lets users enter non-listed Web sites by address to create a category of bookmarked pages. A search field allows users to assemble a page by topic. A handy weather section is to the right, allowing you -- in theory -- to watch the weather in as many cities as you input. However, as this appears to be an early version of the site, weather reports are limited only to U.S. cities.

Google's new personalized page seems, at first glance, to be wildly unsophisticated and primitive compared to portals such as Yahoo and Lycos, which bristle and pop with links and video and other geegaws. But Google gets addition by subtraction: It has what I want and only what I want, which most importantly includes no ads floating, crawling, flying or slithering across my nice, white page.

At least for now.

Mile-high update: Last week, I test-drove AirTroductions, a Web site that claims to seat like-minded air travelers next to each other by matching personal data and preferences, like Match.com. Last week, I entered a fictional JFK-to-Heathrow hop and was told I was unmatchable. This week, I typed in a bogus Dulles-to-LAX nonstop and was told the same. Further, the site had yet to find me a supermodel seatmate for my madcap London weekend even after a week of nonstop searching and the addition of several hundred new members. Because I know you care, I'll keep you posted.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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