Thursday Google unveiled a new design for its iGoogle homepage service. Unfortunately (according to one geek), it's "a big unwanted piece of crap."
In an email interview today, Google defended the changes. But Google won't let users switch their home pages back to the way they used to be, which has sparked a furious revolt, online activism, and even some homegrown fixes.
22 million people visit iGoogle each month (according to January figures from Comscore), but Thursday Google foisted their changes onto every user in the United States. The same day, Johnson Rice created an online petition urging Google to allow a rollback option — and found nearly 1,000 people to sign it. Then he expanded his crusade on a nationally-syndicated radio show, and launched a Facebook Group protesting "forced website redesigns." Its goal? Fighting for the best-loved sites "if the corporate committees start trashing them."
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"The iGoogle features we launched went through this exact process and we've made changes along the way based on feedback from users and developers."
But some users clearly aren't satisfied. One thread in Google's discussion groups "is full of thousands of complaints about this sudden and unannounced change," according to Slashdot. In fact, one commenter posted that "Google has gone evil," joining a chorus of other negative threads.
What were you thinking????
How do I complain to Google?
Please return the hijacked horizontal space
I agree that the new igoogle changes are crap
Within 24 hours, disgruntled users had gotten even more aggressive, and resorted to posting email addresses for iGoogle's developers. One commenter claimed they'd also contacted a Google employee, "and they said they agreed that the new layout is horrible and was surprised that it was distributed to everyone at this point in time.
"They also said that as soon as they saw it, Google would be bombarded with complaints."
Soon the fierce discussion had identified several unsanctioned workarounds, which include logging into Google's Australian, British or Irish home pages or running a Greasemonkey script in Firefox. (The script's name? "Old Google Ig...") Other protesters used Google's discussion group to tout Google's competitors, including Netvibes and Protopages. Another blogger located a Firefox add-on which "disappears" the unwanted column, and one user even bragged they were accessing their Google Gmail account using Yahoo's home page service.
Comscore's January figures suggest Google has more than a quarter of all personalized home page users, and one iGoogle user says it's corrupted Google's philosophy. "Notice that the more powerful Google becomes, the more they take away our choices....once they reached the status of monopolistic stardom they suddenly fling off the sheep's clothing and out comes the wolf."
"Welcome to the future of cloud computing," warns a commenter on Slashdot. "This is what it means to give up control of your software for the convenience of a net-based service."
Information Week iGoogle's senior product manager, Jessica Ewing, defended the new column added in the re-design. "The left navigation allows users to go from canvas view to canvas view of the new gadgets with one click, which we think is important as we see more and more great canvas view gadgets that require a scalable navigation model." Jessica says Google was careful to narrow the column because "We realize it does take up some screen real estate, particularly on small monitors," and adds that "We'll continue to monitor user feedback and usage and adjust accordingly." But angry users on Google Groups were already posting her phone number, along with a number for Google's "User Experience" Vice President Marissa Mayer, urging "flood her inbox people!" One user even posted that "After trying the phone number and getting the 'error' hangup — I sent her a fax!"
The new iGoogle features "were designed to make it more powerful," according to Google's official blog, saying the redesign will "bring more information to the homepage." Besides the new column (which re-lists the homepage's links), iGoogle now also offers a new "canvas view" expanding RSS feeds to fill the screen. (And another option condenses that view to a Gmail-like list of the feed's headlines.) The changes will simply "bring more information to the homepage," argues Google's blog. But some critics see it differently.
"They forced users to a hideous new format today with no method to opt out," complained a blogger named Merry Goose Mother. "Everyone on the interwebs is roaring about how much it sucks and how inconsiderate it is to make changes to a page that users customize to their own preferences without providing them a medium to give feedback or revert." She titled her post "Google has officially become evil." (Ironically, she posted it on Blogspot — a service owned by Google.) And she asked her users for the ultimate solution.
"I need a new homepage, does anyone use Netvibes?"
Lifehacker posted another Greasemonkey script which eliminates Google's new design changes, telling readers that "over half of you gave it the thumbs down. Your main complaint: The new sidebar eats up a substantial chunk of screen real estate." And Information Week reported that "Almost all of the 80 comments posted on Information Week since Thursday express unhappiness about the new iGoogle," adding that "The situation is similar on other sites. Almost all of the 149 comments posted on the Google Operating System blog express displeasure with the iGoogle changes."
But statements from Google suggested the easiest workaround — of logging into a foreign version of iGoogle — may not last forever. Google's blog announces cheerily "Don't worry. We'll also be rolling out this updated version in other countries very soon."
Google isn't the only offender, according to Johnson Rice. "Facebook has done the same thing to all their users," he argued in his radio diatribe. "They just changed the design, and so what has happened is people are starting to get angry, because this is an egregious use of force on these people..." Today Slashdot reported that Yahoo "decided to massively screw up their entire userbase by changing all user profiles to blank, while Friday Thomas Hawk noted a thread on Flickr complaining about changes to Flickr's "Recent Activity" page. (Hawk sardonically headlined the post "Flickr Changes Most Popular Page on the Site, Users Go Bonkers," and in three days the thread has racked up over 3,700 posts.)
Johnson Rice argues the web services are committing a clear injustice. "Both Facebook and Google, while they offer a free service, make their money on advertising," he told the radio show's hosts. "Which means that their users and their community are the people who are in fact paying them by using their service." But despite his best efforts, he hasn't succeeded yet in rallying everyone to his cause.
The radio show's host responded, "I'd like to go on record as not giving a crap."
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