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Google's Personalized Home Page Gets Many New Looks

Call it phase two. Google first launched its personalized home page for users almost two years ago. Today, the search giant is adding to the personalization options with its first set of "dynamic themes."

The six themes, or "skins," are the first of many Google  plans to release. "Beach, City," "Sweet Dreams," "Teahouse," "Seasonal Scape," and "Bus Stop" are the themes being released today. Google calls them "dynamic" because the themes are not a static one-off that only the user can change; rather Google itself pushes out the changes based on certain algorithmic and other factors throughout the day.

To get a theme added to your Google home page, you have to register with your zip code. Google uses that little bit of location information. In one example, the Bus Stop theme shows people waiting at a bus stop and a gentleman's toupee is seen blowing off his head. This is directly tied to a weather report (windy in this case) for that zip code.

Google said it researched how other sites added themes and thinks its dynamic approach adds unique value.

"There seems to be a high utility when a theme is added. Users are delighted, but then the interest drops off over time," Jessica Ewing, Google's product manager for personalized homepage, told internetnews.com. "We wanted to keep these themes interesting over time and continually delight users."

The themes were implemented with a CSS  framework and designed to scale. Google said the technology will let it push out hundreds of new themes if it so chooses. When and if more themes arrive depends on how well the roll out goes and user feedback. "We hope to release a lot more themes going forward," said Ewing.

She also said it is technically possible for Google to release some kind of API  that would let third-party developers add themes, but there are no current plans to do so. "Our real hope and purpose is to make these themes non-commercial," said Ewing. Google already offers an API that lets developers add certain modules to the Google home page.

JupiterKagan analyst Sapna Satagopan noted that Yahoo has offered themes and different aesthetic personalization options at its home page for quite some time.

"Google offered different content, but now it's looking at deeper levels of personalization," Satagopan told internetnews.com. "It makes sense for them to push the customization a bit."

Visitors to Google's famously clean search sight have noticed the occasional flourish to the Google logo on holidays and other occasions. "Now they are testing themes, which I think will appeal to a younger demographic Google hasn't specifically targeted before," said Satagopan.

In its testing of the themes, Ewing said Google has concluded there won't be any latency issues with the added graphics and dynamic customization. The themes also support browser resizing.

"One of our goals was not to touch the user content, all the info is preserved on a white background," said Ewing. "But there's also enough artistry there for the user to feel a connection with the product."



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