RealTime IT News

Google Targets a More Personalized Web With iGoogle

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Google feted a group of reporters at its Googleplex campus here to show off its latest efforts in personalization. The new services extend the features of Google's personalized homepage service.

The Google personalized homepage will now be known as iGoogle and use the same Web address. Google officials said Apple can rest easy, though; this is the only service it plans to introduce with the "i" prefix.

One new feature slated to go live today on iGoogle is Gadget Maker, currently featuring seven consumer-oriented templates for creating personalized gadgets. To date, Google  had made gadgets available only to developers.

The gadgets can be published to a public directory for anyone to use or they can be sent as feeds to friends, family and colleagues who have the option whether to accept them. At this time, Google has no ad strategy or revenue model; it's all a free service.

The other new feature going live today is location-based personalized search results. Users who have provided a default location in Google Maps will now get more personalized results based on that location. For example, someone with a southern California location who enters "surfing equipment" would get results in that geographic area.

Google has always been the epitome of the "clean" page, with its sparse homepage and search box. But while the "classic" Google page remains, the company has been giving users more options to, depending on your point of view, clutter or enhance the page.

Google's personalized page was already looking more like a traditional portal with lots of entry points for different interests. Gadget Maker promises to increase the density.

Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, said the idea came out of a brainstorming session in 2004. "Someone said they didn't want a clean homepage. And I was struck how customization would appeal to some users."

She said the personalized homepage has been Google's fastest-growing product, with tens of millions of users. Google is working to increase personalization so the algorithms behind the company's search engine will produce more specific results pertinent to users' interests.

The system would learn from users' queries, so, for example, if you typed in a query for Broadway shows, it would know your preferences (comedy, tragedy, etc.) and come back with top results best suited to those interests. "That's what we're shooting for," she said. "A search engine that understands 'me'."

The seven introductory Gadget Maker templates include:

A photo gadget for distributing photos to friends; Google Gram, a kind of progressive greeting card that can be set up to distribute with various updated messages each day; Daily Me, a "mini blog" for sending out short missives about yourself or particular topics; and a personal list gadget for things like food shopping, favorite movies, etc.

Rounding out the list are a personalized countdown gadget for counting down to the date of a special event; a YouTube video favorites gadget, which allows you to create and share a channel of your favorite YouTube videos; and Free form gadget, which offers ways to further customize gadgets.

Mayer told internetnews.com that, just as other consumer technologies have bubbled up to the enterprise, such as instant message services, she thinks some of the latest Google services could, too. "Customized intranet pages are a reasonably intriguing idea," she said.

Jessica Ewing, product manager for iGoogle, said that although personalized homepages have been around for years, the true potential is only starting to be realized because of technology advances.

"Ajax  allows us to customize faster, more customizable and graceful content," she said. "In the '90s it was all about bringing content into your space and licensing deals that were expensive and limited what you could get. Feeds have dramatically changed all that, content is becoming more syndicatable."