Complaints pour in about new iGoogle home page

Google's redesign of its iGoogle personalized home page has triggered an avalanche of complaints from users who dislike the changes.

Since the redesign's launch on Thursday, users have flooded discussion forums and blog comment sections to mostly criticize iGoogle's facelift.

For example, at the Personalizing Google section of the official Google Web Search Help discussion forum, users have created more than 800 discussion threads.

Many of those threads have tens of messages, some even more than 100 messages, a sign that passions are running high among iGoogle users upset that their personal portal page to the Web has been altered in ways they don't like and without any prior warning.

In iGoogle, as in similar "home page" services from competitors, users can aggregate information, "gadget" Web applications and syndicated feeds, so that it serves as a sort of central hub of their online activities.

Personalized home-page services such as iGoogle are increasingly important for Google and its Web portal rivals -- including Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft's MSN -- as they fight it out for the attention of consumers online by consolidating their chosen services on a single page.

The stakes in this space have been raised by the booming popularity in recent years of social-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, which have become the central starting points of tens of millions of people's Internet activities.

The main changes to iGoogle include the ability to increase a gadget application to a full screen, something Google calls "canvas view," and a new left-hand navigation bar.

So far, at least one online petition has been started, requesting that iGoogle users get the option to revert their portal pages to the old design, which they preferred.

A common complaint seems directed at the new left-hand navigation column, which many gripe takes up valuable screen real estate and adds little value to their user experience.

In addition, people are complaining about the Gmail "gadget" application in iGoogle. Google has acknowledged that there is a problem with this Gmail gadget, which has made links in e-mail messages inactive. Google is working to resolve the problem.

Some users are also objecting to previews of Gmail messages showing up by default via the Gmail gadget because they use iGoogle at work and don't want this information to be viewed by others. According to a Google representative posting on the discussion forum and identified as Paul, Google is working to address this issue.

In fact, due to user feedback, Google has already restored at least one feature it had eliminated: a "+" sign for showing syndicated feed previews.

Most of the gripes are well-articulated in a thread titled The Official new iGoogle Constructive Criticism Thread, which is nearing 100 postings. Not all threads share its civil tone. For example, there is one called I hate the new iGoogle and another one titled New iGoogle Sucks.

Asked for comment on the wave of complaints about the new iGoogle, a Google spokeswoman said via e-mail on Monday that while Google didn't give prior warning to iGoogle users about the changes, it did put the new version through "a vigorous set of usability tests and experiments" with small groups of users.

Regarding the new left-hand navigation pane, Google realizes that it does take up screen space, especially on small monitors, but believes that its benefits are significant. "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," she said.

Google will continue to monitor feedback from users and make the adjustments it deems appropriate.

However, one thing Google isn't planning to do is give users the option to go back to the old design. "We want to build a homepage that is as useful for all users as possible, but that doesn't necessarily mean creating the most flexible homepage, or the largest number of options or features. We have to carefully assess the needs of our users and build a product that works best for all of them," she said.

iGoogle has tens of millions of users, she said.

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