John Brandon

Users to Google: Bring back the old iGoogle or else

By John Brandon
October 21, 2008 11:06 AM EDT
What kind of power do end-users wield on the Web? In recent weeks, not much. We are pretty much oh-for-two in demanding that a service return to the way it was before, e.g., the way we want it to be. When FaceBook upgraded their interface with a new look and feel -- one that has tabs along the top of the screen -- users revolted, but FaceBook is not about to bring the old look back from the dead. The official FaceBook blog is now pretty much ignoring the issue altogether.

Now, the latest revolt is over the new look at iGoogle, which has a new lefthand nav column. You can also make gadgets run in full-screen mode, a feature that Google calls a canvas. Most of the users who have started forums to talk about iGoogle complain about the unwieldy nav column, which cannot be disabled or re-positioned. A post on TechCrunch has a boatload of comments, most of them complaining that the nav bar takes up precious screen real estate.

The real issue is that users want to be able to spread their gadgets all over their Google home page any which way they want, and not be locked into any standard mode -- which just reminds them of a desktop operating system. When users fire up the their browser, they seeĀ a personalĀ home page -- some have said they see it 50 times per day or more, which is likely what is making them such vocal opponents. Web aggregators such as Pageflakes, Popurls, and Netvibes are all about custom home pages that reflect the personality of the user. Many of the complaints threaten to abandon iGoogle and switch to Netvibes.com, which is less restrictive about where you put your stuff.

I'm not surprised by the uproar. By adding the nav column, Google is saying that -- at least for this one feature, all users are the same. It is stripping them of their individuality.

Should users have more say in Web 2.0 tools? Yes, because Web sites have the luxury of catering to their users in ways that desktop software cannot. I know that Google doesn't like to go back to previous code, and doing so would be akin to admitting they made a mistake. But this one is different: it's a way for Google to say they care about each and every end-user. We'll see if they respond, and if the forums get their way, or if iGoogle is one of those famously abandoned portals.