My G!

by Eszter Hargittai on May 19, 2005

Google arrives at Yahoo! 1999.

MyYahoo! in 2000

[Image extracted from the Web Archive.]

For something that’s been around for so long (personalized portal pages) My Google isn’t offering much at this point. But how interesting that they have picked sites like Slashdot as one of only a dozen options to feature for now. I would like to see the behind-the-scenes of what led to these twelve particular items being featured. Some are quite obvious (e.g. redirection to Google movie searches or Google Maps), but others probably have to do with deals. Gosh, all this reminds me of my article in 2000 on the role of portals in channeling user attention online. I discuss the implications of the underlying commercial decisions in this piece.



Kieran Healy 05.19.05 at 7:04 pm



Andrew 05.19.05 at 7:14 pm

Slashdot is an odd choice, especially since it’s the one of those options where at half of what’s being offered is fiction.


Dirk 05.19.05 at 8:16 pm

People argue all the time about what strategy Google should pursue. Some say they should stick to their traditional strength in search and not diversify. They point to AltaVista, the leading search engine at one time, which took its eye off the ball and started getting into other stuff, only to watch as Google (and others) ate its lunch in search.

Others think Google must diversify both its revenue sources and consolidate its hold on users (which is the idea behind portals). Last week Steve Ballmer suggested that Google may be a “one-hit wonder”,. Not that he’s exactly unbiased.

Someday, thousands of people will be saying “I told you so” when it comes to Google. Who knows which group will end up being right?


ab 05.19.05 at 8:48 pm

Google is losing the plot.

Let’s have a look at some recent Google highlights:

* Web Accelerator: serious PR disaster
* Search History: isn’t really important in any way
* GMaps: great!
* Google Suggest: nice to play with, not really important
* Google Video: not really important
* Google Scholar: unreliable, still very much in infancy


pops 05.19.05 at 8:57 pm

About a month ago Yahoo really trimmed down the number of comic strips you could add to your My Yahoo page. Among the unfortunate victims were Get Fuzzy and Monty.

Why would you want to kill the intersting content?


Luis Villa 05.19.05 at 9:07 pm

google video not important? That’s… a very limited, text-centric world-view there. Google Video is, IMHO, one of the most long-term, important things going on in search right now- virtually as important as their library initiative. Vast quantities of the world’s creative content is delivered as video now, and saying ‘searching video is unimportant’ is like saying ‘searching things written in chinese is unimportant’ or ‘searching things in books is unimportant’- silly and/or parochial.

[More later, if/when this paper finishes writing itself.]


John Quiggin 05.19.05 at 10:55 pm

Eszter, my perception is that portals are like training wheels, in the sense that they are helpful to new users but, once people stop using them (for example, by picking a preferred news source as their start page), they rarely go back. This would suggest that, since the expansion phase of the Web is nearly over, at least in developed countries, portals are doomed to decline, which casts doubt on Google’s move.

As you would expect, I’m basing all this on me, and people I know, not a random sample. Is there any research on this?


Eszter 05.19.05 at 11:35 pm

It’s hard to find data on this for a random sample. Your comment assumes that a lot of people change their default homepage. Unfortunately, I don’t know about much data looking at that. I’m not even sure if a company like Nielsen//NetRatings that tracks people’s online moves would know their default homepage. Your comment also seems to assume that people want news sources as their default page, another assumption I’m not sure would hold up to scrutiny. (Perhaps you were just using that as an example, obviously any change away from the portal would have similar implications.) But then again, we also have little public info on how many people personalize. These big companies have data on their own users at least. I don’t know if a company like Yahoo! would keep bothering with such personalizations (e.g. 360) if their user data showed that few people were using such services.


yoyo 05.20.05 at 12:34 am

A recent google hit: the google desktop search has been absolutly great, for me at least. I probably only have 10-15 good, useful applications, and its one of them.


agm 05.20.05 at 1:28 am

Google Scholar is in its infancy, yes, but it’s definitely not unreliable, at least not for physics. Now the interface and search options, those could use some work — for example, the ability to sort based the characteristic of your choice, say publication date, instead of the default, sorting by number of citations — but the ability to get to what I need without having to be in front of a computer whose IP address is associated with an ISI subscription, is priceless.


john b 05.20.05 at 5:21 am

As a sample of one, I’m finding this massively helpful: I have Google as my homepage anyway, but being able to access new gmails and top BBC headlines with one click makes things far superior.

It’s ugly, though.


John Quiggin 05.20.05 at 5:53 am

Eszter, I meant news as an example – it’s an obvious choice since it’s updated at least daily, but there are plenty of others.

I don’t have any info about proportions of people who actively choose their homepage, or the effects of experience on this, but it seems like a good thing for a grad student to take a look at, perhaps.


Keith M Ellis 05.20.05 at 6:30 am

“Eszter, my perception is that portals are like training wheels, in the sense that they are helpful to new users but, once people stop using them (for example, by picking a preferred news source as their start page), they rarely go back.”

This is very untrue in my case. I’ve been on the web as long as there’s been a web. I started using My Yahoo! the month it was introduced and I still use it as my default page. I couldn’t live without it. I’ve got several news sources always updating, my thirty or so web sites linked that I cycle through all day, address map searching, a set of notes, a calendar (which I rarely use), and the weather. The only thing I don’t use (but it’s there), ironically, is a search. I go to Google for searching. That’s not training wheels, that’s a very useful personalized portal, refined over the years, that I’ve used quite happily for almost a decade now. On the other hand, on the very rare occasion when I can’t get to My Yahoo! for some reason, I sit and stare stupidly at my browser wondering how to do what I want to do.

If Google executes on a general user portal as well as they’ve done with most things, they’ll be a player. But it’s a ridiculously crowded space and (although I’m biased), I suspect that Yahoo! leads the pack by a large margin.

I’ve noticed family and friends just using the default start page set by their ISP’s software, especially in the case of broadband. Most everyone else probably leaves it at their browser’s default, unless they change it to Google or a search engine. I imagine a number of recently novices but now regular users do so.

But I bet that non-customized portals are common for novices and highly-customized portals are common to experienced users like myself.


donna 05.20.05 at 3:55 pm

Google is turning from connecting us to the web to connecting the web to us. What’s next, the googlebot to inventory our shower? (Yeah, it’s an old joke…)

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