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July 16 2010

18:35

Google News revamps its revamped design

Late last month, Google News launched a redesign of its site. The basic idea was to make the news platform — and the news itself — more easily customizable for users: Google added a “news for you” section (a personally tailored headline stream), and the ability to indicate preferred news sources “to give you more control over the news that you see.”

In theory, the changes were useful: a way to empower users to personalize their news experience while — through the platform’s Spotlight and Top Stories sections — still preserving a bit of serendipity. In practice, though…it was a different story. At least on our site, users’ reactions to the redesign were rather negative pretty scathing. Some of the feedback we received on our post:

It sucks. I used to have customized sections, with a specific layout and number of news items in each section.
The new layout throws everything up in random order, in one very very long column, without any sections.

And it forces me to read a very very very long list of Spotlight items that don’t interest me. I can’t seem to change the number of items in Spotlight, nor the location of it (very prominent on the right hand side column).

I hate the new Google News. I really really really hate it.

[...]

I hate it too. Google, please put it back the way it was!

[...]

I also do not like the new layout. I like being able to scan various topics and not have my sports, world news, tech, medical, EVERYTHING mixed in together. Sometimes I feel like looking at the top entertainment stories first, sometimes I want to look at medical news first. Everything now is just jumbled together and I am suddenly forced to read headlines that maybe I am not all that interested in this moment in time.

[...]

The new format is terrible. Where to start: Way too busy, can’t find anyting, visually unappealing.
Yuck! bring back the old one, I am already looking for alternatives!

[...]

I have had to find new source for my news because:

*1* The new page is a jumble of information, it’s impossible to find anything.

*2* My carefully constructed page disappeared overnight replaced by this jumble.

*3* Personalization results in stories from Los Angeles being featured even though LA is over 700 miles from where I live and has no relevance to us here at all.

*4* I could care less about sports, but the World Cup dominated the page for days.

Watch my stats, google. I’m done with your jumbled-up mess of what was the best news aggragator in the world. So, from the comments above, are many other of your loyal followers and we’re only the ones who care enough to try to stop your leap off the cliff.

There’s much more in that vein. And while our commenters, in number, don’t make for a scientific sample, it seems that those who shared reactions weren’t alone in their dislike of Google News’ new interface. Last night, in a blog post titled “Google changes reflect your feedback,” Google News product manager Chris Beckmann announced the rollout of updates in the platform’s appearance and, therefore, its usability. While pointing out that “hundreds of thousands of you have already customized your Google News homepages,” Beckmann also noted that “some of you wrote in to say you missed certain aspects of the previous design, such as the ability to see results grouped by section (U.S., Business, etc.) in two columns.”

At Google, we’re all about launching and iterating, so we’ve been making improvements to the design in response to your feedback. For example, we’re now showing the entire cluster of articles for each story, rather than expanding the cluster when you hover your mouse over it. We’ve given you the ability to hide the weather forecast from your local news section. We made the option to switch between List view and Section view more obvious. And today we’re adding a third option in “News for you”: Two-column view, which shows the three top stories from each section…

Here’s what it looks like:

The changes, in all, are fairly minor; the average user, having not read Beckmann’s post, might not even notice the updates. (Since, when it comes to online interfaces, users tend to like things the way they’re used to, that’s a smart way to roll out changes: incrementally and, for the most part, unobtrusively.) But the subtle revamp indicates Google’s willingness — a willingness that’s part of its organizational DNA — to tweak its news platform according to the feedback it receives. Guiding users while also being receptive to them: seems a pretty good balance to me.

June 30 2010

22:00

Google News revamps with “news for you” angle

A few moments ago, the Google News homepage rolled out a redesign — a revamp meant to make the algorithm-driven news site “more customizable and shareable.”

“There’s an old saying that all news is local,” writes Google software engineer Kevin Stolt in a blog post announcing the design changes. “But all news is personal too — we connect with it in different ways depending on our interests, where we live, what we do and a lot of other factors. Today we’re revamping the Google News homepage with several changes designed to make the news that you see more relevant to you. We’re also trying to better highlight interesting stories you didn’t know existed and to make it easier for you to share stories through social networks.”

In other words, the new site is trying to balance two major, and often conflicting, goals of news consumption: personalization and serendipity.

The more specific purpose of today’s changes, Google says, is threefold: first, to have consumers tell Google what stories most interest them; second, to help those consumers keep track of ongoing stories; and third, to help them share stories with others.

Among the changes being implemented, per Stolt’s explanation of them:

Customizable interest areas: “The new heart of the homepage is something we call ‘News for you’: a stream of headlines automatically tailored to your interests. You can help us get it right by using the ‘Edit personalization’ box to specify how much you’re interested in Business, Health, Entertainment, Sports or any subject you want to add (whether it’s the Supreme Court, the World Cup or synthetic biology). You can choose to view the stories by Section view or List view, and reveal more headlines by hovering over the headline with your mouse. We’ll remember your preferences each time you log in.”

Customizable news sourcing: “To give you more control over the news that you see, we’re now allowing you to choose which news sources you’d like to see more or less often. You can do so in News Settings. These sources will rank higher or lower for you (but not for anyone else) in Google News search results and story clusters.”

An emphasis on local news: “And then there’s local news; we’re now highlighting weather and headlines about your city or neighborhood in their own section, which you can edit with whichever location you want to follow.”

An increased emphasis on the Spotlight section: “We’re also more prominently displaying the Spotlight section, which features stories of more lasting interest than breaking news and has been one of our most popular sections since we introduced it last fall.”

Communal (read: non-customized) story highlights: “There are the subjects that interest you and then there’s the major news of the day. To make it easy for you to find the big stories like Hurricane Alex, we’re adding links to topics that many outlets are covering. You’ll find these topics in the Top Stories section on the left side of the homepage as well as in linked keywords above headlines. Clicking on a topic link takes you to a list of related coverage that you can add to your news stream.”

(This is also a nod, I’d add, toward serendipity — a goal Google News has expressed interest in before, most notably through its Spotlight and its Editors’ Picks features.)

The changes are pretty fascinating, all in all (especially in the context of Google’s rumored move into Facebook territory); we’ll likely have more to say on them later on. In the meantime, here’s more on the changes, from the horse’s mouth:

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