Google: Edgy Minimalist or Choice-Deficient Simplist?

Don Norman questions the conventional wisdom on Google:

Anybody can make a simple-looking interface if the system only does one thing. If you want to do one of the many other things Google is able to do, oops, first you have to figure out how to find it, then you have to figure out which of the many offerings to use, then you have to figure out how to use it.

My first reaction was, “But the user’s always right!” If users think it’s clean, then it’s clean by definition. And it is users who sing Google’s praises, not just the usabilerati.

But when you think about all of Google’s other services, how many people really use Google for anything other than search? I bet people use a lot more of Yahoo’s services.

Take another careful look at Google’s front page. Want a map? You have to click once to be offered the choice, then a second additional time to get to the map page. Want to use Google Scholar to check references? Um, well, is that “Advanced Search” or “more.” What about their newly announced blog search? Why is Google maps separate from Google Earth? (Oh, those were purchased from different companies. Yes, but why should I, the user, care about the history of Google’s acquisitions?)

All of these things require you to click on “more” which gets you to the options page where there are 29 alternatives, plus links to “About Google,” “Help Center” (if Google is really so simple, why does one need help?), “Downloads” and then a special section on “web search features,” which has another 24 links of web features, a book search toolbar, and then another 23 sections of text — not links, text descriptions and an entire meta-language you can learn to improve the searches.

This made me think, why isn’t Google of all people playing the URL as command-line game with their own products? Sample searches:

  • “groups” – Yahoo Groups first, Google Groups 2nd.
  • “map” – MapQuest first, Google Maps 7th (Google Moon 90-something).
  • “news” – BBC first, Google News 5th.
  • “images” – YES! Google finally made it to no. 1! (Quick, get the SEO lawyers, Google’s cracked the Google algorithm!)

Now, this is all very nice and integral of Google to provide honest results rather than sprinkle in their own services. But what gets me is that they often provide no relevant link to their own service. I wouldn’t expect Google to show all of their services on the homepage, but I would expect it to point me to Google Maps when I search for “map”. And when I search for “Paris Map”, it’s nice that Google offers some images in the results, but I can think of something more relevant.

0 thoughts on Google: Edgy Minimalist or Choice-Deficient Simplist?

  1. If I look for “news”, google news shows up as the first result. (differently laid out). I think you are supposed to look for “katrina news”, and get a link to a search for “katrina” in google news.

    Same thing for maps. Look for “map of new york” and you get a google map as the first result. Again, differently laid out. (paris doesn’t exist according to google maps)

  2. Google is trying to make clear that there’s a difference between a service, and the data you wish to find with that particular service.

    Back in what O’Reilly is calling “Web 1.0”, you had to know what kind of thing you were looking for, then once you found the page or site that provides the searching for that particular service, you would then enter your actual search criteria. Very 90s, very out of date according to “Web 2.0”.

    Today, the user should know they are looking for something about “Trenton, New Jersey” so they search ALL of google for Trenton, NJ. Once on google’s search page, right at the top are maps (Google first, then MapQuest and Yahoo!) and a list of general web results. Links will repeat the search in other types of data are just one-click away (images, usenet, etc). In Google’s mind, the data one is looking for is more important than the type of data.

    In this, it is very consciously trying to go away from what Yahoo! does, where you have to pick your service first no matter how you’re searching. To Google, you can do the old-school search for your type of service first, data second, or you can go their preferred route of data first.

  3. Joe, I like the theory of it – it was the idea behind the Ajax Assistive Search. And your point makes it clear that my seaching for “news” etc is somewhat beyond the point.

    Still, I’m not sold on Google’s implementation. I think it’s wide open for yahoo or others to do a better job. Perhaps it comes down to Google needing to use a thesaurus and be a bit more willing to suggest. e.g. “trenton map” suggests the link, but “trenton maps” doesn’t.

    Is it harsh to suggest “trenton blog” should link to a blog search on trenton? Given that blog search is only a few weeks old, maybe that’s harsh. But, you know, this is the biggest search company in the world, and they keep on delivering new products. I just seached for “blogs” and came up as a sponsored link of all things, so they’re not entirely shy about promoting it. Why not link to blogs on trenton for “trenton blogs”.

    In the back of my mind here is the basics of web design – keeping things sticky by offering relevant links and content at every turn. I think Google has enough data and enough smart people to pull it off better than at present.

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