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As Microsoft unveils upgrades to its Office and Hotmail products that resemble Google Docs and Gmail, Google has annnounced plans to replace Google Apps users’ personal start pages with its own pop-culturey iGoogle homepage. The change is scheduled for Thursday, July 1.
iGoogle’s default homepage, which you can see today by signing up at igoogle.com, looks more like something Microsoft or Yahoo would serve. For my tastes it’s one step too mainstream, one step too in-my-face, and one step too erroneous compared to what I expect from Google.
For starters, my default iGoogle page is dominated by sports stories. Don’t they know I live on the other side of the jock-geek firewall? My search history should make that obvious.
More annoyingly, a Gmail user whose name I’ve never seen before is prompting me to chat. What is this, Facebook?
But the real embarassment is that somehow, iGoogle has decided I live in the town of Happy, Texas, somewhere between Amarillo and Lubbock. Despite the cowboy hat on my head, I’ve tragically never been to Texas.
All of these goofs can be customized away. But presented as a default to someone whose cookies they’ve been tracking for years, they make Google seem less, well, Googly. The top online services are starting to look more like each other. As Microsoft rolls out a cloud-based Office 2010 and a more Gmail-like Hotmail, Google is moving to put Sports Illustrated on my homepage.
What strikes me the most about moving Google Apps users to iGoogle is that the company is known for extensive stealth user testing of any changes it makes. This suggests that sports news and weather beat out all other home page content in tests.
Here’s the full announcement Google sent to Google Apps domain administrators, including the admin for venturebeat.com:
From: The Google Apps Team
Date: Thu, May 13, 2010 at 6:36 PM
Subject: Changes coming to the Google Apps Start Page
Dear Google Apps admin,
We’re sharing some news about changes coming in response to many customers who would like the Start Page to work more like the full iGoogle.com experience.
On July 1, 2010, the Start Page will automatically be converted to iGoogle. The Start Page gadgets your users have configured will be migrated to iGoogle pages, after which users can modify their iGoogle gadgets, tabs and themes. Your Start Page web address will automatically redirect your users to iGoogle.
No further action is required on your part, but you can convert your Google Apps Start Page to the full iGoogle experience before the automatic migration takes place by opting in from the control panel. Alternatively, if you would like to retain more control over the user experience, you can consider creating a new User Start Page in Google Sites (http://goo.gl/R4uH), which allows for locked content and control over available gadgets.
We hope this upgrade to iGoogle will give your users a better way to personalize, customize and centralize the information that’s most important to them. If you think they would benefit from advance notice about this change, please communicate to them as desired.
The Google Apps Team
Email preferences: You have received this mandatory email service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google Apps product or account.
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