Google abandons “minimalist” homepage, permits distracting background images. Yuk.

For everything but its core search engine, Google has been at the forefront of the participatory web, i.e., Web 2.0, with products like YouTube, Picasa, and more.  But its core search engine has for over a decade been sacrosanct, with a minimalist aesthetic: logo, search box, and a so-called 28-word rule that limits the words on the homepage.  And, of course, the minimalist, non-distracting white background.

Until today.  Now Google permits users to select background images, either from an online database or their own computers.  Sure, other search providers have pretty backgrounds (Bing, anyone?)  Sure, it’s kind of pretty.  But after playing with backgrounds for a few minutes, I went back to the default white.

Why avoid backgrounds?  To reduce information overload and the attendant distractions.  Google is an essential tool, one that should foster focus rather than distraction.  The loading of the background and the perceived — even if not actual — delay, is another addition to a sea of distractions.  For better or for worse, I use Google numerous times a day.  In an era where focused attention is becoming increasingly difficult — see, e.g., Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson — the fewer distractions, the better.

Plus, Google is a hypocrite.  Contrasting Google’s new “backgrounds” feature with the company’s stance on privacy is extremely revealing.  A few years back, as noted here, Google adamantly refused to include a link to its privacy policy on its home page, allegedly because an additional link would distract from its “beautiful clean home page.”  Only after privacy advocates pushed did Google finally relent and add a privacy link to its homepage.  Even now, that link remains in the smallest typeface, possibly to avoid reminding people of how much information they sacrifice to Google daily.  Yet if Google truly cares so much for its minimalist aesthetic, why permit users to now clutter their homepages with pictures of kittehs?

So my response to Google: yuk.  For now, I’ll carry Google’s banner and stick to the minimum.  Enough distractions.

1 comment on “Google abandons “minimalist” homepage, permits distracting background images. Yuk.”

  1. Paul Knudsen

    I agree… please give me the OPT OUT option with this cluttered home page. Don’t be a BING imitator, and go back to minimalist CLASSY.

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