iGoogle: It's Your Google

Rob Hof

Google has offered a personalized home page since 2005, but tonight it's getting a major revamp. For one, it's getting an uncharacteristically catchy new name, iGoogle. But the most interesting new feature to me is something called Gadget Maker.

Gadgets are the modules you can add to your Google personalized home page--assuming you knew you could create one. (Tens of millions of people apparently have.) Gadgets include everything from YouTube videos to weather modules to a window into your Gmail account. There are thousands of them, in fact. But so far, you've had to be a programmer to create one.

Now, Google is enabling real people to create their own gadgets--something that may set it apart from similar personalized home pages such as those from Yahoo! and Netvibes. You can choose from a set of seven templates, Google says:

* A photo gadget – to delight friends and family with your latest photo collections

* Google Gram greeting gadget – send your sweetie a gadget with flowers that bloom or chocolates that get nibbled along with a message that changes daily

* "Daily Me" personal profile gadget – a mini-blog that allows you to share your latest updates and musings
personal list gadget – whether it’s a grocery list or a top 10 favorite movies list

* Personalized countdown gadget – allows you to count down to a special event, vacation, birthday, etc.

* YouTube video favorites gadget – create and share a channel of your favorite YouTube videos

* Free form gadget – allows you to further customize a gadget if these other choices don’t suit you

I'm not sure where these will go, but I think Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land, who also attended Google's presentation today on personalization, may be right when he says this could be a viral hit. "If you enable self-expression, people really flock to that."

I'm not sure yet what this will do for Google's business, since the company isn't currently and doesn't yet plan to run ads on iGoogle pages. Once there's a critical mass of groups of people whose gadgets indicate very clear and particular interests, however, I have to think it becomes very interesting to advertisers.

Google plans to release an API for this, so it may not be long before companies create their own branded gadgets. Indeed, said Marissa Mayer, Google's vice-president of search products and user experience, "I actually see gadgets themselves as a new form of advertising."

For now, anything that makes Google more useful and relevant can't hurt. Mayer said that 15-20 years down the road, personalization will be the essence of search. "It's one of the biggest advances we've had toward relevance in the past few years," she said.

One key will be making sure this personalized stuff doesn't get so personal as to give people the creeps. That's something Google's clearly aware of. For now, it isn't cranking up the personalization real high on personalized search, which is based on tracking what Web sites people have visited (with their permission) and where they're based geographically (again, when they specify a default location in Google Maps). Only a couple of Web sites based personalized query results are moved up into the top 10 for now.

Gadget Maker is launching at 9 p.m. Pacific tonight, so you have to wait a few hours to try it out.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.