Google announced on their blog today some new features for the Google Personalized Homepage, and I had the opportunity to talk with Sepandar Kamvar, Google’s Engineering Lead for Personalization, about the release.
There are three announcement: something they’re calling “magic tabs”, a “you might also like” feature, and Gadget ratings and comments. The whole point of these features is to help you find and add Gadgets more easilly to your personalized homepage, since doing that can be very time-consuming and difficult, with so many Gadgets. According to the people I talked to, there are 10,000 Google Gadgets now, 4,000 of which have been submitted to Google’s directory (the rest existing somewhere on independent websites).
One feature that is going to be a good help is “You might also like…”, which gives the right side of every Gadget detail page to a list of Gadgets related to the one you’re looking at. This way, when you search for something, your getting a list of other Gadgets you might also want or, alternatively, if the Gadget you found isn’t quite right, other, similar Gadgets that might better suit your needs.
This feature carries a lot of variety, like the page for the Romantic Quote of the Day Gadget, which has other daily updating Gadgets, as well as a Love & Sex Gadget and Sex Drive Daily Gadget, or the Todo List Gadget’s page, which lists other Todo lists, shopping lists and bookmark Gadgets.
Plus, they’ve added user comments and five-star ratings to every Gadget page, letting you see what other people like or didn’t, and offering feedback to the developers of Gadgets. These Gadgets don’t exist in a vacuum anymore, and seeing that one calendar Gadget has better ratings than another is very useful. They don’t show you the ratings in search results (and should, once there are enough) or let you sort by ratings, but they’re good feedback for users and developers nonetheless.
As an aside, this provides an interesting look at the development process. Many popular Gadgets already have ratings and comments, even though the feature just launched, and that is due to Google’s Trusted Tester program. Google has them try out a new feature before it launches, not just to see if it works well, but to get some user-generated content in there. Nobody wants to be the first guy to comment.
Finally, the best feature of all is being referred to as “magic tabs”. This is such a cool feature you should just go try it out. What it does is let you create a new tab, give it a name, and leave on the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, and the system will automatically create a tab based on the name you gave it.
So, create a tab named “Sports” and you will get a tab that has been pre-populated with Sports Gadgets. Try “Mets” and you get the same thing, geared towards Mets. The same thing works for everything, from “Travel” to “San Francisco” to “Astronomy”, and you can do it until you run out of tabs.
Using this feature, you don’t need to pick Gadgets for a tab by yourself, you can rely on the algorithm to find them for you. Finding Gadgets and setting them up can be time-consuming and extremely difficult with so many Gadgets, so now you can automate it and get a great page, set up and ready to go.
The way it works is pretty cool too. The system relies on many factors, primarily other people who have named their tabs the same way you’ve named yours, sees what Gadgets are popular in that set, and gives you a page of them. It’s a smart system, and hard to spam, because it makes sure to use Gadgets that are popular, so SEOs shouldn’t start sticking their own Gadgets on specifically named tabs in order to game it.
The feature’s great, although they admit there are some cool things they’d like to do in the future, like spelling corrections if users misspell tabs (since the results will likely be useless, if not non-existent), or even suggesting better names for tabs, in order to get users better results.
Also, a fun fact to note: The fact that most auto-generated tabs have nine Gadgets is not coded in. There’s no maximum or minimum, it’s just done according to how the system is used, and most people seem to be putting nine Gadgets on their pages.
I really love this feature, and it makes me several times more likely to use Google’s Personalized Homepage. Who the hell wants to or has time to set up one of these pages? If I want a Mets tab, I want it without doing all the hard work, and Google has done it for me. I really appreciate this feature, and I think users will, too, a great example of smart personalization. If the competition doesn’t copy this, they are dopes.