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March 20, 2007

Google Skins and My Trust Issues

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There’s a lot of "oooing" and "ahhing" today in response to Google’s new personalized home page "skins" that allow IG users to customize their home page to reflect their inner geek personality. I won’t pretend I don’t know what the fuss is all about – I tried all of them, some multiple times, before settling on the one I liked best, and I’m not even a loyal IG user.

Right now, Google is offering up six different themes – Beach, Bus Stop, City Scape, Sweet Dreams, Tea House, and Seasonal Scape – for users to choose from. The themes only affect the top portion of your page where the Google logo appears. The rest of the page will still have that "classic" all-white-and-non-cluttered Google feel though the boxes for the widgets change to match colors with the theme. Also worth noting is that the themes are dynamic and will change according to your local weather and time of day.

No, no, read that again: The themes are dynamic and will change according to your local weather and time of day.

That means if I select the Beach theme, which I did because I’m a stereotypical, law-abiding chick from Southern California, I’ll be privy to pretty sunrises and sunsets each day. [I went with the cute little fox having tea among the clementine trees. --Susan] All I have to do is give Google my zip code so they can use it to target ads to me.

What? You can’t blame me for thinking it; that this is just another way for Google to get zip code information from the remaining seven IG users who don’t have a weather widget installed. Google has me so trained to associate them with advertising that no matter what they release all I see is the marquee flashing "ads ads ads". They could release a Google puppy and I’d be thinking, "yeah, but are there ads on the collar? Is he branded in primary colors? Can he play with other non-Google puppies?" I’m a victim of growing up Google.

Has Google pulled an anti-Ze Frank? Instead of taking away our fear and becoming associated with a medium, Google has become associated with advertising by instilling fear in users.

My thought is that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m not the only one who saw the word "zip code" and thought "ad targeting". Has Google ruined people like me from ever seeing a fluff feature as a fluff feature, and not as a new way to make money?

Right now the general consensus is that Google is our friend. We trust them. Heck, I must trust them or I wouldn’t have traded my zip code information for a fake sunset. There is a window in my office, after all. But could this association make users less likely to trust Google and their product releases?

To be fair, I really don’t think this "feature" has anything to do with advertising. I think it’s just Google’s latest dabbling into personalization. Letting users play with themes isn’t so much different than giving them different logos for holidays (and pseudo-holidays). Maybe it’ll attract that MySpace crowd Susan is so fond of.

But even as I type that and try to defend them, I’m thinking that this would be a really effective (and sneaky) way for Google to compile zip code information and tie it into a user’s Google account. That if we all stay logged in and use personalized results, Google will be able to target us ads based on our zip code. And they’ll make more money. [I'm thinking that they probably already know where you live if you have a Google Account. I'm just happy they still ask instead of prepopulating it from the creepy amounts of information they already have about me. --Susan] — Zip code information isn’t required to create a Google account.

What’s wrong with me? Is Google purposely trying to send me into therapy and ruin all my future relationships?

What do you think? (About Google, not about me!) Are today’s personalized home page skins about Google or are they meant to make search "fun" for users? And a bigger question, will the connection between Google and advertising come back to hurt them?





One response to “Google Skins and My Trust Issues”

  1. graywolf writes:

    >I’m thinking that they probably already know where you live if you have a Google Account.

    I think they’re just asking you to reverify it every so often. That said I tried the “add a tab” feature Gord talked about and my results were a little different and ordered differently than his, which was very interesting, it seemed to match my % of stories read from google reader trends with the exclusion of my blog. Takes roll of tin foil from thelisa and begins sculpting a viking style hat …



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