Google Ups Personalization Ante

First there was the search engine — think Lycos in 1996. Then came the Web portal — think Yahoo in 2000. Most recently, the Internet has been dominated by social networking — think MySpace in 2006. In an effort to bring all three types of popular consumer-facing sites together, Google has launched a collection of personalization tools under the moniker “iGoogle.”

The group of utilities, according to Google, replaces what used to be called the “Google Personalized Homepage.”

The iGoogle collection of tools builds on features already popular with frequent users: the ability to customize content on the opening page of the massive search engine and to use filters to sift out items and news related to the user’s interests.

Geographically Specific Results

Now, Google will remember a good bit of information for users — if they wish, that is. For example, iGoogle has a geographic feature that allows users to have search results returned to them based on relevance to their location as selected on Google Maps. A search on “Thai food,” for instance, would return sites for restaurants in the user’s hometown that serve the cuisine before presenting sites that include Thai recipes.

In addition, users will have access to all of the search history information that Google has stored for them. It’s a touchy subject, so Google has been careful to stress that history is stored only for those users who grant permission. In addition, users have the option of deleting personal information from their search histories.

Gadgets for Sharing Content

Users in the U.S. have been able to use themes to customize their Google personalized home pages for some time. With the recent update, users worldwide also can do so. The themes tool lets users manipulate the appearance of the iGoogle opening page without having to delve into the intricacies of their Web browser software to adjust the way it displays colors and fonts.

Google also has introduced a set of “gadgets” — tools for aggregating online content to share with others. In blog-like fashion, iGoogle users will be able to send pictures, text and other creative products to friends, family or whomever they wish. Preformatted gadgets include a greeting card template called a “GoogleGram,” a template for sending links to YouTube content, and a free-form gadget that users can use to link to text and images.

Blogging ‘Lite’

Providing gadgets for those who wish to share information with others but have no programming or Web design skills is a “very smart move” on Google’s part, Charlene Li, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research, told TechNewsWorld. The benefit of a package of content that arrives in a reader’s inbox — like an RSS (really simple syndication) feed — is that it is a lightweight way to serve information up to those who may be interested.

“Instead of making people come to your blog,” Li noted, “you can push content out to people.” That can make a big difference to the already information-saturated people who tend to be heavy users of Google.

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