Google Unveils Personalized Home Page

by , May 20, 2005, 6:00 AM
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During its first-ever "factory tour" held at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. and broadcast Web-wide, Google brass Thursday unveiled a number of new products and initiatives, including a customizable home page for its main search offering. The new home page allows users to add weather, news, movie times, and Gmail access, bringing it much closer to portal companies Yahoo! and MSN.

The customizable home page is the first in a series of products stemming from a new Google initiative dubbed "Fusion." Marissa Meyer, Google's director of consumer Web products, said that Fusion aims to satisfy consumer demand for integration of all of Google's various services into one interface.

"We know there are users who want to see all the Google functionalities working together pulling content from the Web all in one place," Meyer said during the 5.5-hour Webcast. "Our goal here is to give users tools to customize their own information--and you'll notice this dovetails very nicely with Google's mission to organize the world's information and to make it universally accessible and useful."

The product, Meyer said, was hurried to launch 40 days early so it could be unveiled at Thursday's presentation--to which Google had invited press and industry players. Google's personalized home page incorporates Google News and Gmail, as well as news feeds from the BBC, The New York Times, Wired, and Slashdot. Users can also search for movie times, weather, stock prices, and driving directions from the home page.

Each of the different functions are contained in drag-and-drop modules, which can be rearranged around the page, deleted, or added. "The nice thing about the personalized home page is that it gives you control to add as much or as little as you like," Meyer said.

Several updates are also planned for the offering, including incorporation of an RSS aggregator within the next one to two months.

comScore Senior Analyst Graham Mudd said that personalized home pages can be a good way for Web portals to build engaged user bases. comScore numbers show 23 percent--over 26 million unique visitors--of all Yahoo! users visiting My Yahoo!, Yahoo!'s customizable home page feature.

Also unveiled during the Factory Tour was Google Earth, the new version of Keyhole, acquired by the search giant in October. The product allows users to access a multi-terabyte database of information, including a high-resolution terrain map of the entire globe. Google local search is integrated into the product, allowing users to search for businesses and get bird's-eye views of their results.

The tour also included glimpses of Google features to come. Google researcher Franz Och previewed Google's developing translation algorithm, which used a massive collection of translated documents from the U.N. and other sources to compile a set of translating conventions. Och highlighted the algorithm by placing its translations side by side with Google's old translator, which produced muddled results. The newer algorithm apparently produced readable translations.

"For the system, we used what we call a language model, which was trained on 200 billion words of English text," Och said. "It's a very large amount of data we exploit here to get these qualities of translations."

Och had an ambitious plan for his team's translation algorithm: "It will usher in an era where everybody has access to all the world's information," he said.

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