This post was syndicated from: The Hacker Factor Blog and was written by: The Hacker Factor Blog. Original post: at The Hacker Factor Blog
Over the last few blog entries, I have been overly critical of Google. It isn’t that I have suddenly taken a personal hatred of the company. Rather, choices that the company has made over the last few years have finally culminated into enough pain for me to complain about it.
The good ol’ days
The Internet is not static. Dominant and popular services today will transition over time to something less desirable.
I remember back in the early 1990s having debates about whether Lycos, Alta Vista, or Infoseek was the best online search engine. (Alta Vista… definitely Alta Vista.)
Then came Ask Jeeves. It was the first real natural language search engine. The interface sucked, the results were lacking, but the concept was novel.
Google didn’t start up until the late 1990s. The simplified user interface, fast responses, and solid results quickly made it a dominant force in the search engine market.
During that same time, Microsoft was synonymous with “evil empire”. Their software was slow, Microsoft-oriented (including lawsuits related to Microsoft disabling competing software), and didn’t work very well. The company couldn’t even decide on a good search engine service. They went from LookSmart to Live Search to MSN Search to Bing… Right now, they seem to have settled on Bing.
But old biases die hard — a lot of people don’t use Bing because they still think of Microsoft as an evil empire. (In my opinion, they are still an empire, but not as blatantly evil. I recently started using Bing as an alternative to Google.)
Back to today…
Over the years, my own needs have changed from simple search queries to business-oriented searches. I run a few web sites, develop technologies, and link to online services for augmenting results.
I used to be heavily dependent on Google’s services. Sometimes it was because Google was the only option. Other times it was because they were the easiest option. Or maybe it was because I was doing everything else at Google, so I thought it would be easier to use them as a one-stop shop.
Unfortunately, the number of things that I dislike about Google has grown into a very large list. Here’s my top 7 dislikes related to Google:
1. Google’s Homepage
Google used to have a very simple homepage. A search box and a search button. You typed a query and hit search. The results came back fast and were accurate.
Today, they have made the homepage more complicated. The “Google Doodle” went from a rare occurrence to every few days. It used to be a picture, but today it is animated. As many people have pointed out, the animated doodles makes Google’s homepage difficult to use. The page becomes very slow and sometimes non-responsive.
The thing that has set me off today is their doodle for “Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano, was born 360 years ago today!” I have nothing against Cristofori or pianos. Rather, it’s the animated doodle. My office has four computers within arms reach of me. On every single one of them, the doodle consumes so many resources that the browser has become virtually unusable. If I cannot use the search engine for quickly searching the web, then their service is not worth the bandwidth.
Today I changed my browsers from opening up Google to opening up a blank page. In the near future, I will probably set the default to Bing.
Keep in mind, Bing certainly isn’t perfect. Between the scrolling pictures and popups and changing backgrounds, they have a distracting web page. But at least it loads fast and I can easily type in a search query.
2. Search Entry and Hints
When I go to a search engine, I’m usually doing it for business. Time is money. I don’t want to wait for the page to load and I rarely pay attention to the real-time hints as I type.
With Google, their real-time hints (the drop-down list of possible search queries) gets really annoying. First, it dramatically slows down the rate that I can type in my query. Second, it usually isn’t helpful for me. And third, sometimes it stays down — blocking search results.
Bing does the same drop-down hints. But unlike Google, Bing is fast and their window doesn’t stay down covering results. And keep in mind, I’m using these search engines with the exact same browser on the exact same computer.
Yahoo Search has a slower drop-down. But, it doesn’t slow down my typing and it vanishes when I leave the search box.
3. Search Results
Google, Bing, and Yahoo Search all have similar search results. I really cannot say that the quality of results from one is better than another — they all fill different niches. Google finds more popular results, Bing returns more variety, and Yahoo may not have indexed as much of the Internet, but they also don’t return tons of cruft. I find Yahoo good for popular relevancy.
However, recently Google started prioritizing results based on how web pages look. Results from pages that are not, in Google’s opinion, designed for mobile devices will be throttled or censored from searches on mobile devices. When I do searches, I care more about relevancy than aesthetics. Since Google now places a higher importance on aesthetics than relevancy, I can no longer trust that Google’s search engine will return the results that I desire.
(I also find it ironic that Google places such a high emphasis on mobile usability. Yet, their homepage today makes their site virtually unusable on my desktop computers.)
4. Ads vs Content
I don’t like ads. I view sites that host third-party ads as sites that don’t know how to use their own real estate. (“I don’t know what to do over there, so let’s rent it out to a third-party! They know how to use it!”) Revenue from third-party ads is for companies that don’t know how to monetize their own products.
With Bing and Yahoo, ads are listed in the right-hand column of my desktop’s search results. They may also have ads at the top or bottom of the search results, but it is easy to distinguish ads from search results.
With Google? There are ads in the right column and ads at the top and ads within the search results. They make it hard to distinguish ads from content. And with some queries, there are more ads than results.
I used to subscribe to Wired Magazine. But between the change in content (from articles with a technical link to clearly biased with multiple inaccuracies), an increase in blatant advertorials, and page after page of ads that look like articles, I decided that it wasn’t worth the cost of the subscription. By the same means, I don’t think Google’s search results are worth the effort needed to distinguish results from ads.
I frequently use online maps for work. Sometimes it is to find directions, but usually it is associated with geolocation and tracking bad guys online.
Until the end of last year, I was heavily dependent on Google Maps. My change in preference happened when Google completely switched from their old mapping system to the new one. I find their new mapping interface to be extremely slow and cluttered with icons and banners. The first thing I do after any map search is close half of the popups and overlays — that’s a usability issue for Google. My laptop is a netbook — about half of the window is covered up by junk. And of course, there’s the drop-down search bar that never seems to go back up.
In contrast, Bing and MapQuest (yes, MapQuest is still around) have very fast interfaces and they don’t clutter the map with other windows.
I do like the URL parameters for calling Google Maps. Both MapQuest and Google Maps just need a query parameters (q=). In contrast, Bing has a much more complicated interface. (You can’t just say “cp=coordinates”… you need “cp=lat~lon&rtp=pos.lat_lon”. Why the change in delimiter? Who knows… Microsoft has never been known for having simple interfaces.) And don’t get me started with Yahoo Maps; I couldn’t figure out their URL parameters.
Earlier today, I changed my geolocation and profiling code from using Google Maps to supporting Google, Bing, and MapQuest — configurable, with Bing being the default map service. In my next code push to clients, they will see the links to map services has changed from Google to Bing.
6. Harvesting Content
In order for a search engine to get content, they must scan the Internet for web sites. A few years ago, I noticed that Google was submitting crap to every text entry form on my web site. I think they wanted to index every possible search result. I ended up making a code change that explicitly prevented form submissions from Google.
When I started ForoForensics, someone at Google decided to upload every picture from Imgur to my site. This is an abuse of my site as well as a violation of Imgur’s terms of service. I ended up putting in another special rule, just for Google. Initially, I prevented Googlebot from performing uploads. Today, it prevents anyone at Google from uploading pictures to FotoForensics. (Well, most of Google is blocked.)
In contrast, Bing, Yahoo, and most other search engines make no attempt to upload content or abuse my entry forms.
7. Other Services
I use other online services, but not as much as search or maps. I’m not on Facebook, LinkedIn is virtually unusable, and Google Groups is really nothing more than Deja News, but with fewer configuration options. (And the options they do have are buried in a half-dozen places.) I find the Google+ interface to be far from intuitive and definitely unfriendly. Google Hangouts is hard to use, but Google Docs can be good for collaborative efforts… if we can figure out how to share docs. (I can share with them, but they cannot share with me due to some higher level privacy settings or something…)
I use Google’s Picasa service for storing pictures. However, I still use the old Picasa interface. The newer interface doesn’t work with many of the browsers that I use. I also find the newer interface to be as confusing as Google Hangouts.
For email, I almost never use Google. When I need it, I usually use their POP3 or IMAP network service to transfer email to my local mail client. Between Google’s “folders that are not folders” and “delete that isn’t delete”, I try not to use their web mail interface.
I used to use Google’s email alerts. When Google would come across something that matched my query, they would send me an email notice. But the emails became less and less frequent. It isn’t that nothing was happening. Rather, they just were not notifying me, or were notifying me days later. Eventually, I unsubscribed since they were not sending me alerts in a reasonable amount of time.
I don’t use Google’s Analytics. In fact, I have NoScript configured to block that service. While I find the Analystics data informative, I also notice how it dramatically slows down web page loading. In my opinion, the speed impact is not worth the benefit from the data metrics.
Google Code was a great system. Developers like me could readily search and access and interact with lots of source code. Unfortunately, Google Code is going away.
And then there is Google’s high-speed Internet. It isn’t available where I live. And “Google Wireless” at my local Starbucks actually uses Comcast…
I still use Google Voice and Google Translate, but those really seems to be the last vestiges of the old Google mentality.
I know a few people who work at Google. They are all friendly and very smart. My problem isn’t with any specific employees. Instead, I find their corporate offerings to be lacking. Google has evolved from a company with a variety of easy to use services to a company with more services but much less usability. And if I cannot easily use the service, then I’d rather switch to another service that I can easily use.
There’s still time for Google to turn things around. They could reintroduce usability. They could focus on responsiveness and relevancy. They could test on multiple platforms before releasing code. They could stop trying to integrate disparate services into an ad hoc interface; they should stop forcing square pegs into round holes. But until that happens, I’m switching primary services.
I’ve already switch away from Google Maps. I’m moving away from Google Search. And I’m thinking about moving off of Google’s Picasa. I barely use Google Groups. I try to avoid Google Docs, Google Hangouts, and Google’s Gmail interface. Google used to be the giant that everyone envied. Today, I’m thinking that Microsoft and Yahoo offer viable alternatives.