Let’s talk about the Google user experience, and how it’s developed since Google’s inception in 1998. Google is good, and nobody’s going to argue with that. Starting their service as an out-of-nowhere search engine, they’ve exploded into a massive software and computing company that has the likes of Microsoft and Apple scared. They’ve had great successes and a few pitfalls along the way, but nobody can discount the fact that all in all, they’re immensely successful, and pretty darn good at what they do.
We would like of course to take inspiration and example from the Google user experience and how it has grown and evolved over the years, so that we may too grow and evolve. However, when we consider a role model for our ventures, we must also learn from their mistakes, lest we repeat them ourselves. With that in mind, we’ll look at their mistakes just as closely as their successes in a brief retrospective of Google’s services from 1998 to the present day.
As we said a moment ago, Google started as just a search engine. These were a dime a dozen in the late 90s, as the internet quickly became a heavy utility. Nothing was easy to find, and standardization was but a fantasy beyond a unified language for websites to use – even then, standards were played fast and loose. Search engines worked with static databases where site owners registered with them, meaning that unless a site registered with a multitude of search engines, there was a real chance you’d never find them. This was increased as a problem naturally due to the multitude of search engines available, most of which were pretty much the same.
Google changed this, with a dynamic crawler which would roll over the web recording tags and data from websites, and other sites they linked to incrementally. Users could directly register initially too, but did not have to. Using keyword algorithms – a standard in all search engines now, Google could find just about anything online that had traffic beyond one visitor a month. This was the dawn of address-free internet navigation being an overall positive user experience, and Google invented this. The interface hasn’t changed much, aside from being a little sleeker and integrating some AJAX in order to reduce the amount of stuff reloaded with new searches. Of course, the live search, which searches as you type is far newer, and honestly, doesn’t bring much to the user experience beyond novelty that quickly foments annoyance.
Google wasn’t complacent. They rolled out their email service, Gmail, a few years later. It offered live scripts so that incoming email appeared instantly in inboxes, and offered vast storage beyond anything other email services could begin to compete with. It was free, and customizable. The interface to Gmail has only really changed aesthetically for the most part, the layout remaining more or less a standard email inbox form. However, in recent times, they have relegated the composing of emails to a little corner-centric AJAX box which is just awful. Users are crying out to revert to a full page composition layout, and Google is oddly not listening.
In the years following, Google released Chrome, a tabbed browser which is the most popular browser to date. The interface and UX of this browser has changed little since its release – a good thing honestly. The only major change it underwent was the introduction of extensions similar to Firefox. SaaS systems like Drive quickly integrated with Gmail, their social network, and the Google + Local. Google’s maps system revolutionizes online maps, making Mapquest and Yahoo Maps obsolete overnight, with the search nearby integration with + Local and the classic Google search engine. The street view system is also rather clever, though immensely clumsy. The use of Flash 3D is a mite questionable – don’t use Flash 3D. No really, don’t.
We’re unable to talk a lot about the Android mobile systems due to lack of access to them for reviews.
The Google user experience has been mostly positive, without too much tinkering with what works. Their big problem though is a lack of willingness to heed customer complaints when something doesn’t work.