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No Reason to Be Plain White Background iGoogle

Google’s genesis was in well executed back-end server stuff (those precious search algorithms, they KO-d Altravista, Yahoo, Lycos) and at the time of ad-cluttered busy sites, it’s stark simplicity design of plain text, one colorful logo, on a white background was the antidote to the web status quo.

But hey, its 2008, and there is no reason not to personalize your iGoogle home page experience with a little more color with the user generated iGoogle Artist Themes

Now you can put the work of world-class artists and innovators on your personalized Google homepage.

Below is what I use on one of my four browsers, 3 of which have a different iGoogle account (dont ask why)

and I have a desert theme on my main one in Firefox. As a subtle nicety on these landscapish looking banners, the scenery changes with the time of day (my time of day, not theirs), so my home page now has a sunrise looking style.

Your home experience can be landscape photography, Asian comic art, or just LiveStrong w/ Lance.

Isn’t this just wasteful window dressing? Web frivolity? The skeptic in the back of your education technology presentation leans back full of self servicing hypocrisy and says, “How does this promote student learning? Isn’t this more of what in the old days of those mac applications were called “fritterware” – ways to fritter away your time?

An excess of capability that serves no productive end. The canonical example is font-diddling software on the Mac (see macdink); the term describes anything that eats huge amounts of time for quite marginal gains in function but seduces people into using it anyway.

(Hey, I think I know where they got the idea for the name!)

Those swipes are easy to take. But there would not be all of those iGoogle themes (and all of those delectable MySpace web designs) if our personal expression of who we are, or want to be, is not a core value. It’s not trivial, and any software, project that ignores the desire to personalize a technology experience is.. well.. maybe a macdink.

Of all the people I did not expect to highlight this user experience so eloquently (well maybe that is not the right adjective, how about vividly) came across in when I ran the other day with my old MP3 recorder and found an old ITConversations recording of Ze Frank at a RailsConf session. OMG, that was brilliant.

Oops, this blog post has taken a ride on the tangent train. Where was I going? Oh well, I see my stop up ahead and am jumping off…

BTW, these iGoogle themes are all part of the Google Gadgets, which if I did not know better than to utter the term, seem to have a lot of the attributes educators once pontificated about as “learning objects” – small bits of easily re-usable code, though of course w/o any “learning” per se embedded, but there was no technology back in the LO hey day that even got close to this simplicity.

So go out there and grab a theme, no reason to be plain old white bread iGoogle (and for the Google Conspiracy Theorists, yes, I bit off on the red pill and they now own my soul, so what?).

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I have this habit of disagreeing with my betters. There is no more desire today to clutter my search page than there was back in the day. And while not a certified Google Conspiracy Theorist, I am increasingly annoyed (not even really _concerned_ so much as annoyed) by gigantic entities seeking to dem me down to the last bit. Thanks, but no thanks, I’ll be keeping to the plainest default…and only allowing cookies to last the session. ;)

  2. Ain’t no betters here, just the dogs of the ‘net.

    At least we have the choice to go plain or decorated, is that reasonable? And this is not my search page, its just where the browser bops when it opens. Ny search page is command-K (cursor to the Firefox search bar), type, press return to white page search results.

  3. Hey, so the Ze Frank link seems broken.

    I still resist using the iGoogle homepage for a few reasons. One of them is load time. I currently use a local html page as my homepage, with links to all the servers I maintain on it. The one advantage, clearly, is the network availability/cross-machine access of iGoogle. I do think you are right that the ability to personalize, even small things like images, is not trivial to getting people to feel like software is ‘theirs’, but I’ve found (especially with dynamic themes that switch images) that this just compounds the problem.

    I will give it another try, as it’s probably an ‘old habits die hard’ kind of thing, but I haven’t personally been won over yet.

  4. Ouch, that seems to be a bad link from the ITConversations site, cause the search there shows it as a link — I have a copy I can post somewhere; I guess maybe he said “penis” too many times.

    Yeah the widgets each are hitting a server, but the load time seems to be not all that awful, and its worth it for me to see my Gmail inbox, latest stuff from others, and my random flickr photo. What I *really* like is the Google Browser sync extension for Firefox, that makes my experience the same no matter what computer I use.

  5. I think you’ve got a good point: from Lasceaux to the modern day, it’s hard to find an artifact that no one has “frittered” some time away in decorating. This aesthetic impulse is, as you say, a ‘core value’–one of the characteristics of being human. Software designers neglect it at their own peril, as usability and, ultimately, productivity suffer when this core value is forgotten. Noam Tractinsky (among others working in HCI) makes this point more eloquently and at greater length; I recommend “Toward the study of aesthetics in information technology” as an introduction.

    There are a few other customization tools you might have mentioned, as well. The most popular of these is probably the ‘Stylish’ Firefox add-on. It lets you easily modify your userContent.css stylesheet to define custom rules for how Fx displays certain–or all–websites. It’s also pretty easy to modify userContent.css manually.

    If you’re comfortable working in CSS, you can write your own rules; or, you can download them fully-formed from As I recall, there were several google search skins. Given some people’s recent concern over the energy-wasting default Google interface, you’re even doing the planet a (tiny) favor if you switch to a darker theme :)

    Finally, don’t even get me started on the awesomeness of editing Firefox’s userChrome.css to control the interface of Fx itself; I guess I’ll have to write a post on that later.

    PS: I tried to include links to all of the above, but the spam filter killed my comment, and I had to write it again. Google and Google Scholar (for the Tractinsky piece) should find everything easily enough, though.

  6. Thanks for the stylin’ suggestions, Jason– these are those things that swim on the edge of my awareness in the zone of “one day I’ll ma esome time to chrome my Firefoxing…”

    Sorry about the spam link trap, I had a pretty low number set to trigger than, and have since bumped it up- when spammers link dump its usually like 100 links, so I ought not to punish those sharing legit links.

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