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SearchWiki, Gmail Themes and Keeping Things Simple

A couple of things have been bugging me recently. More specifically, two of Google’s new features they’ve added to their popular services haven’t sat very well with me.

Advance warning – this is a bit of a rant. I’m aware I’m being a little strong about two things which perhaps aren’t awfully important in the grand scheme of things. Anyway, here goes.

SearchWiki = Fail

The first is the Google SearchWiki thing. My friend Chris Van Patten shares my viewpoint on this and sums it up very well in this Short-Form “Bird” Social Media Site Before It Went Terrible update.

It’s google’s job to craft my search results, not mine.

In addition to that, though, I find the new wiki controls next to each search result visually distracting. I mean, yes, they’re subtle, but the whole point of the Google interface is that it is effortless to use and really really simple.

Google SearchWiki controls

Nothing should be on the page that doesn’t need to be there. No fancy graphics and definitely no silly buttons like those ones. While they are as subtle as feasibly possible, they still take my absolute 100% attention away from finding the best result and clicking it to get off the page as quickly as possible.

Google’s search interface must remain minimalist, simple and intuitive for it to be the most useful to me. If it doesn’t, I will restyle it until it is.

Do not want.

Gmail Themes = Not for Me

The second thing I have a problem with is the new Gmail themes. Now, yes, yes, I’m all for customisation and everything and I applaud Google for taking this approach of legitimising custom themes rather than screaming at Greasemonkey/Stylish etc. users who were unofficially skinning Gmail.

But I don’t like any of the new themes. The contrast of the colour schemes in every one I have tried doesn’t come close to the original classic style that was there before Themes was rolled out. Admittedly, this might be a ‘getting used to it’ thing, but I just don’t find any of the styles to be as good as it was before.

Many of the new themes use wishy-washy blues for the links on the left, which makes them less visually prominent. At the same time, the contrast between the text and the background on many of them is a step backwards from the proper original theme (click through for big versions)

Compare these two screenshots – one from a standard Gmail account with themes, and the other a Google Apps account which doesn’t have themes rolled out yet. I know which one I prefer.

Gmail Themes are bad
Old Gmail

I shouldn’t really complain about Gmail themes – I use IMAP with all my email accounts – Gmail and others, so I use a desktop client with all my messages in one place. Nevertheless, if I was using the Gmail web interface, I think there would be a getting-used-to-it curve involved (adjustment curve?).

I had to get my thoughts on these two things off my chest. I know SearchWiki hasn’t been popular with many other people too and themes has been met with a resounding “yes” generally, but personally I can’t see why I need either right now.

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  1. Sam wrote:

    I kinda like the themes, using the “shiny” at the moment, which, once you get used to it, is actually easier to see what you’re doing.

    However, I do agree with you on the “wiki” thing, is it possible to disable it?
    I thought the God that is Google ‘knew’ which were more likely to be clicked by you anyway, and ranked based on how many times you visit a page.
    Does me sorting my search results change it for everyone? If it does, it sounds very exploitable.

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 22:39 | Permalink |
  2. Peter wrote:

    If you don’t log in whilst on Google Search, the wiki controls don’t appear AFAIK. Or, Greasemonkey.

    On exploitable – well, I assume that Google take user recommendations with an algorithmic pinch of salt. The comment system is open to spam, though. I think I saw a while back that TechCrunch’s result had been spammed.

    Personally, though, I don’t see why I should have to care about ranking of websites. Did anyone notice how damn good Google is at doing that by itself?

    Google ranks websites. I click results. That’s how it should work.

    Monday, November 24, 2008 at 23:09 | Permalink |
  3. The wiki controls are a huge pain. I want to write a stylish control to get rid of them, but as a Safari user that option is not available (and most of the input managers that offer the feature are really kinda bloated, like Saft or the like). I just don’t get the point of SearchWiki. It seems like a glorified way of keeping bookmarks. Essentially that’s all it does – it pushes content you like to the top so it’s easily accessible. If it impacted others, maybe there’d be some point (a stupid one) but still why should I bother bumping up a link when I can just save it as a bookmark?

    I do agree for the most part on Gmail themes and the contrast issue, but I really like the Desk theme. That’s become my default. I did notice contrast problems for a lot of them (and the contrast on the Desk theme still isn’t like the original) but for some reason it doesn’t bother me.

    Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 01:04 | Permalink |
  4. It appears that if you enable Google Experimental, search wiki goes away. I am currently using the keyboard nav experiment, which, aside from being an actually legitimate addition to Google search, gets rid of the searchwiki nav.

    Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 15:13 | Permalink |

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