Google’s got two new announcements: It’s pairing up with Twitter for Friend Connect login purposes, and it’s done the unthinkable and re-designed its home page. Both moves are surprising…do they mean the curly-haired youth of search is growing up?
Google’s clinch with Twitter is ostensibly to bring “Twitter and Friend Connect even closer together” from Google’s point of view. The search giant goes on to explain that “now you can join one of over nine million Google Friend Connect sites using your Twitter login.” There’s also the usual blurb about being able to Tweet your new-found Google powers when you sign up for the joint service.
This feature is going to be darn useful, basically reducing the burden of having to identify yourself in different ways at so many different sites. But there’re two odd, strange, nay weird little facts to think about behind it. Firstly, as John Battelle points out at SearchBlog, the real shocker here is that Google’s made a deal with Twitter, not Facebook. Though Twitter’s hot, up and coming, and potentially a long-term winner, it’s still very much a second place in the social-networkosphere to Facebook. But Facebook was just snapped up by Yahoo for a similar purpose…meaning Google’s not quite the leader in this game (a bit like trailing Yahoo in Japan, but worse.)
Secondly, though there’s been fierce speculation about Google’s interest in social networking for its potentially rich real-time data mining powers, and rumors have swirled about Google buying Twitter (which beats Facebook in this field), Twitter has remained stubbornly independent. And now Google, which of course has its own user login system, has had to acknowledge the power of the Twitter phenomenon by co-opting its login system to Google’s own services. It’s a bit like Goliath suddenly admitting a need for some stones for his rockery, and buying them from David.
As if this seeming turn-around wasn’t intriguing enough, then check out what Google’s just done: It’s redesigned its iconic splash-landing home page. And, though normally Google seems to have its eyes firmly shut when designing its UIs, it’s actually done a good job. The driving force has been toward simplicity, because when you first arrive at Google.com now all you get is the big G’s logo, the empty search box, and the familiar “Google Search” and “I’m feeling lucky” buttons. All of the other bits to do with image searching, your Google login, settings, and Google’s ad program only appear when you move your mouse over the page. With this small tweak Google’s actually focusing user attention on Google’s raison d’être–search–by going for almost Zen minimalism. And it works…though I do wish there were a way to permanently switch Google to this clean mode for every time you visited.
Taken together you could be forgiven for thinking that these news pieces imply Google is kind of growing up. For years its basically done whatever the hell it likes, extending tentacles in all sorts of weird and wonderful business directions, ignoring even basic design principles and the developing look and feel of the rest of the Web, trying to seize whole marketplaces by offering for free what other companies charge for, and so on. It’s basically been a rowdy, self-confident teenager–one that burst onto the scene with a good idea, and then rolled with it. Now it might just be time for the company to smarten up and think a little more carefully. We can but hope so…in the long run, it’s probably in the consumer’s best interest.