news.google.ca (Thanks Bob!).Update: The previous version can still be accessed at
Earlier in this week we covered the new version of Google News. It's normal to see a backlash against a redesign (see the reaction to Facebook redesigns for instance), but reaction to Google News' new layout has been resoundingly harsh. So far, Google isn't offering an option to revert back to the old version, unlike it did with its last major Gmail update. It seems Google's attempt to balance personalization and serendipity left fans of both unhappy.
The biggest complaint lies in the new layout itself, which users say is harder to scan. Previously, Google News had a three column top section with a two-column grid of stories below. Users could customize the arrangement of sections and a few sections were viewable at once, depending on the size of the monitor. The new layout has a wide center column with a "river of news" presentation of the primary Google News sections and unchangeable side columns containing newer features like trending topics, FastFlip, local news and Spotlight. Depending on the monitor used, only one section may be viewable at a time in the center column.
New Google News layout
Among users who value customization, the ability to rank news certain sources up or down (except, apparently, Associated Press) or arrange topics vertically in the center column does not make up for the rigidity of the other sections. One large annoyance that some users reported, including our researcher Deane Rimerman, is the disappearance of custom sections created in the old version of the site, leaving users to re-create each section. We were also unable to find an option to have news alerts sent by e-mail, though we could still create RSS feeds of searches. Users can still setup and mange news alerts through Google Alerts.
Previous version of Google News
One Google News user, who commented on our original post, told us via e-mail: "I had Google's news in one column, prioritized the way I liked it, and sections in the other, prioritized the same way. If I was looking for something professionally related, I could scan the one column; if I was taking a break and wanted to see the rest of the news, I could scan the other." With all news in one column, this isn't an option anymore.
Those who value serendipity say they benefited more from the old layout with several blocks of stories on different subjects on the screen at once than from the new layout. Spotlight should be the serendipity engine of the site, but the long, image-less list of headlines is below the fold on most monitors. It's more like a cluttered stack of newspaper clippings stashed off to the side of your desk than a showcase of stories you might otherwise miss.
The reaction to the new layout may signal a preference for dashboards over river of news views. Last year RWW's Marshall Kirkpatrick eulogized enterprise RSS. A couple people mentioned, with prescience, dashboards as the possible vector for future RSS adoption. In November of last year, Netvibes landed a deal to bring its dashboards into Sage's ERP software. It's reasonable to expect consumers to have similar preferences - after all, Netvibes started as a consumer oriented service.
So did Google blow it? Amber Case, a UX designer for Vertigo, says "Interfaces should not suddenly change. That's the equivalent of suddenly remodeling a favorite neighbor bar without telling anyone, except that the architecture was so different that the bathrooms are in a different place."
Case thinks users will get used to the new layout, but for now it's an agitation. "Now people have to navigate around glaciers of functionality that can't be moved. It's better to have an empty ocean that people can create their own islands of usefulness, and their own bridges between them," she says.