iGoogle: Not habit forming

My apologies, I am behind and I have had some lovely comments from those of you who read regularly. My other work has gotten somewhat on top of me over the past couple of weeks, but I think the worst of the storm is past now.

I tried to use iGoogle for a week so I could make some educated comment on it, and the most educated comment I can actually make is that I didn’t actually manage to see the week out. The premise is good, but the execution just wasn’t there to keep me going back.

Part of the problem is that I can get most of the online services I use regularly into it, but not all of them; gmail, my rss feeder, a calendar and weather I could have, but I couldn’t get the metlink timetable, nor an online community I’m a part of nor Facebook in any meaningful way. Given that iGoogle is supposed to be my “one-stop shop”, the inability to access so many things that I use regularly is a substantial failing (and while I am aware that this is not Google’s fault, and someone needs to write a plugin for each of these things, knowing that doesn’t help me any).

The integration with Google’s own services is relatively poor; instead of Google content opening in a new tab the way content from all other applications did, Google content opened in the same tab, obliterating iGoogle (this was actually one of my most common paths out of iGoogle — I would do a search or read a blog post in my RSS feed and simply move on, forgetting I had ever been in iGoogle). Not only did it open in the same tab, but in the cases of gmail and Google reader it presented me with just the content of the email or feed, and none of the usual functionalities of moving to other emails or feeds.

Having failed in the useful stakes, I tried to make iGoogle fun by creating a ‘fun’ tab and adding some dingbats and crosswords and such; I also kept the original funny cat picture that it came with. I set the background to be the solar system (though I did think the one that had the sun rise and set in tune with local time was kind of fun) and tried really hard to be engaged. The only thing out of the whole lot that I liked was the funny cat picture, and I actually get my fill of those by subscribing to ICanHasCheezburger. Again, it isn’t iGoogle’s fault that I couldn’t find a cryptic crossword, but when you have to work too hard to have fun, well, it isn’t fun anymore.

One of the fundamental principles of usability is that if there is a conventional way to do something (like the top right-hand search box, for example), then you better be making a usability improvement if you break that convention, and it better be a significant improvement, or the convention being broken just overshadows whatever you are trying to do. I think it is the same with people — if you want people to change their usual habits, you need to have a compelling incentive for them to do so. If iGoogle really did create a one-stop-shop for all my web things, if it had a good interface, or even just if it was fun it could have formed a new habit for me. However, it fails on all these counts, and I have to say if I go back, it will only be to look at the cat pictures.

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