Interview with Adam Sah of Google

Interview with Adam Sah of Google

Summary: Adam Sah on the Google Gadgets team talks about a newer product from Google called "Gadgets For Your Web Page" on the Google Code Blog.  He outlines a few limitations that currently exist in version 1 of the service.

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TOPICS: Google
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Adam Sah on the Google Gadgets team talks about a newer product from Google called "Gadgets For Your Web Page" on the Google Code Blog.  He outlines a few limitations that currently exist in version 1 of the service.  

  • Make sure your gadget supports 200-pixel content widths for placement on third-party web pages. While Google Personalized Homepage gadgets have an average width of 250 pixels, assume third-party web pages will have even smaller widths. Otherwise, you may start receiving complaint emails about annoying horizontal scroll bars.
  • You cannot store data or state for gadgets embedded on third-party web pages. If your gadget contains code to do so, it will silently fail.
  • Inlined gadgets cannot be added to third-party web pages, and will not appear in our directory of gadgets for your webpage.
  • Since inlined gadgets are not supported, embedded gadgets cannot modify third-party webpages for obvious reasons.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam about Google Personalized Homepage recently -- you will find the questions and answers below:

How long as the Google Personalized Homepage been around, and whose idea was it?

Personalized Homepage was first conceptualized as a product for ISPs only. A group of engineers and product managers thought that this type of product would be very powerful for Google users as well. The Classic homepage served its purpose for sure, but we were developing other products like Gmail, News and Orkut where a more robust homepage could come in handy. Marissa Mayer pitched the basic product idea, got approval and put together the core development team. That team launched the first version of the product in May 2005 on Google Labs.
 
Can you walk us through some of the larger changes in the service from its initial release to what we see today?

There have been many user-facing changes, including ui improvements, new types of gadgets, international launches and a vast array of behind-the-scenes changes for marketing, performance, reliability and decision support.  It's hard to understate the engineering effort and responsibility involved in "being" Google's homepage, plus partners and other uses.

                        Major Features of Personalized Homepage and Gadgets:
                         - Labs launch (May, 2005)
                         - New improved UI and support for all RSS feeds (July 2005)
                         - Off Labs and onto google.com (September 2005)
                         - Launch in 16 new domains and 12 new languages (November 2005)
                         - Gadget API (December 2005)
                         - Dell Homepage (December 2005)
                         - Content Directory for feeds and gadgets (January 2006)
                         - New improved User Set up (March 2006)
                         - New improved directory (April 2006)
                         - World Cup Gadget all supported languages and locales (June 2006)
                         - International Directory and Gadgets (June 2006)
                         - Multiple Pages (Tabs) / Zippies (Minimize) (September 2006)
                         - Gadgets for your page (October 2006)

Along the way, many of these features have enjoyed major improvements.  For example, observant gadget authors have noticed many changes to improve the fairness in the content directory ranking algorithm.

Do you see significant competition in this space from companies like Netvibes, Pageflakes and Live.com?  How would you rank the Google Personalized Homepage in popularity and features today?

We don't like to discuss other companies' products-- as above, there are many subtleties that we can't know and I wouldn't want to get my facts wrong.

You just added two new features to the service recently -- the ability to minimize gadgets and the addition of tabs.  Has the feedback been fairly positive on these new features?  A couple of my readers wish there was an option to disable the tabs, is that a common request?

Every time we push a new change, we're always surprised at how much feedback we get.  Most of the feedback has been positive, though existing users can be startled by new features, and with new features come the usual bug reports and feature requests.  We haven't ruled out a feature that will allow people to disable tabs but it's very unlikely we'll remove them entirely or make them harder to discover.

Only a few gadgets currently work on the personalized homepage for mobile -- can we expect the Google Personalized Homepage to become a larger presence on mobile devices?

Sadly, I can't comment about the future.  Beyond company policy, confidentiality, avoiding rumor mills, competition, etc. Google is a very dynamic environment and it's hard to accurately predict when and if features will be released.

What percentage of Google users actively use the Google Personalized Homepage?  Have the numbers been increasing since its launch?

We generally don't release metrics -- however, the growth has been stunning, and the company is very excited about the success of Personalized Homepage and Google Gadgets.

I personally find it much easier to use the Personalized Homepage API than the one for native Google Desktop Search (GDS) sidebar gadgets.  Some of the features available in the GDS API (such as Google Talk intgration) could make for some interesting gadgets -- in a future version of the Homepage API, could we see something like this?

The web start page and the desktop are pretty different environments, both in technology and user experience and user expectations.  Rather than assuming that we can translate a successful feature from one place to another, we experiment selectively.  Integration work is also slow and expensive-- we have to pick our projects either carefully or opportunistically, either way leading to temporary awkwardnesses, with certain features or content not available universally.

For example, we noticed an opportunity to bring the Google Gadgets API (formerly Homepage API) gadgets to Google Desktop Sidebar, and jumped on it.  Gadgets have been quite successful on Desktop and I'm thrilled to have been able to help two products at once.

Google Apps For you Domain has been testing a customized personalized homepage for comanies using the service.  Can you outline some of the differences between the normal Google Personalized Homepage with the one available to the beta testers?

I wouldn't want to ruin the value of a beta test by telling the public about its details, and of course, the team needs the privilege of changing the features during the testing period.  In general, we try to bring feature parity as much as possible-- everybody wins, including engineering-- but sometimes there are UI, marketing or engineering constraints that preclude or delay this goal.

And last but not least, what is your favourite Gadget?  And don't worry, You do not have to say the "local chat gadget"

A better question to ask is... what's your favorite this week?  There are 1000s of gadgets and I can't keep track anymore.  I loved Local Chat when it came out, dugg the Digg gadget, use my Google Logo gadget (which my product manager designed), have fun with Mark Lucovsky's ajaxsearch and mapsearch gadgets, anxiously await the latest gadgets by prolific gadgeteers Bonstio, Sophia, Labpixies.  I especially love to see what younger developers like Caleb and Benno invent and we're running an awards promotion to recognize college students who create great gadgets.  I hope some of those award winners end up being coworkers in years to come!

But authors who looking for mainstream success shouldn't design to my taste-- I'm an engineer and constantly surprised by what's popular with our users, which you can see in the content directory rankings.  Note: international authors should consult their own directories by clicking the Add Content link, rather than the US/English edition found on google.com .  Overseas, there's a large ratio of users to available gadgets, which translates to a lot of opportunity for gadgets addressing the needs in other countries, especially when they use the popular language(s) for those markets.

Topic: Google

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2 comments
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  • Nice interview

    Way to go Adam. It is always great to hear your talks at conferences and nice to see the gadgetization of websites. Seems to me we are going to see a lot more gadgets from Google, MS, Yahoo and others as the main force driving changes on the desktop. Rather than go to a favorite site, people will choose to customize their own desktop/browser windows with these mini applications that reflect their personal preferences.
    JoeDuck
  • Personalizable portal Webwag.com , founded by an ex Google exec

    You could have mentioned also Webwag to Adam especially because Webwag is founded by an ex early Google exec, that is me ;-)
    Franck Poisson