May 20, 2005
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - Google Inc. on Thursday introduced a new option that will enable visitors to display more information on the online search engine leader's bare-bones home page, a departure that pushes the company a step closer to operating an Internet portal in the mold of rivals Yahoo and MSN.com.
The feature, available at http://labs.google.com , allows the millions of Google users worldwide to select components tools located underneath the search engine's hood and display them on the main page.
For instance, a user could choose to have the weather, an e-mailbox, movie listings, top news stories, stock market quotes, and driving directions displayed whenever they visit Google's home page and sign in using a personalized account. The company unveiled the feature during a media day hosted at its Mountain View headquarters.
Displaying a potpourri of information on the home page marks a significant change for Google, which has always greeted its visitors with little more than a box to process a search request, along with a few tabs to navigate to other features, such as news and shopping.
The company decided to give users the option of adding more bells and whistles on the front page because it believes it developed a "critical mass" of products that present helpful information to visitors, said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer products.
Despite the shift, Google isn't trying to persuade visitors to spend more time on its Web site, Mayer said. "We are still interested in getting people off our site to the places that they want to go (online)," she said.
Even after they create their own version of Google's front page, users still will be able to toggle back to the bare-bones look by clicking on a "Classic Google" link located near the top of the page.
Web surfers who personalize Google's home page will be able to create a site that looks more like Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.com, which both have tried to built multidimensional sites, or portals, designed to give visitors everything they might need.
Both Sunnyvale-based Yahoo and Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft also have spent heavily on building improved search engines to challenge Google's leadership in that specialty, hoping to tap into a rapidly growing ad market revolving around search requests. The companies also both offer tools that enable visitors to Yahoo.com and MSN.com to personalize their home pages.
The bare-bones approach has served Google well so far, helping it create the fourth most trafficked site on the Web, according to comScore Media Metrix, a research firm. Google attracted 78.6 million unique U.S. visitors last month, lagging behind Yahoo (114.8 million unique visitors), MSN (97 million) and AOL (86 million), comScore said.
Google has a strong financial incentive to boost its traffic figures because it maximizes its profits when Web surfers click on advertising links displayed on its site. The search engine also delivers ads to hundreds of other Web sites, but has to share those sales commissions.