Tuesday, May 28

The Death of iGoogle

Many of you might not even know what iGoogle is. The service never got any publicity from Google, at least none that I have ever seen, and now that it's about to die in near-anonymity it seems unfair that it pass into the bitstream without notice.

iGoogle is a custom home screen that you built on the Google site itself. The address (www.google.com/ig) worked on both computers and mobile devices. You could choose from a wide range of active widgets, which iGoogle called "gadgets" because no two companies can agree on a term. For example, my iGoogle home page showed me, at a glance, my Gmail inbox, my calendar for today, and the current weather conditions.

As soon as I launched my browser, I knew who was trying to reach me, where I had to be, and whether it was going to rain on me as I went there. In one glance, without having to click on my email, then click on my calendar, then click on my weather app...it was glorious.

And on November 1st, 2013, it will be history. In the words of the immortal bard Monty Python, it will be an EX-service. Which for me begs two questions: What does Google expect me to replace it with, and why did they decide to kill it off in the first place?

I can answer the first one definitively, because Google has answered that in writing. If you're using an Android device, they remind you that you don't need a custom home page on the mobile browser because the Android home screen can be customized with widgets from Google Play to accomplish the same thing. And they are correct. But what about people using iGoogle on their computers?

Google suggests switching to Chrome (their web browser) and using Chrome apps from their Chrome Web Store. This is an utterly useless suggestion, since Chrome "web apps" are nothing more than big bright icons that link to web pages. You could do the same exact thing, albeit with less flair, with old fashioned bookmarks. Google also suggests Chrome themes, which do nothing other than change the color of the screen and affect the interface items like buttons and scrollbars.

What you cannot do with anything provided in the Chrome Web Store is recreate iGoogle. There is nothing that allows me to have my active Gmail inbox displayed, or my calendar, or the current weather. I can have big, bright buttons that open Gmail, then Google Calendar, then whatever weather site I like -- but I cannot get that information on a single screen, observable in one glance.

There are alternative web-based home pages competing to fill in the iGoogle vacuum once it disappears, but those require you handing over the passwords to your Google account to a third party web site. I'm sorry, but I won't do that. The information in my Google account is too important to risk that. I have two-factor authentication turned on with Google, and to use a third party service I would have to set up an application specific password for every single device, user account, and browser that I access. That's a huge list of things! It's not so bad being prompted for my authenticator token and entering a six digit number, setting a check mark so it won't ask me again for 30 days, but the process of creating an application specific password is a painstaking one that you won't want to repeat often.

So Google is dumping us iGoogle users on the curb with a bus ticket and $20 in food stamps, wishing us bon voyage, and there is nothing we can do about it and no comparable service to replace it with. We're simply done. But why? Why did they decide to kill off this service in the first place?

I think there are a variety of possible reasons. It is certainly possible that iGoogle was the brainchild of someone working at Google years ago who is no longer there. When a service loses its champion, the sad truth of the matter is that it often becomes a forgotten orphan and dies from neglect.

It is also possible that iGoogle required some sort of load on the Google servers, or required them to keep open some API for the gadgets that Google considered to be a security risk. In short, there might be good, concrete reasons to shut iGoogle down. But if there are, Google has remained completely silent about them. Which leads me to think that no such reasons exist, since Google can't keep completely silent about anything.

My personal theory is this. iGoogle does nothing to help the Google brand. Android home page widgets require Android, which is Google. Chrome web apps, as ridiculous of a non-existent entity as they are, require Chrome, which is also Google. iGoogle, on the other hand, worked just fine with any web browser on any platform. Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iOS...whatever you wanted to use was just fine.

And in Google's vision of the future, there is only one thing that cannot stand and must be eliminated: That thing which does not promote the brand.

R.I.P. iGoogle. You were brilliant, under-publicized, and you will not be missed by many. But I loved you just the same.