Revamped Google tools let you be you

Further clarifying its customization strategy, search giant enhances personalized home page product, renaming it "iGoogle."

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Google wants you to express yourself.

The search giant is renaming and adding new features to Google Personalized Home Page, a product team said during a briefing with the media at company headquarters here on Monday.

In an effort to clarify Google's strategy on customization, the company is changing the name of its Personalized Home Page product to iGoogle and announcing new features that were set to go live Tuesday after midnight PDT. The personalization product allows people to create a customized portal with news, blog postings and other interactive information modules called "gadgets" for things like the local weather and--the most popular--the day and time. More than 25,000 gadgets have been created.

iGoogle, as it will be called as of Tuesday morning, was the fastest-growing product at the company last year, said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google. Personalization is "one of the biggest advances we've made."

Among the enhancements, Google is announcing a new Gadget Maker feature that will let people create their own gadgets with their own content without having to know code or HTML. There are seven templates of gadgets that people can create and share with others: Framed Photo for creating and updating photos; GoogleGram, an unfolding "greeting card" gadget that shows different messages and images over seven days; Daily Me, which lets people share snippets about their daily lives like a miniblog, such as how they are feeling or what they are thinking or doing; a YouTube gadget for a favorite video clip; Free Form, which is simply any text and image; Personal List, of things like favorite songs; and Countdown, for counting down days to events.

The company also is announcing a new area on the gadget directory called My Community that will let people share the gadgets they've created with anyone in their Gmail contacts list.

Google also is expanding iGoogle globally to new languages and countries, reaching 26 languages and more than 40 countries, and launching themes for iGoogle users located outside the United States. "I think that themes will be an area in which we will continue to invest resources because they delight people," said iGoogle Product Manager Jessica Ewing. One concept the team is working on is creating themes that simulate specific artists. For instance, a French version of iGoogle could feature an image of brushstrokes from Monet's haystack paintings.

In addition, Google is launching location-based personalized search results so users who have provided a default location in Google Maps will see results based on that location.

Earlier this month, Google launched Queryless Search, which lets people include on their toolbar a button that provides pages the system thinks the user might be interested in. Google also launched a "recommendations" tab on the home page that offers up searches, pages, groups and videos that might be of interest to the individual.

I'm an eclectic person but everybody is," said Sep Kamvar, technical lead of personalization. "We can't just go about designing products for the average person."

There are no ads on iGoogle now, but Mayer wouldn't make any promises about the future. "I think of gadgets themselves as a unique and neat form of personalized advertising," she said. "Like our text ads, they are more useful and more relevant."

Google is working to not only make it easy for people to create customized home pages with colorful and fun gadgets but also to make it even easier to use Web search when trying to get to information, Mayer said. Eventually, 15 years out or so, Google wants to know enough about you that you don't have to type in long keyword queries.

For example, "when you type things into the search box it basically augments your query," she said. "If I type 'broadway shows' into Google, it would actually come back and understand that I like musicals and (prefer) peppy to sad...on the whole that's what we're really shooting for."

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