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Culture now ready for custom photos

In a major design shift, Google is going to allow its users to set one of their own photos as a background behind the previously barren
Those tired of's blank background will be able to set their own custom background over the next few days. Google

Google is ready to start letting users customize its famously spartan home page with photos of their own.

The company announced Wednesday afternoon that over the next few days, U.S. visitors to will be able to drag photos from their computer or a Picasa library onto the home page, giving it a unique background. Users outside the U.S. will get the feature a little bit later as Google gradually rolls it out around the world, said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience and the keeper of the Google Look, in a blog post.

Google's approach to its home page has always been minimalistic: it even removed all extraneous links from last year until the user moved their mouse, based on the belief that those quickly searching for info didn't need distractions. It has allowed users to set up customized iGoogle pages, but has otherwise left the basic page alone other than the usual holiday doodles or occasional promotions for things like Chrome or the Nexus One.

This is a major shift in the company's design philosophy, and one that shows it's paying attention to the competition. Microsoft's revamped Bing search engine is a year old, and since the redesign went live has featured a striking photo linked to various search terms as the background for its home page. That's not a custom picture, of course, but it's an eye-pleasing addition to the page and one that Google was sure to have noticed.