In what appears to be a broadside aimed at My Yahoo, Google rolled out a new feature on Thursday that lets people set up a personalized Google home page.
The feature, which has not yet been named, lets people with Gmail and other Google accounts create a home page with different modules that they can drag and drop across their page, giving them one place to go for e-mail, headlines, weather reports, maps, movie schedules and, of course, Web search.
Google officials presented the introduction as another step in the company?s efforts to tie its products more closely together. During a question-and-answer session with reporters, CEO Eric Schmidt said the product was not conceived as a direct answer to My Yahoo or to compete with an existing offering already in the market.
Google will start by offering content from the BBC, the New York Times, Slashdot, Wired, the Quote of the Day and the Word of the Day. The company also plans to let users add syndicated Web content from news sites and blogs via RSS, or really simple syndication, technology, said Marissa Mayer, who directs consumer Web products for Google.
"Our goal here was to give users tools to customize and organize their own information," Mayer said. She added that the product has more to do with reader demands than as a competitive shot at Yahoo. "We've seen that there were users who wanted more on their home page...and this is a way to give them more access to their information. I feel this is different my My Yahoo. The fact that some people may say it looks like it?s aimed at My Yahoo was not the reason."
The feature also helps Google fill in a missing piece in its drive to challenge Yahoo, Microsoft and America Online for Web portal dominance. My Yahoo, one of the most popular personal home page tools, drew 26 million visitors in April, or 23 percent of all Yahoo visitors for the month, according to ComScore Networks.
"The (Google) service, which is similar to rival offerings from Yahoo and MSN, is yet another indication of the intense competition in the online portal/search space," ComScore analyst Graham Mudd, said in a statement.
The portal tool is part of a broader Google initiative to aggregate its features and information in a single place--a project the company calls "fusion." The company is exploring other ways to personalize the Google experience, a Google representative said.
In typical fashion, Google is releasing the feature as a beta. It's available now on the Google Labs site. It's also available to people with Google accounts for e-mail, mailing lists, news alerts and other services.
In designing its personalized home page, Google kept its trademark uncluttered design intact. The portal looks just like Google's main Web site, but just below the search box are links to news, Gmail and other services.
Mayer confirmed that the company intends to eventually add advertisements to the page, but not for a several months.