I Thought We Realized Web Portals Don’t Work

Matt at SvN takes a hard look at Don Norman’s dismissal of Google’s simplicity. However, he does acknowledge that a problem may exist:

“Still, Norman does have some valid points. Google is disjointed. Some services do feel buried. There is a lack of obvious organizational structure. So why is that?”

Now discussions of culture and innovation may address *how* this came to be, but they do not answer why Google doesn’t do anything about it. Surely, someone else with a passion for integration can link up these services in new and exciting ways.

Oh, wait… they do?

Don’t you remember when Google Chat was not integrated with GMail? When Google Maps and Google Local were separate things? Of course we do. So what does a “lack of obvious organizational structure” actually mean in this context? What would obvious organizational structure look like?

A web portal. A landing page. Somewhere to handhold you to the exciting services beneath. As Don says:

“True, but that’s because you can only do one thing from their home page: search. Anybody can make a simple-looking interface if the system only does one thing. If you want to do one of the many other things Google is able to do, oops, first you have to figure out how to find it, then you have to figure out which of the many offerings to use, then you have to figure out how to use it.”

Matt, I think you’ve answered your own question:

“Google probably doesn’t want to spend too much time upfront trying to solve problems that may not even matter.”

Web portals don’t solve the right problem – no more than card catalogs do. Good search solved the problem. And the core problem Don?

“And because all those other things are not on the home page but, instead, are hidden away in various mysterious places, extra clicks and operations are required for even simple tasks — if you can remember how to get to them.”

Between good search and bookmarks, people find what they are looking for and remember how to get to there. They don’t use homepages. They don’t remember urls. It’s no accident that Yahoo vies with sex for Google’s number one search term. Watch how a person who refers to themself as “not a computer person” uses internet technologies. The first time you ever see someone type “google” in their IE MSN search box to get to the Google homepage, then type “yahoo” to use Google to search for the Yahoo homepage, you’ll have a heart attack. Trust me. I almost did. 🙂


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