5 Reasons Google Backed Down From Background Photo Experiment

The official explanation: "a bug"

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On Thursday, Google quietly gave its classic white search page a makeover, rotating artistic background photos throughout the day. This change raised the hackles of users everywhere, and even attracted mild mockery from the European division of Microsoft. (Microsoft's search engine Bing has featured large, stylish photo backgrounds long before Google's switch.) Within hours, the tech titan backed down, stripped out the photos, and restored the plain-jane vanilla look. Why did Google give up so quickly?

  • Official Explanation: A 'Bug' Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch raises an eyebrow at the official Google line, which explains that "We had planned to run an explanation of the showcase alongside it--in the form of a link on our homepage. Due to a bug, the explanatory link did not appear for most users. As a result, many people thought we had permanently changed our homepage, so we decided to stop today's series early." Kincaid seems to display skepticism by putting "bug" in quotation marks.
  • More Likely Expanation: User Frustration Matthew Shaer of Christian Science Monitor does a nice job documenting the outpouring of anger during Google's short-lived redesign. "Twitter users had a field day teeing off on the Google background, which was called 'ugly' and 'distracting.' Over at the Google help forums, the tone of the comments isn't much nicer. 'Google, are you listening? You're freaking us out! I like the simplicity of Google. Everything else on the Web is too busy and complicated. It was nice to at least start searching from a simple and peaceful place,' one user complained. 'No Options?' complained another. 'I am starting to get sick of this!'"
  • Frustration 1: Poor Visual Balance Chris Matyszczyk of CNet documents some flaws with Google's aesthetic sense. He reports the complaints of his friend, an expert art director. She said of one image, "look how the white type disappears to the right of the search box. White type on a light background. Equals ugly." Her view of Bing was much more positive: "Balance. Thought. Taste. Someone really sat down and thought about what this page would look like. Someone chose images that would give the type space to be itself."
  • Frustration 2: Slow Load Times David Gewirtz of ZDnet aired one consistent complaint: the loss of efficiency. He writes, "Separate from aesthetic preferences, this image slows things down. Google has repeatedly said that one of its key strategic advantages has been its lightning-fast page loads. These images remove that advantage."
  • Frustration 3: Lack of Choice Chris Thompson of The Big Money buys Google's official explanation. He explains that the big photo was never intended to be a default for everyone. "Unfortunately, due to a bug in the rollout, every computer user who has a Google account (Gmail, Google Docs, etc.) didn't have the option of switching over to the new format, but were instead confronted with disconcerting, if pleasant, images underneath their usual search fields and links." This imposition of a photo was a consistent complaint among users.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.