I had to look it up. It was Henry David Thoreau who said, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” I always wondered why he said it three times. Would it have been simpler to say it just once?
Google broke the rule in a big way last week with their Background Image Fiasco. It was a warm, hot blast of not-simple blown right in their users faces. We all know about the ensuing rage from said users. This was tempered a tiny bit by a blog from someone trying to argue it wasn’t so bad – while the comments on that very blog seemed to confirm no, it really was horrible.
Here were my thoughts, moment by moment, when I first encountered a striking image of sand dunes in the background of google.com:
1. Moment one: WTF is this?
2. Moment two: Did I do this somehow accidentally myself, or are they doing this to me?
3. Moment three: This must be like one of their Doodles. If I hover over their logo, will they explain it to me?
4. Moment four: (Hovering.) No, they are not explaining it to me.
5. Moment five: How do I get rid of it? All I see is this link for “change background image” and I barely see that because of the background image.
6. Moment six: Google wouldn’t have done this, would they? Is this a hack from some third party playing a joke?
7. Moment seven: No way I’m going to click that “change background image” link. This whole thing is sketchy. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is spam.
8. Moment eight: What was I searching for again? Damn you, Google, why did you have to waste my time?
As you can see, I’m somewhat paranoid. (But shouldn’t I be?) I think I ended up doing my search in my Google toolbar out of fear that someone had hijacked google.com. I never clicked “change background image” and thankfully I didn’t have to because they took it off for me, and for everyone else. Later on I read a couple articles about it. It dawned on me that the epidemic that has infected website after website across the internet for years and years had now set in for real at google.com: I call it Home Page-itis.
Home Page-itis is the irrepressible urge to add crap you think is cool but no one else really cares about to your home page. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it. In Google’s case, they started out with a world-famous design. Practically the epitome of “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” One input box, two buttons, that’s it. (Although I still have a beef about the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. I mean really, who uses that?) But then came Home Page-itis. First it was the Doodles, which are somewhat cool, but, quite honestly, not worth the time. Then came Sidewiki. Sidewiki! I still refuse to learn what Sidewiki is. Something about making a comment on a web page that everyone else sees. Spare me. I do not come to Google to make comments on web pages that everyone else sees.
Then, the worst new feature of them all: they added animation to the links across the top to Google News, GMail, etc. The first time I came across that, I was literally lost. I wanted Google News, and the link was gone. I literally stared at my screen. Where did the link go? What is wrong with my computer? Am I going to have to do a Google search for Google News now? Why, oh, why, do I have to spend time thinking about this? Then I picked up my mouse, not even sure what I was going to do. Check my email or something, and presto! the links appeared. I clicked the News link in utter confusion as to what just happened. This went on for days before, after having to read an article about the feature, I learned that the links appear when you move your mouse on the page. I also learned they did this to make it look like their home page was … wait for it … simpler! Too bad it didn’t actually have the effect of making it simpler.
My guess is the people who run Google think that magically-appearing links are cool. My guess is they are wrong.
It’s not just Google of course. I see it all the time. More often, Home Page-itis takes the form of little sunbursts that link to announcements of something no one cares about. I think the scenario goes something like this:
Marketing person 1: Hey, did you see that great write up we got in Marketing Magazine?
Marketing person 2: Yeah! Hey, we should put that on our home page somewhere.
Marketing person 1: It’s not on our home page?! Oh my gosh, we have to get it up there now!
Whenever you add something to your home page, you should ask yourself, what am I going to take off the home page to make up for it? But that’s not nearly as fun as just adding more and more stuff. The result is more and more content and headlines and links get on the home page. More often than not, the content seen as very important, so it’s emphasized with big red letters and flashing animated GIFs.
The problem is, as each new link, or thumbnail, or product announcement, is emphasized on the home page, every other item on the home page is in turn deemphasized, to the point that it all becomes a mind-numbing, meaningless pile of clutter like GoDaddy.com. Which is what Google’s background images amounted to: mind-numbing clutter.
Users only have so much attention to give to your home page. It’s not nearly as much attention as you think. So please, please, be careful what you put there. And Google, yes, that goes for you, too.