The Google Images Redesign

    January 26, 2007

Google has done a terribly unpopular thing, redesigning Google Images so that it presents no new information, no new features, just increases the white space. It could be one of the worst redesigns I’ve ever seen.

The new Google Images is identical to the old one, except all the text that used to appear on the page, save the title of the image, is hidden, and only appears when your mouse is near the image. The redesign does not make for more space on the page, or larger images, or a cooler new look, it just removes info that was always there. If you want to find out what website an image was from, or how big it is, you have to work for it, and there is no way to compare the images against each other.

There’s no real explanation why Google did this. We know Google is obsessed with white space, but this is overkill, actually removing features by painting over them white. This would be the equivelant of Gmail only showing you who sent you an email, and forcing you to mouse over to see what the email was about, or Google Video showing you a thumbnail, with no video title, description, or length information. If Google wants to convince users to stop using Google services, they can start by doing this to all of them.

It certainly seems like Google is ripping off Windows Live Images, and if they are, this is a real crappy way of doing it. Windows Live Image Search shows only thumbnails on an all-white page, but they also let you resize them to show more on the page, the page scrolls into infinity (instead of showing a mere 20, then forcing you to click Next, over and over), and you get a scratchpad which lets you compare images regardless of where they show up.

So, Google has ripped off Microsoft, but did it by removing features it already had and lacking features Microsoft has had for months. Way to show leadership in the industry.

The part that pisses me off is that Google Images (and most of the competition) handles searching for images of similar sizes in a pretty broken way. All of them let you choose between all, large, medium and small (Windows Live adds images equal to your current screen resolution, Yahoo adds “wallpaper”, and Ask adds a buddy icon size), vague ways of distinguishing between them. I have no idea what a “medium” image is, and neither does Google as far as I can tell.

When I’m looking for an interesting image that fits a specific need, Google is always giving me images that are way too small, even when searching under medium (and large is way too big and limited, often). Now, Google doesn’t even show me the image sizes, so I have to guess? Screw that!

Thankfully, there is a solution: Disable JavaScript. All modern browsers give you a way of doing that to specific sites (or a list of sites), and disabling JavaScript for brings back the old interface. In Opera, you only need to tick a check-box in Site Preferences; In Firefox, you edit your profile; in IE, you add it to a list of Restricted Sites. My recommendation: Do it fast, and never look back. The new Google Images is a huge blunder by Google, and should not be allowed to annoy you day in and day out.

In the meantime, I’m going to be paying close attention to Ask X, and see how their image search measures up. I’m getting the feeling Google is determined to fall behind and make mistakes with their search interfaces, and I’d better keep my options open if I need to switch one day.



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Nathan Weinberg writes the popular InsideGoogle blog, offering the latest news and insights about Google and search engines.

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