At this point, I find it hard to imagine a more incongruous marriage of strength and weakness than the cross-Google combination of power and versatility with perpetual annoyance and technological fussiness.
This isn’t an argument about Google’s recent missteps re: privacy and user rights. That’s a separate issue. It’s just a whinge about the fact that Google’s products seem even less polished and user-friendly now than they were several years ago. For individual websites and applications, this kind of kludginess is a bit of a pain. For a company that is as deeply ensconced into the basic fabric of Internet life, this cross-platform irritation creep is genuinely disturbing. Everywhere I look, Google’s products seem to test my patience just a little bit more.
Here’s what inspired this:
So for awhile now, Chrome has been asking me to sign in. I take it that the point is to sign into Chrome on one machine, and then when you open it on another, it’ll sync your open tabs, preferences, saved passwords, whatever. Well, I happen to only use Chrome on one device, this (low powered) laptop I’m typing on now. On my desktop, where processor power and RAM are in abundant supply, I prefer Firefox. But, okay. Chrome really wanted me to sign in. So I did. Now, every time I open a new tab, I get that dialogue bubble in the image.
I tried clicking OK, I tried clicking learn more, I tried clicking advanced. No dice. Every time I open a new tab, up it pops. This is the sort of thing that can seem like it’s no big deal, until you actually are experiencing. Here’s something Google seems incapable of learning: graphics and text that call attention to themselves… call attention to themselves. Yeah, I can just ignore this little bubble. But it is extremely distracting, and when I’m doing research for hours (as I was last night), that little distraction adds up and adds up to the point where I’m driven crazy. This is very reminiscent of the nag text that popped up every time for those who opted out of the new Gmail. I haven’t been as bothered by the changes to Gmail as others, but if you’re going to let people opt out of the new look for awhile, why not leave them in peace?
I’m sure they’ll fix this little annoyance. But it speaks to a larger sense in which Google seems to alter or design its products with no one asking very basic questions about what users actually want. Alexis Madrigal, complaining about the fact that GChat windows could get in the way of email messages after the Gmail changes, asked the pertinent question: “Where was the guy in the meeting who should have asked, ‘But what if someone wants to chat as they write an email?’” When I see this little bubble constantly popping up in every new tab, I wonder whether the people responsible have ever actually used Chrome to work or research.
More annoying still, I don’t trust Google’s preferences and options to actually work. I don’t know about you, but I have to turn off Google Instant (which, to me, is like an icicle being driven into my brain) and SafeSearch constantly. I don’t know why those preferences are constantly reverting to the defaults, but they are. And I seem to have to set them for every individual computer I use, even though I am signed into my Google account. When I sign into Gmail and open Google search, it knows I’m signed in. My login appears at the top. And yet still, I get the insanely aggravating Google Instant and SafeSearch set to moderate. Why?
A source of consistent depressed hilarity to me is the option to disable annotations in YouTube. Annotations in YouTube are the work of the devil. They’re distracting, often link to spam or worse, and, oh by the way, obscure the video you’re actually interested in viewing. But, hey, no problem, just turn them off in your YouTube preferences. Except that, for me, this preference never works. I have hunted down that option and set it to turn off annotations, I’m not kidding, dozens of times. And yet every time I access a video with annotations, up they spring. Yes, I can click a button and turn them off, but then why even have the pretense of a global option to disable them? This isn’t even constrained to videos embedded somewhere else; if I go to the YouTube main page, where my login is active and my preferences should be working, I get annotations, every time.
It’s a vicious combination of annoying tics and broken preferences. There’s many more little annoyances and aggravations baked into Google products at this point. (Try posting a picture in Google Plus. What a horrid implementation of a simple, essential task.) I don’t know if this culture of ugliness and distraction is because of incompetence or apathy, but wow. Yes, I can choose not to use Google products at all. But I doubt that’s what Google wants. Perhaps Google should spend some of their war chest on a product testing group made up of normal humans with normal human impatience and distractability.
(There goes another distracting, eye-catching bubble. Bah!)
Good lord, I can’t escape….