Friday, May 7, 2010

Don't like Google's new sidebar? Be a pirate!

It's been a shamefully long time since my last post, but you can thank (or curse) Google for shocking me out of my complacency. You see, I've been a loyal Google user for pretty much as long as Google has existed. A long time ago, back in the early days of the interweb, when computers were powered by sabertoothed squirrels running around on stone wheels, I used a search engine called WebCrawler. It didn't have a fancy search algorithm, and was basically just a text match. But it was clean and simple, and because the web was a much simpler place back then, it mostly did what I wanted it to do. But then WebCrawler was bought by a different company, and played corporate musical chairs for a while, and the site suffered because of it. (And WebCrawler is still around, but as one of those search aggregators that grabs results from search engines like Google and Bing.) I started looking for a new search engine.

I tried Yahoo for a while, and AltaVista, and a few others, but none of them really worked for me for various reasons. Yahoo, in particular, grew ever more cluttered with things that had nothing to do with searching the web. And then I heard of this new search engine called Google. It was still in beta at the time, but it looked promising. It claimed to use back-links to prioritize search results based on popularity, and it was mostly free of the clutter that had been accumulating on the other search engines I'd been using. So I gave it a try. And in over ten years, I haven't looked back.

Until this week.

Apparently under pressure from Microsoft's Bing, Google has decided to "improve" the design of its search engine, and has been conducting an "experiment" in which it has been more-or-less randomly picking people to try out its new interface. I wasn't one of those people, and have been blissfully unaware of it until this week, when Google decided to roll out the changes to everyone. I used sarcastic quotes around "improve", because the change involves a new sidebar on search results that a) can't be minimized or removed, and b) duplicates the functionality of the inconspicuous bar at the top left of the page. And I gave the same treatment to "experiment", because the people at Google, in their wisdom, didn't provide these guinea pigs any way of providing feedback as to whether they liked the change or not.

The frustrating thing is that many of the people who are still using Google instead of Bing do so exactly because Google is everything Bling Bing isn't -- simple, streamlined, and elegant. If people wanted Google to be more like Bing, they'd just use Bing. I'm baffled by Google's logic here. And I'm apparently not the only one. Do a quick search for "google everything sidebar" and about 90% of the results will be pages complaining about the change, or asking for ways to remove it -- which you can't except by using an extension for Firefox or Google's own Chrome web browser (which is a bit ironic, I think). Those who use other browsers or who don't want to add yet another extension to Firefox are pretty much stuck with it...

...unless you're a pirate! (Or a hacker, a Swedish chef, a Klingon, or Elmer Fudd.)

Google is (for now, at least) still using it's classic, sidebar-less results page for non-English language, including the oddball English variants like "Bork, bork, bork!", "Elmer Fudd", "Hacker", "Klingon", and -- me fav'rite -- "Pirate". So if you hate the new sidebar but still want to stick with Google and don't mind a more playful interpretation in the presentation of your search results, just go to Google's Search Settings and pick a language of your choice other than plain English. And I don't know about you, but it's a pirate's life fer me. Arrgh!