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Do you ever find yourself asking, “Why does Google suck?”
I’m a Google fanboy, but man, sometimes I get frustrated with some of their design choices. I can’t help but think that maybe, in a lot of ways, Google does suck.
Between their search engine, Gmail, Drive apps, and everything else, Google has more users than any company in history. So why aren’t they focusing more on aesthetic and more functional apps?
Maybe because they don’t have to. Maybe we all just put up with it when we shouldn’t. Well, today we’re going to explore two things:
- We will go through Google’s many product offerings.
- We will discuss the biggest ways in which they fall far short of their full potential.
The flagship product of the Google brand is Google Search. It’s also one of the biggest motivators for people to think that Google sucks sometimes.
Remember, once you sign into Google Search, the company knows every detail about your search patterns, what you click on, and everything else about your online behavior.
The search engine is a virtual wonderland for Federal agents looking to get information about someone’s interests and activities.
I mean, okay, maybe you shouldn’t be searching for stupid things like how to become a terrorist. But before you start using Google for activities you wouldn’t want your mom or dad hearing about, consider the following quote from Google’s Privacy page:
“We collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you watch a video on YouTube, visit a website that uses our advertising services, or view and interact with our ads and content.”
Google Search isn’t DuckDuckGo, so user privacy still isn’t a major concern for them. After all, they make money from what they know about you.
This isn’t the primary reason Google Search sucks. The biggest reason is the company has lost sight of its roots and why people even started using the internet in the first place. The search engine continues to tweak its search algorithm to benefit larger companies and to make Google more revenue. They publicly claim the goal is to provide you, the user, with better and more valuable information for the things you’re searching for.
But most search results betray this dubious claim.
For example, when I search for something like “how to start a blog”, you’d expect to see informative articles that step you through the process of starting your own blog. This is what would serve you, the user, best. Instead, you get four listings from sites that were willing to pay Google the most for the privilege of being listed first in search results.
Finally, you get a Google snippet from a blog that’s an affiliate partner for Bluehost, a web hosting company that seeks to make money off of your desire to start a blog.
Is it the best source of information? It’s decent. It runs through a quick series of steps (without any screenshots or examples) on the basics, and then a bunch of fluff toward the bottom about reasons not to start a blog and some rambling recommendations like “be yourself” or “be original”. The kind of stuff we used to see from content mills all the time years ago.
It also finishes off reminding you that Bluehost offers a special discount for readers. Great, thanks. But where’s the real value, Google?
We recently reported that Google is trying to improve search results by getting rid of “fake news.” This appears to mean that they are simply bolstering web results from large companies and corporate sponsors that buy ad space.
Google launched in 1998. In the intervening two decades, we’ve seen the greatest technological advancements with things like iPhones getting voice recognition and fingerprint security, we’ve seen the birth and growth of major social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and we’ve gained the ability to carry around information on a tiny stick that would have required a computer the size of a suitcase.
Yet, Google still only offers us this as a user interface:
I mean, seriously?
I’ve been a huge fan of Gmail for years now. Our in-depth Gmail guide provides plenty of examples of just how functional and integrated with everything this email service is. You can access Gmail from your phone, from nearly any automation service like IFTTT or Zapier, and even via scripting commands.
But why, for the love of God, haven’t they upgraded that atrocious user interface?
Sure, you can try to pretty up the boring all-white interface by choosing from the limited set of weird background images they offer (Sandy shows how to do this in our Gmail power user guide). You can also try to install add-ons like Baydin (formerly Boomerang) to boost the number of interface features. But it’s like trying to spray Febreeze on top of a mess your dog made on the kitchen floor without bothering to clean it up first.
The Gmail interface needs to be cleaned up. It needs to have more add-in widgets that look like something from 2018 and not from 1998. The ability to create tabs for things like promotions and social alerts is nice, but way too little too late.
As a side note, and to Google’s benefit, they have offered a product called Google Inbox.
Which at least gives you a user interface that looks modern, clean, and something you can look at without getting nauseous.
Of all Google products, I think Google Drive is the one that is the most useful. It’s a cloud storage location where you can generate documents, spreadsheets, and even presentations. And you can access all of that from your phone, your browser, or even mounted as a drive right on your own computer.
As usual, where Google has failed here isn’t the integration with so many other services, it’s the user interface.
In most applications I’ve seen in both my professional career and as a regular user, the color gray has almost always been used to denote an object that is disabled or inactive. Yet, for some reason, the brilliant application designers at Google decided to make the default color for all folders in Google Drive… gray.
Many users may never even notice this, but as an application developer, it’s been a pet peeve.
And if it bothers you as much as it bothers me, you can indeed change the folder color if you like.
Another failure of Google Drive is how easy it is to lose things. Moving documents or sheets used to require right-clicking and selecting Move to and then the folder.
Thankfully, Google finally added the ability to drag and drop in 2016. This is years after everyone else had already figured out how to implement that feature.
However, there’s one area where Google Drive still falls short, and that’s when you create a new object.
When you add a new document or sheet, instead of asking you what folder you’d like to put it in, Google assumes you want to drop it in the folder you’re presently in. It immediately opens up that object.
Hopefully, you’ve remembered what folder you opened it from because if you don’t and you decide to close your browser window or tab, you’ll have to make use of the search bar to try and find that newly created object. It isn’t a terrible flaw (not like the gray folders), but it is annoying.
Oh, Google Plus… you’re like Google Wave’s little brother who we had so much hope for even though your big brother was such a dismal failure.
Google Plus was launched on June 28th, 2011, and very little has changed with it since then. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)
It’s like Pinterest married Facebook and had a baby. The result is a confusing collection of posts streamed side-by-side with conversations tacked underneath them.
The entire design doesn’t feel intuitive, and it isn’t as enjoyable spending time there as it is on other social networks.
The problem is that a large portion of people who signed up with Google Plus were doing so under duress. There were rumors floating around that to rank well in search you needed to have a Google Plus account. That isn’t the kind of thing that builds an active and organic social network. It’s just a bunch of people being extorted into signing up for something they don’t intend to use.
Most of the time when I try a new app, it takes a few days to adjust to the interface. In time, my opinion changes. I either grow to love it or hate it. With Google Keep, my opinion never changed. I hated it the moment I tried it, and I can’t stand it today.
It’s Google’s attempt to combine something like Notepad and sticky notes into an application that lets you keep and access quick notes. You can write and access them from your phone or your computer. I tried using it for a while since Google Play has such limited offerings when it comes to decent notepad-like apps for Android. But what I ended up with in less than a week is a random collection of scribbled notes.
The problems with this app are many. The first is organization. Most journal type applications like this usually have a hierarchical structure to organize notes. These will go from folder or “journal” to a listing style display of all notes, which you can click on to actually see the full note itself.
Evernote is an example of a perfect implementation. It has developed one of the best web-based and mobile-based note-taking applications out there.
As you can see, the flow is more logical. It’s left to right. You can click on a specific notebook that contains all the notes. This opens up the listing of notes you see above, where you only see the beginning snippet of the note under the title. If you click on one of those, then you see the entire note.
Unfortunately, the extent of Google Keep’s “organization” is tagging. If you try to switch to “list” view, Keep will simply line up all notes in their entirety one underneath the other. It’s like a note-taking app designed by someone who threw something together for a programming assignment in high school.
Google Voice was launched on March 11, 2009. It was a breakthrough technology I was delighted about. Finally, Google was ready to take on overpriced landline companies. I was so confident of this, in fact, that I immediately signed up for my Google Voice phone number, and have been using it since.
I use Google Voice now for all web-based contacts from anyone visiting my websites. It’s beautiful. You can have your Google Voice calls routed to your mobile phone, but those people never need to know your actual mobile phone number.
But like most of my constructive criticism to Google in this article, what Google Voice possesses in functionality, it lacks in the user interface. As far back as I can recall I don’t think the interface has changed very much since I first signed up in 2010. Here is what that “legacy” user interface looked like.
Other than shifting things around the page and making you click a couple of extra times to see the text conversion of the voicemail, nothing has changed in the eight years since launch.
My Dad always said, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” Yes, Google Voice is free, but… well, I’m still complaining because it’s technology. And anyone creating technology should keep up with the times. I’m talking to you, Google.
Google Doesn’t Always Suck
I’m going to back-pedal a little bit here. I mean, I like my search standings. And once Google even shared one of my Google Analytics articles on their own Twitter account. It’s a relationship that I’d like to foster and keep positive. Honest.
This article is constructive feedback. To its credit, Google as a company has done many more great things than the failures listed above. Some of the most successful products they’ve produced — products with a brilliant interface as well as immense functionality — include Google Sheets, Google Docs, Android Auto, Google Play Movies & TV, Waze, and even Google Sites (the new design interface).
With a company the size of Google, you’re not always going to get everything right. Some teams succeed and produce amazing stuff, and other teams end up building an abortion of an app. That’s just the way it goes. You can’t win them all. Even Google.
Do you disagree with any of the feedback in this article? Which quirks within Google products still drive you up the wall? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!