A Walk Through Google’s News Test

Although it’s well known Google is always testing as many as 200 changes to its user interface, it wasn’t until today that I had the chance to step into one of those tests.

When going to the Google News page I saw a new layout and a link at the top that read “Why is News different?”. Clicking the link took me to a page that explained I was taking part in a test and asked me to complete a short survey. The survey page also contained a link to a 2006 post on the Official Google Blog that explained how Google uses its live sites for testing.

The changes being tested included offering people the choice of displaying stories in topical sections or as one long list. When shown in the list view, stories seemed to by ranked by how new they were, with newer stories at the top.

Each story summary had three icons at the top right. A star icon was used to mark the story as “Starred” (a favorite). This is on Google News already. A downward pointing arrow opened a layer that allowed a story to be shared via email, Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, and Google Reader. And an X icon was used to “Hide this story for 6 hours”. I’m not sure the significance of the six hours or whether the story would ever appear again, but I would think people would just want to remove the story altogether. This could be one of the things Google is testing.

I noticed a few other odd things on the News page:

  • To expand a story summary to see a bit more detail you have to click the white space around it, but there’s no visible call to action and no change to the mouse pointer. You just have to discover this feature. This also may be something being tested.
  • When my news preferences were first presented there were three columns of radio buttons in which I could mark each section as being used Rarely, Sometimes, or Always. But the setup progress indicator only showed setup as complete when no category was left set to Sometimes. So even though I sometimes read Entertainment stories, I had to set that category to Rarely or Always.
  • A news section’s name changed from black to gray when I choose Rarely, which made me wonder if stories in those categories will ever show (gray being indicative of a disabled state in web apps).

So like a good community member I gave Google my feedback. Of course I’m curious what other variations of the news UI were being tested and with how many people. I assume at some point some of these changes will make it into the site (or maybe not).

Google Testing Changes to News Page
Test page for changes to Google News.
News Stories Section View
When the Section view is used stories are grouped by topic.
News Stories Expanded
Summaries expand to show more details when the white space around a story area is clicked.
Starred Stories
A view of all your Starred stories.
Setup Complete
Setup is only complete when all news Sections are marked as being used Rarely or Always.
Setup Not Complete
Setup is not complete if a Section is marked as used Sometimes.
Google News Survey
Google asked test users to complete this short survey. I did.