Google's Home Page Gets Personal

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA -- Google launched a new personalized service this week that incorporates features such as Google News and Gmail onto the company's notoriously sparse home page.

The service allows visitors to Google's site to display content of their choosing below the query box on Google.com. Examples include headlines from The New York Times or the British Broadcasting Corp., stock quotes, weather information, and as many as nine incoming Gmail messages, says Marissa Mayer, director of consumer Web products at Google.

The Mountain View, California, company demonstrated the service during a press event at its headquarters.

Currently available for preview at Google Labs, the personalized service allows visitors to include information from 12 different feeds on their view of the Google home page.

Google will add support for a variety of RSS feeds to the personalized service within one to two months, Mayer says. Anyone with a free Google Account can set up a page, she says. The service was rolled out as a beta product, similar to how Google News and Gmail, the company's Web e-mail service, were introduced.

"While this is just the first step in what we hope it will become, we believe it is a very compelling offering," Mayer says.

Personalized Portal

The end result incorporates several different Google services into one spot, a portal-like model resembling that of Yahoo or Microsoft's MSN.com that company executives had previously disdained.

But both Mayer and Google Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt call the personalized service a unique offering from Google that was not done in hopes of competing with either of those Web sites, which feature advertising in addition to many content elements.

Mayer's team has been working on developing a more personalized Google Web page for several years and did not launch the product until company executives were convinced they had found the right approach, Schmidt says. He spoke during a question-and-answer session with Google co-founder and President, Technology Sergey Brin.

Still, targeted advertising eventually will become part of the personalized home page, Mayer says.

Google also previewed a new version of Google Earth that incorporates technology from recent acquisition Keyhole. Keyhole developed a desktop application, now known as Google Earth, that lets users search within a database of highly detailed maps and satellite imagery. Google's Web search capabilities will be incorporated into the next version of the product, available in the next few weeks, says John Hanke, general manager of Google Keyhole.

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