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Wednesday, October 4, 2006

New Google Groups Beta

There’s now a redesigned Google Groups beta site available at Google Groups mixes a usenet archive with Google’s homegrown discussion groups anyone can create, and this is around the second major overhaul of Google Groups since its inception – the last big redesign was in May 2004. The homepage got cleaned up and some of the results now look much more like the uncluttered Google web search results. This prototypical relaunch follows a recent Google Reader redesign, and Google Groups User Experience Designer Brett Lider announces “we are going to change all of Groups to this new look soon enough.”

New features in this version include the ability to create “Pages”; this is a sort of inline Google Page Creator added to (non-Usenet) groups. This feature didn’t work for me – while I was able to name the page, I wasn’t able to edit the content field. You can also upload files now, and if you’re a group owner, you have more options to configure your group.

There’s too much confusion...

The relaunch looks like a good start at first, but browse around a bit and you’ll see there are still many design problems. In particular, the page layout changes around way too much depending on which “mode” you’re in. E.g. there’s an unnecessary design change when you do a search within a single group vs a usenet wide search (not even the logo remains the same – see screenshots). At other times, the group name is broken up into crumb trails with blue clickable sub-parts, at other times it’s black without underlines. Sometimes, post content is displayed in a sans-serif, at other times in a monospace font (in both instances, the font is too small to easily read).

While I’m sure there’s always some well-intended reasoning behind these layout changes (for example, a monospace font makes more sense on postings containing source code snippets), I find it plain confusing... a no-nonsense, unique look across the application would aid usability here. For example, a simple radio button selector to differentiate between usenet-wide vs groups-wide search (similar to how Google allows you to restrict your search to non-English web pages only on foreign Google homepages) would’ve done the job fine.

Still, it’s nice to see Google doesn’t stop trying to improve this service even though the last redesign is only little over two years old, and Google Groups was recently kicked from the top position of links atop the Googe homepage search box (you now need to click “more” to see it). Maybe all the Google designers need to do now is start to think simpler again?

The discussion started in the forum.

[Thanks Niraj Sanghvi!]


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