You will probably read enough about Apple today, that I decided to go a completely different direction. Today I am going to talk about Google and all of their applications. Because, if Google really wants to become our main web application provider, then they need to become more consistent. I am talking about consistency in the user interface, consistency in the keyboard shortcuts, and consistency in concepts and terminology.
I previously wrote about some of this type of consistency being applied when Google announced stars for search results. I had one paragraph that I wanted to focus on for now:
Google has started aligning all of their applications to be more of a unified Google experience. So, don’t be surprised when we see a bunch of these smaller updates to applications. We will see little tweaks in many, so that they slowly converge. You may not even notice it happening, until you realize one day that you spend most of your time on Google applications.
Aligning the usage of stars is an excellent move, but once you look at the Google application ecosystem, there are many inconsistencies. These inconsistencies are not productivity killers, but they do make things more difficult. When you have a large suite of applications that people use every day, you can gain productivity if they follow the same tenets. So, let’s look at some of the problems we face.
First, the announcement of lists for Google Bookmarks was an interesting move. You are now able to create a list of bookmarks to share with other people. I like the idea, but Google Reader calls this a bundle. Why do we need a different term here? Also, why do we need shareable lists when we can have labels? We need lists because there is no public label in Google Bookmarks. That is definitely odd, so why not create the option to make a public label or completely replace private-only labels with public and private lists?
Now, take a look at Google Contacts. Contacts has been a work in progress for quite some time and there have been some improvements. However, Lifehacker needed to write the complete guide to fixing contacts for a reason. That post focuses on the issues with duplication of contacts, but there are other problems. Remember that cool new “lists” feature in Bookmarks? Well, Contacts has had them for a while, but calls them Groups. Contacts also misses the Labels feature which could come in handy for some people. Given that Contacts is tightly integrated with GMail, it would be more consistent to have labels work in both applications.
Google Reader and Google Buzz are very closely tied as well, but they also have some slight issues. First, the keyboard shortcuts are mostly the same, but there are a few differences. The differences are even more annoying when you include GMail keyboard shortcuts. The applications also share followers, but deals with them a little differently. In Reader, you can hide someone’s Reader shares, but Buzz does not allow that without unfollowing the person. Both applications allow you to “like” a posting, but only Reader allows you to “star” an item. Buzz does not have the concept of stars and it also does not have tags or labels. At least Reader has tags that you can edit for each item. Of course, Reader does not have labels, as they would duplicate the tag functionality. Reader does include folders which are only seen in the Google Docs applications.
Given all of these ideas, what can Google do to make our user experience better? Their user interface design is typically fairly good, but the concepts need to merge. We all know that Google is probably trying to link all of our data together on their servers, so why not have more consistent UI concepts? I propose that we move everything to labels and lists, where labels are only private and lists can be public or private. Both labels and lists should also be able to contain other labels and lists. This would give users an immense amount of flexibility to organize their data, and it would make it easier to move from one application to another. Also, having a “master list” of keyboard shortcuts would make life simpler as well. Some of the shortcuts would not make sense in the context of a different application, but then they can be ignored in that context. Lastly, put stars everywhere and link them with Bookmarks so that you can search everything. Lastly, moving to a consistent user interface is a fantastic idea and has already started.
So, what did I miss? What differences between Google applications drive you nuts?