When Google's famously Spartan search page gained a series of photographic backgrounds on Thursday, it did not go over well with users. It didn't take long for the search giant to return to its classic look.
The featured photos were intended to kick off Google's new background customization functionality, which the company announced last week. On Wednesday evening, Google said in a blog post that the photos would be featured on its homepage over the next 24 hours -- a temporary celebration. It turned out to be much more temporary than that.
In an update to that blog, Google said this morning that it had planned to run an explanation of the temporary change as a link on its homepage. But "due to a bug, the explanatory link did not appear for most users," wrote Marissa Mayer, VP of search products and user experience. "As a result, many people thought we had permanently changed our homepage, so we decided to stop today's series early. We appreciate your feedback and patience as we experiment and iterate."
Users can still change the background using a link on the lower lefthand corner of the screen that reads, "Change background image." But judging by the widespread reaction Thursday, few will want to use the feature that makes Google look an awful lot like Bing.
Blogs explaining how to remove the background image using a workaround began popping up shortly after Twitter caught fire with complaints. And the search term "remove google background" has appeared among the top 10 searches on Google Trends for most of the day.
Meanwhile, the Google help forums erupted with pleas for a return to the white background -- and seething comments. Apparently people don't like drastic visual change when it comes to their search engines. As user Clem Snide posted, "I agree with the sentiment here ... plain white works best. ... What with all the fancy fading in of text and background pictures, Google is getting more bloated every day; perhaps it's time to try Bing."
It's safe to say that a photographic background will not become the default for the Google homepage anytime soon. But by playing up the new functionality -- and messing that up, to boot -- Google has helped draw attention to the "Bing-ness" of a photographic background, and has painted itself as a bit of a copycat. That's an odd position for the dominant search engine.
When Google announced the feature, Microsoft didn't comment officially. But as noted by the Telegraph, Microsoft employees had plenty to say about it. "Imitation, however pale, is the sincerest form of flattery," tweeted Ashley Highfield, managing director of Microsoft's consumer division. "A certain search engine has put up the same picture of tulip fields used on Bing long ago."
"How intriguing to see friends at Google borrowing the Bing homepage photography idea," added Peter Bale, executive producer of the MSN UK network, in another Twitter post.The botched background experiment is unlikely to have any real effect on Google's massive lead in the search game, but it does reflect some questionable judgment and sloppy Q&A.