Google homepage pic experiment killed off early

News 11 Jun, 2010

What was meant to be an advertisement for a new feature available to Google account holders has been pulled early after a string of complaints from confused users.

Google has been forced to pull the plug on an experimental new feature that added a background image to its search homepage after just 14 hours.

In an unexpected and unheralded change, Google users visiting the search engine home page were presented with a bold background photo instead of the traditional minimalist white-only look.

The move was meant to be an experiment lasting 24 hours, but proved so unpopular with confused users that Google cut it short to just 14. The term “Google background” was the seventh most searched-for term on Google's US site yesterday, with people primarily trying to find out how to turn it off.

The appearance of the photos – showcasing the work of prominent photographers including Polly Apfelbaum, Tom Otterness, Jeff Koons, Dale Chihuly – was accompanied by the introduction of a “remove background” link at the bottom left of the page, but in some cases the backgrounds themselves made it difficult to see – an unintentional endorsement of the simplicity of the original design.

While the feature has now been removed, it remains available to Google account holders – such as Gmail or Picasa users. In addition to the selection of images provided by Google, users can also upload their own backgrounds, either stored locally or via a Picasa account.

Indeed the 24-hour “experiment” was always designed simply to draw attention to this fully fledged alternative, which was introduced last week. But the fact that it was simply implemented without users' permission rather than added as a customisable feature saw Google get the kind of attention it wasn't banking on.

It appears the experiment page was supposed to contain a link explaining what was behind it, but reportedly due to a software bug this never appeared.