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Google Home Page: Now Featuring Your Pictures

Bing’s received plenty of praise for its home page that shows a different picture each day. How long until Google would copy it, some have wondered. Today, almost exactly a year since Bing launched, Google has rolled out its own feature that lets you put a picture on the Google home page.

In a blog post today, Google announced anyone can upload a picture that will be shown on the Google home page. You’ll only see your own picture, of course — everyone else will see pictures they’ve selected, if they’re using this option. You can also use pictures you’ve uploaded to Google’s Picasa photo sharing site or those within a public gallery at Picasa.

Don’t see how to add a photo yet? Then you’re like me, someone the feature hasn’t rolled out to yet. Google says this will appear for users throughout the world in the coming days. There should be a link to use it in the lower left-hand corner of the Google home page, when it has been enabled for you. It says “Change background image.”

Google Copies Bing

Back to Bing. Microsoft’s search engine launched a year ago this week, and one of the most striking things about it was that each day, Bing’s home page features a different photo. Over the past year, I’ve seen people praise this and ponder why Google doesn’t offer the same.

Of course, Google is loathe to ever do anything that seems like it is copying someone else. So, to me, today’s move allows Google to let people personalize with pictures yet claim they’re not playing “me too” against Microsoft.

Microsoft’s Bing Copied Microsoft’s Live Search

Microsoft actually offered a photo on its home page before Bing launched. The predecessor to Bing was called Live Search, and it offered a home page with a changing picture back in July 2008. It’s just that few people used Live Search. When Bing launched with great fanfare last year, many people discovered that Microsoft had a search engine for the first time and assumed that showing a picture on the home page was something new.

Microsoft Copied Ask.com

Before Bing feels too smug about Google copying it, keep in mind that among the major search engines, Ask.com was the first to offer the ability to “skin” a search engine’s home page, back in June 2007. That’s also when Ask rolled out its “3D” design, which was also copied by Microsoft and Google (see Meet The New Google Look & Its Colorful, Useful “Search Options” Column).

At the time Ask rolled out skins, it promised users could upload their own pictures. I’m not sure if they ever ultimately delivered on that promise. While they currently offer a gallery of themes, including a “My Themes” area, there seems to be no way to upload your own pictures.

And, before Ask feels too smug, Google offered its own version of skins, three months before Ask. But those themes only worked for Google’s “personalized home page” service — also known as iGoogle — rather than its regular home page.

Hey, doesn’t today’s move by Google letting people add pictures to their “regular” home page make that a personalized home page? Yes and no. The Google personalized home page remains a way to add widgets, gadgets and other features in addition to the Google search box. The regular home page, even when personalized with a picture, has no such widgets.

It’ll be interesting to see if:

  • Bing eventually offers an “upload your own picture” feature, copying Google
  • Google eventually offers a “rotate your picture” feature, effectively copying Bing

I’m betting on both to happen.

For related news, see Techmeme.

Postscript: I’ve now talked with Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience, about the new feature. She tells me that it should be rolled out to 100% of the people in the US by tomorrow and across all languages and countries by next week.

Is this just Google copying Bing?

“The real motivation for this had to do with iGoogle,” Mayer said. “Some users really prefer the classic look but want a small amount of personalization, so this is a happy medium in between.” She added, “We think it has the same type of appeal that wallpaper does on your desktop or your phone.”

Will there be the ability to rotate photos automatically, in the future?

Mayer said that this might happen, that people will be able to make a Picasa Album — a collection of photos — that will be used to rotate on their Google home page.

Postscript: See Google Home Page Automatically Changing Background Image On June 10th & Official: Google Removes Auto-Background Feature.

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