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Google christens its personal home page, introduces more gadget tools

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California (AP) – Already synonymous with looking things up on the Internet, Google Inc. is creating a new name for stamping a personal touch on its Web site – iGoogle.

The Mountain View-based company plans to debut the new iGoogle logo Tuesday when it will also introduce a new set of customization tools designed to encourage more people to log in to its Internet-leading search engine more frequently.

The iGoogle brand only will be visible to Web surfers who have chosen to adorn Google’s famously plain home page with an assortment of bells and whistles drawn from an assortment of more than 25,000 modules commonly known as ”gadgets.”

Users will still toggle back to the traditional Google logo surrounded by little more than a search box and a few links pointing to the site’s other features like news, video and images.

Most of the gadgets available through Google’s Web site have been contributed by computer-savvy developers.

Google hopes to make it easy for just about anyone to customize its Web site with a do-it-yourself gadget maker. Among other things, the new tool kit will allow people to create gadgets showcasing personal photos and favorite YouTube videos that can then be e-mailed to family and friends so they can be added to their gadget collections.

Since first giving users the flexibility to customize the look of its Web site pages nearly two years ago, Google has simply referred to the product as the ”personalized home” page.

The team behind the product had originally planned to call it ”iGoogle” only to be vetoed at the last minute by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, said Marissa Mayer, the company’s vice president of search products and user experience.

The project’s secret name has always been evident in the ”ig” shorthand that appeared within the Web address of the personal pages, although no one knew the meaning of those two letters until now.

The immense popularity of Google’s personal page evidently helped persuade Brin and Page that it was time to give the product a popular name.

Google says ”tens of millions” of users already have created personal pages, but the company won’t provide further specifics. Mayer said it was Google’s fastest growing product last year, outstripping the growth rate of other popular features like maps and e-mail.

Hoping to stimulate more growth this year, Google is offering the personalization option in 18 more countries, up from 22 previously.

Getting more people to log in to the site is important to Google because it allows the company to log more data that helps its algorithms better understand the nuances underlying many search requests that could have multiple meanings.

With more knowledge about a person, Google theoretically will be able to deliver more relevant search results and also select ads that are more likely to induce the revenue-generating clicks that generate most of its profit.

With a personal login, ”the search engine is your friend and starts to know something about you” Mayer said during a Monday briefing with reporters.

The massive amount of information that Google has been compiling about its users has repeatedly raised concerns among privacy advocates worried about possible abuses, either by the company or government agencies who try to obtain court subpoenas to pore through the data. Some of those privacy concerns also are fueling opposition to Google’s planned $3.1 billion (euro2.28 billion) acquisition of online distributor DoubleClick Inc.

But the worries apparently are not discouraging Web surfers from coming to Google. In March, Google for the first time surpassed Microsoft Corp. as the world’s most trafficked Web property, according to comScore Media Metrix. Google’s site, including recently acquired video-sharing pioneer YouTube Inc., attracted 528 million visitors worldwide compared with 527 million for Microsoft.

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