Three Real Examples Google’s Taxonomy And Information Architecture Are Fundamentally Broken

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Most people who have been consistently exposed to Google’s services like Google Plus, YouTube and particularly Google Hangouts/Meet/Chat, probably feel that the way these products were architected from the user experience standpoint is not the best one.

I started paying attention to this more closely when Google integrated profile management of services like YouTube with Google Plus. I clearly remember my struggle with changing YouTube username (vanity URL). All of a sudden, instead of doing it within the YouTube environment, Google would take me to Google Plus where I would continue to get lost and confused beyond belief without any success.

With YouTube, there was a period of about 2–3 months a couple of years ago when Google was changing the taxonomy of account management and the user video library almost every single week. Every time I’d launch the app or web version, I’d either not be able to find My Videos or would have hard time changing certain settings at the account level because I couldn’t figure out where was what and more importantly what was what. Luckily, it has stopped but I cannot imagine any good reason for why all this mess was happening in the first place.

And now we come to the Google’s deepest hole of the taxonomy and information architecture spiral — “the whole Hangout thing”. I specifically call it that because, honestly, there’s no better phrase for me to sum it up.

Google launched Hangouts several years ago as the consumer version of audio and video communication. The product was very bad from the start. Often it didn’t even work. There were times when I was testing it with my friends — I’d be calling them while they were logged into Hangouts but they would not see a call. Instead, they would get an email saying that somebody was calling them. They would click the link in the email, land on the Hangouts home page but there would still be no evidence of any call.

Fast forward several years, Google introduced Google (Hangouts) Meet service to business customers (Google Apps users). Quality wise, it’s actually a really good product but taxonomy and information architecture issues still exist and seem to actually snowball with time. We’ll get to that in a second.

Google also has their chat service that is present in the consumer and business versions of the Hangouts but it didn’t come without problems either. I have a friend who works at a Fortune 500 company that recently moved to Google Apps. He says that something weird is happening with the chat. Based on the reply he got from the company’s tech support, it sounds like there is a “classic Hangout chat” and the “new chat” to which the company is (presumably) upgrading soon. His problem was that if you created a group message (room) in the classic hangout chat version, the new chat will not show it. Only direct messages appear in both versions. He says that in the Gmail environment (where chat windows pop up in the bottom right corner) he can see both, direct messages and group ones but if he goes to chat.google.com or tries to use the official chat app, it would only show him direct messages and not rooms. Presumably, it depends on which chat version the group message originated from, or something like this. Honestly, I don’t even know what this all means but what I do know is that it takes effort to mess things up like that because this didn’t just happen due to occasionally bad design. It does seem like somebody intentionally architected it this way to a point where nothing makes sense anymore but for some reason this seemed (and continues to seem) normal and acceptable to that person in charge as well as their team.

And lastly, Google has to simplify the naming of their services, and “the whole Hangout thing” can be a good (and urgent) use case for this. Right now it’s an absolute mess. They call things interchangeably between Hangouts, Hangouts Meet, just Meet, Hangout Chat, just Chat, classic Hangout, new Hangout, etc… I mean, OH! MY! GOOGLE!

Why can’t we just have 1) Google Hangouts as a consumer version of video/audio conferencing, 2) Google Meet as the business version of it, and 3) Google Chat as a universal chat service across both? I mean is it really that hard to figure all this out?

I do hope that at some point common sense will prevail at Google and they will be able to fix this. Otherwise, we’ll eventually have a major Google Hangover.

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