If you use as many of Google’s services as I do on a regular basis it’s hard to miss how busy they’ve been making changes. From changing the Android Market to Google Play, discontinuing iGoogle, cutting off the Feedburner API, introducing a new “Compose” template for Gmail, and making contextual ads cross platform, they seem to be giving their entire catalog an overhaul. (I’m sure I’m missing some things, but these are some examples.)

Gmail’s New “Compose” Look

I gave the new Compose feature in Gmail a try, and while I could appreciate the minimalist design it was lacking the controls for changing font size and face, bold/italic, etc. If there was a way to toggle this, it wasn’t clear to me. If Google’s past changes have been an indicator (making substantial interface changes to Analytics optional at first, then the default), we’ll soon be forced to use this feature whether we like it or not.

The People Widget and Pictures

One other recent example of their “take it or leave it” attitude that irked me a little is addressing the “recent pictures” aspect of Gmail. If you’ve recently sent pictures back and forth to an email contact, next time you open an email from them it’ll display those recent pictures on the sidebar. This is cool if you need a reminder, but if you sent business related (read: somewhat confidential) materials this can be a nuisance. Is there a simple way to click on it and select “Don’t show this picture anymore”? Nope.

When I did some searching on that, Google’s answer for now seems to simply be “Disable the People widget.” This has not been satisfactory to the collection of askers, as no one wants to shut down an entire aspect of Gmail altogether to disable one image. Did you also know that permanently deleting the emails in which said image was sent does not remove it from the People widget?

A Changing Climate

As a friend pointed out to me in a recent discussion on some of this, changes of this nature are common for big companies as they “grow up”. The focus tends to be less and less on the user/consumer and more on generating quarterly profits, which probably explains the discontinuing of certain services and changes to others. Google has given a lot of great software away for free over the years, and maybe their charts in a recent Monday morning meeting showed that certain free services aren’t benefiting the company.

Still, it’s a shame for a company that got huge by putting their users first. I’m not advocating an anti-Google stance, nor am I planning to abandon using their various services, but there is a pattern emerging nonetheless that’s enough to make even die hard Google users take pause. As my friend said, it might be that the “golden age” of Google is over.