From “” to “onmousemove=’google&&google.fade&&google.fade()’”

Google became dominant in part because of its simplicity: it does one thing very simply and very well. We all understood this principle, Google especially, and it was reflected primarily in its most public face: its basic search page at google.com.

That page, we all know, features (for the most part) just one thing to do (a search box to put terms into) and two buttons: “Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky.” There was no advertising but for a single Google logo. A few links and copyright text at the bottom, and that was it. Everyone–from business analysts to users to graphic designers to web engineers–loved this. Loves it. One box, one set of results, clear as day.

When the web was old — when the web was basic HTML, rather than what it is today — this simplicity was reflected in the code for Google’s home page. On Apr 7, 2000, for example, Google’s home page has nothing but an input box and two search buttons. View the source for the page, and the main part of the page reads:

<form action="/search" method="get" name="f">
<span style="font-family: arial,sans-serif;">
Enter your search terms...</span></form>
<input framewidth="4" name="q" size="40" type="text" value="" />
<nobr><input name="sa" type="submit" value="Google Search" /></nobr>
<input name="sa" type="submit" value="I'm Feeling Lucky" />
<span style="font-family: arial,sans-serif;">...or
<a href="http://directory.google.com/">browse web pages</a>
  by category.</span>

Anyone who knows a bit of HTML can read this: it’s a simple HTML form, and it’s almost the first thing the browser sees when it retrieves a page from google.com. that’s deliberate; it’s to provide you the search form as fast as possible, with as little material in the way as possible.

Today, I noticed that google has recently updated its simple search page, something it’s been tinkering with more and more, but which reached a new level of complexity today. Now, among the very first characters in the main page are these:

onmousemove="google&&google.fade&&google.fade()"

This is no longer standard HTML; it is a custom action built around custom objects now stored somewhere else in the page. Watch the page as it loads now and its effects are “clear” enough: the page now opens with a feint at simplicity in the form of a page with nothing but the search box and the google logo. Touch the mouse (ie, the trigger the “onmousemove” handler) and the rest of the page begins to un-fade into view.

It’s funny–whom among google’s users or customers would ask for such a thing? what it is beyond an annoyance, an inability to use certain links immediately when the page loads? A metaphor for the fate of transparency in the empire of not-evil?

To see the effect, load the home page (basic search page, not your customized “iGoogle” page) at google.com without moving your mouse after the page begins to load. now move your mouse.

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