Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Google Themes: Not Dynamic.

Google got a nice bit of buzz when they released their new Google home page themes, and I was an early joiner. But despite the widespread praise they received for the user-friendly act of having dynamically-updating themes, the theme I have applied is completely out of sync with the information it is supposed to be in sync with. In other words, it is not dynamic at all.

Click on the image above, my Google personalized home page, and note two things: the time of day as represented by the image "theme" (sunset) and the time according to my date and time clock widget, which is accurate. It is almost TEN O'CLOCK AT NIGHT. I have provided Google with my zip code, which will remain nameless but which is in the Central Standard Time zone.

Not true - at least not from where I sit. The sun set about two hours ago. It is very dark outside. What gives, Google?

The simplicity of the claim and tool pretty much rule out user error. But maybe it's just screwed up for my zip code, or for my time zone. That seems hard to accept - this is the company behind Google Maps, after all - surely they can corrolate my sunrise and sunset to my zip code using the their own mapping data and the METAR data every weather website accesses from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But what's the alternative?

That Google themes are not dynamic at all.

I mentioned a ways up that the sun set about two hours ago. There is a place where it is, metaphorically speaking, two hours ago: the west coast of the United States. Pacific Standard Time. Very far away from my time zone, but very convenient to Google HQ and and the backbone of the Internet. Is it possible - is it even possible... that everyone who has been praising Google Themes and verified their functionality, everyone who actually adopted and lovingly watched their local sunset or sunrise from their Google home page, lives on the West Coast?

I changed my location to "New York, New York." It is now a little past ten o'clock p.m. here in Texas; in New York, for those of you who don't have your pencils handy, that means it's after 11 p.m. The Theme, which "will dynamically change" to "match" my "local sunrise and sunset times," now shows the sun ALMOST having set. Dusk. At 11:15 p.m., it is now OFFICIALLY nighttime in New York City. After 11 p.m., folks.

Let's all take our Google-goggles off for a moment and admit to each other that this is a poor standard of performance. identifies today's sunset in NYC as 7:44 p.m. - three and a half hours after it occurred on the Google home page which "matches" New York City's conditions. Insert your own analogy regarding three and a half hour delays here, and then fire them, miss the wedding, or lose the girl.

Why hasn't anyone written about how poorly Google Themes interact dynamically with the simple data they claim to track?


angusf said...

They didn't work for me here in Australia either.

Jeremiah McNichols said...

I read somewhere (in comments to another post, not from any official Google source) that the themes "did not work" outside of the U.S. This was after several people from multiple locations outside of the U.S. had been discussing why Google Themes might not be working for them.

If the service really is tied to zip codes, I could see this as a possible hangup. But mapping the sunrise and sunset are truly about latitude and longitude - it's math. Postal codes are really just an extra step in the conversion. So if Google has programmed the ability to do this within the U.S., they should really be able to do it worldwide without any additional difficulty, which makes me wonder if this is really not an issue of inside/outside U.S. borders, but a more general bug.

Kristin said...

I find that I end up hitting refresh on my Cityscapes theme in order for the sun to be in the right position, here in Seattle. When I first open it up, it's usually night or late afternoon, and then I hit refresh, which takes it to what should be the proper place.

I just figured it would get fixed eventually...