MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - Google Inc. has introduced a new option that allows visitors to personalize the search engine's bare-bones home page with information such as top news stories, movie listings and stock quotes.
The feature, announced Thursday, pushes the company a step closer to operating an Internet portal in the mold of rivals Yahoo and MSN.com.
Displaying a potpourri of information on the home page marks a significant change for Google, which has always greeted visitors with little more than a box to process a search request, along with a few tabs to navigate to other features, such as news and shopping.
The company decided to give users the option of adding more bells and whistles on the front page because it believes it developed a "critical mass" of products that present helpful information to visitors, said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer products.
Despite the shift, Google isn't trying to persuade visitors to spend more time on its Web site, Mayer said. "We are still interested in getting people off our site to the places that they want to go (online)," she said.
Web surfers who personalize Google's home page will be able to create a site that looks more like Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.com, which both have tried to build multidimensional sites, or portals, designed to give visitors everything they might need.
Both Sunnyvale-based Yahoo and Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft have spent heavily on building improved search engines to challenge Google's leadership in that specialty, hoping to tap into a rapidly growing ad market revolving around search requests.
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