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I have an iGoogle page with a number (25 at the moment) of selected RSS feeds in boxes (but no hamster gadget). Several of these are news feeds (general news, NY Times, BBC, Al Jazeera), some are tech (slashdot...), others are just interesting stuff (metafilter...). I guess this is customization (as opposed to personalization) and it works for me.
I used to have Google News open more or less permanently in a tab, but since their new look this summer, it has become less than useful for me and I don't think I've looked at it more than twice since they changed it (once was just now to see if it had become any better). I suspect this was personalization. (Well and twittization with the "popular" cruft and adization with the "spotlight" cruft.) To echo that New Yorker cartoon - "I say it's spinach and I say to hell with it."
The hyperinflation certainly pushed things along, but I suspect that it helps to look at things as being a long war starting essentially with Napoleon, with smaller and larger shooting wars more or less interrupting a long period of arms building, Germany was falling apart by the end of the the first world war and the Versailles treaty didn't help, but I find it hard to see it as being the the most important factor. But I'm not a historian by any means, just someone who finds that flow of events interesting.
What other alternatives exist for users who aren't satisfied with the new design?"
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If you read very much about German preparations for the war (which they seem to have been working towards, though not in quite the same brutal way as the Nazis did a couple decades later) and the way that they (certainly Wilhelm and probably Moltke with Krupp stage managing more than a bit) managed the first few months of it, you may think differently.
This is one of those things that many don't seem to realize. A book (or movie or whatever) may be great without you actually liking it. You see this in reviews all the time : "Worst movie evar! I was bored all the way through it." Reviews like these conflate the writers opinion with some kind of consensus opinion that has formed over time and usually built from thoughtful consideration of the subject. We all do it to some extent, but with time and education (good self education counts), we can separate out our personal reaction from a considered critical reaction.
For example, I quite like the movie "Jumping Jack Flash". But I also know that it is far from being a great film. On the other hand, "Rashomon" is a very very good film indeed, but I find it difficult to watch and don't like it all that much, though I can appreciate why it is considered great.
Be nicer to have them in a well designed xml markup (I know, I know...) with support for real semantic markup (this term gets indexed, this one goes in the glossary, this refers to court decision X, this sentence refers to this marker in document Z) and a toolset to produce PDF, HTML and other formats as required. Support for reader generated annotations could also be useful.