people have been arguing lately that homepages are going the way of the dodo; in today’s world of tabbed browsers and social desktop apps (e.g. TweetDeck, Windows Live Messenger etc.) no-one “starts” their browsing experience from a particular page. Well, I would argue that it is more necessary than ever to make your first destination on the web something that will keep you connected to all the journeys you might be taking.
Search Engines – These used to be a good choice for a home page. Google offers a nice simple, quick page and Bing gives you a bit of colour to start you off with a great bit of photography. However, nowadays all web browsers have search bars built in so it makes this contender a bit redundant
Browser Default – This is how I normally feel when I see someone using the default homepage that came with their browser. Apart from the fact that it is usually just a giant subliminal advert for the company that made it, I wonder how a person can be happy by leaving things as somebody else deems fit. I get the same reaction when I see people with the standard desktop wallpapers too. My wife, however, uses IE8 and is more than happy to have the UK MSN page as her default, she likes the showbiz news and quick view to her hotmail account (I’ll deal with her later).
Non-web pages – By this I mean things like about: blank or or the “new tab” page for your browser. These are great because they are fast to load and normally give you access to frequently visited pages or other features of the browser. The whole point of using these as your homepage would be that you are always going to have a different task at hand when going online, and you want to get there as quickly as possible. If that’s your bag then fine but it’s a bit too dull, disconnected and un-customizable for me.
Windows Live Home – home.live.com was recently upgraded in wave 4, this page gives you a great view of your social network. I really like the simple look of it and how it connects to all your web activities but every so often it goes through an awfully slow login process, redirecting you all of the place before you get to your content. I thought this would have changed in Windows 7 as you can link your Windows Live ID to a user account but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It also takes up to much space with the social stream and ads.
iGoogle – This was my start page of choice for a long time. It’s like the web portals of old but configurable to give you the bits of the web you want. I started of with start.com. This was Microsoft’s own widget-based start page. It worked quite well but never really took off. If you visit it now you get redirected to Bing. iGoogle is cool because there are just so many widgets available for it. It was especially good for me because I use Gmail, Google Reader, Google calendar and most of there other web apps. However, as time went on it started to become a bit dull. The themes were too basic, there was loads of wasted space with a redundant search bar and Google links. It all felt a bit too corporate. I’m not saying Google is Evil but I didn’t want them to be the centre of my world.
A few days ago, I decided to go off in search of a new home page. I wanted something that would connect my social activities like facebook & twitter, display all my news feeds via RSS and be easy on the eye too. I found Netvibes.
Founded in 2005, Netvibes pioneered the first personalized dashboard publishing platform for the Web. For consumers, Netvibes.com is the most awarded startpage where millions of people around the world personalize and publish all aspects of their daily digital lives. (source)
- It’s free and uses an open widget platform
- There were widgets available for Gmail & Google calendar.
- I could have different tabs for different subjects. I could even have completely separate dashboards or add a publicly created one.
- There were also some great Twitter & Facebook widgets. In fact, you can drag hash tags from the twitter widget to create new independent twitter search widgets, really useful if you are watching a topic.
- The themes that you can use look really good and are highly customisable if you want to change anything or create your own.
- I could get rid of the search box and reclaim some desktop space!
Where I thought the migration would fail was Google Reader. On iGoogle the Reader gadget worked really nicely. I’d get all the latest headlines from various RSS feeds delivered to a little box on my homepage, I could view the content without leaving the site or dive into the full Reader if I had loads of news to catch up on. The trouble was Netvibes doesn’t have a Google Reader widget. I tried Chris Kasten’s solution (using an web page widget to use Reader’s iPhone page) but that seems to have stopped working. I looked on the Reader site and noticed you could export you feeds as an OPML file. Netvibes allow you to import this and cleverly creates a new tab for each of your Google Reader categories. At first, I wasn’t very happy because because it wasn’t the same as GReader. I was trying to make a G-shaped peg into a cross-shaped hole. I started to customize each feed with the plethora of view options and came up with something a lot more useful. At the very top of the Netvibes page there is a button to switch to reading view that gives you the feeds in a typical reading format for when I need to scan over things I may have missed. This was more than enough to sell me on Netvibes. My only minor niggle is that it shows you the feeds for everything so, for example, it is always saying I have > 100 unread feeds because I have the BBC news feed on my first tab. I’m never going to want to go through them. I’d love the option to turn off certain tabs from the reader view. Maybe that option will come in the future.
The above set up works great for me but that is just one way of using it. I highly recommend a trawl through Netvibes’ Inspiration pages to see what can be done.
P.S. This is my first proper post using the new wave 4 versionof Windows Live Writer. Looks loads cleaner but no new functionality. Missing features like live previews of effects that people have got used to in Office