26 May 2008

Personalized Homepages

Home pages, startpages, personalized homepages or portals are some of the terms used to describe the place you land when you open your browser. Right now my home page is the school district where I used to work. It's been two years since I retired and it's time to move on to something more useful to me now. After looking at the Webware 100, I wanted to try out iGoogle, and, I had already been exploring Pageflakes, though not as a personalized home page. So these two sites are where I began my exploration of personalized home pages.

allows users to add tabs, themes and drag-n-drop widgets to your home page. The site has a whole bank of third-party widgets or gadgets to choose from including widgets for news, tools, sports and lifestyle. Users can also add gadgets for their favorite Google products including Gmail, Picassa and YouTube.

iGoogle is very easy to setup, create tabs for multiple home pages with different themes/topics, and add, place, or move widgets on each tab and to other tabs.

Above is sample iGoogle home page. Sorry it's so tiny. You can see that this example has 3 tabs which are located below the iGoogle search box on the left. On my iGoogle I have 6 tabs: Home, News, Humor, Technology, Entertainment, and Education. Each rectangle with a blue bar across the top is a different widget. On my Home tab I have the following widgets: Twitter, FriendFeed, GMail, Weather, CNN.com, Top News Stories by Google, Interesting Photos of the Day, Current Moon Phases, Movies, Horoscope, and Fat Loss Tip. Depending on the widget it can be personalized for your location, like the Weather forecast. Twitter, FriendFeed, and GMail appear as if I had opened each app separately, but with iGoogle I can have them all available and be able to add a Tweet or answer an email. Really cool to have them all in one place.

Pageflakes is a personalized Ajax home page service with key features being customized widgets, an RSS reader and group sharing capabilities. Pageflakes allows you to customize your homepage by adding and editing flakes. You can keep your pageflake private or PageCast to the public.

Pageflakes is not quite as easy as iGoogle to set up and customize. I had to go to the help & support section to figure out how to do some things. However, basically, Pageflakes has the same functions as iGoogle. The example above has 5 tabs and flakes that look similar to iGoogles widgets.

The widgets available at iGoogle seem to be more varied, but not as customizable as the flakes within Pageflakes. In many cases I like the flakes better than the widgets. Most flakes with text, like news items or lists, allow you to select the display style (thumbnail, summary, headline only, etc.); how you can read the post (RSS feed, original site with new, current, or Pageflakes browser window); and # of posts. Also, when you pass your cursor over the displayed text, the Ajax programming kicks in and you see a summary of the event. Really, really cool. It makes it faster to decide if you want to read the entire article. iGoogle's widget customization only allows you to select the # of posts. In lieu of Ajax, iGoogle has summaries which can be opened by clicking on the + boxes in front of each post. Look closely at the iGoogle example above at the bottom of the middle column.

Pageflakes has a feature that I haven't really made use of yet, an RSS reader. The reader allows you to view all of the feeds you have selected as flakes in one place, just like my Bloglines account. I have to investigate this more to see if I can add the same feeds I follow now at Bloglines from within Pageflakes.

The other feature that I have used but not as a contributor yet, is sharing a personal homepage with others called a Pagecast. In my previous posts about Pageflakes I explored The Collaborative Web Pagecast. I haven't been able to figure out how to add applications like librarywannabe did with the Collaborative Web Pagecast. Maybe it has something to do with PageCasting. You can also meet new people through the Pageflakes community and collaborate or learn from each other.

I haven't decided which personalized homepage to use. Pageflakes is so much more that iGoogle, but I'm not sure I need all that Pageflakes offers.

(iGoogle and Pageflakes are not the only examples of personalizing home pages. Here's an article that compares 14 different personalized home page sites or this blog post by Michael Arrington, or this EduBlogger post, if you want to explore others.)

Do you use a personalized homepage? Which one? and Why?

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