Monday, May 01, 2006

The rebirth of the personalized homepage



Back in the early days of the web, there was a huge amount of attention given to what users had set as their browser homepage and a whole lot of money spent by ISPs trying to design portals to this end (which would invariably be set as customers' homepage by default - the challenge was persuading them not to change them).

In recent years, the homepage seems to have become less of a battleground, with the majority of web companies accepting the preeminence of Google and instead turning their attention to securing a high ranking in the search giant's results (most notable exceptions: MSN, Yahoo! and AOL).

One off-shoot of the battle for users' homepages was the evolution of the personalised homepage, which enabled users to build their own homepage from pre-determined building blocks. The addition of the personal pronoun to an established brand quickly established itself as the naming convention for these services (e.g. 'my BBC', 'My Yahoo!'). Unfortunately, the dial-up, predominantly HTML web of the mid-90s wasn't terribly well equipped for such services which tended to be slow, unreliable and unlikely to work across different browsers.

However times have changed and the personalised homepage is experiencing something of a renaissance. Instrumental in this process is the explosion in broadband take-up and the advent of Web 2.0 technologies. Decent connection speeds and the application of AJAX makes building personalised homepages on the fly a pleasure rather than a chore and the proliferation of APIs and RSS feeds is opening up the number of potential building blocks for these services.

Alongside offerings from the major players (Google's IG / Personlized Homepage, Microsoft's live.com and start.com, and a revitalised My Yahoo!) are a host of smaller start-ups. Below is a list of my current top ten. Marginally ahead of the pack at the moment is netvibes, by virtue of its ease of use and range of widgets. On top of the usual selection (weather, news, search and email) is integration with some of Web 2.0's poster boys (Flickr, Writely and del.icio.us) and a rather splendid tie up with Box.net which provides all users with 1Gb of online storage. Nice.

Alot of the below services are pretty similar and it will be interesting to see how many of them stand the test of time. That said, there's already more on the way: see Zimbio (ne. Zoozio) and wrickr. I'm personally hoping for a homepage which requires less active setup and maintenance - maybe a Firefox plug-in which tracks your surfing and builds a page accordingly, factoring in the browsing habits of your friends and likeminded individuals.

Of course, there is a downside to the development of these new services, the resurrection of that most hideous of lingusitic conflations: 'webtop'. A small price to pay I suppose...

Top 10 personalised homepage services:

1. netvibes (simple drag and drop interface and great selection of widgets)
2. Pageflakes (clean interface and wide range of widgets. a bit buggy)
3. Protopage (simple, Dashboard-style interface but limited integration with other web apps)
4. goowy (Flash rather than AJAX and more of a desktop than a homepage)
5. Favoor (clean interface but limited functionality/widgets)
6. eskobo (good for managing feeds but limited selection of widgets)
7. LinkedFeed (interesting social dimension but let down by French-bias e.g. TV listings)
8. HomePortals (unfriendly user interface)
9. ItsAStart (messy interface, limited selection of widgets)
10. MyHommy (incomplete english language version)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

may I ask what bugs you discovered when using Pageflakes? Please contact me at ole@pageflakes.com

Thanks
Ole Brandenburg

Anonymous said...

I was wondering why you said Pageflakes is buggy. I tried using Netvibes for 3 mins, got the "Lost & Found" tab which recovered some of my modules which were lost. Then there were some continuous javascript error. Soon RSS Viewer stopped working. On the otherhand, in Pageflakes, after 10 mins of use, I only saw one white box behind the module with some exception trace. But never seen it later on.

Netvibes is good for text like interface lovers. But Pageflakes makes a better combination of text and graphics on their UI. Also, a lot of module to use. I never got fed up using it! The Web Browser module was really something.

Others on your list are nothing when compared to these two.

Thanks for the insightful article.

Dan Taylor said...

The problems I had with Pageflakes were in Firefox (e.g. the Flickr photos and Pageflakes Team Blog didn't load up and other elements failed to refresh properly). I've just tried it in IE and it worked fine. Just waiting to hear back from Ole at Pageflakes re. whether there are known issues with Firefox. I guess all of these services are still in Beta and so a few bugs is unsurprising.

Anonymous said...

I was reviewing the list of homepages, last night I came across www.yoosi.com - it looks like another Home Page has join the party!!!

James Whitmarsh said...

I really like Netvibes - thank you for the introduction. It crashed Safari once at the beginning but has been stable since. I used to love MyBBC (or whatever it was called) - I'm sure that was closed too early...

james