A war of personalization

A while ago I read Garret Rogers' post The personalization war, which in part inspired me to write this introduction to different personalized start pages. So what are those, really? The main purpose of such a start page is for you to get a good and easy overview of a lot of things, including the feeds you follow. Different services also offer different gadgets that you can use, such as seeing your e-mail inbox. Naturally, one of the most useful parts of this is that you have access to the same start view and information wherever you are and whatever computer you are using. The ones I've tested are:
Google Personalized Home
A picture of Google Personalized Home
Netvibes
A picture of Netvibes
Live/Start
A picture of Live
My Yahoo!
A picture of My Yahoo!
Most of them are, of course (sigh...), in a beta state, so I haven't really taken that into my observations. I've tested them in different categories, and I name a winner for each and finally, a total winner. Live/Start is developed by Microsoft, but I'm not sure if Start will still be around and if they're putting all their energy into Live now. Both are pretty much the same service right now, though.

Design

Google Personalized Home's service looks pretty much like all of the other Google services, as opposed to Netvibes and Live/Start who have got very lean interfaces. Netvibes has also got a nice distinct background and borders around its parts to easier tell them apart. My Yahoo! offers a lot of themes, and each and every one of them almost makes me barf. Winner: It's a tie between Netvibes and Live/Start.

Usability

All of them, except My Yahoo!, rely heavily on an AJAX approach with drag and drop to position your different parts wherever you feel like. Netvibes and Live/Start also offers the possibility to expand and collapse different parts, where Netvibes also has links for expanding/collapsing all parts. Netvibes is the only one showing you a number of unread posts for each of your feeds. Google Personalized Home and My Yahoo! only present direct links to the posts in your feeds, whereas Netvibes and Live/Start present the text for each feed when a link is clicked, together with the other posts for the same feed, and there you can choose to expand or collapse the text for all of the feed's posts. Netvibes and Live overlays a "page/window/layer (yeah, I'm sorry for that word :-))" that fills the entire web browser window when the links are clicked, as opposed to Start that just opens a small one. Start's behavior is definitely the one of these I prefer. Live/Start also offers small arrows after each post in a feed which is a direct link to the post in question. This would have been great, if they haven't added the functionality to these links to automatically open a new window. Extremely annoying. This is 2006, ok? People want to choose themselves if they want to open a link in the same window, a new window or a new tab; don't force a behavior on users. And if you're so worried most users won't get, just offer this as a setting then. I wish Netvibes would also have these arrow links, but naturally not with the behavior mentioned above that Live/Start have. In the overlay that is opened up, Netvibes' also dreadfully opens new windows when each direct link to another web page is clicked. Stop it! Now! Settings-wise, Live/Start is the winner with offering you how many columns you want to use, from one up to four columns. My Yahoo! is the only other service offering this, with the choice of two or three columns. My wish is that all of them should really offer a way to see the text for each feed post in the same view when it's clicked, and also to expand or collapse all posts for a certain feed or the entire web page. I also wish Netvibes would add a way to mark all posts for all feeds read. Another thing that blows my top is that the sign in-link on Live for a long time didn't work in Firefox. Then they fixed it, but apparently added some new update, so now it's broken again. It's just a link, dammit, how hard can it be? And the number of dead links and things of inconsistency one stumbles on while using My Yahoo! are too numerous to mention. If it hadn't been for Live/Start forcing me to use a Microsoft Passport account, I would've declared a tie between Live/Start (because of being able to choose what number of columns to have, and Start also for its nice reading window) and Netvibes (for its unread items feature). However, because of that, it tripped Live/Start at the finishing line. Winner: Netvibes.

Accessibility

I turned off JavaScript, and not surprisingly, none of them had a full proper fallback. Netvibes and Live/Start didn't even render any content nor give me a message saying that I had to have JavaScript enabled. Most of the links didn't work either for Live/Start when tabbing to them and then pressing Enter. Google Personalized Home rendered the content fine but told me that I had to have JavaScript enabled, and has a text saying that it now works on mobile devices (I haven't verified this). My Yahoo! kind of worked without JavaScript except for some parts. Winner: My Yahoo!

Importing/exporting OPML

The most efficient way to use your feeds in different services is to have them categorized in an OPML file and then just import them. Netvibes and Live/Start offer importing as well as exporting of OPML files, although, for some, reason, Netvibes didn't work correctly with my OPML file that seems to work fine for all the other services on the web. The problem was that I could indeed import the feeds but then the grouping went wrong so I could never see the content of any feed or add it to my page. Google Personalized Home and My Yahoo don't offer neither of these, which, to me, is shocking. Winner: Live/Start, for working flawlessly with feeds.

Gadgetry

Google Personalized Home offers you seeing your GMail inbox (surprise), My Yahoo! offers you to see your Yahoo! Mail (another shocker) and Live offers you to see your Hotmail (yeah, I'm trembling with excitement now...). However, Live also has a number of other gadgets for you to use, where Netvibes seems to have the best ones. Netvibes have, amongst others:
  • Mail (GMail, Yahoo! Mail or any other POP mail you want to add)
  • Webnote
  • To Do List
  • Delicious
Winner: Netvibes.

Code quality

All of them have validation errors, but Netvibes seemed to be the only one that didn't have well-formedness errors or invalid elements. Google Personalized Home and My Yahoo! didn't even have a doctype. Semantically, they were all pretty poor... Winner: Netvibes.

The winner is...

If you've mustered enough strength to read this far, you have probably guessed that it is: Netvibes. Overall, they offer the most stable, reliable, usable and customizable service. While it's far from perfect, it's definitely my pick of the pack. Are you using any of these, or some other personalized start page service? Let me know!

 

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Posted in Google,Reviews/tests,Technology |

18 Comments

  • Wow, Robert, thank you for that very interesting review! I haven't tried out the Microsoft and the Yahoo! stuff yet, but there's a tiny little thing that stops me from switching from Google Personalized to Netvibes: Can I somehow tell Netvibes that it should also show me read e-mail messages? Like it's with Google, that would be nice (apparently, I'm using Gmail).

  • trovster says:

    Nice little round up. I've been using the Google one at home and work for a while now. It's plain but it gets the job done.

    I also tried out Start, which looks a lot nicer, didn't have the integration with gmail. However, saying that I don't know whether I actually need that, coz I always have gmail open and then desktop notifier too!

    There were two major put-offs with Start. First of all the major factor of not highlighting visited-links. Seriously, with a large set of links this is invaluable. Secondly, the fact it opened links within the site, the formatting was hellish and I'd prefer the original.

    I have not used the Yahoo! one, and from that little screenshot, I'll probably avoid it. It looks very early 90s to me.

    As for Netvibes. I've tried it, it looks nice, has some nice features. But the simplicity of Google just kept me there. I'm also a little anxious about it reading my emails.

  • Solon says:

    They all seem a little too visually convoluted for my taste. Netvibes does look better, though, and the gadgets make it the winner for me.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    SilentWarrior,

    Thank you! I tried GMail together with Netvibes, and the only thing it seems to do is show you unread messages.

    trovster,

    Thanks! Start does change the color of visited links through CSS, but that doesn't help the slightest if you use different computers.

    I love that Google opens the links directly to the web site in question, but on the other hand, I really want to be able to at least read the first paragraph of the post before going to the web site. Very rarely the title of the post is sufficient to tell if it's readworthy or not (except for my posts, of course, who are all very readworthy… ;-)).

    I'd advise you to try Netvibes out, you might like it!

    Solon,

    Well, try it and let me know if you think I tricked you into it! :-)

  • Hmmm… all I see in Safari for Netvibes is a cross-hatched background and 'Loading…' but it never completes?

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Steve,

    I'm sorry to hear that. Please send your feedback to feedback@netvibes.com.

  • [...] you to go check it out!   Related reading Newsvine – what is it good for? A war of personalization Online feed readers reviewed
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  • Tjeerd says:

    Netvibes. I came to the same conclusion looking at all those pages.

    :)

  • trovster says:

    I know swear by Netvibes. It's just perfect. It's reading two gmail accounts, and has loads of other feeds including Flickr, which is nice. I can't wait for the paging feature, so I can add a load more and group them for things like tech, personal and web development… I can't wait!

  • Robert Nyman says:

    trovster,

    Yes, it's very nice. One thing I really miss though is to mark <code>all</code> feeds as read.

  • mcubed says:

    Thank you for your informative and thoughtful review. You only have about 24 more such services to go before you approach critical mass. Of course, unless you're really fast, by the time you get through there will be a dozen more. :-)

    I'm afraid I'm still sticking with tried 'n' true Google, despite your convincing case for Netvibes. Mainly it's because my needs are simple and Google meets them. But I also wonder how many of these services will be around in a year or two. Also, I just don't put very much weight on how well start pages like this handle RSS. Once you get past a certain number of feeds you really need a dedicated reader anyway. I have just three RSS feeds on my Google start page, just those I want to keep a fairly close eye on. I could just as easily use FF's live bookmarks for this, but keeping them on Google reduces the clutter.

    But I certainly will keep an open mind and am rooting for Netvibes and some of the others like Pageflakes, Homeportal, etc., to stick it out and improve. I hope you'll continue to cover this corner of Web 2.0 because you did a great job.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    mcubed,

    Thank you very much! :-)

    I understand where you're coming from then. To me, following RSS feeds are vital, hence my focus and need for it. And yes, it will definitely be interesting to see which services that will make it.

  • Pete says:

    Netvibes is great, and I use it at home, however in the very "locked down" environment that we have in our office (like a lot of big corporate enterprises) our systems have limited functionality, particularly IE. Of course at work all I get is the "loading"screen with the cross-hatched background :(

    I'd also like some tools to change the look and feel of Netvibes – colour schemes, fonts and so on…

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Pete,

    I understand the problem. My take is that it should work without JavaScript as well, and that there should be a button for manually refreshing the feeds.

  • All this talk about ajax personal portals, and web2.0 services made me think what about busines portals?

    I know there are enterprise slutions, not web 2.0 though?

    My devlopment team and I have undertaken a project to fill this gap,,its personal portals devloped with security for the business in mind – http://www.ovosuite.com.

    We are still in private beta but will have a public beta on the 12th June.

    It will be intersting to see how this is acceppted by the community, as many people may think its just another portal, but from what ive seen no-one is delivering what we are..?

  • [...] java, eclipse, tablet pc, formula one, xbox gaming… ] (tags: personalizedblog) Robert’s talk » A war of personalization Published on Thursday, January 19th, [...]

  • Javer says:

    Make Your Own Personal Website Webnavigo

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