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:
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.
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.
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: My Yahoo!
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.
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)
- To Do List
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…
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!