In my quest for simplifying my “internet experience” I have realized that it will be a difficult process. To start, I wanted to try some of the personalized homepage services. TechCrunch has an article about the few that matter. So I decided that was a good enough place to start. I also talked about these types of services and others in a previous post on the pending content war.
My requirements are fairly basic. I wanted something that would accept any RSS feed, display weather for multiple locations and have a display of a stock portfolio. I do not own a significant amount of stocks, but I want to be able to look at prices and the overall market performance. The RSS feed question allows me to get away from the feed readers, like Bloglines and Google Reader, and incorporate them into my homepage. This just gives me one less place to go. Given the number of blogs and sites that I read through Bloglines, this is a major requirement. OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) importing is also tested in order to see if I can start using the site immediately, or is there some transition time in order to add all of my RSS feeds. They all have slightly different naming conventions, but they all put “sections” on the page, and add pages to your site. Email integration is not a requirement for me as I heavily use the GMail filters and labels. All of the sites have some level of email preview support as well. All of the sites provide pre-built themes and layouts so that the “look and feel” of the site can be heavily modified.
iGoogle uses “gadgets” for each section it places on the page. Adding an RSS feed is not readily obvious, but once you realize it is on the lower left side of the page, it is very easy. You can only configure the number of items in the feed display, and the feeds will display the entire story when selected. This is far from optimal and does not provide a great reading experience. I also could not import my feeds from an OPML file, which would save huge amounts of time in my transition. The weather gadget allows for multiple locations and has a basic display. Interestingly, it uses a Google search to display weather details for a location. The stock portfolio widget has integration with Google Finance so that you have a decent display and a wealth of stock information readily available. There is a GMail preview widget as well. I did not check for other email services as they seem to go hand-in-hand with personalized homepages, i.e. Yahoo & MyYahoo, Hotmail & MyMsn, etc.
Overall Impression: Disappointing. No RSS/OPML import is a major downside to this. The Google searching for weather details is highly annoying as well. Why not just forward to a search on weather.com?
MyYahoo uses “modules” for each section. They are probably the oldest player in the field, and the stability of the site shows its maturity. Adding an RSS feed is very easy and there are nice hover previews for each article. You can configure the number of items in the display as well as whether a short summary is display as well. Again, there did not seem to be a way to import RSS feeds using an OPML file. The tabs look more like buttons, and cause some confusion as there are other “functions” that look just like a page tab. It also would not be Yahoo without the annoying large ad on the right side of every page. For a personalized homepage, this takes up a huge amount of space. The module list does not look as extensive as Google’s and this may be due to Yahoo’s desire for you to stay within the Yahoo family. The weather module allows for multiple locations and is quite customizable. It also integrates with Yahoo Weather which is powered by weather.com. The stock portfolio support is also excellent, with details provided by Yahoo Finance. Again, I did not check for other email services, but there is a Yahoo Mail preview module available.
Overall Impression: Solid. The lack of RSS/OPML import is a major issue. The customization of the page is very stable and does not tend to hiccup at all.
Netvibes (using the Ginger release) uses “widgets” for each section. Adding an RSS feed is very easy and also provides nice hover previews. You can configure the number of items in the display and whether a short summary is shown. The RSS/OPML import ROCKS! An import from Bloglines (OPML), uses the Bloglines folders to create tabs on your site and import all of the rss feeds. This makes any transition to Netvibes almost instantaneous. There is also a “universe” and contacts that supply social networking features to your personalized experience. I cannot comment much on the “universe” as I have not played with that side of Netvibes. They also include “Activities” for you and your contacts. This looks like an entry into the lifestreaming application space. Again, I did not delve into the details on “Activities” as this was not my target usage, it is just a bonus feature. There are widgets for various social network and social media services, as well as all types of widgets. You can even add your own HTML or image as a widget. This is an extremely cool feature as it almost takes Netvibes into the site creation space. The weather widget is only OK and only allows one location. You can duplicate the widget in order to display multiple locations, but that starts to clutter the page. For the stock portfolio, there are various widgets available, but one from James Mickley provides cool functionality. In addition to the standard stock quote information, clicking a quote will expand the area and present a stock chart powered by Google Finance. There is also click-through integration with Google Finance for each stock quote. Email integration is also a bright spot for Netvibes as they provide previews for GMail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, AOL Mail, .Mac Mail and a widget for any POP3 provider.
Overall Impression: Wow. The RSS/OPML import support is fantastic and could be the killer feature. The social networking and lifestreaming additions position Netvibes very well for the future as well. The only issue is that the site does hang at times. There were not overly consistent problems, but there were some. I would also assume this could be due to the recent release of this Ginger version.
Pageflakes uses “flakes” for each section. The initial “signup wizard” gives decent suggestions on the flakes to read, but nothing out of the ordinary. There is an interesting RSS Reader view for content with a normal feed/headline view or a feed/summary view. Switching between the feeds seemed to make the read hang, so I cannot comment on its real usability. The Community link provides some minimal social functionality, but I did not use it much to comment at length. Adding an RSS feed is very easy and they also provide nice hover previews. You can configure the number of items in the display and various summary options. The RSS/OPML import from Bloglines goes into something called “bookmarked feeds”. These can be added to pages, but it is not readily obvious or intuitive. My folder structure was completely lost as well. The flake browser listed hundreds of available flakes, but did tend to have some issues. The issues were normally resolved by refreshing the page. The weather flake allows multiple locations as one display or as multiple tabs within the flake. The weather data is provided by weather.com and provides click-through integration as well. The stock profile support is just OK from the “Stock Portfolio” widget, but there is no financial site integration, only a nice quote line. There are email previews for GMail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and POP3 providers, but AOL mail is suspiciously absent.
Overall Impression: Solid. There do seem to be some performance issues here. Pageflakes does make the transition from an RSS reader fairly easy if you use the RSS Reader view, as long as the performance issues are corrected. There did not seem to be a breakout feature here either. There are some solid features, but nothing that makes you want to use Pageflakes more than other sites.
And The Winner Is…
Netvibes. For me, Netvibes was the clear choice. The import of RSS feeds, the fairly strong initial offering for social networking and social media prove that the Netvibes team is on the right path as well. Surprisingly, I would not recommend iGoogle as it seems to be trailing the other leaders. If you are a Google fanboy (or girl), then it is still a decent option, just not as good as the others.