Web 2.0 Start Pages: Where to invest your energy?

Here is a classic, Web 2.0 conundrum: which of the three most popular start pages should you invest significant time, energy and effort within?

Besides the usual Google, Yahoo, AOL and others,  there are — in my opinion the top choices — the new Web 2.0-ish ones like yourminis, Netvibes and Pageflakes. Directionally, these three are embracing the drag-n-drop, turn-a-module-into-a-widget for publishing anywhere on the Web and artfully allowing each of us to build our own ‘dashboard’ to aggregate and access all of our favorite Web stuff.

The kicker is that each one of them, regardless of how easy they are to use, require a fair amount of time to mold, shape, customize and play with in order to get ’em just right. I like what each of them are delivering A LOT and find the promise of an aggregated start page compelling.

What is even MORE compelling is the direction each is taking through the enabling tools and methods they’re giving us to mashup or remix the Web. Pete Cashmore says it best in this post:

Widget Disruption – Two pieces of news make me think that the widget world is headed for major disruption in the coming weeks. First up, Netvibes plans to catch up with PageflakesYourMinis by making its widgets available to post on MySpace, hi5, Piczo, blogs and other sites. Netvibes is also set to launch a Universal Widget API, allowing widgets to share data back and forth and synchronize among themselves. Look out for the hotly-anticipated Netvibes social network to launch in April.

I still shudder to think about latency when pages have dozens of widgets on them and we all sit around drumming our fingers on our desks waiting for it to parse and load…but I’m loving the ability to assemble pieces-n-parts of my stuff on the Web into a new whole.

Are these start pages scalable and worth our effort? Are they similar to what big companies deliver inside their organizations? Pete’s one sentence about Netvibes is an interesting one to consider when thinking about start pages and which one to pick “…allowing widgets to share data back and forth and synchronize among themselves.”

One Holy Grail of enterprise software mashups (though they certainly have never been called that) is the portal. IBM has Websphere portal; Vignette, Plumtree (now BEA) and others offer their own; and these enterprise-class vendors have ensured their offerings are Java Portlet Specification (JSR) compliant so each could consume and deliver portlets built to access a company’s internal data systems. The goal was to enable an enterprise organization to have one, comprehensive and unique window into all or most of an organization’s data. Portals are role based so when someone signs in to their portal, only the portlets and data inside that they are authorized to see appear.

The JSR168 spec included the capability for “inter-portlet communication” so something that happened inside one portlet in a dashboard could affect data in another one. Though this direction moved forward at the enterprise level, the explosion of mashup capability at the Web 2.0 level — and ways to do some of the same stuff cheaply, quickly, easily and in a much more pleasing interface — have proliferated.

I’m not comparing these consumer-centric portals with enterprise portals…exactly….but many of the lessons being learned on the Web translate to the enterprise and I’m certain are informing the direction of major software vendors. This “inter-widget” communication is ALSO a big deal but I’ll reserve judgement on its efficacy until I see it roll out. Does this mean that Netvibes is the most strategic start page application and should be your choice since they’re most likely to get traction at consumer and business levels?

Whoa! Slow down there Stevie…

Like anything on the Web right now, it’s really early and a choice would depend on your individual needs and which one of these you like best. For me, I’m reluctant right now to invest too much energy into one single choice so I’m playing with all three (and several others) in order to keep track of where they’re headed. In addition, I’m staying abreast of the enterprise space in order to see how major enterprise software vendors are reacting to Web 2.0 and these sorts of offerings.

When I consider choosing *any* Web application, I consider tactical needs right now as well as strategic ones and perform a back-of-the-envelope analysis of the amount of effort and the potential payback of a time, energy and effort investment.

Some of my needs today include my own, personal workspaces and what I need to keep track of and interact with whenever I’m online. The other is what I recommend clients do that meet their needs. The third is almost like a horse race: getting enough information or seeing strong trends that will make me take out my metaphorical wallet and place my energy, effort and time cash on one of these start page vendors.

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2 Comments

  1. alex on February 13, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    Steve,

    Interesting post. I actually just sent you an email on a big release we have coming over the next few weeks. The release will include an updated look and feel for the yourminis site, new individual widgets pages, public APIs and in the near future support for desktop widget on the Apollo platform.

    In essence you will be able to use our widgets as building blocks for public or private pages, as bling for your blog / myspace, etc and as your desktop widgets.

    In addition further out we will look to expose the widgets on mobile devices leveraging Flash Lite. Flash as a platform enables us to deliver a greater level of portability and you will see some really exciting things coming from yourminis in 2007.

    Thanks for your support!

    Alex
    http://www.yourminis.com



  2. Neil Williams on May 30, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    You might also be interested in a brand new start page available called Funky Homepage (http://www.FunkyHomepage.com). It’s comprised mainly of Google gadgets (as well as Gadgets from other sources), live news feeds (with your choice of news provider), daily Bushisms, daily jokes, horoscopes, videos, weather (up to 5 locations), interactive calendar, Google calendar viewer (for up to 5 Google calendars), comic strips and lots more besides. It also lets you choose your own search engine, colour scheme, etc.

    Unlike many of the other personalised start pages available, there’s no need to create an account and it’s all already set up for you, with the most popular gadgets organised by category and sub-category. So there’s virtually no setting-up work required by the user, making it ideal for the mainstream audience and those (like me) who can’t be bothered to do all the work of setting up their own page. More adventurous (and less lazy) users can choose to add their own Google gadgets and RSS feeds, but most people just use the gadgets and tools provided.

    Unlike Netvibes, PageFlakes and all the other AJAX powered home pages, Funky Homepage does not use a drag and drop interface. Instead it allows you to select from a drop-down list of the most “popular” gadgets and feeds – “popular” according to the Google gadgets most popular list, that is. As such, it’s not really intended to compete with the flexibility of Netvibes and PageFlakes, but instead is intended to address a gap in the market for those who want something a bit more funky than Google or Yahoo, but without all the setting up required of Netvibes and Pageflakes. So only the most popular gadgets are offered. Although it still maintains a large degree of flexibility for the more adventurous users, allowing them to enter their own feeds and gadgets, should they wish. Whether you like it or hate it, at least it offers an alternative from the plethora of AJAX-powered homepages that are now available.

    It’s free to use and you can check it out at http://www.funkyhomepage.com



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