Six months ago, I was “desktop man”. I preferred my software locally installed. I wanted complete control of my machine, my desktop applications, my files. It’s fair to say that I didn’t really understand the advantages of online services.
All that has changed and the keyword here is “synchronisation”. Or rather, no need for synchronisation. Like many people I use a work computer and a machine at home. I’d come across an interesting blog at work, subscribe to its RSS feed, then use something like rsync to copy my work reader OPML file to home. If I remembered. Or I’d bookmark an interesting site at home, only to look for it at work and realise that it wasn’t there. I’d investigate complicated Firefox addons for synchronising bookmarks using insecure FTP.
Those difficulties sum up the best reason for switching to online services. If like me you’re a bit slow and don’t get it yet, here’s the soundbite: everything is in the one place. The web isn’t a single physical location but it can feel like one. You can access your stuff from anywhere with a web browser – home, work, the library, it’s always up to date and there’s no need to copy it from place to place every time you make a change. What’s more, sharing it with other people is as simple as directing them to a URL.
If you use a lot of online services, I think it’s important not to feel as though moving between them is difficult or time-consuming. That’s one reason to love tabbed browsers; you start up Firefox in the morning with your favourite tabs in place and leap from site to site with a simple Ctrl-PageUp/PageDown. It’s also a reason to love Google’s recent additions to the personalised homepage. Now, I know that there are those who like the clean, simple look of classic Google, but the feature that they now call iGoogle really gives you some great, time-saving features. In effect, it’s on the way to becoming a one page portal to your online life.
The thumbnail image in this post shows my iGoogle Home tab. That’s right – tabs. Create up to 6 (or more?), name them whatever you like. In this tab sit 6 gadgets:
- Gmail preview
- Google Bookmarks
- Google Groups
This one, it had to be said, is not great. It only shows the Inbox. Most Gmail users tag and filter their email as it comes in, so we really need an unread count of all our tags. Currently I use a Firefox addon for this – let’s hope that Google improve this gadget soon.
Bookmarks is not a widely-known Google tool; I didn’t even know about it until today. It doesn’t offer the features of del.icio.us but if you just want a simple way to store private bookmarks online, I think it’s pretty good. There’s a Firefox button to bookmark a page and a great addon called Gmarks which lets you import/export to or from local browser bookmarks. The gadget has a bug – not all tags or bookmarks for each tag are displayed. As you’d expect, Google Bookmarks uses tags, not folders.
This one is just a simple gadget that shows your groups and those which have new messages.
I’d read bad things about the calendar gadget but they must have made improvements, because it seems very functional to me. Dates with events are highlighted, clicking them shows a brief description and you can view your agenda and add events from the gadget.
The reader gadget has also undergone recent improvements and I think it’s the business. You get a summary of new articles with a choice of all items or those under a tag from a drop-down box. You can mark as read or refresh your feeds. Clicking an article brings it up in a box, with the option to go to the originating page. This gadget is so functional that I’ve done away with the Firefox reader notifer addon, I can read full articles without leaving iGoogle and I rarely need to go to the reader web page.
There’s a browser addon for Google Notebook that sits minimised down by the status bar. This gadget has a very similar look and functionality.
There are heaps of other gadgets too. I’ve seen several for del.icio.us, one for CiteULike and many others of use to scientists. They vary in quality and functionality but there’s a good selection and you can even write your own, because Google sensibly opened up their APIs to the developer community. Now what I’d really like is a functional gadget with great features for all of my social networks and online tools, such that I can run everything from iGoogle Home. Can it be done?
In summary, I think the iGoogle/gadget concept is fantastic with the potential to save you a lot of time each day. Give it a go.