Battle of the start-page portals

There I was, singing the praises of the new iGoogle as “a one-page portal to your online life”. I search to see what other people think and I find alternatives. Pageflakes. My Yahoo (OK, perhaps not). And something called Netvibes which for my money – is this heresy? – wipes the floor with iGoogle in terms of appearance and features.

Here’s a Netvibes start page. It has tabs. As many as you like. Not only that, but the tabs display useful information. For instance if your current tab is a page of RSS feeds, the tab displays the number unread and you can mark as read from the tab.
What iGoogle calls gadgets, Netvibes calls modules. There are a lot of them. On this page we’ve got weather, bookmarks, a feed, a todo list and a sticky note.
feeds.pngOver on the right is a tabbed page of RSS feeds – in this case, some PubMed searches. Note the display of the number unread. You can add a feed to a module via its URL or import an OPML file. One small flaw is that so far as I can tell, you can’t add a top-level feed tag with a hierarchy of tags to a module. However, you can add individual tagged feeds as seen here. If you want to save space here or on any page, all modules can be collapsed to show just the top menu bar.
menu-search.pngBack to the left hand side and here’s a very nice feature – you can search the content of any module. Here, I’ve searched for “therapy” on my page of PubMed feeds. Notice how those with no results have collapsed and the feed with results is open, with the text highlighted. On the left of this image I’ve opened up the main menu to give you an idea of its contents.
search.pngOver to the right again and this thumbnail illustrates some search modules. We’ve got map search, web search, blog search, podcast search and video search. Notice the range of search services that each module provides – always more than one. There are many more search modules in addition to these.
images.pngMoving to the left once more (dizzy yet?), here’s a page with modules that access digital image services. There’s an image search module (again, several search sites and a nice interface) and multiple modules for Flickr that can display photos from you, your contacts, a random selection, latest uploads or pretty much anything that you like.
google.pngFinally, bottom right, a page showing that you can include your Google services in Netvibes modules. OK, it’s not all good news. The Gmail module is as useless as the current iGoogle version – there’s never email in my Inbox, people – and the Google calendar gadget isn’t easy to configure and needs some work. In principle though, you can see all your Google stuff and I’m sure that improved modules will roll out over time.
Netvibes modules in general boast a lot more functionality than their iGoogle counterparts. They can all be shared, duplicated, published to a public directory and themed. They also tend to display useful results in the module, rather than just acting as simple forms that redirect you to a new page.

I’m impressed with Netvibes. Google may be the king of search but increasingly I feel that when it comes to web 2.0 apps, they’re playing catch-up with other companies (iGoogle versus Netvibes, Docs versus Zoho). Having said that, there are aspects of Netvibes that make me think twice about using it:

  • It’s a time sink – you could spend hours, days in there, configuring to your hearts content
  • It’s pretty but quite “busy” – and will load slowly with quite a load on your CPU if you go overboard. In some ways I find iGoogle cleaner and simpler.
  • So far as possible, I like to reduce the number of sites that I use for work and storage – if I can do it all at Google, I will
  • Security – I’m trusting my logins for numerous sites to a bunch of module code written by people about whom I know very little. I guess that’s also an issue with iGoogle and other online services that access each other.

It’s all about choice – so consider Netvibes if iGoogle isn’t doing it for you.

4 thoughts on “Battle of the start-page portals

  1. I gave Pageflakes a run today. It’s not bad, but there are things that I don’t like. The RSS reader for instance – it’s refusing to remove feeds that I’ve deleted. It also doesn’t maintain my Google Reader tags when I import OPML – in fact, there seems to be no facility for categories of feeds at all. I was briefly excited by the email flake, until it displayed only my old mails from Gmail with no tags.

    Still, it’s good to see these active communities and you’d hope for improvement with time.

  2. I have tried all of them. I always go back to iGoogle. As you mentioned, it’s clean and simple, and that is just fine at this end.

  3. It’s the usual problem – several choices, all of which have their pros and cons, but you have to choose one because the whole idea of a portal is to work from one place.

    I’ve come back to iGoogle too, because it best handles the things that are most important to me (Google Reader feeds and other Google apps). On the whole though, I think Netvibes modules are better designed. Let’s hope that the recent publicity for iGoogle inspires some better gadget design.

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