Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Google Homepage: Really, Really Simple Syndication

There are many web-based optimizers that just give you more reasons to screw around. Google Homepage is a rare exception. Not only is it the single most useful 2.0 application I employ, it's also a powerful and graceful example of the potential of disaggregated content.

So what is it? Google Homepage is a personalized landing page for the content that is most useful to you. It's a true home page in that it is a place for everything you need on a daily basis on the web. Here's how to make it happen:
  1. Go to http://www.google.com/ig and sign into Google (or create an account).
  2. Click "Add Stuff" to add items to your personal homepage, like local weather, top news stories, to do lists, email feeds, and specialized content. Feeds from blogs are a bit tricky; if it's not a major blog, you will have to click "Add by URL" and add the feed address, which usually ends in .xml. For example, to add Museum 2.0 to your Google homepage, you would add "http://www.museumtwo.com/atom.xml" (or you could just click on the handy "Add to Google" toolbar on the upper right of this page).
  3. Reset your homepage to the personalized Google page and enjoy the magic.

And magic it is. For example, here's a snapshot of my Google homepage.

On the left, you can see personal content: my Gmail inbox, the Google documents I'm working on, and my del.icio.us links.

In the middle, I have standard content: top news stories, weather in my current and soon-to-be-current home, quote of the day, etc.

On the right, I have direct wikipedia search and feeds from several blogs.

If you look closely at the top left, you'll also see an additional tab, labeled "Search." I added this tab so that I have a separate page that just hosts a series of specialized search engines (eBay, Amazon, Flickr) as well as my Google search history.

Each time you click to add something, you can drag and drop it wherever you want on your homepage. If you click the X in the top right corner, that item disappears from your homepage. This isn't something that requires startup time and then is set in stone. It's flexible and easy to change as your web habits and needs change.

What makes this so great?
  1. It increases your productivity by putting everything you need in one place. No more opening Wikipedia in a new tab. No more opening your calendar or keeping a todo list in a hard to remember folder. It's all accessible from one page, and that one page is accessible no matter what computer you are using.
  2. It allows you to keep tabs on interesting content without wasting your time wading through full format. For blogs or content streams that are updated frequently, having a "top stories" or "titles only" view of the content is a good way to get right to the articles of specific interest to you.
  3. No more guessing when feeds are updated. Most of the blogs I keep on my Google homepage are NOT the ones I look at on a regular basis; they're the ones I find valuable that only feature posts every few days (or less frequently). By having a view of the blog post titles, I can see when something new has been added, and can go to the site at that point. I don't lose track of blogs, even if there's a long gap between posts.
  4. It meets you at your 2.0 complexity level. If you are a basic user, the content provided by the "Add Stuff" button is more than ample, and the drag and drop easy to use. If you are advanced, you can create your own gadgets using the Google API to add to your own page (and share with the world, if you choose). But there's value at every level.

Months ago, I wrote about the potential power of disaggregation for museums, referring to the concept of the "ultimate mix tape" of greatest hits and personal favorites. There are people (I'm one of them) who aren't ready to play RSS flute concertos on Yahoo Pipes or traipse through Google map hacks. Heck, I'm not even advanced enough for an RSS reader to aggregate blogs to which I subscribe. But the Google homepage is easy to use and offers a big bang for your mash-up buck. Plus, it creates a home for you on the web, one where the mail is sorted, the conversations archived, your dictionary and favorite games and diversions all in their place. Isn't it time you stopped renting and got a place of your own?

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