The most comprehensive startpage review available…
Quick Note for those who feel left out: Web-based startpages(aka AJAX/Flash homepages) are nifty sites aimed at making your web life easier by putting most-needed services on one page. Check out my entry last week describing them. There are lots of them and they’re all free.
There are so many different options for what you can use for a startpage. In fact as I explored the list I gathered together last week, I discovered a few more. Some have big names with them, but surprisingly (or not) it doesn’t seem to guarantee quality. The startpage market has come into its own as something distinguished. I looked through 20 different options, which exhausts the lists of other older comprehensive reviews I found. For the sake of information, feel free to check them out: 14 Personalized Homepages Compared, Feature by Feature (June 2007); Top 12 web-based Startpages Compared. The winner is… (February 2007); and Alpha Geek: Start-page showdown (March 2007). My research even dove me into the world of easy-to-make webpages (now finally taking advantage of AJAX) and so I decided to draw the line of this review at the specific mention of startpage or a clear adherence to the concept. You can catch links to these page builders at the end of this entry. They do though provide a highly customizable option to developing a startpage.
To come up with a fair way to judge I had to come up with categories and an appropriate scoring system. I tried to think of the things most important to a startpage user. The categories I decided on are: user friendly, basic functions, looks, site layout, RSS handling, tabs, widgets, speed, a useful community, and an extras category. The overall scores were determined via an averaging of scores in all categories, you can view these at the end of the entry. The category winners were determined by which had the highest score in the category. If there was a tie, it was broken by which had the highest overall score.
Each was scored on a scale from 0-5. Zero – zilch worthwhile in the category. Five – I couldn’t have asked for much more in fulfilling the category.
User Friendly – How initially intuitive the functioning of and interaction with the site is.
Basic Functions – Whether or not basic functions expected from startpages are included. I considered RSS, email, calendar, todo, notes, and a few other things that my mind more than likely took note of.
Looks – Did it catch my eye or cause an eye-sore? Mainly, would I want to see it opening up in my browser every day.
Site Layout – Taking a close look at if the structure of the site made sense, displayed well, and felt like an asset to the functions offered.
RSS Handling – First, is there something to manage RSS feeds. Second, how worthwhile is it?
Tabs – Are they there? Also, looking at the functionality of them; if they drag, are easily created, and etc. or not.
Widgets – Variety, quality, number, organization, and integration were key factors in evaluating widgets.
Speed – Simply how fast it seemed to load and how quickly the site responded to user interaction.
Useful Community – Looking specifically at if there is a built-in community and how useful it is. Also, I wanted to see if there was any effort for one community to share/interact with another. Finally, I took into account permanent or shareable links to created startpages and their tabs.
Extra – This was a section to give extra points for unique features, overall site impression, and anything else that was hard to account for in the other categories.
And by category…
User Friendly: yourminis
Basic Functions: Netvibes
Site Layout: yourminis
RSS Handling: Netvibes
Useful Community: Pageflakes
The JustinFenwick.Net top three:
Overall Score: 3.9 out of 5
First impressions: It’s not crazy fast, but you are eventually won over by the features. Things are quickly edited and changed by dragging and drop down menus. The vast versatility can be disabling at first, but an afternoon can take advantage of everything Netvibes has to offer. Time well spent.
The basic widgets are great! Adjustments and columns are all yours to make. Portions of webpages can be added through HTML, actually loading a web page in a widget, or providing the link of a flash program (ie. flash games or website). The widgets directory is massive! Since Netvibes is pioneering the Universal Widget API (UWA) , most of the widgets are actually compatible to add to Mac Desktop, iPhone, iGoogle, Opera, Windows Vista, Windows Live, and Yahoo Widgets (not MyYahoo!). This is sexy and also important if you are a die hard user of the listed items. They are promising broader compatibility with all the main social networking sites soon. Widgets have a clunky preview when you add a new one but it’s appreciated. Widgets, universes, and tabs is the terminology used and there is a real community around these additions, sometimes saving a lot of the work on your end to create great startpage content.
Neat functions: Cookies remember the last tab you had open, little icons can help distinguish and adorn your tabs, a getting started guide (located in the quick to use “Add content” sidebar), and a integrated feed reader handles all the necessary functions just up until the point you would rather be on the blog’s site itself.
Netvibes is without question the one to beat. It seems practically unrivaled, although there are some sites nipping at their heels. Watch out for a new release soon that is currently in beta testing. The significant other in my life ended up being invited to test this out. I poked around. A slick drop down widget explorer has replaced the one that sends you away from your startpage. Plus they are expanding the social capabilities with profiles and a linking system where tabs can at least be bookmarked individually. It’ll be interesting to see what comes next. Either way, with the upcoming improvements the site will had some necessary cushion as the leader in startpages.
Overall Score: 3.8 out of 5
First impression: Slow-ish to load at first, but impressive once it does. Yum it’s pretty. Lets hope it’s pretty intuitive. Free moving widgets, crisp look. Basic RSS, but quick and easy to add. Tabs move great. Something flashing in the corner blew me away with a multiple tab view! There are minis and widgets which is a bit confusing. Can’t find a way to insert outside content like websites or HTML. The tabs are publishable.
On the cutting edge of web technology; yourminis really does pull out all the stops with a unique interface, customization, and just all around sexiness. The big draw to yourminis is that it appears to be the closest thing to a virtual desktop that you can access wherever you have a connection. Free of columns, the freedom to move feels nice. And move you can, dragging content is intuitive in multi-tab view and if you want something somewhere you just move it. Even if you do not use yourminis, it is a good way to create a website to publish. The publishable tabs provide a neat look into the web’s future. For some, a quick downside is that it is Flash-based (not AJAX), but if it works, who cares?
Edit: I just discovered yourminis widgets/minis in its gallery are compatible with an array of widget oriented applications like Netvibes, Apple Desktop, and others. Many are made specifically for yourminis and look funny outside of the yourminis environment. Yourminis’s preview of minis in the gallery is great and full featured.
3)Symbaloo, iGoogle, and WebWag
Overall Score: 3.6 out of 5
Symbaloo: This one is an immediate attention grabber. Neat boxes wait to be clicked. It’s impressive to look at. Drag and drop is easy. Symbaloo is fast, but not crazy fast. It feels like playing with blocks. Three types of desktops: basic, news, and RSS. These all eventually create the tabs on top. Changing the position of desktop (tab) has to be done through settings and news is limited to two news sources.
The selling point is its look and feel. If I wasn’t trying to manage as much stuff online, this would be my pick. I felt like it knew what I want out of a startpage and just hope it opens up more in the future.
iGoogle: The look is familiar but the search box at the top is looming (although a gadget called iCustomize can fix this). The usage is nearly 100% intuitive and all the basic functionality is there. “I’m Feeling Lucky” is a nasty idea for creating tabs and left me bombarded with useless widgets (gadgets as Google calls them) making noise at me.
For those of you surprised that iGoogle is taking a third place, feel lucky that it is. Recent updates increasing share-ability and themes that react to time of day/year, have brought it closer to reality. Its integration with Google’s other web applications, is a huge plus for heavy Google users. Its downfall or possible advantage is that it feels very “nothing special.” Which is probably why it is the speediest of the top rated startpages.
WebWag: It draws you in. It’s pretty, but almost too cluttered. Where I feel iGoogle is on the simple side of Netvibes, WebWag is a bit on the messy side. Widgets are added through the big plus in the upper left corner but you can’t drag them from the widget browser that comes down. WebWag allows various options for external content not supported in current widgets to be added in one. The RSS summaries are displayed within the widget and is nearly full-content. HTML, a URL, or even a clip of a webpage can be added. Don’t want to give up your favorite web content and its looks. Then get ready for Widget On Demand, this widget will pull any selection from any website and display it as is. For some, this may be the only selling point they need, as live cross-sections of web content can be displayed for your consumption.
Ultimately, there’s no “best” startpage. Netvibes, iGoogle, WebWag, and Pageflakes are not short on content. It also seems that since it’s a cornerstone concept to startpages, many offer high levels of customization. iGoogle and MyYahoo! are great options if you already use those services. Schmedley, yourminis, and Symbaloo approach the market uniquely, and some people swear by them.
The category where, on a whole, startpages seemed to fail, was community (especially a useful one). It might be worthwhile to keep an eye on Pageflakes and Netvibes, because this is the area that will separate the grown-ups from the bunch in the near future. Soon, simple levels of publishing and sharing won’t be enough to build community around the priceless value of startpages as resources.
We would avoid the smaller, less featureless sites, however, especially those that lack a developer community: these are the most likely to fall into disrepair, forcing you to move house just as you get settled in.
What’s your homepage? One of these startpages? Google Search? Your own site? JustinFenwick.Net? Nothing at all? Tell the world where your browser begins, and why, in the comments.
|Name||User Friendly||Basic Functions||Looks||Site Layout||RSS Handling|
|Flock My Pages||5||2||4||4||3|
|My Own Site||3||2||2||3||2|
|Name||Tabs||Widgets||Speed||Useful Com.||Extra||Overall Score|
|Flock My Pages||1||1||5||0||4||2.9|
|My Own Site||2||2||3||0||0||1.9|