Taking a look at personalized start pages – Live.com, iGoogle, MyMSN, MyYahoo! and Netvibes

Now, I’m not a fan of "start" pages, but I’ve been taking a look at several start page sites including Live.com, iGoogle, MyMSN, MyYahoo! and Netvibes.

So here’s my opinions:

                                                                                          

Live.com – Of all the sites, I find it has the most uncluttered page. That’s about the only special thing about it. Here’s what I like:

  • It’s very uncluttered – Very clean and white.
  • Adding RSS feeds is fast – It’s under the "Add Stuff" link > Advanced Options > and you can put in the RSS feed URL, or actually any URL. And it’s quick.
  • Easy to send to mobile phone – It’s easy as 1-2-3 to send customized content from your phone to your mobile phone. Just type your number, and it’s done.
  • Put in an OPML file – also done easy : Add Stuff > Advanced Options tab > find your OPML file and it’s done.
  • No ads – No ads at all!

However, there’s a lot of thing I don’t like.

  • Not easy to find modules – It’s called "Gadgets" on this site. There’s a very small itzy-bitzy link at the top of the page to add gadgets. Very inconspicuous though. You might not notice it. They should throw a giant plus sign next to it. You can’t even search for gadgets directly from the same page. Nor is there an obvious link to find more on Live Gallery. Plus most of the ones they display on the preview from Live.com are just RSS feeds. I also find that there aren’t many good gadgets out there. Most of them are rather crappy-built, or there just isn’t a good solution.
  • Not many options to change color scheme/theme – Unlike other start pages, there’s not many options to change the appearance beyond column choice and a few color choices. There’s only 5 color schemes: Ocean, Granite, Ice, Pink, and Green. Not very many, huh? I hope that the new Live.com will support a wide spectrum of colors, and users can make their own themes (and share!), with ways to upload photo backgrounds, etc. Options could also use a "Wrench" icon or something to make it noticeable as well.
  • Moving modules is rather unintuitive – Well it’s not difficult or anything, but I don’t like it. You can drag the title bar and when you move it around, only a strip of shaded line indicates where it will be positioned. Other sites like Netvibes, Facebook, and iGoogle use a more sophisticated approach, where dotted-lines indication not only the position of where the module will be, but also what space it should take up. All of this instantaneously of course. That’s a far better approach. Also unfortunately, Live Spaces too uses the unsophisticated method, and it’s really horrible! Sometimes, modules won’t move at all. Ugh.
  • Still has the old Windows Live ‘Flair’ UI – Microsoft, in a dumb move, didn’t upgrade all of their Windows Live sites to the new 2.0 look, including Live.com. Not that the Flair UI is bad looking, but I would like to see this site as well as others updated. Hopefully it won’t look hideous.
  • Changing the "Language" option will really kill you – In the Options menu, there’s a choice to change the language. Whatever you do, DON’T CHANGE THE LANGUAGE! I did the mistake of that, just to see what the page would look like, and I ended up not getting the page at all. There was no personalized page, because Live didn’t support other languages, and as a result, I don’t have a page at all. It took me quite a while, to find the links to change the Language back to English to get my page back. I thought that was dumb. What does language have to matter with support for it? Thanks Microsoft for putting an unnecessary and grueling option to the menu.
  • Renaming the page won’t work if you click on the title – Instead you have to click the "Edit" arrow on the right of the title bar of the gadget, and select rename page. Other start pages just work if you click on the page name, and immediately you can change the name. Is it that hard?
  • The "What’s New" link at the top right is definitely not recent – I pressed the link and laughed. There’s a little video tutorial of Live.com, but you can see the old Live Search look in the video, and there’s been a few minor updates that didn’t make it to the video. They really need to drop dumb sites like that.
  • Moving modules across pages doesn’t delete the old modules – If you drag-n’-drop modules to another page, you’ll still see them on the old page as well as the new page. I like to think the modules I move are ONE module, and taking them to another page would mean removing one and putting it somewhere else. Like if I had a toy in a box, and moved it to another box, then there shouldn’t be a toy still lying in the old box. Kind of common sense if you ask me.

iGoogle – It seems like a pretty flexible site to me. Everything that’s needed is there. I’ve only been using it recently, so this is my only opinions so far. Here’s what I like:

  • You can make your own themes – Or choose one from many on the Themes site. You can write a review and rate them. Quite nice. Some themes can even update to local weather conditions, or other things by the time of day. Very nice feature.
  • Very easy to move modules – On iGoogle, modules are called gadgets. and I love how they use the sophisticated method of dotted-lines to indicate both the area and size of where the module will be place.
  • Plenty of good gadgets to choose fromA nice selection of gadgets are available.
  • No ads – surprising, this being Google.

What I don’t like:

  • Gadgets can looked messed up – If you put a gadget in an area that take up 1/2 of the page, it should render well. If you put a gadget in an area that’s 1/4 the page, well that could get rather messed up. The screenshot I provided shows this. Buttons pop out of their gadget space, you only see half the whole gadget, and so on. This is a similar problem for Live Spaces gadgets.
  • No color schemes to choose from – You do have personal ‘themes’ but not color schemes. Like to have red outlined modules, or even a yellow background. There’s no color schemes at all.
  • Suggestion of Firefox – There’s this module called "Recipe of the Moment". It requires you to have Firefox to use it. Like I’m not content with IE7 or Opera.
  • Theme takes up a lot of screen real estate – What happened to simple? The theme bar takes up a whole lot of space, and you can’t shorten it up a bit.

                                                           

MyMSN : Worst of all 5 sites. Very archaic looking. Speed can be slow, changing a few things can be arduous, and most people just hate it. Here’s what I like (if you can say that):

  • Fun to look at what the ‘old days’ was – That’s about it. It’s amazing just to see how much has evolved since then, compared to this old relic.
  • Columns are scalable! – I was rather surprised by this. Even though everything else is awful about it, it’s at least interesting that you can scale the column anyway you want. There a drag arrow on the side, and pull as far as you want. Quite nifty. Though you can’t scale individual content from top-to-bottom

What I don’t like:

  • The look – You see Windows logos at least on 2 spot. Really. It looks like the site was made in the early 2000’s and hasn’t been updated since then. The options in each column have Office 2000-like drop-down menus. Sign In/Out button is the old one. Basically it’s so old looking. And did I mention it was ugly?
  • Users can’t make their own content – It’s so old that developers can’t make their own modules (called "content" in MyMSN) and that kind of sucks. You have to rely on what little things MSN has to offer. And it’s not good. Not that anyone would still develop for that site anyways.
  • There’s ads – Well actually, just one small text ad link at the bottom, telling you to download more MSN software
  • Modifying the page is rather clumsy – Where most Web 2.0 sites can modify things on the fly without having to reload or switch to a whole other page, MSN does the opposite. Apply a change to the color scheme or theme require refreshing the page. Adding content, or a page means a windows popping out to choose options. Horrible.
  • Not up to current MSN UI look – While most MSN sites have had an updated UI, this is one of the sites that didn’t for some reason. It could use it.
  • Moving modules uses the boring box drag – Like Live.com and MyYahoo!, MSN doesn’t utilize box drag-and-drop with dotted lines. Though it does move and scroll through rather well.

                                                                                           

MyYahoo! – Yahoo! has revamped their start page, and I have to say : It’s really good! Yahoo! has also had a new refreshed UI coming across all it’s site, and it’s rather nice and flexible to work with. My Yahoo! contains a lot of good start page elements. Here’s what I like:

  • Very friendly starting guide – The way Y! does it is quick and simple. In no time, you’ve got what you want.
  • Everything is done on the page itself – from selecting modules, applying themes, and all of that are done instantly and fast right on the page. Very nice.
  • Very nice looking – MyYahoo! is very slick looking, and everything looks quite rich. VERY graphically pleasing. They did an excellent job on the site’s dynamics.
  • Options go into more detail – from RSS timestamps, to hover previews, and even search engine use can be decided upon by user
  • Very good integration to other Y! sites – Y! really did a good job at bringing attention to other Y! sites. There’s modules that lead directly to the site with the links, My Quicklinks at the top dynamically shows all the good properties, it’s really nice.
  • Weather module is the best of them all – I mean really, Y! Weather modules displays weather the best

Despite the good stuff, there’s bad:

  • Ads everywhere! – Argh. When you thought it was good, there’s the dumb ads. I can could at least spot 2 on MyY! One at the top where it gives you suggestions to add more modules (which I’m sure most people don’t need to see!) and one graphical ad on the right pane.
  • No way to review, rate, and report modules – The great thing about Y! modules is that they appear instantly well on the page with a new preivew and all, but you can’t rate, review, or even report problems/issues about a module.

                                                                                   

Netvibes – This is really the only start page of the 5, that’s only function is really being the start page. This a REALLY great start page site. It practically has it all. Here’s what I like:

  •  Super customizable – of all 5, this takes 1st place. Adding pages, modules, separate search engines, colors, themes, etc., it’s all there.
  • You can change the color of individual modules – Instead of all the modules having the same color scheme, you can change individual ones the way you might see fit.
  • No specific affiliations with other web companies – Unlike the big players I mentioned already, Netvibes runs completely independently, as far as I know of. It’s really open. You don’t HAVE to use a specific default search engine. You don’t HAVE to use content from this company. It’s very open to multiple web services. And you can even use more than one in each module. Very amazing.
  • Do everything within the site! – Like MyYahoo!, Netvibes does everything within the site. But to a greater achievement, you can actually do everything on that site without going to a whole separate link. You can even make a Netvibes account right on the site without going anywhere, fast and simple. I mean, that’s pretty amazing and nifty. No need to wait for reloading of the page; it’s all there!
  • Access multiple accounts from MANY online services – You can check through a wide variety of practically all the major e-mail providers, all the major search engines and even popular social networks. Right there at your fingertips. No need to find a hack or wait for someone to make it, the folks at Netvibes has already done that for us!
  • Adding content is as easy as pie – Netvibes has a pane that opens up instantly on the left side of the page to add stuff. Choose from things like Feeds, Basic Widgets, Communication, Search, Applications, and External Widgets. It utilizes a tree-branch-like menu, where you click on drop down arrows to see more content under the label. Very smart.
  • One button collapse mode – Have you ever felt the need to collapse (see just only the title of the module in a skinny mode) all your modules at once? Like maybe to make them easier to deal with as you’re fixing up your page? Well once again, Netvibes has made that task much easier. At the very top right of the page, there’s a down-pointed arrow that collapses all modules. Very efficient time saver.
  • Built-in page search box – What I mean by that, is it has it’s own search box to find content just on your page. Like if you’re looking for a specific module, and you have like a bazillion on a page, then searching it in the search box makes it simpler. Very nifty.
  • Universe (sharing) feature – Like some start page sites, Netvibes offers a way to share your own start page to many other users, via a site to glance at neat user-made start pages. But Netvibes offers the best solution called Universes. You get to preview through the real user-made start page, and interact with it before deciding if you want it. You can comment and rate on it. I find it more simpler to use than other start pages’ offerings.
  • Add a tab icon – Want to individualize even more? Well you can make each tab have specific icons. Netvibes has great default ones. Or you can give an image URL for Netvibes to fetch there.
  • Get themes – You can choose from Netvibe-made ones, or make your own. Really nice. Though you can’t share this individually.
  • Get header and main page wallpapers – You can customize the header of the page with images on Netvibes on your own or by a URL (with the embedded link right behind it to make it work). You can even customize the height of the page. Same thing for the bottom portion.
  • Extend columns! – You don’t just have separate columns, but you can also extend them the way you want. Think the middle column is more import? Than make it wider. Just go along the sides of the top column’s module and stretch. Instant and fast. The only other site that does this is MyMSN (too bad though).
  • Very browser friendly too many of them – Works with the latest of the top 4 browsers
  • No advertising – you have to wonder how they can handle many sites without ads!
  • I could go on and on about the site, but that would take a very long time. :^)

Even though this site is super amazing, I don’t like:

  • Lack of Live Image and Video Search – I mean come on, these are practically the best search types that Live Search does. Yet it’s not included officially by Netvibes. Not even MSN Video, which has risen to #2 status in video-sharing sites lately. Sigh.
  • Wallpaper and themes apply to ALL tabs – You can’t make themes and wallpapers tab-specific. Anytime you change the wallpaper or theme, it updates on all the tabs.
  • Built-in search box is rather cruddy – If you try searching the name of a module/widget, it doesn’t work so well. I tried search for my "To Do List" widget, but it didn’t show up in the search. That’s pretty dumb if you ask me. That’s what the whole widget is called, yet it’s not recognized.

So that’s about it. That’s my fair thoughts of these start pages. So here’s what start pages I think is the best to the worst:

  1. Netvibes – No doubt about it. Being super customizable, super self-page efficient, utilizing many different accounts, and being cross-browser gives this a top dog ranking. The ONLY way to beat this site is to just buy them. Really.
  2. MyYahoo! – Also a very great site. Nice look, very easy to make, good Y! integration, also self-page efficient, and great to use, aside advertising and dominant Y! stuff.
  3. Live.com – It’s a pretty clean-cut bare bones site. Has the necessities, and is great for just plain simple stuff. I would place Live.com and iGoogle around the same rank, but I use Live services more, so I think Live.com happens to be better.
  4. iGoogle – Ok site. I find it takes longer to load up, too Googly for even me, but there’s many good gadgets as well. Though compared to other sites, it’s kind of boring.
  5. MyMSN – Absolute trash site that need to be tossed out – I mean comparing #1 and #5 is a joke. MyMSN hasn’t been updated for years, and this really shows how MS just doesn’t get the internet more than anything. Awful site design, low customizability, no way to make/share modules, and it’s darn slow. I don’t get what’s taking so long for Microsoft to kill it.

So there you have it. That’s my very long analysis of the top 5 start pages. I definitely recommend Netvibes the most. Sad to see Microsoft really far behind the pack though. They’re practically the bottom two.

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2 thoughts on “Taking a look at personalized start pages – Live.com, iGoogle, MyMSN, MyYahoo! and Netvibes

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