Curating RSS feeds with NetVibes and Pageflakes

There are a number of personalized portals out there that help aggregate your personal world in one place: My Yahoo!, Windows Live, Google Ig, Netvibes, Pageflakes, and others. I use none of them; instead I prefer the venerable about:blank. But lots and lots of people do, and if not for the first generation of personalized portals, I might not have a job.

I have played around with Netvibes and Pageflakes thanks to the amazing amount of coverage they have both been getting across the internets. Both applications support the quick and dirty construction of personal pages from content components. They feature nice WYSIWYG editors for laying out these pages and finding different content providers. For the person with time and energy, you can construct a highly personalized start page in a matter of minutes. The only problem is that people don’t take the time to customize their applications1.

However, this doesn’t prohibit other people from customizing things for you. This is the case with these new start page startups: both have recently created functionality for users to share their customized pages. I think this is very powerful, and I think an example will communicate this best. Suppose you have an idea for a portal; something that doesn’t exist. You have domain knowledge that means you know the best blogs, news sources, and delicious tags that define this space. Instead of going through the work to make an entire portal and/or create a blog around the topic, you can simply curate the same experience using Netvibes.

For instance, I want to create a page based on the idea of social weather. I collect the RSS feeds of all of the different social zeitgeists from across the web, and put them on one page. I use Netvibes to lay this content out in a meaningful way, and shizam, I have a social weather station. By clicking the following image, you can add my social weather page to your Netvibes:

Social Weather page

Taking this a step further, imagine that you could brand these pages and that you can embed them anywhere on the web. The local IT guy for any small company could create an intranet portal for employees; a neighborhood organization could create their own view of the world; moderators of groups can make customized pages for their members; in short, anyone who takes the time can create a portal that other people can use.

Right now these pages are trapped within their respective sites, but I would guess they will break out sometime soon. Only then will you see how big my social weather station really is! No seriously, it’s going to be huge.

1.   It’s rare to never that I agree with Jakob Nielsen, so rare, in fact, that it deserves a footnote. In this single, isolated point, I think he’s right. People don’t take the time to customize web sites, on average.

Earthquake RSS

bay bridgeIn the second installment of neurotic, phobia-inducing, end-of-May posts, I’ll be addressing the concerns of an impending earthquake disaster in the San Francisco area. Not that I’m really scared every time I drive across the eastern span of the bay bridge. I mean, it held up pretty well during the Loma-Prieta Earthquake in 1989, and I’m sure all of the repairs probably made it much stronger than before. Which probably explains why they’re building the eastern span replacement at the speed of light.

I grew up in California, and have lots of fond memories of shaking around in bed and seeing things rattle off of shelves. I witnessed the horror of the ’89 quake and have driven through Hollister enough times to know what a building-with-a-giant-crack looks like. I’m not really scared of earthquakes at all, but my friends’ concern has gotten me thinking, and I realized that I know relatively nothing about the frequency and science of earth shaking.

I’ve wandered past the US Geological Service website when looking for elevation maps or pictures of rocks, but had no idea that they had cultivated an all-knowing network of seismic data. Without much work I was able to find RSS feeds of all seismic activity, categorized by size. Since I subscribed this morning, I’m completely hooked on non-weblog RSS feeds. It goes something like this:

“Ooh, Andy posted a link about some idiot eating his Atari 2600 console.”
“4.5 in the Canary Islands.”
“Yay! Merlin posted tips on how to shave precious seconds off of tooth-brushing.”
“3.7 in Northern Alaska.”
“You get the picture.”

Uhh, I mean, you get the picture. So the moral of the day is: if you’re afraid of something, find a constant source of news about it in the form of an RSS feed, and then your fear will go away! With Xanax.