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:
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. ↩