Niall Kennedy surveys the evolution over the past 20 years. “The web is changing, but it all starts with your personal home page. What is the first thing you see when you start your browser? Is it useful and tailored to you, or a collection of advertisements and meaningless promotions for portal services? The recent $15 million funding of one-year-old startup Netvibes combined with the ramp-up of Microsoft’s Live.com and iGoogle are changing the worldwide web doorway into a customized experience combining many brands and services. In this post I’ll summarize the history of pre-programmed start pages and take a look at where we might be headed in the near future.”
paidContent.org writes about a new, personalised subscriber-only service from the Wall Street Journal:
The new effort has a lot in common with the others: users can add any RSS feed, click and drag modules, drill down through a variety of site feeds. (Click on the pic on the right to see a bigger thumbnail)
But MyWSJ has its differences, particularly its scope across DJ properties. The add content list includes feeds from Barrons Online, MarketWatch, SmartMoney, and the various non-sub Journal sites an emphasis on the WSJ as part of a broader Dow Jones Online network. Its also done a better job of working in tools like stock charter and quotes, local weather and traffic, saved searches and even press releases. Its separate from the Journals first personalization service, My Online Journal, but the two are supposed to be combined eventually. It offers multiple layout choices and, shades of Excite, four different styles; in addition, each feed module an be edited for number of items shown and choice of headlines or summaries. Hovering over headlines shows the summary. Plans include allowing subs to see and share feeds.
The combination of aggregation and personalization allows users to create a mini news portal and gives the sites a shot at increased stickiness and an additional way of targeting ads.
[via Robert Scoble] Charles Fitzgerald (general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft) writes:
The browser jumpstarted mainstream Internet use and made browsing the user paradigm. You could type in a URL or follow links and it worked pretty well as long as you knew where you wanted to go or someone else had the foresight to provide a link to where you might want to go. But this approach couldnt keep up with the hypergrowth of the Web. Even if you surfed all day long, the unknown was growing exponentially faster than the known.
Enter the search engine. Instead of being limited to what you knew about or could find a link to, search engines allow you to query across millions of Web sites and billions of Web pages. Search makes vastly more of the Web accessible, but it too has limitations. Simple queries return preposterous quantities of links (as opposed to answers) while complex queries go unanswered. Personal relevance and understanding user intent are, to be charitable, in their infancy.
Both browsing and searching are about discovery, but have little to do with consumption. Discovery is work. You navigate and enter queries. Consumption is when you get something valuable. Browsing or searching by themselves are just a means; the end is consumption. The way these terms get used everyday reinforces this gap. Can I help you? No thanks, Im just browsing. Did you find what you are looking for? Nope, Im still searching.
The subscribe model allows software to act on our behalf and significantly improve consumption. RSS is obviously the first successful taste of the subscribe model (well conveniently forget the whole “Push” episode of the late 20th century). Subscribing doesnt replace browsing or searching any more than searching replaced browsing. Both will remain common activities with continued growth and innovation. Theyre probably how you will find most of the things you subscribe to.
Jonathan Boutelle writes:
Attention is a hot topic on the internets. Most of the metadata that is used in cataloging and searching the web is very labor-intensive to create.
Google made it’s first quadrillion by being the first to use the metadata inherent in hyperlinks to catalog the web. This was, of course, awesome. But the only people allowed to contribute metadata in a google-based world are web publishers.
Del.icio.us and Flickr have made it easier for people to play along at home. Instead of using links, they use tags, which require much less effort to contribute. But lets face it, the people tagging are, for the most part, the same people who are blogging.
Attention is the general idea of paying attention to what people _read_ on the web, and using that to give better search results.
Jeremy Wagstaff writes about an alternative to RSS:
They’re called widgets, or dashboards, or both, and they do more or less everything RSS feeds do, but they also do a lot of things RSS feeds don’t do, or at least don’t do as simply. Which might make them perfect for you.
One of the downsides, to me, of newsreaders is that they pretty much take up the same amount of desktop space as your browser or your email program: namely, most of it. And you need to switch from what you’re doing in Microsoft Word or Outlook, or wherever you spend most of your day, to see what’s going on in the RSS world. This is OK for folk like me who read RSS feeds like they were my daily newspaper. But what if you just want to check the sports results, any updates to your company Web site, or the weather?
This is where the widget works well. Widgets are basically little jigsaw bits of software that sit anywhere on your desktop, taking up very little space. Once you’ve installed the basic software, you select the widgets you want from the program’s homepage and you’re ready to go. Each widget is a self-contained feed, delivering its own bits of information to that corner of your screen. But what kind of information? Well, depending on what kind of widget you’ve installed, it could be anything from newly arriving emails for you to a video stream from a traffic camera on your route home. It could be any outstanding auctions you’re interested in at eBay or a shipment from FedEx you’re tracking. All of these little slices of data could appear on your screen in separate little unobtrusive windows, placed wherever you want them, updating automatically.
I think of widgets as single-item RSS feeds — where the permalink stays the same and the item gets updated in-place.
A little old, but still good reading. Charlene Li writes about Google’s personalised home page:
Why is Google doing this? Is this a concession to the strength of portal competitors? To a great degree, yes. Of the people who use Google most frequently to search the Interent, only 17% also have Google as their default home page compare that to 72% that use MSN for search and also have it as their home page (more details are here available only to Forrester subscribers). google users The biggest advantage that Yahoo and MSN (and yes, AOL) have is that they each have tens of millions of registered users. This is important if these sites want to be able to provide differentiated services to their users. In the end, its all about loyalty and offering a better service thanks to personalized services will the differentiator.
Heres an example. Today, if I type in a search for cruise vacation I would get the same results as you would . But with the advent of My Search History from Google and personalized search initiatives from Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves, the game appears to be to sign up users whom the search engines can then mine for data to provide a better search experience. Google is clearly behind and needs to step up their efforts to sign up users hence the launch of the personalized home page. Google is very behind in terms of default home page share and it hopes to remedy this situation quickly (stats on default home page and search loyalty are available only to Forrester clients.)
But why would people give up a rich interface like Yahoo, MSN, or AOL for Google? I believe that only Google loyalists will do so. You can recognized them they talk about how they used Google to solve gnarly problems and gross on and on about Gmail. But for the rest of us, well need to be convinced that it makes sense.
I think that day will come when Google not only offers RSS-enabled content (its an interesting change of pace to see Google chasing the industry leaders for a change) but also uses intelligence gathered from watching registered users behaviors. For example, if I subscribe to a feed of Canadian news in Google news, but only read articles about Montreal and always ignore news from Vancouver, then the service would push forward Montreal news and de-emphasize (or even not show) articles about Vancouver.
Needed: information dashboards.
Anil Dash writes about Sparklines – “intense, simple, wordlike graphics”, pioneered by Edward Tufte.
Tufte defines Sparklines as “intense, simple, word-sized graphics”, but I think the “word-sized” part of that definition is probably overly restrictive. More important is the idea that graphics have a very high representational value that’s sustained even if the reader doesn’t absorb 100% of the data being presented. I don’t have to know the meaning of every data point if the overall graphic communicates the point the author is trying to make.
In short, they’re data-dense but somewhat deliberately opaque about the data sources which informed their creation. The liberating constraint placed on the graphics is that it’d be impossible to provide a key detailing each item in the space provided, so the reader is freed from the burden of having to know what each point means: All forest, no trees.
Sparklines would be good for use on mobiles given the limited display area that is available.
Robin Good writes: “Personal Media Aggregators are the road to create instant-vertical-communities by way of becoming fulcrum points around which news, commentary, discussion, and networking opportunities around a very specific topic, brand, celebrity or writer can become a cohesive aggregating force.”
Greg Linden posts an excerpt from a talk by John Doerr: “Maybe we’ll get to 3 billion people on the web and say that what matters to all of us is information, and products, and more. Which is we live in time and we’re assaulted by events. And, so, let’s just say there’s 3 billion events going on at any given time. And if you wanted to compute the cross product of the 3 billion people and the 3 billion events — ’cause you need to filter very carefully the information that’s going to get to this device — I don’t want to be assaulted by anything but the most relevant information …”
Greg adds: John Doerr is talking about personalized information streams, personalized filtering of information about events. John’s saying, show me the relevant news, interesting new products, and useful new documents I need to see. Surface the events that matter to me.
[via Greg Linden] Mike Davidson writes about Newsmap: [It] is a visual representation of whats going on in the world as aggregated by Google News and visualized by Marcos Weskamp. It may appear confusing at first, because it is. Its clearly not smart enough to derive meaning and importance from news based on our own preferences, but its a step in the right direction. It illustrates the fluidity with which will can manipulate information on a page. It demonstrates how what will eventually be web services from Google can be displayed in the most non-Googlelike manner possible. Sure, right now Newsmap does all sorts of weird and counterproductive things to headlines like rotate them 90 degrees and squeeze them into an unreadable space, but what if this was a sane layout which metamorphosed productively as news arrived and your viewing habits were keening observed? What if, knowing Im a huge Survivor fan, Newsmap always bumped Survivor-related news above other, less relevant news? What if Newsmap wasnt a webpage at all and acted as my screensaver instead? It would be gangbusters to run Newsmap run as a screensaver and then be able to activate it by simply moving my mouse to a certain corner of the screen.”
Mike adds: “The key to our information gathering lives is all about smart aggregation. The days of media companies deciding whats on your front page are numbered. Within five years, I believe customizable newsreader technology (whether client-side like Net News Wire, or server-side like Bloglines), will be as prevalent as the web is right now. The web will still be there for viewing entire bodies of content like full stories and video, but the web will not be the notification source that this content is available. Instead, it will be simple aggregators like we have today, and then eventually, creative ones like Newsmap albeit in a much more effective form.”
CRN has an interview with Michael Terner, CEO of KnowNow. Excerpts:
We put in an RSS solution for ING, one of the largest banks in Europe, that allows them to utilize, manage and control RSS within their corporation. They have over 100,000 employees, and they’ve been using IBM WebSphere portal to distribute information to employees. They also have news feeds they wanted to distribute to employees through the portal. You can get a portlet from IBM for RSS, but today it only handles one feed. Of course, they wanted it to be able to handle multiple feeds, and they didn’t want to install code on the client. Finally, it also helps them address a key problem that is emerging from the deployment of RSS. With users doing updates every hour or every four hours, you’re bombarding the infrastructure internally. With our server, we deliver information only when there’s new information. It eliminates all of the pulling requests. KnowNow remembers who you are and what you’re interested in and keeps the link open in such a way that there’s no traffic on the lines. It’s a publish-and-subscribe model.
You can build an application that doesn’t require software to be installed. E-mail and Excel are an integration problem that hasn’t been resolved yet. We built an application that is on our Web site that looks like an RSS reader. We set that thing up so the headers change color as it ages. Because we have a publish-and-subscribe model, management can view activity such as responses to incoming calls by simply being a master subscriber. It requires good business partners to be able to build these applications, but it doesn’t require a complex application developer because there’s no client code to install and most of the work of getting the information moved around is being done by the system. In many ways, this allows you to treat the data sources as a service for the client, whether it has software running on it or not. So you enable that whole software-as-a-service model.
Technology Rewview writes: “These days, finding information on the Web can be easier than finding it on your computer’s hard drive. But Nat Friedman, a software engineer and open-source-programming guru in Cambridge, MA, is leading an effort to change that with a free program called Dashboard. Dashboard constantly combs through your e-mail, calendar, address book, word-processing, and browser programs and brings together information related to your current tasks before you even know you want it. Say you%u2019re reading an e-mail from a collaborator on a project. Dashboard automatically shows the person’s contact information, her last five e-mails, and your upcoming appointments with her. Programs like Microsoft’s Longhorn will have similar functions but are years from completion. Friedman, cofounder of open-source desktop software maker Ximian, which was acquired by Novell last August, says Dashboard will be ready as early as this summer.”