Top 5 Personalized Start Pages

Personalized start pages are online services that help you build a home away from home online. Typically, you can add web feeds and bookmarks, get notified of new email, see calendar entries, photos from Flickr, news headlines or your favorite cartoon of the day.

When I went looking for the best personalized start pages out there, what did I look for?

  • Ease of use. This is the top criterion. If I spend too much time fumbling around to find out how things are done, I simply go elsewhere.
  • Number of modules/widgets available. Can I get weather forecast for Europe? Can I get notifications from my web mail service and my online calendar?
  • Sharing of content. What kind of options are available to publish or share content?
  • RSS capabilities. It has to be easy to add and read RSS feeds and I want to import the OPML file containing the subscriptions from my RSS reader.

Read on to see my favorites.

Netvibes is not only my favorite, it’s one of the most popular services of this type according to Alexa.

Netvibes works like a charm and does exactly what I want it to do — and even more. It is fun to play around with and there are plenty of modules to choose from.

I get news from Norwegian newspapers and notification about Norwegian holidays once I have set my location. The entire Netvibes interface is translated into Norwegian and more than 60 other languages. Impressive!

I can access any POP3 email account by way of a wizard and there are preset modules for Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail and even .Mac Mail.

And for synchronous communication, there is a Meebo module that opens in a separate tab and gives simultaneous access to the AIM, Yahoo! Google Talk and MSN instant messaging networks.

It is easy to add RSS feeds or to import an OPML containing multiple RSS subscriptions.

(An RSS or web feed file is used to present headlines and content from another site. OPML is an XML file standard for outlines, often used to transfer information from one feed reader application to another).

The RSS reader in Netvibes is powerful and there is no need to leave the start page to read the whole story. Even for people who subscribe to a lot of feeds (like I do) and need to browse them quickly and efficiently, Netvibes is as good as a full blown online RSS reader.

There are several ways to share Netvibes content:

  • By email: Your friends will receive a link to add your content to their own Netvibes site in one click.
  • By instant messaging: Copy and paste a link to your IM.
  • On your blog, myspace etc.: You get the html code to add the tab content to your site.
  • Publish any tab in the Netvibes directory.

Pageflakes is another start page for power users.

It includes a good RSS reader which is accessed via a link in the upper right corner of the home page. It took my huge OPML file without blinking and does everything I want it to in a nice 3-pane setup.

There is a large library of modules called “flakes” to play around with. I am fond of the flake which not only imported all my beloved bookmarks, but also keeps them updated. This tool can be customized in many ways and is one of many useful flakes.

Another cool flake is “Local Events”, which shows events and marks them on a map. And yes, they even show events from my home town Oslo in Norway :)

There is a handy search bar in the top right corner where you can choose between Google, Yahoo! and Live.

You can share your Pageflakes content by making it public at “your login” or you can chose to share tabs (sections) with friends, who you invite by email. If you choose to, these friends can also edit the content of the tab.

Protopage is the cutest of my 5 favorite start page services. It can be customized to look exactly like you want and it comes with podcast and video tabs “out of the box”. Very trendy!

Protopage is a lot of fun, but it is also a powerful tool. It has its own RSS reader which pops up when you click on an item in any of the RSS feeds you have added. It displays all the feeds you have added to your pages in the left column and shows the news items in the pane to the right.

My only disappointment is the OPML import. This feature adds all the items from your imported file to a menu and lets you add the feeds one by one to a page of your choice. However, I couldn’t find a way to add them all at once.

There is a customizable search box in the top right corner which comes with a choice of 12 search engines. And if you are a little web savvy, you can add any search engine you like. Wow!

You can keep your page private, make it public, or set a group password so that you can share parts of it with specific friends or colleagues.

Your page is organized into tabs, and your tabs are grouped into categories. Whether your tabs are shared or not depends on the category those tabs are in. Editing categories and setting sharing options is a bit complicated, unfortunately.

My Webwag is definitely a start page choice for grownups. It has a steel gray, professional look and the only color comes from the favicons of the feeds and tools you add.

But in spite of the sombre look, I like Webwag a lot.

When I imported my OPML file, it added them all to one tab and then added separate tabs for the folders or categories the file contained. This makes it easy to navigate all of the feeds.

The only thing I miss is the opportunity to read the entire item inside Webwag: It only displays the headlines and then shows me the first part of the item description when I point my mouse to the headline.

There is an entire directory of modules to add, and each module can be customized to suite your needs. If you don’t find exactly what you are looking for, there is a neat feature called Widget On Demand. This is a tool that lets you capture any part of any web page and include it dynamically on your Webwag page. When the web page changes, so will your Widget On Demand.

Webwag comes with a search widget which is easy to use and can contain any or all of these search engines: Yahoo!, Google, MSN, and Exalead. And it searches Wikipedia too.

Each tab can be made public and will then appear in the Webwag Factory. Each of your feeds and your widgets-on-demand can also be made public in the Webwag Factory or shared by email.


iGoogle has improved a lot lately. When it launched, I spent 5 minutes checking it out and then didn’t return for weeks. The service is easy to use, but it was poorly integrated with other Google services. This has improved now, but it still doesn’t quite do it for me. Here’s why:

There is no way to import OPML files, so you have to add RSS subscriptions one at a time. Once you have, they display nicely. The absence of OPML import could probably be explained by Google wanting you to use Google Reader.

But iGoogle is a lot of fun. There are hundreds upon hundreds of modules to add: 5 different ways to integrate Google Calendar, 24 different Gmail modules, as well as modules for Google Maps, Google Talk, Google Docs, Google Reader, Google Notebook, Google Bookmarks…

And, of course, the center piece is the Google search box. If you use many Google services, this is a nice way (the only way, in fact) to access them all from one page.

There are also lots of fun modules like a haunted house or your own pet spider.

Google recently added a recommendation feature which could be useful: Add a new tab and name it Recommendations. Google will fill it with contents they think you will enjoy, like pages, searches, news, groups, and videos. For some reason they recommended me a video in Japanese about giant sharks, so this module needs a little work.

What about the rest?

So why didn’t and My Yahoo! make it to the list?

My Yahoo! has a messy interface and some truly crappy themes which makes for a bad user experience. was buggy when I tested it — both in IE7 and Firefox. But they both have decent sets of features and if you use many of their other services they might be what you need.

Note: This article is archived and not updated since longer. Some of the services mentioned above may no longer avaialble now.

Author: Per and Susanna Koch