Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What, Why, & How to Set Up a Start Page

OBJECTIVE: Why and how to get your new start page (2.0) and webtop (web+desktop) set up.

Start pages and home pages are the customized pages you are welcomed to whenever you first open up your Internet browser. Yes, I know, yahoo and msn have been doing it for years, but what I would like to introduce you to is the new and improved start page - 2.0 style. This new batch of start pages has given freedom back to the users and is quickly evolving into the realm of webtop - a web-based virtual desktop that runs multiple mini web applications (also called widgets) that are all embedded within your Internet browser window.
So meet my personal favorite 2.0 start page: netvibes

1) YOUR PERSONALIZED (NOT COMMERCIALIZED) WEB- I pull the parts of the web I want rather than having it pushed on to me. Before netvibes, I was sheltered and trapped in my msn & my yahoo start pages for years, which offered some personalizing but only within their restricted, censored, and filtered limits. They would only allow you to embed their specific content, their own email services, pics, and links of the day, and read the headlines only from the newspapers they were buddied up with. All of their content was pushed down on you and was meant to keep you close, not allowing you to wander too far from their neighborhood, in order to stay within their monopolies and alliances of businesses and advertisers.

But going back even farther (in the mid 90’s), before I got started with start pages, I remember web surfing sessions that felt forced & frustrated, almost always begun with me sitting at a search engine page unable to decide where to begin. 

Eventually this turned into a computer screen with 23 separate windows open, each with a different site, and me feeling lost-not knowing why and where I started. Then I would struggle to figure out what good folder name I could make in a sub-folder of a sub-folder in my favorites so I could actually remember to come back to and check up on updates of sites I liked. I would also naively give out my personal email address to subscribe (1.0 old-fashion style) to those sites I did want to keep updated with. But this didn’t work, all it did was fill up my inbox with a bunch of span and remind me how un-updated I had become.

Now with netvibes, anytime I open my web browser, I have my favorite websites, blogs, podcasts, photos, videos, and hot links of the day being pulled and brought to me via RSS feeds from those sites that I filtered and I subscribed to. Think of the Internet like TV, early on there where only a view channels like ABC & NBC (yahoo & msn), but then came satellite and cable giving us hundreds of channels to choose from. Yet, still most people stick to the same few channels because they get overwhelmed or just forget about all the rest of the possibilities out there. My netvibes start page experience is similar to watching TV on wide screen with “On-Demand” and TIVO. It’s Like “On-Demand” because it only pulls from the channels (websites) I want. I am only reading, watching, or listening to websites that I choose to subscribe to-all free, no premium, and an infinite choices. Netvibes acts like a TIVO or DVR because it is constantly tracking, recording, and saving all my favorite channels (the websites) and shows (the content) I want to stay current with and allows me to experience them on my time. In essence netvibes is my aggregator, or master TV guide, that presents to me a very efficient and consolidated view that allows me to quickly scan through simple headlines to choose from. Keep in mind, this is all done commercial free.
Until you empower yourself with a personalize start page like netvibes and start subscribing to RSS feeds of your choice, you will never be able break free of the often commercialized and filtered pipes that the yahoo and msn portals keep you locked up in. Although it may seem intimidating to leave the familiar yahoo and msn worlds and enter more deeply into the “techie-geek” layer of the web and technology (with their culture and jargon) it can be done. I have done it and I have stepped out to help bring more educators and “digital immigrants” back in. This is the mission of this post and this blog. Entering the new web is easier than it sounds. It’s like eating an elephant, one bite at at time. Once you start subscribing and joining social bookmarking networks like digg and delicious, (which will be the next part to this series), you will begin to pick up on an Internet beat, pulse, and vibe. It has been through this method, receiving daily updates from trusted sources of the hottest links, trends, and news of the web, that I have been able to hop on this new web2.0 wave.

2) A COMPLETELY PORTABLE WEBTOP: My office desktop goes with me anywhere I go. Before I caught on to netvibes, I struggled with my productivity between school and home. My school issues me a Mac for the classroom, I have a dell desktop in my home office upstairs, and I sometimes like to work on my old laptop while watching TV with my wife downstairs on the couch. I had to convert files and email attachments back and forth. I would get frustrated because an email was downloaded onto one computer and no longer accessible to another. I didn’t have access or I couldn’t tell if I had read an email or not. I would forget a “to do” list at school, or forget to print of my task list in Outlook at home. I wouldn’t be able to remember a link, its user name, and password that I had “favorited” in one Internet browser on one computer. Technology was frustrating me and forcing me to go back to old fashioned methods of pen and paper.

But then came netvibes into my life (I swear they are not paying me to write this am just a loyal and very happy user). So I eventually started migrating some of my desktop software applications off my computers and onto the web using web applications, aka webapps or webware and their widgets, aka gadgets. I will be covering webapps and widgets in Part 4 of this series, but in a nutshell, for now webware is like software that runs inside a window of your Internet browser while you are online. The big important differences are you don’t need to download and install them on your computer and it allows you to create, save, print, share, collaborate, and access from any computer that is connected to the web. Furthermore, what netvibes can do is embed multiple webapps all in one page. So in essence, by logging into just your start page you are also logging into multiple web apps that you can access and use at the same time, all in one place, from any computer. And did I mention that web2.0 webapps are almost always free?

For example, when I login into my netvibes-besides getting updates from my favorite websites and scanning all the major mainstream headlines, checking my local weather, TV guide, and stocks-I am also logging into and accessing all of my webapp accounts, services and widgets. These include the following: google calendar, contacts, “to do lists”, sticky notes (all replacing Outlook), my “delicious” bookmarks (online bookmarks that replaced “my favorites” stuck on your computer), my storage (online storage account), a count down timer, alarm clocks, my bank accounts, all my email accoutns (gmail, yahoo, and hotmail) and all my instant messaging accounts (AOL, yahoo messenger, and googletalk). And, mind you, this all done while I am usually listening to a podcast, watching youtube videos, and scanning flickr pics - all being done without ever leaving my home.

Hopefully you are convinced and ready to set up your new home inside the new web2.0 world. You need to remember 3 great principles of web2.0 before you get overwhelmed. Most of the time these new web technologies are usually free, very easy to figure out, and do not require any downloads.
The three links below will guide you through step by step on how to set up your netvibes start page using screencasts - a tutorial that is a video recording of a user actually working on their screen of their computer. There will be more on screencasting in a later post.
1) The best, quickest, and most complete tutorial I have found is called Screencast: Netvibes Tutorial
2) This next one netvibes Screencast: Setup, Configuration, Tab Sharing is from an ed-techie, who not only guides you through the process of registration but gets into tab sharing and explains some of the educational implications that a start pages like netvibes could have on mainstream education
3) If you don’t like the screencast format of the demos here is a simple and well organized written tutorial from the netvibes ecosystem (a community of users that help and share with each to build and make it better-another core principle of the participatory web2.0 culture).

- Watch the screencasts above
- Register and set up your netvibes home page and
then set it as your homepage (on your Internet browser menu bar click “tools” then “options” or “preferences”)

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