User Experience Engineering

Saturday, August 05, 2006

 

Battle of the StartPages: Round 1

I began a comparison of personalized startpages: My Yahoo vs Pageflakes vs Google/ig vs... I wanted to select a given task, and then try the different brands to see how well they serve that purpose. So, I chose job hunting; which personal portal is best for organizing and streamlining a job search? Seems like a project with plenty of room for search, feeds, aggregation, and productivity tools.

Today, I worked with my.yahoo.com and pageflakes.com. Performance would be difficult to quantify, I knew, so I invented the ever-so-casual "ClunkFactor". Clunkiness is here defined as the number of modules/widgets/feeds that could be added to a personalized home page, divided by the number of page loads it took to get there. This reflects the bias that in Web 2.0, page loads are bad, and page updates are good. I cleared browser history for Firefox 1.5.0.6, and began building a job pages.

Site              Modules    Pageloads*
my.yahoo.com      7          46        
pageflakes.com    11         29     

* In Pageflakes, the pageloads include signup for box.net, uploading a resume, accessing Gmail, and accessing Web pages with Bitty Browser. For My Yahoo, those 46 page loads were chewed up just by searching for feeds and adding them.

My.Yahoo.Com

If you do not let an entire page load, with all feeds, my Yahoo will not allow you to change pages. So, if your default page is News, but you want to change to jobs, you are stuck waiting until each feed loads, for the page menu to respond to input. Workaround: make your default page very sparse. When changing from full pages, grin and bear it.

I loaded the HotJobs module, and noticed several disadvantages.

  • To configure, you have to load a separate page
  • Only one job search category selectable at a time. Not Internet AND Technology, e.g.
  • No keyword input
  • No radius or proximity search, only City/State.
  • Search box loads new page

Finding those seven feeds with My Yahoo was frustrating. Many feeds that turned up in search results were too general, such as all jobs in Columbus, or too specific, such as HR managers in Dubuque. I could not really add useful job searches without leaving my yahoo, and searching on job sites. I did not come across any functional non-feed modules that would be a handy accompaniment to the feeds. C+.

Pageflakes.com

Pageflakes essentially has only one URL, which would help toward the reduced page loads. Tabs are always visible, and clicking them "turns the page" without changing the URL in the browser address bar. Adding a new page is very quick. When adding content to that new page, Pageflakes distinguishes between feeds and modules. This distinction is unclear on Yahoo, to the uninitiated, and quite confusing on live.com.

Modules or "flakes" as they're called here, are located by browsing a gallery of 90 or so items. Pageflakes will need to implement some kind of search, as it's unreasonable to expect users to read all 90 widget descriptions. A scarcely noticeable dropdown menu in the top right does help. It allows you to select tags such as "productivity", "fun" and "communication", to see a subset of the flakes.

Productivity Flakes

At pageflakes.com, productivity includes tools for productivity. This is better than live.com, where "productivity" means "shopping". Here's the Pageflakes productivity lineup:

Documents
Writely
Zoho Writer
Email
Gmail
POP Email
Storage
Box.net 1GB, registration, login, and read-write can all occur in the flake!
Openomy 1GB, restricted to retrieval only.
Organization
To-Do-List Developed by Pageflakes
Note
Address Book - no slurper, no real interaction with email
iCal Calendar Access
iRows Calculator
iRows Spreadsheets

Difficulties:

  • Layout gets confused in Firefox; items overlap and do not stay put. I had to continue the testing in Internet Explorer 6.
    Pageflakes in Firefox
  • Forms within flakes do not submit when you hit Enter key.
  • Long module names do not wrap. E.g. SimplyHired.com search with custom name.
  • After each flake "add", browser returns to page where you added. Each flake then renders. Therefore, each flake-add takes longer than the last.
  • Gmail module read-only. To read the body of a Gmail, you must open a new window.
  • Mail is more functional, and can be configured to POP3 accounts. However, the second account that I added failed to load any message
  • No search for feeds or widgets.
  • No job posting feeds listed. As with My Yahoo, you must leave the site to gather job feeds.

Niceties:

preference: Open links in...
New Browser window
Pageflakes browser
This browser window

Clicking on a feed in your startpage opens the Pageflakes RSS/Web Reader View. It overlaps other modules.

Pageflakes RSS and Web Reader

Browse your saved feeds in the left column, view titles in the right column, and read description (rss) or view Web page in the bottom pane. Here, I have aggregated advanced search feeds from Yahoo HotJobs, and simplyhired. An interface like this allows for the rapid digestion of daily feeds or search results. With my.yahoo.com, these feeds would be stuck in their little boxes, and to read any full listings would require a new page-open. In the upper right corner of the Pageflakes feed reader, you can click buttons to toggle between rss description and original Web page, or click the X to collapse the reader. That's more like it.

Round 1 goes to Pageflakes for less clunk and more functionality with fewer page loads. The broken drag-and-drop positioning in Firefox is serious. While the Pageflakes team is fixing that, I might be able to live without Firefox tabs for this one activity. The tabs, and the goodies, are all in the page.

Update: Layout problem in Firefox with Pageflakes appears to be fixed.
Pageflakes RSS and Web Reader


Comments:
Coollll analysis... I've tried to compare all those start pages, and I prefer www.pageflakes.com as well, specially because they have shared pages and skins.
 
Very good and interesting overview. May I ask if that Firefox issue still exists? I am just curious because we have never heard that kind of bug report from other users. Please feel free to contact me via ole@pageflakes.com

I will discuss your other suggestions with our team today.

Thanks
Ole
 
Ole,
Thanks for dropping in. Update: I re-checked, and the layout behaves fine in Firefox today. I am able to drag and drop flakes in different columns, and there is no alignment problem. Did you change something?
--Monte
 
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