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iGoogle has an Australian replacement

Mark Freidin /

iGoogle will be dead in November. Now Australia has an alternative (kinda).

For the uninitiated, iGoogle is a homepage or web portal that was launched in 2005 and can to some degree be customised to your personal requirements with data feeds from many of your favourite sites. Have a look for yourself, while it still exists.

Google has decided to decommission this much-loved service, as can be validated by the umpteen Google pages from loyal users lamenting its pending demise on November 1st, 2013.

Laurel Papworth, one of Australia’s prominent social media figures who teaches her clients and students to use iGoogle as a social media monitoring tool, wrote on her blog “Really grumpy about iGoogle shutting down! If Google can’t find it on the ‘net, nobody can”.

It appears Google’s focus is moving away from disparate products like iGoogle and toward incorporating everything under the Google+ banner, and Google Now for smartphones.

Martin Shervington identifies Google+ as “both a social destination and a social layer over Google’s products and services”.

Google Now, on the other hand, allows users to use their smartphones to receive relevant information based on where they are. It learns what you are doing and provides information, for example, how long it will take to get home, what restaurants are around, the local weather etc. It even keeps a record of all your movements which you can see on a map.

Google Now also has Google Goggle visual search engine technology available for use with the iPhones, or other smartphones, camera. At the risk of getting distracted in Google gaggle, you can see that iGoogle is not on the list of priorities for Google.

Back on topic, independent custom home pages or start pages have been in existence in some form or another for quite some time. A few years ago, for example, I created an HTML-based page that opened in my browser as my home page. (HTML is a standardised language used to display this very page you are reading, and all the links, fonts and colours on websites.) This page had links to regular sites such as my bank, internet retailing, online consulting and other regularly used web pages, as well as files on our local server drive. It was so convenient, fast but a real pain to change or add a link as I had to edit the HTML. iGoogle’s launch in 2005 didn’t quite hit the mark for me even though I used it. I found it was clunky to use and something that would only work well for tech heads but would scare the average person in the street.

Since 2005, there are quite a few alternative start or home pages that have come into their own. Some could effectively be considered early day cloud solutions, including a few Australian ones.

The ones that stand out are Symbaloo, Startific, Netvibes, and Australian based Clicko. All these start pages or dashboards offer a Google search bar enabling Google searches to take place within the start page or dashboard.

Symbaloo is free to use and offers a well thought out interface, however it does require some customisation which may scare users afraid of having to set anything up.

Netvibes, recently purchased by French giant Dassault Systems, is also a great start page with a wonderful interface with a free option as well as paid options. It suffers the same obstacle as Symbaloo of having to go through a level of customisation.

Startific is graphically beautiful and can be used as a directory to the most popular websites by default. It can, however, be slow to load and gets confusing if you want to add your own links and customise.

Clicko, which is the youngest of these iterations has taken all this customisation complexity into account and instead targets every day web users offering a lifestyle tool rather than a website providing search, convenience and discovery in one place. It’s a simple start page that has the top 100 Australian websites and has categories in which popular sites are indexed.

The site even looks like a smartphone screen full of apps, no customisation required. The site also has a simple opportunity to add some of your personal links to any website you visit regularly if you wish.

Clicko.com.au also has the daily top 10 list of downloaded iTunes songs, movies, and YouTube videos and the ability to perform Google searches from within the Clicko.com.au start page. It also incentivises searchers occasionally by offering giveaways to the 20th, 50th or whatever numeric the Clicko team decides is relevant to that event’s prize. The idea is to reward people for searching.

Clicko also has some further surprises up its sleeve, and suggests the site will continue to develop based on the feedback of its users.

The conundrum of choice, competition and oversupply of commoditised goods and services that has faced retailers for decades is now becoming a reality for online retailers and newspaper publishers. The questions for everyone now is, “How do we stay relevant in the eyes of our customers?”

and, “What’s the next big thing in online retailing and digital?”

These start pages with relevant content and enough eyeballs will be the portals of the immediate future that address these questions. They are capable of replacing iGoogle and these start pages meet the needs of users, providing search facilities, convenient links to regular sites and an ever-changing range of offers and experiences in one place. This will be the destination of choice for retailers who will be scrabbling to get their brand and product in front of these eyeballs. It will have a similar effect to Click Frenzy, except it will be available every day.

So what needs to exist for a win-win situation to occur, for a start page to be sustainable and be visited regularly:

  • The user needs to be able to enjoy a consistent experience
  • There needs to be some simple customisation options so users can add their own sites
  • The content needs to be engaging and relevant and continuously changing so users are consistently delighted and surprised
  • There needs to be an element of social acceptance and sharing of the site as an extension of tablets, Macs and PCs etc. which have become daily staples of our lives because of the convenience they provide.

In an industry that grows at the equivalent of 4.7 normal years each year the changes are staggering and it’s difficult to keep pace. Let’s see what happens in the start page world in 4.7 (internet years).

Mark Freidin is an experienced chief operating officer, eCommerce pioneer and consultant to fast-growing companies in Australia. Email: [email protected].

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Mark Freidin

Mark Freidin is an experienced chief operating officer, e-commerce pioneer and consultant to fast-growing firms with his company internetretailing.com.au.

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