Home Page Stuff

Ajax home page services are getting better all the time. Sites like Netvibes, Pageflakes and Google Home Page offer thousands of "widgets" that can be aggregated on an Ajax page. Ajax is a type of computer code that brings a great deal more functionality to web pages than standard HTML. Yahoo has recently upgraded their home page to Ajax, though it is still in beta and at this point many of their standard widgets don't work on the page.

At first, it didn't seem clear to me that these services would be particularly useful. But as more and more web services become available as widgets, it began to make sense to have one place to host light weight versions of all the various web services. And the now widgets themselves are getting better.

Over the last year or so I've tested the various sites and have now settled on Google's home page. It is not the prettiest or most configurable. But since I use Gmail, Google Reader, Notebook, Adsense, Docs and Spreadsheets, Blogger and other Google services, I figured it would be best to use the home page that has the fewest conflicts (and code conflicts between the page and various widgets is a common problem).

Google and a host of independent developers have produced some cool widgets. Google came out with a Google Talk (IM) widget this week that allows you to IM and make phone calls directly from the your home page. The IM service only works between Gmail accounts, but it is still very convenient. (Another interesting Google Toolbar feature allows you to click on any phone number on the web and automatically place a phone call. It's pretty cool and works well.)

The Google Analytics widget keeps constant tabs on your web site hits (this blog averages about 100 visits a day now). It has two basic views, the hourly and daily charts that I look at most often. Google also developed a widget that allows you to customize a list of all your Google accounts across the top of the page.

LiveTV has a widget that plays about 25 television channels right on your home page. When you click on the widget, it maximizes the streams to full screen, turning your monitor into a TV. The stream quality is as good as any over the air TV channel.

There are lots more fun ways to use these pages. For instance, I've set up one page with six web cams that show streaming video from the top of St. Anton in Austria to my local beach. The Google Notebook widget is a real time saver, allowing you to easily paste text into your Google Notebook account without accessing the Notebook site. And the Google calendar widget is the best available and includes a public events calendars that is configurable by type of event, location or group (including the BoSox schedule!).

The Ajax home page concept offers a great deal more than static home pages did back in the day. As these services develop, I expect them to get even better.