Apr 4 2011
True story: my customized home page used to be the Emily Dickinson Random Epigram Machine. Every time I turned on my computer, it provided a random poem or phrase from the Greatest Poet Ever.
I was younger, more idealistic, and more artistic then. Something changed. Now my start page is actually the Firefox default one, but I’m having second thoughts. Why? Because like all of you, I’m sure, every morning, from my start page, I end up going to the same set of other pages: Gmail, ESPN, etc. It gets annoying. I have to open multiple windows. I’m inundated with ads. Pretty shiny things make me click weird buttons. Widgets do their widget-y thing. My eyes glaze over, I start to drool, and after 20 minutes, I say out loud, “What was I looking for again?”
Today’s featured start up, Blinkdash, has made me reconsider this routine. It’s a clean, simple site that allows you to create your own customized start page with links of your choosing, no bells and whistles, and no time-consuming distractions.
To the first-time visitor, Blinkdash looks like a glistening machine out of the near-future. This clean sparseness is its biggest asset – by starting with a bare-bones foundation, you can customize stuff as you see fit. Prior to customizing, the left-hand column contains common sites like Gmail, Facebook, Amazon, and Fandango. The center of the page has “My Search Tools” – Google, Wikipedia, Dictionary, Weather, Maps, YouTube, and Images. (Strange – I’ve gone to similar pages in the last two days. How’d they know that?)
So that’s the baseline. Now the customization can commence and the real fun begins. First, you pick a theme – if you dare say goodbye to the default page’s glistening machine vibe. I picked the next best thing: Dark Metal. Next, I could decide how the links will open. Well, duh, I want them to open in new tabs and windows. So I chose that. Then you go in and add urls or replace those default ones I mentioned earlier (Google, Facebook, etc.) I added ESPN and HuffingtonPost. Lastly, I could de-select those search tools I mentioned, while adding new ones, like eBay and GoogleNews. Done.
I saved the changes and it worked. The Dark Metal theme was, as advertised, dark and mildly dystopian (in a good way.) I expected T-1000, the bad “guy” from Terminator 2, to come slithering across the screen at any moment. (Dude is scary!) And, as expected, I saw ESPN and HuffingtonPost appear on the left navigation bar. Easy, painless, and distraction-free.
Now as my Emily Dickinson anecdote likely insinuated, I am not super-hip when it comes to these start pages. After getting this assignment, I did a little research and discovered the other start page options out there, including Google’s offering, iGoogle. And for what it’s worth, this is one example where I found Google to be lagging a wee bit.
From a visual and navigational perspective, Google is generally successful in straddling the fine line between clean simplicity and tacky amateurism. Gmail, for example, is perfect and was a stellar improvement from Hotmail, which is cluttered, clumsy, and too color-y (the dreaded “three c’s.”)
I can’t in good faith say the same about iGoogle. (I can picture Larry Page spitting out his coffee as he read that.) iGoogle just has too much going on. For example, there’s a “Spotlight Video,” via YouTube – who, of course, is owned by Google; a conspiracy!! – and I have absolutely no interest in it. And while I can see where to add stuff, it’s a lot harder to find where to get rid of stuff. Blinkdash, to these eyes, just comes across as more streamlined and sleeker. There, I said it!
Which brings me back to Emily Dickinson. I kinda feel like a sell-out for abandoning my muse in my old age, but at the same time, facts are facts: I do need, on a daily basis, to check ESPN, HuffingtonPost, and Gmail. And the siren call of Blinkdash is strong; I would prefer to not be barraged by annoying ads, shiny colors, and thousands of distractions which steal valuable hours from my life. So I found a solution. I added Emily’s page to my Blinkdash page – in the Dark Metal theme, no less – and now have the best of both worlds.
Emily, meet T-1000. A match made in heaven. You kids have fun now.