When Google announced that they are planning to retire iGoogle in November of next year, reactions were split between “what’s iGoogle?” and “what will I use now?”. In case you’re not aware, iGoogle is a personalized homepage that allows you to arrange customized widgets just how you want in order to keep track of your oft-used services.
Plenty of MakeUseOf readers were disappointed with the news, which was reflected in the popularity of an article we published suggesting alternatives. It’s been a while since a new service has sprung up though, so it’s nice to see a modern take on the customised home page called Backstitch.
The service is still in its infancy but growing by the day and unlike many of the older services will continue to be improved in the near future. Read on for our full review of this new take on an old concept.
More Than A Home Page
I personally have not used a home page now for as long as I can remember, partly due to the fact that OS X simply re-opens Chrome every time I happen to restart and mainly because I never actually close my browser. Home pages hark back to a time before tabbed browsing was the norm and your bookmarks never dreamed they would one day reside online.
Of course, a start page is what you see when a new browser window opens and your is probably set to default because if you’re anything like me every time you open a new page you’re already typing in a search query or URL. It seems almost “wasteful” in this day and age to have a new tab load some remote server somewhere when you can simply pin this tab and check it at your leisure. And that’s how I’d recommend using Backstitch.
Google are wise to the fact that the home page is fast becoming a thing of the past. Their own browser, Chrome, is now the most-used vehicle for browsing the Web, and the “one bar fits all” approach to URLs and search queries negates the necessity to ever actually visit Google.com ever again. Of course this doesn’t mean people don’t still see a use for services like iGoogle, as was displayed by the overwhelming popularity of our alternatives post. If you feel this way, then Backstitch is for you.
Set it up, pin the tab and leave it open to peruse at your leisure – it’s a modern take on the iGoogle formula. Instead of widgets, Backstitch uses “Patterns” which are essentially the same thing, and offer a window on the website or service of your choice without actually having to visit it. Patterns have another use though, and that is that they can be conglomerated into a tidier list for easier reading, in the service’s wildcard called Threads. By keeping everything roughly categorised, this allows for easier reading.
Patterns, Threads & The Dashboard
Patterns come in all sorts of flavours, though at the moment support on the ground is quite thin. This is not much of a problem if you’re looking for news feeds from your favourite sites, because Backstitch comes with a search engine and custom RSS Pattern, allowing you to add your own sources of news if the current selection doesn’t do it for you. It works as expected, with the added bonus of being able to filter by keyword.
There are also Patterns for social channels including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as well as App.net. You don’t necessarily need to pair your accounts to use all of these, with both App.net and Twitter containing Patterns for search terms (or the entire public stream) though in testing I couldn’t get Twitter’s public user stream to load. There are also a good deal of other services that allow you to pair your accounts, including Tumblr and Instagram. Facebook users can also pull articles (and only articles) from their news feed into a Pattern if they wish, a particularly nice feature if you’re fond of the Like button.
The Patterns view offers a customisable dashboard view, which most iGoogle refugees will like and enjoy setting up the way they want. There are some teething problems getting this to stay where you want, but it serves its purpose nicely. Click the Threads button in the top left and you will be able to view your categories as nicely laid out scrolling full-size windows – showing off all the photos, news, shopping offers and other content in an infinitely less bombarding manner than the standard dashboard view. It’s like an iGoogle reader, where you can have a tightly organised dashboard full of your interesting online services but then switch to an altogether more attractive view to actually read your headlines and view images.
You’ll like Backstitch if you’re lamenting the imminent loss of iGoogle and find services like My Yahoo! to be lacking in the polish department. The developers need to add more services, but the selection is already healthy and provides a nice catch-all interface from which to peruse your social media accounts and the headlines. If you’re reading to this part of the review you’re undoubtedly the sort of person who finds this kind of service useful, and I see no reason you shouldn’t go ahead and try it out.
Do you like Backstitch? Switched from iGoogle? Prefer other services? Add your thoughts in the comments, below.