Who hasn’t noticed those little RSS subscribe buttons (Add to Google, My Yahoo, Netvibes) popping up all over the web like Starbucks in the suburbs? If you’re like me, you were drawn into the gadget-rich world of iGoogle by just one of these buttons.
One minute I was trawling for articles, blissfully convinced that Facebook was all I’d ever need to connect me to items of real time relevance. The next I was pulled into a vortex created by masterminds so ambitious and intrusive, they plan to index the worlds information. Yes, I’m talking about Google (and their latest uber-success, iGoogle).
iGoogle began its life with the name ‘Google Personalised Homepage’, briefly became ‘Google IG’, and a few makeovers later, emerged as iGoogle, a name that makes it sound like an Apple product (iPod, iTunes). Nobody seems to agree on what the most popular startpage service is but iGoogle is up there. Users are so passionate about their iGoogle pages that recent changes were met with uproar and violent protestation. The ‘changes’ were basically a new sidebar and the removal of some gadget resizing privileges. Yep, people are obsessed.
iGoogle isn’t just for accessing feeds from your favourite sites; there is a growing catalogue of gadgets from reputable developers. Google are also inviting people to create gadgets, both practical ones and social stuff of the ‘here’s what I’m up to right now’ Twitter/Facebook variety. You can see why people are saying it’s the next Facebook. What’s good about iGoogle is that the gadgets tend to be useful (feeds, search aids, shortcuts), not vacuous (throw a mudpie at your friends! become a werewolf/pirate/vampire!) and no one – absolutely no one – is going to poke you, ‘get low with’ you, post lewd comments your mum can read or invite you to rate their sexiness.
Here are the best of the best iGoogle gadgets for streamlining your online life:
If I say “I heart this” does that blow or bolster its case? A Podcast Player is a neat little player with a search facility; enter your search term into the bar at the top, choose your favourite podcast directory from the scroll-down list, and away you go. The options are Feedster, all4RSS, Podkast, Digitalpodcast and Podscope.
If you don’t have a favourite, I recommend the Podscope directory; here you can find a piece of audio according to the words that are spoken in it!
For example, if you want to find podcasts that mention Obama, simply enter ‘Obama’, select ‘Podscope’, press ‘Find’ and voila: ‘A Podcast Player’ returns a list of audio and the exact times (0:53, 1:45, 1:49) the keyword Obama is mentioned! Pretty amazing, and great for people like me who love to listen to news (or any podcast) as they work on the computer. You’ll find a lot of interesting stuff.
The beauty of iGoogle is that the gadgets are integrated so well with key Google services. Driving Directions is the ultimate gadget for people who finds themselves scrolling dumbly in Google Maps or thumbing through a street directory, trying to trace journeys that jump from page 46 to 49B to 109, back to page 46 and so on.
With Driving Directions you have two entry bars (‘From’ and ‘To’). Enter your starting address and destination and you’re redirected to Google Maps, where the page is sized just so and your route easily plotted. You also have the option of sharing the map by pressing ‘Send’ or ‘Link’ in the top right hand corner.
Google Maps is great because it contains business information; there is a large and growing catalogue of business locations, so you can search by, say, the name of a restaurant or bar even if you don’t know the address. A good startpage shortcut to a useful service.
Not sure which feeds to track on iGoogle? Why not be a sheep and let public opinion decide? Digg is the ultimate online popularity contest; the Digg iGoogle gadget lets you keep track of the articles people are digging.
Click the tabs at the top of the gadgets to view either News, Video, Images or All Content, or you can opt to see a list of what your friends are digging (if you have any Digg friends).
To filter according to content, open the scroll-down menu in the top righthand corner and choose between Science, Technology, Entertainment, World and Business, Lifestyle, Sports, Gaming and Offbeat. The gadget is updated continuously, so you’ll know as soon as something rises in the Digg ranks. Keep track of what’s creating buzz on the web from the safety of your startpage.
A sprawling page within a sprawling page. Once upon a time Facebook was my number one web destination. Now it’s just another little box on my iGoogle page. Like a big fish swallowing all the little ones, Google is insatiable and unstoppable.
Who can resist? No need to visit Facebook anymore; just add the Facebook gadget to iGoogle and keep track of who, exactly, is poking you.
To be fair, Velodoc is a great large file sharing service, and would deserve a mention even if they didn’t have an iGoogle gadget. The fact that they do just confirms how damn fantastic they are.
Have a large file you can’t send via Hotmail or Gmail? No need to burn a CD, send anything via post, sign up with some paid site, or even register with anyone.
Enter your email into the Velodoc file sharing gadget and the ‘Browse’ button will appear. Search your directories for the file you want to send, click it and send away.
Now, this is what’s great about the Velodoc service. The person you select as your recipient will receive an email. They’ll open it and find a neat little link. They’ll click that link and be directed to another neat little page- minimal text, no images- where they can download your file.
For a while I was using Sendspace (another free large file sharing service) and thought it was fine until I actually opened what I was sending. It was all pop-up ads, blocks of weird text and flashing arrows next to the words ‘Download Here’! After you opened my file everything was good, but that interim page was a killer: really gaudy and unprofessional looking. Not good if you’re sending files that are supposed to land you a job, which is what I was doing.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Send files linked from nice-looking pages, and do it in your iGoogle. Great for people who send a lot of audio files, images or videos.
Anagram is really just an efficient way to save contact details to Google Accounts and add events to Google Calendar. No need to navigate all the way to Accounts and enter somebody’s number, name, etc. Simply enter their information in the Anagram text box in an incoherent blob. For example
Bob 77447744 3 Grate St
You don’t even need to keep pressing enter. Anagram will do the rest for you. A lazy person’s dream, and perfect for when you need to take details down fast.
Calendar details work the same way; this time you’re writing ‘Staff Lunch 3 November 5:30’. Anagram will understand what you’re doing and submit the information to Google Calendar.
Two commonly used references in one handy gadget. Flip from tab to tab to alternate between Wikipedia and Dictionary. Results open in a new window, so your iGoogle is safe and secure.
Created by an independent developer and applauded for its accuracy, this quick and easy speed test estimates your bandwidth and places you on a spectrum between plodding dial-up and hardcore DSL.
For the voyeur inside us all. Spice up your iGoogle with popular webcams from all over the world. Watch a beach in the south of France one day and a bustling scene from Rio the next. All pared down (of course) to iGoogle size. That’s about 5 x 6 cm, though if you’re really keen you can expand it to fill the page.
There are new gadgets popping up all the time, and we all know that the most useful, innovative stuff isn’t always the most publicised (remember our feature on Google services that get no love?). With this gadget you can test drive a different, random Google app every day, and have the options of keeping stuff you like.
So what gadgets sit on your iGoogle page? Which ones get your love? You might also want to check out Mark’s earlier article from May this year on how to make your own personalised iGoogle gadgets.