In Search of the Perfect Start Page

For you, it's the most important site on the Net. Why not make it great?
Posted August 14, 2007
By

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan


Last week I told you about my old-school method for capturing interesting and useful web sites -- I add links to a categorized Web page, and upload it via FTP -- and how I use that page as my "start page."

At the end of the piece, I asked for better ways to do all this, and got some great suggestions and ideas.

I was also taken to task by some for being an old-fashioned, neo-Luddite using outdated methods in a midst of a Web 2.0 revolution. Fair enough. But I discovered in researching this piece that different people want different things in a start page.

Start pages can be good at:

1. Capturing and categorizing links easily
2. Sharing links with others
3. Discovering new quality links
4. Displaying and providing access to links efficiently
5. Getting a current "snapshot" or "overview" of what's happening right now

My own priority is number 4. I want to open my browser and be on the site I'm looking for instantly, without drilling down through nested links or doing a lot of scrolling, clicking or reading.

The way I look at it, you capture a link only once, but access, view and click on your start page dozens of times per day and thousands of times over the year. So it's far more important to make your page easy to access and use, even if the capturing of new links is more cumbersome.

Also: I personally don't need the discovery of new sites and links as part of my start page. I have more than 100 sites (linked to from my start page, actually) for finding great new sites.

And I don't care that much about sharing links. Sure, I'll post on Digg or to my blog as much as the next guy, but I'm not willing to sacrifice ease of access to my links in favor of helping others find links. I'm just too selfish for that.

Several readers shared my perspective. One, named Joel May, has what I would consider an incredibly useful start page -- something close to the ideal. He told me I could share it with you. Here it is.

Joel's site lays out all links on one page. Everything is one click away. It's nicely categorized, concise and clearly labeled. He also has a Google search box.

Here's what my start page looks like. It's very similar in concept to Joel's:

mike elgan start page

Pages like Joel's and mine are old fashioned, and are built entirely without automation. However, once links are added, they're super-fast to use.

I still haven't found any automated or Web 2.0 sites that result in a site as good as Joel's.

I've discovered, in fact, only three thus far that come close:

Furl
Furl gives you a browser button to add links. It even enables you to import bookmarks, and lets you take advantage of other people's links. Downside: The links aren't displayed economically. As a result, capturing is quick, but finding and clicking on them takes more time.

BackFlip
This service includes a feature called "Daily Routine," which is a collection sites you can choose to visit in a series. You determine the categories and links within them. BackFlip organizes your links like a Yahoo directory. But it also wastes way too much space on ads and a right-navigation bar asking for money.

del.icio.us
Del.icio.us is probably the best known of the three. It has no ads, but it suffers from the same problem: an inefficient use of space, though not as bad as Furl and BackFlip. The site is optimized for capturing and sharing. Displaying links efficiently is the third priority.

These sites aren't as good as my own custom page, but they're definitely good enough to use. The big question for anyone using them is: Will they someday lose my links? Will they go out of business? Will I invest five years building links, then open my browser one day and be confronted with a generic GoDaddy page?

Furl helps on this one. When you "Furl" a site, you can choose "Save & Email," which you can use to capture, but also back up the link -- for example, by sending it to Gmail.

I think there's a real business opportunity for someone to create a page that makes it easy to capture links, as do Furl, BackFlip and del.icio.us, but that display those links without all the crap. The perfect thing would be BackFlips link capture system, but Joel's output.

If you care more about easy capturing of links, and are more interested in discovering new sites or sharing your finds with others, you're in luck. There are hundreds of start pages out there for you.

Some of them are incredibly cool. If that's the kind of start page you're looking for, check out this incredible list of social bookmarking sites, which are ranked.

Meanwhile, I'm keeping my invitation open for anyone to send me a better way of building and maintaining a start page.






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