Head to head: building a better start page

Currently, Netvibes is beta testing an expanded service, codenamed Netvibes Ginger. This enables you to share your start pages with other users – even adding content from other services like Facebook and Flickr. This brings the ‘home page’ analogy full circle.

iGoogle - Like most Google services, iGoogle’s main selling point is apparent simplicity. The page offers customisable content blocks containing either RSS headlines or Google Gadgets. These are easy to organise using tabs and drag-and- drop enclosures.

While other start page products give you rounded corners and reflective colour schemes, iGoogle opts for plain, CSS-styled blocks with controls for closing, minimising or editing individual settings for each.

You can always change how many headlines are displayed in an RSS feed, while gadgets may have their own bespoke settings. Tabs are really easy to add with an ‘Add Tab’ link.

You can drag feeds and gadgets between tabs or add new content when a specific page is selected.

For us, the most attractive aspect of iGoogle is that it offers gadgets for other Google tools, enabling you to keep tabs on your mail, add events to Google Calendar or consult current documents – all without leaving your start page.

24 Eyes - 24 Eyes feels like a start page for serious web users – but it’s less personalised than other entries. While Pageflakes and Netvibes place ease of use and good looks up front, 24 Eyes is all about functionality – there are no themes or colour scheme tools.

So, while 24 Eyes isn’t as pretty as its rivals, it does have functions like tagging, built-in RSS search (missing from Pageflakes) and public ‘RSS dashboards’ – which are start pages to you and me.

Uniquely, 24 Eyes doesn’t require registration to start using. There are a series of ready-to-use dashboard tabs that you can edit or remove. Your changes are saved in cookies – so as long as you access the site in the same browser each time your alterations will stick.

Of course, this does mean that your start page isn’t portable across platforms or accessible from your local web cafe. Still, there are localised versions for the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands – so you don’t necessarily have to start with a bunch of American content you have absolutely no interest in.