What are Ajax homepages?
Examples of some of the ideas behind the new spate of Internet applications, described by those in the know as Web 2.0, include Ajax, RSS, aggregation and user generated content. Most types of applications tend to choose just one or two characteristics of Web 2.0, but if there is one space which typifies the approach of the new Web, it is Ajax Homepages.
The companies behind them, want you to set them as your browser homepage, and they each provide a multitude of ‘widgets’ for you to drag-and-drop onto your homepage, updating you on incoming email, latest items in RSS feeds you are watching. These widgets can also work as mini programs, providing functionality from calculators to free sending of text messages. The early releases came from Google (who decided to go out on a limb, naming theirs the Personalised Homepage), Netvibes and Pageflakes. In this article I want to give you a quick rundown on why I think Ajax homepages are becoming increasingly important and what challenges they face if they want to become successful.
YourminisThe best way to do this is probably through a case-study of my favourite Ajax homepage, yourminis. It’s actually inaccurate to call yourminis an Ajax homepage, since it is built with Flash, a different Web technology. That doesn’t matter, because what I’m really interested in here is what one might call the ‘ideology’ of these Web 2.0 homepages rather than the underlying technology.
When you first visit yourminis, you are given a page with default ‘minis’ (their word for widgets). These include a Digg module and a YouTube module, amongst others. It is possible to add more minis from an impressive selection that includes a calendar, an email module, the iTunes chart and an MP3 player. Yourminis is aiming to become a place where you can pull in information from all round the Web from the sites that interest you, and be able to quickly see what is new since you last opened up your browser. If you’re into photo sharing site Flickr, you can see the latest photos from there. You can set it up so that the latest posts from Digital-lifestyles appear.
There are so many possibilities, and that’s the whole point. No-one uses the web in exactly the same way, and so what yourminis and the applications like them are trying to do is to allow you to create your own personal portal, far more flexible than the attempts of the last Web revolution, such as MyYahoo, which was hard to customise and offered far less content in the first place.
A feature that I particularly like about yourminis is the ability to publish pages that you have produced, so that your friends can see them. You could use it for research, or a more colourful example used by Goowy’s CEO, Alex Bard, is a page dedicated to a favourite band, with the latest news about them from various fan blogs combined with album art, all with their music playing in the background.
So, now you know why you should use a product like yourminis, but what does the future hold for them? A key challenge faced by providers of these Ajax homepages is monetisation; users would undoubtedly react badly to any attempt to plaster banner ads, or even contextual text links, onto their page that they have created. This was one of the questions I asked Goowy’s CEO when I interviewed him recently, and his approach to the monetisation of yourminis involves ‘value added revenue generation’. An example of this might be the affiliate revenue earned by yourminis when a user buys something from ebay using a mini on youminis. Around the biggest players (particularly Google), an ecosystem of third party developers producing widgets for the service is developing. As this happens, and the process of developing widgets becomes easier, the flexibility of the systems can only increase.