Google Homepage Development: Everything Old Is New Again


Since Google started their search engine schtick their front page has remained basically static. A logo, which might change with the season, mood, or to celebrate an occasion, a place to type your seach query and two buttons to perform your search and return the results or, if you were feeling “lucky”, take you directly to the best match Google could find. Yesterday, that changed as Google moved a portal page they had been working on for some time to be the default for Google. If you already have a GMail account you can log in and you’ll see your most recent messages, you can get stock quotes, news, local film listings, etc. Pretty much what you can do on Yahoo’s portal and others.
The thing is, it’s like deja vu all over again. It reminds me a great deal of the great Netscape Portal five or six years ago that had the same kind of box structure, similar content, but one thing most of us hadn’t seen up to that point was the ability to put news from any random site on the portal as long as the site supported this new “RSS” thing. It was Netscape’s portal support for RSS that prompted me to add automatic generation of RSS to the news system of GameDev.net and then I could have GameDev’s news on my Netscape portal just like we were some bigshot Associated Press or something.
Google has resurrected that portal from half a decade ago, thrown in some fancy JavaScript to allow you to drag boxes from one place to another and to have it automatically update. There’s nothing amazing there. Except that they have also provided the Google Homepage API that allows you to build your own modules that can pull XML from other sites, process that XML with JavaScript, and produce any HTML you need for the user’s page. That’s a far cry from the heavy restrictions imposed by Netscape on their portal. They would go and get the RSS from a channel for you, parse it and store the results and present that result to you in just one format.
Here you can go and build widgets of almost any sort provided you can find a way to represent the output in HTML form. They can also be interactive with the user, requesting input, allowing choices, and altering their behavior based on the input. So modules can perform searches, display maps, do calculations, or a great deal more. Thus the widgets have more in common with Yahoo! Widget Engine (nee Konfabulator) widgets than they do with the limited extensibility of My Yahoo!, which was, up till now the most configurable of the big portals. MSN.com and Netscape.com both seem to remain firmly stuck in the distant past and allow very little choice for what is on “your” page.
Now the question is, who will use this ability to create some cool modules that will make the Google homepage an improvement over the other big portals?

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One thought on “Google Homepage Development: Everything Old Is New Again

  1. Charles Miller

    Another big difference to put in the “lessons learned since 1995” bucket is that if you’re not logged in, or if you click the “Classic Home” link, all the cruft disappears.

    Reply

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